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Legislative Branch bill boosts Members Representational Allowance, Capitol Police

Low pay, morale could be addressed with additional funds

Architect of the Capitol workers lower the flag to half staff at the Capitol after the passing of Gen. Colin Powell on Monday, Oct. 18. 2021.
Architect of the Capitol workers lower the flag to half staff at the Capitol after the passing of Gen. Colin Powell on Monday, Oct. 18. 2021. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

As part of the $1.5 trillion omnibus spending bill released Wednesday, the $5.9 billion fiscal 2022 Legislative Branch funding portion would substantially boost the office budgets of House members to pay staff more and seeks to enable the Capitol Police department to hire more officers.

The bill marks a $625 million, or 11.8 percent, increase over the fiscal 2021 funding level. Low pay and high turnover have plagued workers on Capitol Hill for years, a shared sentiment that has led to a growing movement by some staffers to unionize.

This legislation would provide $774.4 million for the Members Representational Allowance, known as the MRA, which funds the House office budgets for lawmakers, including staffer salaries. This $134.4 million, or 21 percent, boost over the previous fiscal year marks the largest increase in the MRA appropriation since it was authorized in 1996, according to a bill summary by the House Appropriations Committee. For paid interns in member and leadership offices, the House would get $18.2 million. 

In August, Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced staffers’ salaries could exceed those of lawmakers. Members in both the House and Senate, with the exception of leadership, make an annual salary of $174,000. Staffers can make up to $199,300. The MRA increase would allow those at the lower end of the pay scale, such as staff assistants, to be paid more. Members would not receive a pay increase under the bill, a point of contention for years. 

The Senate would get $1.1 billion for salaries and operations. The bill provides $7 million for Senate intern pay. House operations would receive $1.7 billion.

The Capitol Police department would get $602.5 million, an increase of $87 million over the 2021 fiscal year level. This would allow the force to hire up to 2,112 sworn officers and 450 civilian employees. Capitol Police Chief J. Thomas Manger has told Congress that his biggest challenge is staffing, noting in January that the department had a shortfall of 447 and that he plans to hire 280 officers in 2022.

“This bill is essential to keeping our democracy and the legislative branch of government functioning in a safe and accessible manner,” Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., chair of the Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee, said in a statement. “At a time when the U.S. Capitol and the Capitol Police continue to operate amidst immense challenges, this agreement ensures they have the resources and staffing to protect the Capitol complex.”

The explanatory statement calls for the Architect of the Capitol, which is responsible for the maintenance of buildings on the complex, to identify options for a renovation or replacement of the Capitol Police headquarters and a new Senate office building.

The Architect of the Capitol would receive $773.9 million, or $98.8 million over the fiscal 2021 level. This includes $128 million to continue the renovation of the Cannon House Office Building, which has included questionable spending. The agency would be directed to put a plaque on the western front of the Capitol honoring law enforcement officers and agencies that responded to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.

Also of note:  

  • The Congressional Budget Office would get $60.9 million, $3.7 million more than fiscal 2021. 
  • The Government Publishing Office would receive $124.2 million, a boost of $7.2 million over fiscal 2021. 
  • The Government Accountability Office would get $719.2 million, a $58.1 million boost over the previous fiscal year.
  • The Library of Congress, including the Congressional Research Service, would receive $794 million, a $37 million increase over the previous fiscal year.

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