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Conservative lawmakers elected to Congress in the Republican wave of 2010 came to Capitol Hill pledging that they would lead by example in cutting spending.
In the 112th Congress, even before House GOP leadership mandated that members’ office budgets and committee coffers would be slashed first by 5 percent and then by 6.4 percent, many Republican members said they were already envisioning running operations slim on staff, franked mail and interstate travel.
It’s making the task of adjusting to life under the sequester a bit less of a challenge, they say.
“We came in at a 20 percent reduction the first two years,” boasted Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., who said his office won’t see any changes under the sequester. “Name another class in Congress that cut their budget 20 percent.”
Sen. Patrick J. Toomey, R-Pa., who also entered office in 2010, said his office, too, has always come in under budget. Perhaps the only difference under the sequester, he said, will be that he cannot return as much money to the Treasury Department to go toward deficit reduction as he would like.
In both chambers, lawmakers are anticipating steep cuts to the allowances they receive to run their offices on Capitol Hill and back in their districts. Chairmen and ranking members for House and Senate committees get money to hire staff and support their panels’ work, and those budgets also will fall under the sequester’s knife.
The percentage by which these budgets will get reduced could range from 5.3 percent to nearly 10 percent, but while the House Administration Committee and the Senate Rules and Administration Committee have urged members to prepare, no one can say for sure what the final numbers will look like.
“[The Office of Management and Budget] has not given the percentage yet for the sequester, so it’s premature for me to speculate,” said Jean Bordewich, the staff director for the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, which oversees committee budgets.
“Members have been coming up to me every day and asking, ‘What’s the number gonna be?’” said House Administration Chairwoman Candice S. Miller, R-Mich., whose panel sets both members’ office budgets and committee allocations. “Everybody wants to know. They say, ‘Just whisper it to me!’”
She laughed. “I say, ‘I don’t know, but hopefully you’ve been budgeting accordingly.’”
Many members say they have been preparing for the sequester, especially House members who in the previous Congress absorbed an 11.4 percent reduction to their office budgets that in some cases has already resulted in salary and hiring freezes.