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GOP Seeks Savings in Phasing Out Election Commission

An effort by House Republicans to close the Election Assistance Commission cleared its first obstacle Wednesday.

After some limited Democratic opposition, the House Administration Committee approved a bill that would remove funding from the EAC and transfer much of its responsibilities to the Federal Election Commission. The bill, which was approved by voice vote, is expected to receive a vote on the House floor next month, and Republicans are optimistic of its passage.

“Now is simply the time to end the EAC and to save the American taxpayers $14 million a year,” said Rep. Gregg Harper (R-Miss.), the bill’s sponsor. “It doesn’t get any easier to find an example of wasteful spending.”

Shortly before the vote, the committee rejected Rep. Charlie Gonzalez’s attempt to insert language that would only make changes to the EAC, instead of closing it. The Texas Democrat’s efforts reflect the views of Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, who opposes terminating the EAC.

“Abolishing the EAC would be an invitation to repeat mistakes that blemished our democracy in 2000,” the Maryland Democrat testified before the committee in April. Hoyer co-sponsored the law that created the EAC, the Help America Vote Act of 2002, after the turmoil surrounding the presidential election recounts in 2000.

“Look, we are in unprecedented times in terms of what the budget concerns are,” Chairman Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) said in response to Democratic opposition. “If consolidation is not appropriate here, I don’t know what is.”

The EAC’s spending has come under scrutiny in recent years, and the White House reduced its fiscal 2012 budget request for the commission as the Office of Management and Budget cut some of its grants.

If passed, the legislation would create a small increase for the FEC’s existing budget and personnel, but the agency’s staff said it would not dramatically affect its operations. The EAC has a budget of about $18 million and employs 50 full-time workers, while the FEC has a $66.5 million budget and 375 workers.

The FEC recently wrote a letter to the House Administration Committee explaining that it would be able to take over many of the duties of the EAC. The letter, which came in response to questions from ranking member Robert Brady (D-Pa.), said the FEC could contract with outside groups to fulfill aspects of the EAC’s responsibilities.

“Should Congress enact this bill and provide an appropriation that adequately reflects this change, we believe that the FEC could absorb the added functions and responsibilities, while continuing to fulfill our current mission successfully,” wrote the FEC’s Democratic chairwoman, Cynthia Bauerly.

The approved bill differed slightly from the original version. It would transfer the EAC’s Office of Voting System Testing and Certification to the FEC, instead of sending its responsibilities to the National Institute of Standards and Technology.