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House Democrats Face New Budget Realities

Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call
With Speaker-designate John Boehner (right) taking over the top spots in House leadership, the Democrats may have to scramble to fund newly created positions such as Assistant Leader.

Democratic leadership will have to do more with less in the 112th Congress.

The move by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to create a new minority leadership position for Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) stretches the Caucus coffers thin. That will have job-ending implications for Democratic leadership staffers in multiple offices.

Democratic leadership aides said Clyburnís cash supply is much like his duties: yet to be determined. But the math is complicated by the fact that a fiscal 2011 Congressional budget has not yet been passed.

In the current fiscal year, the House majority commands about $16 million of the $26 million total leadership budget. Thatís divided among the partyís policy and steering committee, the Caucus, other Speaker-controlled offices and the three leadership offices, including $2.2 million for Clyburnís Whip office.

The remaining $10 million goes to the minority: $4.6 million for the leader and $1.7 million for the Whip, while the GOP Conference, steering committee and policy committee share about $2 million, with the remainder for other expenses.

Traditionally, line-item funding levels donít stay the same when another party takes over, even if Congress passes a continuing resolution to keep overall funding flat, said Jennifer Hing, GOP spokeswoman for the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch.

ďThey re-evaluate what the ratio is in Congress, what have traditionally been the funding levels and what is needed, and then make a decision from thereĒ about how to reapportion funds, she said.

While one Democratic aide said Speaker-designates generally grant the incoming minorityís budget requests (after all, they could be on the other side of the equation in as few as two years), other observers say Democrats shouldnít expect sympathy from a Republican Party intent on slashing Congressí price tag.

ďI canít imagine, with what Republicans have said in the ĎPledge to America,í with starting with budget cuts in their own backyard ... that they will be amicable to increasing the minorityís budget,Ē Hing said.

Assuming a continuing resolution keeps the budget at $26 million, Pelosiís job swap with Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) shouldnít affect her bottom line too much ó that is, without the additional leadership post.

The Speakerís budget for personnel expenditures this year only exceeds the Minority Leaderís budget by about $150,000. The Majority Leaderís budget for personnel expenditures for this year exceeds the Minority Whipís budget by more than $800,000. But Clyburn shelled out $1.5 million in 2009 staff salaries and is moving into a position that, as of yet, has no budget at all.

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