Any Senator or Representative that votes in favor of this bump should be sent packing. Its disgraceful that Americans are tighting their own budgets yet our elected officials feel they are entitled to even more of our money. Vote the bums out!!!!
Congress is on the verge of giving itself a bump in its annual budget — even as local governments, families and businesses across the country are tightening their belts in the worst recession in decades.
Under a House-Senate conference measure, approved by the House last week and poised for passage in the Senate on Wednesday, spending for the legislative branch will increase 5.8 percent this year, boosting Capitol Hill’s annual budget to $4.7 billion.
The measure includes a hodgepodge of new funding for lawmakers: a $500,000 pilot program for senators to send out postcards about their town hall meetings, $30,000 for receptions for foreign dignitaries and $4 million for consultants — with Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) getting up to nine each and Senate President Pro Tempore Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) getting up to three more.
There’s $15.8 million for salaries for the Senate Appropriations Committee — plus an extra $950,000 for the committee’s administrative expenses.
Funding for House office buildings will jump a staggering 128 percent, to $84 million. Some of that money will go to replace a roof at the Rayburn House Office Building, and an additional $50 million is being allocated to renovate the Cannon House Office Building.
The Architect of the Capitol will see a 17.8 percent hike to deal with infrastructure repairs, and the Government Printing Office’s revolving fund will increase a whopping 155 percent, to $12.7 million, to deal with technology upgrades and repairs, according to the conference report.
The bill — which President Barack Obama could sign as soon as Wednesday — funds operations and staff salaries in the personal offices of the 535 members of Congress, dozens of legislative committees in the House and Senate, the GPO, the Office of the Architect of the Capitol, the Government Accountability Office and the Capitol Police.
Supporters of the bill argue that they were relatively frugal this year. Last year, Congress increased its funding 10.9 percent over the fiscal 2008 level — and the $4.7 it’s appropriating to itself this year is less than the $5 billion Obama set forth in his budget earlier this year.
“This is a fiscally responsible bill,” said Jake Thompson, spokesman for Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), chairman of the Senate’s legislative branch appropriations subcommittee.
But not everyone agrees.
“With an enormous deficit and rest of the country tightening their belts, Congress should be looking at doing the same,” said Steve Ellis, vice president of the Taxpayers for Common Sense.
Added Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.): “The growth of expenditures particularly in these times is terrible.”
The Appropriations Committee disputes that funding increased by 5.8 percent, arguing that the real number is 3.5 percent — or $157 million — because of emergency spending and the $787 billion economic stimulus that added to Congress’s budget. But critics call the move a budget gimmick that does not represent a true apples-to-apples comparison of the amount of money Congress approved in last year’s spending bills versus the fiscal 2010 bills.
The bill contains just one earmark — a $200,000 Nelson project for a museum in Omaha, Neb. — and it includes language added by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) to force the Senate for the first time to put its expenses online.
“We have not seen a significant increase in overall legislative branch expenditures since nearly 2001,” said Jonathan Beeton, a spokesman for Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), Nelson’s counterpart in the House. “During this time, significant cost increases have occurred, and the Capitol complex has also seen significant deferred maintenance. Many of these maintenance expenses become much more expensive if they continue to be deferred.”
Nelson’s office said the $500,000 “pilot program” for office mailings was included at the request of Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) and has been in place since 2004. It said the additional $950,000 for the Appropriations Committee accounts for telecommunications, hearing transcripts, and travel and office supplies and that the total for the GPO is far less than the $32.1 million the agency wanted.
It also said that the 5.5 percent increase that will go in part to increasing aides’ salaries was derived from cost-of-living-adjustment projections.
“While the crisis is easing, we are still a nation in financial peril, and we believe it is necessary for the legislative branch to lead by example,” Nelson said last week. He said that, “with one notable but important exception” — a reference to the renovation of the Cannon building — “I think we have been successful.”
Still, at a time when inflation remains low and the national debt is rising fast, leadership offices across the Capitol are expecting a bump in funding. Vice President Joe Biden, who also serves as president of the Senate, will see his budget increase 4.3 percent, to $2.5 million, under the measure. The offices of Reid and McConnell will each get a 4.3 percent increase from last year and will now each have $5.2 million; House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is seeing her budget jump 4.1 percent, to $5.1 million; the budget of House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) will rise 3.9 percent, to $2.5 million; the budget of House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) will increase 4 percent, to $4.5 million; and House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) each get a 3.7 percent increase, to $1.7 million and $2.2 million, respectively.
Jim Manley, a spokesman for Reid, said the 4.3 percent increase for Reid and McConnell is calculated by the Senate financial office to maintain current staffing levels.
“It is a cap, which neither office will necessarily meet but cannot exceed,” Manley said. He added that the authorization of up to nine consultants “is a long-standing authority to ensure the leaders’ offices can fulfill their duties to the Senate and to their respective caucuses.” Aides stressed that the money will not go to political consultants but to staffers who work on a contractual basis rather than as Senate employees.
The biggest hikes for the leadership offices went to the Senate whips — with Arizona Republican Jon Kyl and Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin each getting a 6.2 percent hike and each getting a new budget of $3.3 million. A spokesman for Durbin said that the hike accounts for annual cost-of-living increases, as well as the addition of new staff to oversee a more expanded Senate Democratic majority of 60 members. Even though Republicans have just 40 members, Kyl’s budget is the same as Durbin’s, but a Kyl spokesman said his office “always returns a large amount of funding” at the end of the fiscal year.
The bill is now headed to the Senate floor — and senators will be hard-pressed to block it. With the fiscal year ending Wednesday, Congress needs to pass a short-term, stopgap resolution to keep the government funded through October — and that resolution is included in the legislative appropriations bill, meaning a defeat for the bill could shut the government down.
House Republicans protested the move, with 162 Republicans — including the subcommittee’s ranking member, Alabama Rep. Robert Aderholt — last week voting against the bill last week, which was sent to the Senate on a 217-190 vote.
But the increase in funding has otherwise largely been a bipartisan affair. The Senate Appropriations Committee — where McConnell and 29 other appropriators sit — voted 30-0 in June to send the bill to the full Senate, which approved the bill in July by a 67-25 vote.