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Deficit Committee Comes With Its Own Costs

In order to cut trillions from the U.S. budget, Congress will have to spend a little money first.

The debt deal struck by President Barack Obama and Congressional leaders calls for the creation of a Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction — and with a new committee comes a new set of expenses.

Senate and House Appropriations committee staffers confirmed that the funding for the bill would come from the legislative branch budget, but it is unclear at this early stage how much the committee would feasibly spend on salaries and expenses in its short existence.

What also has yet to be determined, because Congress is currently operating under a continuing resolution, is whether the funding would be carved out from the current fiscal year’s funds.

“We’re going to have to figure out how to do it,” House Rules Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.) said. “We’ll have to have a resolution that will set it up.”

The Budget Control Act specifies that the House and the Senate will split the cost, though it will be listed on the Senate budget.

No matter the short time frame, House Administration Chairman Dan Lungren, who might be tasked with overseeing at least part of the committee, said Congress will come through with the funding.

“We’d make sure they get sufficient funding,” the California Republican said. “That would not be an excuse for them not to do their work.”

The committee must convene within 45 days of passage and vote on its deficit reduction recommendations by mid-
November. It looks increasingly likely the two chambers will have to come together on a continuing resolution in September, so it is possible that committee funding could be included in that deal.

That might serve the committee well because the appropriations process was the most time-consuming part of starting a new committee, said David Moulton, who served as staff director at the establishment of the Energy Independence and Global Warming Committee.

“They probably could get started on the basis of just pulling from existing resources,” he said. “Maybe they can deal with the budget after the fact.”

Staff might also be pooled together from existing resources.

The authorizing act states that the new committee can carry out its business in the same manner as the Joint Economic Committee, meaning it can “appoint and fix the compensation of such experts, consultants, technicians, and clerical and stenographic assistants, to procure such printing and binding, and to make such expenditures, as it deems necessary and advisable,” according to the statute that created the Joint Economic Committee. “The joint committee is authorized to utilize the services, information, and facilities of the departments and establishments of the Government, and also of private research agencies.”

But Chad Stone, a former Joint Economic Committee staff director, said it might be difficult to hire professional staff for a committee that is meant to exist for only a few months. Existing employees might be the most practical way to go, he said.

“I would just suspect people from the Budget committees and maybe from Finance and Ways and Means committees would be temporarily loaned — that would be the quickest way to staff up,” Stone said. “They just needed a convenient administrative structure.”

Because the committee is meant to be temporary, Moulton said, Congress would likely not build out office space, but rather would meet in existing space lent by other committees.

“Another step you have to go through is the committee has to convene and adopt its own set of rules, which are pretty much boiler plate,” he said. “But they don’t have to be. You could have arguments over those.”

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