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Democrats decry ‘very, very harmful’ riders in Legislative Branch bill

DeLauro praises spending boost but slams provision that would block DEI programs

House Appropriations ranking member Rosa DeLauro, seen here last year, on Thursday denounced a policy rider that would block some diversity, equity and inclusion programs in the legislative branch.
House Appropriations ranking member Rosa DeLauro, seen here last year, on Thursday denounced a policy rider that would block some diversity, equity and inclusion programs in the legislative branch. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

A House Appropriations subcommittee on Thursday advanced the fiscal 2025 Legislative Branch spending bill, which would provide $5.5 billion for House and joint items, a 3.5 percent increase from enacted fiscal 2024 levels.

After cuts last year to the Legislative Branch bill — which funds Congress and support agencies and is the smallest of the 12 spending bills passed annually — committee Democrats welcomed the bump in the GOP proposal even as they continued to hammer their Republican colleagues on conservative policy riders included in the text. 

The draft bill, which totals $7.1 billion including Senate-only items, advanced out of subcommittee by voice vote and will now move to the full committee for a markup.

“The bill before us today is not far removed from a bill that I would support. It builds upon investments in the legislative branch that have enabled us to better serve the American people,” House Appropriations Committee ranking member Rosa DeLauro said. “But unfortunately, the majority has included very, very harmful policy riders that create unfair, lopsided rules for certain members of Congress, hurt our ability to attract and retain diverse and talented staff, and unwind important provisions to ensure that we are doing our part to protect the environment.”

DeLauro, D-Conn., and other committee Democrats called out a provision in the bill that would create a loophole for members who are doctors or dentists to be paid in addition to their congressional salary. 

Another rider would block diversity, equity and inclusion programs that promote “divisive concepts related to race or sex.” The bill would also protect any person who “speaks, or acts, in accordance with a sincerely held religious belief, or moral conviction, that marriage is, or should be recognized as, a union of one man and one woman.” 

And it would continue a prohibition on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, recipients working in the legislative branch.

“As ranking member of this committee, the numbers seem reasonable. The bill provides modest increases to support the staffing and other resources needed by Congress to do its work,” said Adriano Espaillat, D-N.Y., ranking member of the subcommittee. “However, I cannot support this bill as written today because of what I feel are unnecessary, harmful riders.”

Increases for most agencies

In addition to advancing conservative policy priorities, the bill would provide bumps to most legislative branch agencies.

It would provide $1.9 billion in funding for the House, a more than 4 percent boost over current funding levels.

The Capitol Police would receive a 5 percent bump, up to $830 million in fiscal 2025. It would also provide $883.4 million for the Library of Congress, $896.7 million for the Government Accountability Office, and $73.3 million for the Congressional Budget Office, all of which are well above fiscal 2024 enacted levels.

The Architect of the Capitol, meanwhile, would see its budget cut by $56.3 million, down to $752.2 million. The AOC has been awash in controversy in recent years, and J. Brett Blanton was removed in February 2023 as head of the agency. Thomas Austin, an Army veteran and former director of engineering at Arlington National Cemetery, was named the new Capitol architect on Wednesday.

“Our greatest duty is to our constituents and this bill provides resources for us to serve their needs. It makes investments to ensure robust oversight and accountability over the actions of the White House,” House Appropriations Chairman Tom Cole, R-Okla., said at the markup. “It supports the safety of the Capitol complex for visitors and for the work of the U.S. Capitol police. And it keeps national institutions like the Library of Congress and Government Accountability Office open.”

Silent on COLA

One issue not raised at Thursday’s markup was whether members of Congress should get their first pay raise in nearly 15 years. The cost of living adjustment, or COLA, is a perennial hot-button issue for Legislative Branch appropriators.

Member pay has been frozen at $174,000 since 2009 thanks to a provision blocking the COLA tucked into the Legislative Branch bill every year.

Last year, the House version of the bill made it through committee without the provision. But the Rules Committee inserted the language in October. Appropriators continued to debate the pay raise into March, but ultimately passed the final package for fiscal 2024 with the freeze in place.

Rep. David Valadao, R-Calif., who took the House Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee gavel in April, said last month that he’d been instructed COLA would be a “speaker-level decision.” 

Asked after the markup if there was support for a pay increase, Cole said, “I think there is. There are always mixed feelings about this. We’ll see what happens in the full markup.”

Meanwhile, Democrats have begun nudging their Republican colleagues on a memorial plaque to honor officers who responded to the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. The plaque was authorized in the fiscal 2022 omnibus and was supposed to be placed at the Capitol by March 2023. Espaillat, in a statement responding to the draft Legislative Branch bill released Wednesday, called the failure to install the plaque “unconscionable.”

“They don’t want to do it I guess. They don’t want to recognize those heroes that protected us on Jan. 6,” Espaillat said of the plaque after the markup. Asked if he thought the delay was politically motivated, he said, “It seems that way.”

“I don’t know anything about it,” Cole said of the plaque.

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