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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.

He is ďnot only in the minority, but heís in a minority in a position that didnít even exist,Ē a former GOP aide said. ďSo heís in a position where heís basically going to have to go around and beg for his budget.Ē

If Republicans decide to cut the leadership budget, Democrats will face an even tighter squeeze. A Boehner spokesman said no decisions have been made yet.

ďThe Minority Leader doesnít have many requirements that would demand the office of an Assistant Leader,Ē Republican strategist Ron Bonjean said. ďSince it is an obvious political accommodation, it is likely that the other leadership offices will be asked to sacrifice a portion of their budgets to fund this new position for minimal staff and office space.Ē

That means that unlike the usual scenario, where a Speaker bows out along with office staff, the leadership personnel cuts will probably be spread across the Caucus.

That wasnít the case in 2007, when Democrats took over the House, because outgoing Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) stepped down and his staff mostly left the Hill or got jobs in other offices, according to the database LegiStorm.

Boehner, who had been Majority Leader, took the helm of the minority and much of his staff came with him. So did staff of then-Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who moved from Majority Whip to Minority Whip.

But in the Democratsí favor this year is the fact that thereís flexibility in leadership finances. As an example, in 2008, Pelosi gave Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.) the newly created position of Assistant to the Speaker to persuade him to stay in charge of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee for one more election cycle.

When Pelosi set up the new position, she didnít ask the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch to appropriate any more for Van Hollen.

Pelosi instead financed his office primarily out of the budgets of the Caucus and the Speaker, designating about half a million dollars in 2009 to pay for six leadership staffers, according to LegiStorm.

Van Hollen Director of Member Services C.R. Wooters, Legislative Director Aaron Schmidt and Staff Assistant Michelle Widmann were completely on the Speakerís payroll as of June 30.

Doug Thornell, his communications director, is paid half by the Speaker and half by Van Hollenís personal office. Deputy Director of Member Services Julie Merz is paid partly out of the Speakerís budget but mostly out of the Caucus.

And Van Hollenís chief of staff, Karen Robb, splits her salary among all three sources. Itís not an uncommon arrangement in either party: Boehner spokesman Michael Steel, for instance, is paid as an employee of the Republican Steering Committee.

But while the half a million dollars helped fund six employees for Van Hollen, it wonít replace what Clyburn has now. His Majority Whip office spent three times that amount on more than 20 staff salaries in 2009.

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