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Sequester Will Hurt on the Hill

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
House Administration Chairman Dan Lungren said that potential cuts to House operating budgets because of the sequester would affect how offices function.

But those responsible for Congressional operations and maintenance of the Capitol complex say additional spending cuts will be difficult.

The Library of Congress urgently needs  additional shelving for its vast book collection, but does not have funding for an  appropriate off-site facility. The library's funding for salaries and expenses would take a $34 million hit under the sequester, based on the fiscal 2012 spending level, according to the OMB.

The Capitol Dome is deteriorating after more than a century of weather damage, but funding for that project has also fallen by the wayside.

It's not easy to quantify how life would be different on Capitol Hill for Members and aides, or for lawmakers' constituents, after a sequester. But the effects would not  be good, stakeholders said.

"We're going to find out what it means," House Administration Chairman Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) said. "I've always thought the legislative branch was a pretty important function, as opposed to many different executive branch agencies, and if sequestration occurred, I think we would sustain cuts that would be felt."

"It's going to have an impact on us," agreed Ander Crenshaw (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch. "The important thing to recognize is this isn't just about defense. There are an awful lot of other areas of government, Congress being one of them."

The sequester could have a very tangible effect on life on Capitol Hill if it reduces the ability of the Capitol Police force to maintain its presence and strength across the campus.

In recent years, Democrats and Republicans in both chambers have committed to, at the very least, flat-lining the police budget in recognition of security concerns. Many thought that doing so was particularly necessary in the aftermath of the 2011 shooting of then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) at a constituent event in Tucson, Ariz. Sequestration could essentially override that prioritization. The OMB calculated that the sequester would reduce Capitol Police salary expenditures by $23 million and other expenses by $5 million.

Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer said reducing current spending by  more than 8 percent would not affect the force's ability to protect the Capitol and its Members, staffers and visitors. "But we might have to do different things in the long term, like closing certain doors to office buildings, which is inconvenient. But everyone will still be safe up here," Gainer said.

Inconvenience would likely be the biggest change, he predicted.

"There are a lot of services my agency provides and that will be affected [such as] ... the response time for when a computer can be fixed, finding out the availability of studios," Gainer said. "People will have to adjust to business at a different pace. The quality of services would ultimately suffer a little bit, but that's what goes along with prioritization."

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