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Campus Notebook: Parties Renew Spat Over Use of Committee Funds

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
A trip to Chicago planned by House Oversight and Government Reform ranking member Elijah Cummings (above) was denied by panel Chairman Darrell Issa on Friday.

“Frankly, I don’t understand [Issa’s] response,” Cummings said in a statement to Roll Call. “With the help of the House Administration Committee, we spent months negotiating a process that everyone agreed to, but now Chairman Issa appears to be disregarding it. By refusing to honor the agreement, Chairman Issa is preventing the committee from addressing one of the many significant consequences of the foreclosure crisis.”

Cummings spokeswoman Ashley Etienne would not elaborate on the specifics of that agreement.

Frederick Hill, communications director for Issa, said that although there were “discussions” regarding a new policy, no formal consensus was ever reached.

Democratic staff on the House Administration Committee did not comment on the status of the conversations, and the panel’s Republican office did not respond to requests for comment.

Report Shows Effects of Tighter House Budgets

The Sunlight Foundation has released a report showing that nearly 1,000 staff positions in Congressional offices were eliminated from 2009 to 2011.

The report’s author, Lee Drutman, said the numbers could indicate a trend of Members seeking increased outside help from lobbyists and interest groups now that fewer in-house staffers are around to draft legislation and develop policy proposals.

“Congress is essentially reducing its own confidence by getting rid of staff and resources,” Drutman said. “It’s making it harder for Congressional staffers to do their jobs when they have fewer people and resources. Congressional offices are going to be more reliant on outside help, which comes in the form of special interest groups and lobbyists.”

The House last year voted to cut its office budgets by 5 percent; this year they will be reduced by 6.4 percent.

Members who have previously weighed in on the possible effects that House budget cuts could have on day-to-day operations were mixed on whether the Sunlight Foundation’s grim outlook will carry any clout.

Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. said it does. The Illinois Democrat said the cuts will lead to “fewer staffers for ... vast Congressional district[s] and fewer experts, which means Members of Congress and professional staff are going to have to rely on ‘experts in the industry,’ who obviously have ulterior motives and in the long term will undermine the effectiveness of our democracy.”

Rep. Gerry Connolly said that although the diminishing in-house resources created a “risk” of greater reliance on outside help, it was not something he’s seen in many offices.

“I hope I don’t,” the Virginia Democrat added.

The group cautioned that the data used for its study was supplied by House offices and suggested that it be used only for examining general trends.

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