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Angling for the chairmanship of the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Jack Kingston is suggesting using the post to slash away at the costs of running the Congress, and he has a list of targets in mind already.
In an interview Friday, the Georgia Republican — a former chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch — provided a detailed cost-cutting vision, indicating that if he becomes chairman, he will make a top priority cutting funding for House operations.
On the chopping block in a Kingston-led committee: Capitol Police security details, Capitol Visitor Center tour guides and maybe even an entire agency.
“Do we still need a Government Printing Office?” he asked. “If I was chairman with the gavel, I’d ask these questions.”
The Republican Steering Committee is expected to vote today on who will chair the committee in the 112th Congress. Kingston is challenging more senior Reps. Jerry Lewis (Calif.), the committee’s ranking member, and Hal Rogers (Ky.), ranking member of the Subcommittee on Homeland Security.
Rogers has said he will cut spending to fiscal 2008 levels. Lewis has gone so far as to say he will cut his own committee budget and staff.
But having once held the gavel for the subcommittee that oversees the Capitol budget, as well as the budgets of Congressional agencies from the Library of Congress to the Government Accountability Office, Kingston isn’t shy about ticking off a laundry list of cuts he’d like to implement around the Capitol complex.
“The Appropriations Committee is getting out of the spending bus and onto the saving bus,” he said. “We do not have a choice. Our backs are up against the wall. We have to destroy the spending infrastructure in this town.”
First and foremost would be reducing Capitol Police security details, he said.
Kingston took issue with Capitol Police employing some 1,800 officers to guard a few buildings when the Fairfax County Police Department employs about the same amount across the entire region. Kingston’s plan calls for eliminating personnel.
“You don’t want to do it randomly,” he said. “You don’t want to cut a security patrol from a vulnerable checkpoint. But if there are checkpoints that aren’t so valuable, you might be padding it.”
Kingston said he favors doing away with officers detailed to the Capitol’s House-side car entrance, especially since New Jersey Avenue Southeast and South Capitol Street Southeast are already closed to vehicle traffic between the House office buildings.
“You have them blocked, structurally and through security, so why do you still have to have police at the gate?” he said.
Posting officers at every Capitol entrance, Kingston added, is an outdated practice from before 9/11. For instance, a checkpoint was placed at the Memorial Door entrance near the Small House Rotunda below the Speaker’s office after a gunman rushed in and killed two officers in 1998.
“One of the legacies of that horrible tragedy was to post a police officer at that doorway,” Kingston said. “Enter 9/11 and the entire campus security chain was beefed up. If you have the perimeter secured, why do you have so many interior check stations?”
And because of the structural and electronic security, Kingston further suggested that officers and parking attendants at the Rayburn House Office Building parking lot are superfluous.
“If the public has elected you with the job of balancing the budget, solving Iraq and Middle East peace, perhaps you should have enough sense to know to look both ways before going through the stop sign,” he said.
Kingston also recommended paring police expenses by ending security details and escorts for “lower-level leadership members.”
He would also try to limit the police department’s jurisdiction just to the Capitol complex and rein in the practice of officers responding to crime scenes at the National Mall and in Members’ districts, he said.
“If my house in Alexandria gets broken into, and I want them to come out there, they’ll come out there. How much of this is necessary and how much of it isn’t?” he said. “They push for permission, then they come back and say we need more money because they’re doing so many more things.”
Capitol Visitor Center tour guides are overpaid, Kingston continued, as some take home as much as $60,000 per year. Having a visitor assistant at the CVC’s entrance makes little sense, Kingston said.
“How much does that person get paid there to read a magazine?” he said.
The Members’ dining room in the Capitol stays open too late, making it hard to find a waiter who will work for comparable private-sector wages, he said.
Of course, the word of a House Appropriations chairman isn’t law; Kingston would only set the tone from the top. A yet-unnamed chairman for the Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch would have to implement the suggestions, and all that would have to be done in conjunction with the House Administration Committee.
But Kingston will be happy to offer suggestions.