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House passes Legislative Branch spending bill that cuts diversity office

‘Nobody’s opposed to diversity or inclusion,’ Amodei says

Mark Amodei, R-Nev., chairs the Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee.
Mark Amodei, R-Nev., chairs the Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

After a nearly monthlong delay, the House on Wednesday passed the fiscal 2024 Legislative Branch appropriations bill.

The $5.3 billion bill represents a 4.7 percent cut from current spending levels. That total does not include Senate-only funds. The final tally on the floor was 214-197, with all Republicans who were present and four Democrats voting in favor.

Passage of the bill — the smallest of the 12 appropriations measures — was delayed by the unprecedented removal of then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy and the lengthy fracas that resulted in Louisiana Republican Mike Johnson winning the gavel. The House adopted a rule for the Legislative Branch bill on Oct. 3, just before McCarthy’s ouster at the hands of eight unruly Republicans and every Democrat voting in the House.

McCarthy’s removal came on the heels of a continuing resolution that averted a government shutdown but guaranteed funding only until mid-November. As that new deadline approaches, the House still has six appropriations bills left to pass and must come to an agreement with the Democrat-controlled Senate, which opposes the steep cuts imposed by the House GOP.

House Democrats, too, generally oppose the GOP’s spending bills because they set discretionary spending well below the cap agreed to in June’s debt limit law and because they include controversial culture war policy riders.

The Legislative Branch bill is no exception — Republicans included language to prohibit diversity, equity and inclusion programming and zero out $3.5 million in funds for the House Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

Rep. Adriano Espaillat highlighted those moves during Wednesday’s floor debate. “Folks on the other side of the aisle are obsessed with cutting federal funding and eliminating programs that help to grow and diversify our country, as well as welcome everybody to the table,” said the New York Democrat, who serves as ranking member on the Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee.

Created in the 116th Congress, the ODI is an independent, nonpartisan office tasked with fostering “diversity among House employing offices, so that the House workforce reflects the diversity of America,” according to its website.

Republicans like the subcommittee’s chair, Mark Amodei of Nevada, have been critical of what they viewed as the politicization of the ODI and questioned the office’s use of taxpayer dollars. But Amodei said some of its functions would be “streamlined” and rolled into the Office of the Chief Administrative Officer.

“Nobody’s opposed to diversity or inclusion,” Amodei said on the floor Wednesday. “It’s not that the mission isn’t important, because it is. Which is why the mission was preserved and moved under the supervision of the Chief Administrative Officer for the House.”

The CAO would receive $213 million in fiscal 2024, a $1.5 million increase over current funding levels.

Democrats repeatedly attempted to reinsert funding for the ODI, but repeatedly fell short in committee. On Wednesday, 163 members signed a letter led by the Congressional Equality Caucus urging President Joe Biden and Democratic leaders in the House and Senate to reject funding bills with anti-LGBTQI+ provisions.

“Rather than working to address the problems facing Americans and supporting working families, anti-equality members of Congress are attempting to hijack the appropriations process to restrict the rights and fundamental freedoms of LGBTQI+ people,” the letter states. “These members lack the votes and public support to pass their anti-LGBTQI+ agenda into law as standalone bills, so they are working to include them in must-pass funding legislation. We strongly oppose these efforts.”

COLA block

Earlier versions of the Legislative Branch bill also sparked controversy for failing to block a pay raise for members of Congress.

The measure made it through committee without the customary language that has blocked cost-of-living adjustments for members for more than a decade. But the rule approved by the House Rules Committee last month amended the bill and reinstated the language to once again freeze member pay.

The four Democrats who voted for the bill are among the most vulnerable in next year’s elections, according to Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales.

They are: Don Davis of North Carolina and Marie Gluesenkamp Perez of Washington, whose seats are rated Toss-ups, and Mary Peltola of Alaska and Jared Golden of Maine, both considered Lean Democratic. All but Davis’ district backed former President Donald Trump over President Joe Biden in 2020.

The largest chunk of cuts in the Legislative Branch bill comes from the Architect of the Capitol, an embattled legislative branch agency whose former director, J. Brett Blanton, was fired earlier this year for misconduct.

The bill would provide $787 million to the AOC, a 30 percent reduction from fiscal 2023, much of which comes out of the AOC’s Capitol Police buildings, grounds and security budget. The Capitol Police, meanwhile, would get $781 million in funding, a 6 percent increase over the current year. The Library of Congress, Government Accountability Office and Congressional Budget Office would each receive modest 2 percent increases.

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Photos of the week ending December 8, 2023