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House Democrats propose removal of ‘racial intolerance’ statues from Capitol

Move comes as nation grapples with racial injustice highlighted by recent police killings of Black people.

Corrected, Nov. 10 |The draft House fiscal 2021 Legislative Branch spending bill released Monday would order the removal from the Capitol statues of Confederates and others “with unambiguous records of racial intolerance,” including John C. Calhoun and Roger B. Taney, according to a summary.

The draft text of a $4.2 billion bill, which calls for the Architect of the Capitol to remove statues with ties to the nation’s racist past, comes as the country grapples with racial injustice highlighted by recent police killings of Black people, including George Floyd.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi in June called for the removal of Confederate statues in the National Statuary Hall Collection. Such statues and busts would be returned to their home states. The California Democrat recently removed the portraits of former House speakers who served in the Confederacy.

Calhoun was vice president in two administrations and a senator from South Carolina. Though he died in 1850, before the inception of the Confederate States of America, he established its world view, according to Carole Emberton, an associate history professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo. A statue of Calhoun is in the Statuary Hall collection.

A bust of Taney, who as the chief justice of the Supreme Court issued the Dred Scott decision in 1857, is also in the Capitol.

The proposed total for House and joint operations with the Senate is $207 million more than enacted for the current fiscal year, according to the summary from the House Appropriations Committee. The bill does not include Senate-only spending, which will be incorporated later in the appropriations process.

The Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee is scheduled to mark up the bill on Tuesday.

Budgets for individual member offices, called the Members Representational Allowance, would see a $25 million boost over the current fiscal year to $640 million. This pool of money goes to staffer salaries, office supplies and other office expenses. House committees would get a $3 million increase to $162.8 million.

The bill would not include a pay increase for lawmakers, however. House Democrats last year included a proposed raise in their draft Legislative Branch bill, which would have been the first raise since 2009, but left it out of the enacted bill in the face of member opposition.

Under the fiscal 2021 spending measure, young people who are enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program would be allowed to work in Congress. Interns would still get paid with an allocation of $11.4 million for those employees.

Capitol Police

The Capitol Police would see its funding remain level at $464 million. It would be pressed to adopt more transparency measures, according to Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, chairman of the Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee.

Although not specifically included in the bill text, increased scrutiny of the Capitol Police is included in the forthcoming committee report, said Evan Hollander, communications director for the Appropriations Committee.

“The report directs the Capitol Police to review [inspector general] reports to determine what can be made public, and urges them to create a FOIA-like system to improve transparency,” Hollander said in an email. “The Committee also urged Capitol police to explain their jurisdiction and how they work with MPD. Finally, to improve accountability, we require reports on diversity in the ranks and racial profiling by the force.”

The Capitol Police, as a part of Congress, is exempt from Freedom of Information Act records requests. Lawmakers have raised concerns about that lack of transparency but have not yet proposed mandating that it comply with the law.

Other provisions

A House Modernization Initiatives Account would be established for $2 million in order to promote administrative efficiencies and expand technologies in the chamber.

The Office of Diversity & Inclusion would receive $1.5 million, an increase of $500,000 above enacted levels.

Other funding levels include:

  • The Government Accountability Office would receive $664.3 million, $34.3 million over the 2020 level.
  • The Architect of the Capitol would get $631.3 million, an increase of $31.8 million.
  • The Library of Congress would get $752.8 million, an increase of $27.4 million.
  • The Congressional Budget Office would get $57.3 million, an increase of $2.4 million.
  • The Government Publishing Office would get about $117 million, largely unchanged with enacted levels.

Correction: This report has been corrected to reflect the total proposed appropriations for the Government Publishing Office.

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