When it comes to cost-saving amendments, Rep. Paul Broun can’t be beat, even if he rarely wins.
The Georgia Republican has offered more amendments to appropriations bills that have passed this year than any other House Member, in an effort to prove money can be saved at every turn.
Broun proposed a dozen changes to the three spending bills considered and approved by the House this month. Eleven of those amendments — all of which were rejected — applied to the Agriculture appropriations bill and would have cut the department’s budget by a total of $2 billion.
A Broun aide said he told his staff last week that the spending bills were like a speeding train heading for a cliff; he thought he could at least slow down that train.
“He went into this appropriations bill with a goal of cutting at least $2 billion,” Broun spokeswoman Meredith Griffanti said. “Even that’s just a drop in the bucket.”
Under the Republican-established rules for this year’s appropriations bills, Members can offer any change without prior announcement. Often, even the majority staff does not see the language until seconds before the amendments are read on the floor.
Democrats have historically been more restrictive when it comes to offering amendments for appropriations bills, so budget hawks like Broun simply did not have the opportunity to show off their penny-pinching acumen in the past two legislative sessions.
Republicans offered nearly two-thirds of the more than 160 proposed amendments for the three bills, according to a CQ Roll Call analysis. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) offered 10 amendments, and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) came in third, behind Broun, offering eight amendments.
Broun’s amendments stand out not only because of the sheer number but also because of the strategy of attempting to chip away at the bills’ bottom-line numbers in a piecemeal fashion. Republican amendments — like those King offered — have historically placed conditions and prohibitions on how funds can be used. Lawmakers from both parties typically attempt to hack larger amounts from the total appropriation or to shift money from one account to another.
Six of the amendments Broun proposed to the Agriculture bill attempted to cut less than $100 million from various programs. For instance, one Broun amendment would have cut $21 million from the operation and maintenance of Agriculture Department buildings. Another proposal would have entirely scrapped a $180 million international child nutrition program and four others made 10 percent cuts to programs like the Agriculture Marketing Service and the Women, Infants and Children Supplemental Nutrition Program. Broun also offered an amendment to reduce by half the number of passenger motor vehicles the Agriculture Department could purchase next year.
Broun’s staff went through the bill provision by provision to identify spots where they could make incremental cuts without offending constituents, Griffanti said.
“Many of the programs I have proposed cutting or eliminating are wasteful, do not serve their original purpose, and have grown exponentially in cost over the years — to the point where we can no longer afford them,” Broun said in a statement issued last week.
But, while Broun saw nutrition and research programs as an opportunity for savings, it was a tough idea to sell to lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
“We’re in the worst recession since the Great Depression,” said Ryan Nickel, a Democratic aide on the House Appropriations Committee. “How is a program that already has to turn away 350,000 low-income women and children an ‘opportunity’ for further cuts?”
In the end, only one of Broun’s amendments was approved: a proposal to trim the Homeland Security Department’s $6 million legislative affairs budget by $600,000.
Broun, a conservative elected in 2007 who regularly accuses President Barack Obama of being a socialist, ultimately voted against the final bill to fund the Agriculture Department just as he did for the other spending bills passed this year — Homeland Security as well as military construction and Veterans Affairs — because they were too expensive.
Broun, who famously live-tweeted his reactions to Obama’s 2011 State of the Union address from the comfort of his Congressional office, has garnered publicity and raised eyebrows for his legislative and political antics. He has introduced a bill to ban sales of Playboy and Penthouse magazines at military bases, and he took part in a religious ceremony to anoint with oil the Capitol passageway that Obama walked through on his way to take the presidential oath of office.
Jennifer Hing, a Republican aide on the House Appropriations Committee, said Broun’s long list of amendments was no surprise after the budget extensions this winter.
The short-term funding resolution passed in February was also considered under the open-rule process, with more than 600 amendments offered and several Members proposing dozens of changes.
The Defense as well as Energy and water appropriations bills are likely the next spending measures the House will consider. And Broun is primed to look for more pockets of savings.