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House Passes Legislative Branch Spending Bill

Partisan vote followed fights over immigration vocabulary, ethics

A motion to allocate funds for the Library of Congress to drop the phrase "illegal aliens" from it's library lexicon was rejected. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
A motion to allocate funds for the Library of Congress to drop the phrase "illegal aliens" from it's library lexicon was rejected. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The House on Friday passed, 233-175, the $3.5 billion fiscal 2017 Legislative Branch spending bill with substantially less support than the last year’s version, as election-year tensions over immigration caused rifts on even the smallest of the annual appropriations bills.  

The amended measure was the first appropriations bill this year to come to the House floor under a structured rule that limited amendments to just 13. This was seen as abandonment of an open amendment process promised by Republican leadership, but structured rules have been typical on Legislative Branch spending in previous years.  

The fiscal 2016 bill passed the House with 357 yes votes. The bill on Friday passed mostly along party lines, with just 10 Democrats voting yes and 10 Republicans voting no.  

Lawmakers adopted six non-controversial amendments before passage, all by voice vote.  

The bill contains $1.2 billion to fund the operations of the House, $391.3 million for the Capitol Police and $560 million for the architect of the Capitol’s office.  

The bill, excluding Senate-only items, is about $73 million above the current enacted level and $152 million below the budget request from the Obama administration. The proposal would mark a 14 percent decline in topline funding for Legislative Branch appropriations since fiscal 2010, when Democrats last controlled the House.  

The House rejected, 170-237, a motion by Texas Democratic Rep. Joaquin Castro to send the bill back to the House Appropriations Committee and include an amendment to provide an additional $200,000 to the Library of Congress for the purpose of eliminating the phrase “illegal aliens” from the library’s lexicon.  

The committee report instructs the library to use terms used in Title 8 of the U.S. Code as subject headings for library searches. In late March, the library announced that it would fine-tune the search terms within its voluminous records, including changing the term “aliens” to “noncitizens” and “illegal immigration” to “unauthorized immigration.”  

“The question now is whether today we will do the right thing or if in a few years we will apologize for not doing the right thing,” said Castro.  

Georgia GOP Rep. Tom Graves, the chairman of the subcommittee on the Legislative Branch, repeated his position that the language would merely require the library to use words consistent with U.S. Code.  

The chamber rejected, 137-270, a proposal by New Mexico GOP Rep. Steve Pearce that would reduce the Office of Congressional Ethics budget by $190,970. Pearce took aim at the OCE and the Ethics Committee, inspired by the experience of a junior staffer in his office whom he said was “unfairly singled out” when the ethics offices reviewed allegations of misconduct.  

On Thursday night, lawmakers adopted by voice vote a proposal from Democratic Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon that would require the architect of the Capitol to conduct a feasibility study regarding the installation and operation of Capital Bikeshare stations on Capitol grounds.  

In an effort to accommodate breastfeeding mothers working in the Capitol complex, lawmakers also adopted a proposal from Democratic Reps. Peter Welch of Vermont and Doris Matsui of California that would add lactation stations to office buildings.  

For the eighth consecutive year, members are skipping a pay raise, freezing member salaries at the fiscal 2010 level. The bill would, however, raise the Members’ Representational Allowance account by $8.3 million, a 1.5 percent increase that would come out of the architect of the Capital Construction and Operations Fund.  

The MRA funds official office expenses including staff, mail and travel between a member’s district, state or territory and Washington.  

The Senate has moved its own Legislative Branch spending proposal (S 2955) for fiscal 2017 through committee, but floor action has not been scheduled.  

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