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AOC a Winner Among Legislative Branch Agencies in Omnibus

Preparations for the two-year Capitol Dome restoration brought renewed attention to deteriorating conditions of one of the world’s most iconic structures in late 2013, perhaps inspiring a funding package that would allow those projects to continue.

Architect of the Capitol Stephen T. Ayers has repeatedly highlighted the 1,300 cracks crisscrossing the Dome’s cast-iron shell, and recently spread out more than 40 corroded metal chunks removed from the Dome for TV cameras.

With scaffolding for the $59.55 million project set to go up on the Capitol’s roof this spring, appropriators have unveiled a boost to AOC funding for fiscal 2014 that provides the $15.94 million needed for the next phase of the Dome restoration.

The $4.26 billion fiscal 2014 Legislative Branch spending bill released Monday night contains $602 million for the AOC, giving the agency a boost above 2013 enacted levels, making it unique among congressional agencies. It’s an increase of about $40 million, a level without precedent in the past five fiscal years.

“As we know, we have major renovations that need to occur here, particularly with respect to the Dome, but more generally through the structure,” said House Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Tom Cole, R-Okla. “Look, that’s a bipartisan thing. We happen to be custodian of really one of the greatest symbols of freedom in the world.”

Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, “was very determined that we make sure that nothing bad happen to it on his watch, so we have strong support from leadership” Cole said. There may be a lot of division inside the Capitol, he said, “but the fate of the building brings both sides together.”

Cole also noted that “[We] put a little money back in the historic preservation fund for long-term work,” referring to the $70 million included for the Historic Buildings Trust Fund.

Though it falls short of the requested $681.7 million for fiscal 2014, as reported by the Congressional Research Service, it’s a big increase from what legislative branch appropriators were planning this summer. The House-reported bill for fiscal 2014 would have provided about $508 million, not including funding for the Senate office buildings, and the Senate-reported bill would have provided about $469 million, not including funding for House office buildings. By tradition, each chamber writes only the portions of the bill dealing with its operations, leaving conferees to work out spending differences over supporting agencies, such as the AOC, Capitol Police and the Government Accountability Office.

AOC spokeswoman Laura Condeluci said the agency would not comment on pending legislation.

Other legislative branch agencies, including the Capitol Police, GAO and Government Printing Office, would not receive the same increase. The bill would restore their funding levels about to fiscal 2013 enacted levels.

Appropriators also want to largely maintain the austere, post-sequester spending levels implemented March 1 for lawmakers’ expenses.

The largest item in the Legislative Branch bill is about $1.2 billion for the operations of the House, about $45 million less than the 2013 enacted level, but a $19 million increase from sequester levels that went into effect on March 1.

Cole told CQ Roll Call last week that staffs at the committee and individual member level had “stepped up to the plate” amid recent cuts, but indicated the austerity might have reached its limits. He predicted that proposal will win strong support from both chambers.

The agreement also includes $859 million for Senate operations and $720,000 to enhance oversight of intelligence matters. It would trim about $8 million from 2013 enacted levels.

Also tucked into the bill is a $174,000 payment to the widow of the late Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Fla.

Neither chamber passed a Legislative Branch appropriations bill before the beginning of the fiscal year on Oct. 1. The budget of the bill, the smallest of the appropriations bills, has decreased each year since fiscal 2010.

Appropriators have used the bill as an opportunity to lead by example in deficit reduction efforts. In past years, lawmakers have pointed to the Legislative Branch bill as proof that they can be good stewards of the taxpayers’ money, funding only the most critical needs of congressional agencies, but that era may have reached its limit.

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