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House Passes Its Legislative Branch Bill

Congress’ budget passed the House last week, but not before Republicans took to the floor to protest funding increases and Democratic rules that limited amendments to the bill.

The legislative branch spending bill is small in the grand scheme of the annual budget, totaling less than $5 billion for funding of the House, Senate and Congressional agencies. Usually, it easily passes with bipartisan support.

But on Thursday, Members presented more than a dozen amendments to the bill in a Rules Committee hearing — ranging from one that would decrease the bill’s budget by 16 percent to another that would initiate a study on erecting Plexiglas around the House galleries.

All but one amendment was blocked from consideration under Democratic rules.

On Friday, Republicans took to the floor protesting the limitation, repeating arguments they used the day before during debate on the Commerce, Justice and science appropriations bill. Democrats have said they are trying to prevent Republican filibustering and ensure timely passage of all 12 appropriations bills by the August recess.

“To not allow the House to work its will and not allow even a 1.5 percent reduction, that’s not what the American people want,— said Rules ranking member David Dreier (R-Calif.), referring to one blocked amendment that reduced Congress’ overall budget.

But the legislative branch spending bill passed largely untouched, with only two new provisions: one directing the Library of Congress to spend $250,000 on a Civil Rights Oral History Project and another eliminating funds for a bicycle-sharing program in the House.

Republicans have argued that the Wheels4Wellness program — which provides free bicycles for staffers — has been unsuccessful since its launch almost a year ago.

No line item for the program exists in the Chief Administrative Officer’s budget. However, Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) offered a motion to recommit on Friday that eliminated $100,000 from the CAO account that funds the program.

The program, he said, is “so silly.—

“When I have employees come to work, I expect them to be working, not riding bikes provided by taxpayers,— he said, later adding: “We ought to strike this. … Let’s not be stupid.—

The motion passed overwhelmingly, with a tally of 374-34. The bill itself split more along party lines, with most Democrats voting for it and Republicans against. The final tally was 232-178.

Overall, the House bill totals about $3.7 billion — which is expected to increase to $4.7 billion when Senate items are added.

That’s about a 7 percent increase over fiscal 2009 spending — including an 8 percent increase for Members’ office budgets. Democrat and Republican appropriators say the extra money is needed to beef up staff benefits, fix aging Congressional buildings and handle evolving technology.

The bill will go to conference once the full Senate votes out its version of the legislation, which passed the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday.

Both bills are expected to be combined with minimum disagreements, as they provide similar budgets for Congressional agencies.

However, House and Senate appropriators will have to compromise on at least one provision, which provides funding for a Russian exchange program.

The House bill begins a three-year phasing out of funding for the Open World Leadership Center, while the Senate version hands over the full $14.4 million requested.

The Senate bill — without House items, such as House Members’ Representational Allowances — comes to about $3.1 billion. That includes $934 million for Senate offices and agencies, about a 4 percent increase over fiscal 2009.

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