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House GOP Transition Team Eyes Cost Cuts

The GOP transition group dedicated to overhauling House operations is taking a broad look at potential cost cuts, including ideas for slicing Member budgets, limiting printing and pooling cell phone minutes, according to sources with knowledge of the discussions.

Reps. Bob Goodlatte (Va.) and Tom Cole (Okla.), the group’s leaders, have been soliciting ideas from Members and the heads of Congressional support agencies in meetings, from a suggestion box or simply by being “buttonholed in the hallway,” Goodlatte said.

“There’s no aspect of the legislative branch of the federal government that we are not focused on,” Goodlatte said during an interview Tuesday. “You’ve got to clean house — clean the House — before you can get the credibility to do the same things government-wide.”

Cole said the group is focused most immediately on House initiatives that can be changed without bicameral or legislative action.

“That’s what leadership wants us to do,” Cole said. “It makes sense to me that the areas we can change on our own the fastest should have high priority.”

But the group is examining every support agency and challenging them to cut their budgets. So far, a few ideas have stood out.

“One of things that the team is looking at is the possibility that we can reduce some of the printing that’s done around here, some of the hard copy printing,” a GOP transition staffer said.

The suggestion seems to resemble a bill proposed by Rep. Chris Lee (R-N.Y.) that was voted down on the House floor Wednesday. Brought to the floor under the GOP’s YouCut initiative, the bill would have saved about $35 million over 10 years by ending the practice of delivering five printed copies of legislation to every sponsor, original co-sponsor and committee of jurisdiction.

Almost $94 million was appropriated for Congressional printing and binding in fiscal 2010. A Government Printing Office spokesman said the agency, which would bear the burden of this cut, would adapt if this change is instituted.

Another promising suggestion, the GOP transition staffer said, is negotiating cell phone contracts with companies to pool usable minutes across the House, so instead of some offices having unused minutes and others going over their allotment, offices could share rollover minutes.

“Every dime in every [Members’ Representational Allowance] comes out of the same appropriations act,” the staffer said. “Why should the phone company get to treat it as 435 separate small businesses?”

But Goodlatte said the panel plans to recommend that offices remain independent in other ways. Though President Barack Obama this week instituted a two-year pay freeze for federal workers to curb the deficit, no such plan is being discussed in the working group, Goodlatte said. Instead, he suggested the panel will recommend cutting the Members’ Representational Allowances, the amount of money each office is allotted for salaries, expenses and travel.

“Within an individual Member’s office, for us to presume to tell them how to operate, I think, is a mistake,” Goodlatte said. “Our recommendation will more likely be focused on the overall amount of money a Member can spend, rather than micromanage exactly how they spend it.”

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, another Member of the transition group, said the recyclable utensils in Longworth Cafeteria, which are pricier than plastic cutlery, could be targeted.

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