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Senate Committee Cuts Create Friction

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call
The Rules and Administration Committee and its chairman, Charles Schumer, announced cuts to committee budgets recently.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), best known as his party’s top messaging lieutenant, might find that fighting Republicans is a lot easier than his other responsibility, running the Rules and Administration Committee.

The committee controls the mundane details of the chamber, but that responsibility comes with enormous power to affect the working lives of every Senator — from which Member should get which prime Capitol office hideaways to how much funding committees get. With budgets across the government being squeezed, the latter has put the panel in a particularly tough spot this year.

The omnibus spending bill passed in December made serious cuts to legislative appropriations, and in a rare move, Senate committees were asked to make significant cuts to their budgets to ease the pain inflicted on personal offices, which have faced cuts for two consecutive years.

Appropriations cut the general pot for committees from $140.2 million to $131 million for fiscal 2012, leaving the Rules and Administration Committee to dole out the cuts to each Senate committee. Multiple sources confirmed that one of the panel’s top staffers sent an email Jan. 3 notifying aides on each Senate panel that there was a budget shortfall and cuts would have to be made retroactive to October 2011. According to a source knowledgeable about the situation, there was a $5 million shortfall after remaining funds from the previous fiscal year were applied to this year’s budget.

“It means less people to do some of the work,” Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) said. “I think to some degree, it means other people pick up the pieces to try to get it done, to try to get by. It’s not as effective, and it’s not as efficient.”

“There were some cuts that were higher than others,” Kerry added, when asked if the cuts were evenly distributed.

Sources close to multiple committees indicated frustration with the way Rules and Administration handled the distribution of cuts, saying they did not receive enough notice to prepare and that the panel was not transparent about how each committee would be affected. Aides present at staff director meetings at the end of 2011 said Rules and Administration staffers were asked repeated questions from top panel aides and did not seem to have concrete answers.

But even those who were frustrated with their own budget outlooks defended Rules and Administration in part. They noted that cuts have been made across government, and that there should be little sympathy for committees that never have had to tighten their belts. Despite the fact that there was little notice, veteran Hill staffers should have known cuts were coming, other sources said, and shrinking bloated budgets makes sense.

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