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House Approves Amendments to Legislative Branch Bill

The House approved sweeping cuts to the legislative branch budget Friday, including a 20 percent cut to the Government Printing Office — more than chairmen in both parties intended to slash from the embattled agency.

The underlying fiscal 2012 Legislative Branch Appropriations Act reduced the GPO budget by more than $22 million, or 16.3 percent of its fiscal 2011 budget. But an amendment by freshman Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind.), agreed to Friday on a 218-194 vote, raised the cut to 20 percent, or more than $27 million.

Rep. Gregg Harper, chairman of the Joint Committee on Printing, said he voted against Stutzman’s amendment because it went too far.

“It might have been a little more than I was willing to accept,” the Mississippi Republican said. “It still has to be evaluated … but every committee, every agency is going to probably have to do a little more with a little less, and they’re up to the challenge.”

Indeed, the bill cuts 6.4 percent, or $227 million, from the chamber’s fiscal 2012 budget, including reducing Member, committee and leadership office budgets across the board.

The bill cuts more than $53 million from the Library of Congress, roughly $35 million from the Government Accountability Office, almost $44 million from the Congressional Budget Office and more than $36 million from the Architect of the Capitol. It flat-funds the Capitol Police while reducing the House Sergeant-at-Arms’ budget by $690,000.

Stutzman’s amendment, on top of the other cuts, essentially forces the hand of the House Administration Committee, which will now have to look for additional cost savings at Congress’ printing wing.

“That’s not a bad thing,” said Rep. Rich Nugent (R-Fla.), who sits on the panel. “It forces us to talk about those issues and look for more efficiencies, that’s for sure.”

The Stutzman amendment adds to measures approved Thursday night that would further limit the role of the GPO. Approved by Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch Chairman Ander Crenshaw (R-Fla.) and ranking member Mike Honda (D-Calif.), an amendment brought forth by Republican Reps. Erik Paulsen (Minn.) and Candice Miller (Mich.) would end the mandatory printing of bills and the Congressional Record.

“We’re just trying to think of various ways to cut costs, with all this technology and the ability to download everything electronically,” Miller said in an interview Thursday. “I’m not trying to put the printing office out of business. They do have a role to play. But I think they could cut down on a lot of the printing they have been doing. It’s antiquated.”

The GPO currently sends five printed copies of bills to all sponsors and relevant committees, which costs the agency $1.7 million annually.

The Congressional Record, which averages 170 pages per volume and costs Congress more than $9 million annually to produce and print, is also delivered to every office. Under the new rules, Members would have to request printed copies of bills and access the record online or in the Legislative Resource Center.

The measures tacked on to the fiscal bill would be a temporary fix; certain mandatory printing would still have to be deauthorized, not just defunded. But House Administration Chairman Dan Lungren said he would soon try codify the limited printing practices.

“We’re moving in that direction,” the California Republican said Thursday. “We’re probably going to follow up with legislation we’ve been preparing to see that it can get done.”

GPO spokesman Gary Somerset said the agency is disappointed with the House’s votes but added that he hopes that when the appropriations process moves to the Senate, the agency will be fully funded.

“We would be less than candid if we did not state our disappointment with the deep spending cuts affecting GPO included in the final bill, including the amendment approved today to further reduce our funding,” he said in a statement. “The skilled and resourceful men and women of the GPO know that like other Federal employees today they are being called on to do more with less, and they will respond to that call.  We hope that the GPO’s final appropriations include the funding levels we will need to continue providing the work Congress requires us to perform.”

House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers praised passage of the bill.

“Our constituents asked us to get our fiscal house in order, and we are leading by example with this legislation. We all have to share in the sacrifice during this financial crisis, and this bill shows that we are doing our part to help our nation dig itself out of dangerous, job-killing debt so that we can get our economy back on track,” the Kentucky Republican said in a statement.

Another unexpected cut was approved in an amendment Friday for the Botanic Garden on a 299-112 vote. The garden was slated to get a $632,780 budget boost for scheduled maintenance to the greenhouse’s temperature controls and other things, but a measure fielded by Republican Reps. Nan Hayworth (N.Y.) and Paul Gosar (Ariz.) rolled back the increase.

“We have to get back to the creative aspect of how we look at finances,” Gosar said Friday, suggesting private donations or volunteers could help. “Any type of gardeners, they would be happy to give their time. They want to be part of the solution process.”

The House voted down an amendment from Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.) that would have slashed the Botanic Garden budget by about $3.2 million, bringing the budget back to fiscal 2008 levels.

The House also voted down amendments that would have banned compact fluorescent light bulbs in Member offices, forbade Styrofoam in House cafeterias, defunded the Office of Congressional Ethics by 40 percent and resurrected the long-gone Office of Technology Assessment, which from 1972 to 1995 provided reports on technological analyses of scientific and technological issues.

Other approved amendments would create a $1 million fund within the budget of the Capitol Police to help Members pay for security upgrades to their district offices and restore $1 million in funding to a Library of Congress program to help preserve books and documents.

The bill also included an amendment introduced by Rep. Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.) and agreed to by committee chairmen that would prohibit House Members from leasing personal vehicles that cost more than $1,000 per month.

Car leases have already become a campaign issue, with Democrats running ads against Rep. Chip Cravaack (R-Minn.) for leasing an expensive sport utility vehicle.

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