Murkowski Critical of Health Care as Legislative Branch Agencies Seek Budget Increase

Posted April 15, 2010 at 5:54pm

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) on Thursday blamed the yearlong debate over health care reform for budget problems at legislative branch agencies.

“I’ll just be a little bit sarcastic here, but I think we could have avoided some of these budget increases had we not been dealing with health care reform,” she said during a hearing of Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch, as the three agencies represented — the Government Printing Office, the Congressional Budget Office and the Government Accountability Office — all requested increases.

Murkowski, the subcommittee’s lone Republican, said that without the health care reform bill, the printing office “would not have had to be printing all those thousands of pages of bills. [The CBO] would not have had to be staying up every single night, seven hours a day, analyzing this, and [the GAO] would not be having to do the auditing, so I can help you with how we deal with the budget.”

Even now that health care reforms have been signed into law, CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf said that Congress’ ongoing tweaks to the bill would require more analysis from his agency. After receiving a significant supplemental appropriation in fiscal 2009 and 2010, the CBO is looking for an increase of 4.7 percent — $2.1 million — to its regular appropriations in fiscal 2011. As 90 percent of its budget is allocated for salary and benefits, much of the increase goes toward staff expenses.

Acting GAO Director Gene Dodaro noted that his agency has been stretched thin tracking money going to state and local governments, as well as funds authorized through the Troubled Asset Relief Program and the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, and temporary offices working with the Department of Defense and the State Department in Iraq and Afghanistan. He added that money spent on behalf of the GAO, though, might curtail spending elsewhere.

“GAO is an important resource in helping Congress eliminate waste, increase revenues [and] make sure programs are more efficient and effective,” Dodaro said.

The GAO requested an overall increase of nearly 8 percent — $44.2 million — for fiscal 2011.

Public Printer Bob Tapella asked for an increase to be used toward new phases of the Federal Digital System and improvements on its aging buildings. The GPO asked for 13 percent more, or $19 million, total.