House committee chairmen and ranking members say further budget cuts in the second session of the 112th Congress could harm their panels' ability to function, particularly when it comes to hiring and attracting qualified staff.
With the exception of the Appropriations Committee, representatives from all House committees were required on Wednesday to defend their funding allocations before the House Administration Committee, which must authorize such allocations for the next year.
While fiscal 2011 spending legislation required a 5 percent across-the-board cut for all House committees, a 6.4 percent decrease looms in 2012.
Testifying at an all-day hearing convened by House Administration Chairman Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) and ranking member Robert Brady (D-Pa.), senior lawmakers from both parties said another round of cuts could be detrimental to their committees' day-to-day operations.
They laid out what further reductions would mean, including trimming salaries and bonuses, as well as cutting the size of staff through attrition.
A number of Democrats, who control just one-third of their committee budgets, said the cuts in 2011 have already necessitated layoffs.
"We had to lay off several staffers — some of whom have served the committee for more than a decade — and impose a 5 percent pay cut for the remaining staff," said House Budget ranking member Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.).
Transportation and Infrastructure ranking member Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) said the budget cuts could cause his committee to have trouble attracting and retaining senior staffers.
"Institutional memory and history of this institution afforded by those with experience to advise us ... is fundamental," he said, adding that younger — and lower-paid — staffers are not always equipped to fill the void.
Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) echoed that the panel could lose senior staff to more lucrative opportunities in the private sector.
Others, including some Republicans whose party has led the call for Congress to lead by example in the campaign to cut spending, cautioned that larger cuts could make it difficult for their committees to fulfill their duties.
"While I am confident in our ability to weather this additional ... reduction in resources, I caution the committee that cuts above and beyond ... could compromise our ability to carry out our agenda," Education and the Workforce Chairman John Kline (R-Minn.) said.
Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) opined that the decreased funding could lead to fewer field hearings, which he called instrumental in teaching new Members about the issues under scrutiny as they write the 2012 farm bill reauthorization.
A few chairmen, including Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee and Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) of the Armed Services Committee, suggested that their panels should be spared cuts in light of the scope of their responsibilities.
Reps. Jo Bonner (R-Ala.) and Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.), the leaders of the Ethics Committee, asked for more money to accommodate the cost of an outside counsel brought in to deal with the fallout of the pending investigation of Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.).
Lungren would not commit Wednesday to any allocation decisions but said he would work with the Ethics Committee to ensure it had the necessary resources.
"We got to make some tough decisions," he said of the overall process.
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