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Senate Operational Budget Warns of Furloughs

The Senate’s legislative branch spending bill unveiled Friday would result in furloughs, hiring freezes and delays of maintenance and services across the Capitol complex.

But compared to the House’s proposal, Senate appropriators would spare the Legislative Branch from about $40 million in cuts and, according to a Senate Appropriations Committee release, catastrophic disruptions to Congress’ operations.

The Senate would put Congress’ operating budget at $4.5 billion through Sept. 30, rolling spending back to fiscal year 2009 levels by cutting more than $150 million compared with last fiscal year’s budget.

Appropriators did so in part by following the House’s lead and cutting 5 percent from Senators’ individual office budgets, though the House went further in January, passing a resolution to cut all Member, leadership and committee budgets by 5 percent.

But cutting more than $10 million from the Senate offices and operations “will likely result in furloughs for some Senate offices,” according to a Senate Appropriations Committee release.

Staff layoffs, as well as a freezes to hiring and core functions, would be needed to meet the $435 million mark that would be allotted at the Library of Congress. But the House proposal would cut more than $30 million deeper, which would “furlough all Library staff for approximately eight weeks, including a complete closure of Library facilities and services during that period,” according to the Senate release. “In other words, for two months of the remaining six months, the Library would be closed.”

The Senate would hand the Architect of the Capitol more than $579 million, just $6.7 million more than would the House.

“The reduced level of funding will impact specifically the planned repair work on the Capitol Dome, as well as AOC plans for the Capitol grounds and the Library Buildings and Grounds account,” according to the Senate release.

The funding still falls far short of Architect Stephen Ayers’ fiscal year 2012 budget request of $706 million. At a hearing Thursday, Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch Cardinal Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) signaled that Ayers would have to scale back his ambitions due to Congress’ austere appropriations climate of late.

In a surprise move, the Democratic Senate proposal provides less funding to the Capitol Police than the GOP House counterpart. While the Senate bill would increase the department’s budget by $6 million, the House bill would add $12 million.

The Capitol Police is facing a budget shortfall of up to $14 million this year. Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer told Roll Call last month that the proposed $12 million House addition would prevent furloughs to officers.

It’s unclear, however, whether the Senate bill aims to avoid that outcome by shifting existing department funds from its expenses to its salaries account.

By allotting it $548 million, the Senate would allow the Government Accountability Office to fully fulfill its mission, though at a reduced level, the release states. The House would strip $25 million more, which would make the agency fire a third of its staff or institute an across-the-board furlough of up to eight days, according to the Senate release.

“Such a reduction would have a significant impact on GAO’s ability to provide timely responses to the range of Congressional requests and mandates,” the release states. “Congress would need to consider changes to GAO’s statutory authority for responding to Congressional mandates.”

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