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Congress Cuts Its Own Budget

As expected, House and Senate appropriators found common ground on most of the spending items in each chamber’s versions of the fiscal 2012 spending bill that funds the operations of Congress.

Under a package of nine appropriations bills unveiled this morning by House Republican leadership, each agency on the Capitol campus with the exception of Capitol Police would receive cuts from prior years. The overall legislative branch budget for fiscal 2012 is $4.3 billion — 5.2 percent below fiscal 2011 spending levels and 11.3 percent short of Congress’ own fiscal 2012 request.

House GOP leaders said all fiscal 2012 spending bills contained in the omnibus represented agreements reached by House and Senate appropriators, but Democrats maintained that they were still studying the package.

However, it does appear that House and Senate appropriators found many areas of compromise in the legislative branch spending bill, including on two line items that have proven the most contentious.

Sensitive to heightened security needs after the near-fatal assassination attempt of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) in January, the House called for providing $341 million — a $1 million boost over fiscal 2011 — for the 2,100-strong Capitol Police. The Senate Appropriations Committee, however, proposed cutting spending for the agency to $331.4 million, a 2.6 percent reduction over fiscal 2011 and $56 million below the police force’s request.

The agreement reached by appropriators moved closer to the House proposal of $340 million for Capitol Police.

House and Senate lawmakers were also at odds over the spending level for the Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan agency known as the “Congressional watchdog” agency.

The Senate called for $504 million, 7.6 percent below fiscal 2011 spending and $52 million below the agency’s request. The House measure, meanwhile, called for GAO to receive $511.3 million, 6 percent less than fiscal 2011 spending.

A handful of Senators led by Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) have tried to fend off the GAO cuts. Coburn went so far as to release an almost 30-page report decrying those who sought to lessen the effectiveness of “Congress’ watchdog.”

In response to their concerns, Sens. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), and John Hoeven (R-N.D.), chairman and ranking member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch, respectively, suggested to Roll Call weeks earlier that an agreement had been reached to allot the GAO with a less conservative reduction.

In the omnibus House Republicans unveiled today, the agency would receive the House’s original allocation of $511 million.

Other agencies received allocations in the omnibus that appeared more generous than what the House and Senate had originally proposed. The Library of Congress is slated to receive $587 million, whereas the House had suggested $575 million and the Senate had slated $579 million.

The Government Printing Office received $126.2 million, also an allocation more than the House's initial $113 million and the Senate's $116 million.

On Tuesday, Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.), who serves as ranking member on the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch, told Roll Call that the House had initially expected the Senate to use more money than it did for its portion of the bill. Excess funds allowed appropriators in both chambers to go back to the drawing board and restore some funding in places where they had planned deep cuts.

As is tradition, the legislative branch spending measure is the only appropriations bill that grows out of budget requests from Congressional support agencies and not from the president.

While the House and Senate are left to hash out line items for shared expenses on Capitol Hill, each chamber defers to the other on its own budget for Members’ allowances and personnel salaries.

This was the case for this bill, too. The House designated $1.2 billion for its own expenses, and the Senate allocated $863 million. Those allotments are unchanged in the fiscal 2012 omnibus.

Correction: 12/15 12:08 p.m.

An earlier version of this story was corrected to reflect the Senate's original allocation for the GPO.

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