Legislative Branch Gets Tiny Budget Hike

Posted December 17, 2007 at 6:56pm

With Congress scrambling to pass an omnibus appropriations bill before the week ends, legislative branch agencies are looking at another year of tight budgets.

The omnibus scales down the budget of almost every agency, increasing legislative branch funds by only 3 percent after two years of running at an essentially stagnant level.

“Certainly, the leg. branch bill was a small bill to begin with,” said Stephanie Allen, spokeswoman for Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), who chairs the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch. “Cutting from where we were to where we are now was not an easy thing to do.”

The bill is a decrease of about $100 million from both the House bill that passed the floor in June and the Senate bill that passed the Appropriations Committee the same month. Members prioritized health and safety issues, amping up Capitol Police security for the election year and inspections of Capitol Hill’s utility tunnels by the Office of Compliance.

The Members’ Representation Allowance also had to be increased by about 4 percent (for a total of $580 million) because of the increasing costs of mail and gas, as well as the increases in expenses during an election year, said Jonathan Beeton, spokesman for Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), who chairs the House’s side of the legislative branch spending subcommittee.

Overall, the budget totals almost $4 billion — only about $100 million more than in fiscal 2007.

Of course, most agencies got significantly less than they requested. For the Government Accountability Office, that means about $23 million less than its request — money meant to help the agency keep pace with its growing responsibilities, said Comptroller General David Walker.

But the $500 million appropriated (plus extra funds from specific projects) will be enough to keep up with inflation and then some, Walker said. Because of a yearlong continuing resolution for fiscal 2007, the GAO was in danger of actually shrinking, he said. The almost 4 percent increase is the largest since 2004.

“It’s obviously significantly less than we requested because we were looking to increase the size of the GAO,” he said. But “the level currently included in the bill would allow us to replace attrition and provide competitive compensation for our employees.”

The Library of Congress gets the biggest increase, topping last year’s budget by 10 percent. But the $562 million budgeted is significantly less than the approximately $577 million tagged in both the House and Senate bills. Furthermore, the Library was supposed to get $49 million more than it ended up actually getting last year — those funds were shuffled around the legislative branch to make sure that jobs were secure under the continuing resolution, Allen said.

If the Library had kept those funds, this year’s $562 million would only be an increase of less than 1 percent.

LOC officials declined to comment, but in the past they have pleaded with lawmakers to increase the budget, arguing that programs might have to be cut if more money wasn’t given. But this year’s budget was so tight, lawmakers were forced “to skim around the edges,” Allen said.

Cuts in the bill were primarily made by putting off maintenance projects and by deferring payment to the Government Printing Office for another year, she said. Security was also obviously a priority: Under the bill, the Capitol Police would get a 10 percent increase from fiscal 2007 for a total of $281 million.

“The Senator’s first priority was that everyone keep their job and no one was laid off,” she said.