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Congressional Spending Feels Less of a Pinch in GOP Plan

Of the fiscal 2011 spending caps laid out Thursday, the smallest reduction in non-security spending comes from the pot of money Congress spends on itself.

House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) announced Thursday that he wants discretionary spending in the Legislative Branch Subcommittee’s accounts set at $94 million below fiscal 2010 spending levels.

Among the other panels controlling non-security spending, the second-smallest reduction is significantly bigger: The State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee was directed to set spending at $1.8 billion below fiscal 2010 levels.

The Legislative Branch Subcommittee controls the smallest portion of appropriations, which primarily explains the size of its cut. The panel has jurisdiction over Member offices and staff budgets, as well as Congressional support agencies such as the Capitol Police, the Architect of the Capitol and the Government Accountability Office.

The 2 percent reduction in the panel’s spending cap, from $4.7 billion in fiscal 2010 to $4.6 billion in fiscal 2011, is also the smallest percentage sliced from any subcommittee with jurisdiction over non-security spending. Five will sustain cuts of 10 percent or more.

Although the comparisons may make the change seem small, the missing $94 million is roughly equivalent to shutting down the Congressional Research Service, Congress’ nonpartisan research arm.

It now falls to the subcommittee to divvy up the cut.

Rogers announced the spending caps after Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) unveiled his fiscal 2011 budget allocation Thursday. The cuts come from non-security spending, or discretionary spending not designated for defense, homeland security, veterans and military construction. Security spending will increase $8 billion over fiscal 2010 levels, so the Defense Subcommittee saw its cap raised and the Homeland Security Subcommittee’s cap fell by a relatively small $17 million.

The government is currently being funded by a continuing resolution that expires March 4, and the cuts would apply to the remainder of the fiscal year. But there’s no guarantee Senate appropriators will go along.

Rogers said in a statement that he has instructed each subcommittee to “produce specific, substantive and comprehensive spending cuts” and that “these cuts will not be easy.”

In anticipation, Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer, who also chairs the Capitol Police Board, said he instructed the Capitol Police to run budget exercises envisioning different levels of cuts.

“Frankly, that it’s only 2 percent is really good news,” Gainer said. “I’m encouraged that it’s a reasonable number and sympathetic that we’ve all got to tighten our belts.”

Although Gainer said the department will sustain itself without layoffs or furloughs, it faces a $14 million salary budget shortfall.

A spending bill passed in the Democratic-controlled House last year would have kept legislative branch funding flat while closing the salary gap to prevent furloughs, in part by cutting the Architect’s budget. That bill was never taken up in the Senate.

Deeper cuts will be necessary to close the Capitol Police deficit and cut overall Congressional spending.

“I do not believe we’re in a ‘sky is falling’ situation,” Gainer said. “We’ve all anticipated that the budgets were going to be trimmed.”

The GAO could operate through fiscal 2012 if its budget remains flat, according to a report the GAO released this week. But cuts will pose challenges, especially with the increased workload stemming from the GAO’s expanded role of auditing the Federal Reserve.

The Government Printing Office also may be a target for cuts. The House passed a bill last month that would roll back one of the office’s daily printing jobs: delivering at least five hard copies of each bill to the legislation’s sponsor and co-sponsors and to the committees of jurisdiction. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) introduced a companion bill in the Senate last month.

“GPO is working with Congress to ensure their information product and service requirements are fulfilled and to meet the funding goals they have set,” GPO spokesman Gary Somerset said Thursday.

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