Since taking control of the House in 2011, Republicans claim they have done “more with less” — expanding the efficiency of the chamber while dramatically reducing operating costs.
They attempted to quantify that claim late last month, but various discussions surrounding the effort indicate it’s not as easy as it looks.
In an April 25 release blasted out before a weeklong recess, House GOP leaders boasted that by the end of the fiscal year they will have saved the chamber more than $400 million.
Graphs and pie charts compared Republican frugality with the spending of Democrats during their years in the majority. Bullet points highlighted Republican transparency initiatives executed alongside deep cuts to committee budgets and members’ office expense accounts.
House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., said representatives are “tightening our belts, trimming the fat and running a leaner, more efficient legislative branch.”
Among the offices responsible for the operations of the chamber — the House Administration Committee, the chief administrative officer and the clerk — nearly a dozen modest but tangible “open government” accomplishments have occurred in tandem with the lowest funding levels in recent memory.
In the past two and a half years, Republicans were responsible for launching a new website where committee hearings and markups could be watched live; adopting new posting standards to make all House bills easy to find and easy to read; and facilitating the House wireless network’s support for certain free teleconferencing programs, such as Skype.
They also canceled the House’s composting program in favor of a cheaper alternative: sending the chamber’s nonrecyclable trash to a waste-to-energy facility in Alexandria, Va., where it is burned to power local homes.
“Despite the budgetary constraints, House officers have managed to maintain and ... even improve the services they provide the House community,” said House Administration Committee spokeswoman Salley Wood. “It’s not just about the continuity of operations, but also the efficiency.”
Individual Republican lawmakers appear to be having a harder time providing concrete examples of what they have done more of with less money and resources, indicating that perhaps the chamber has actually entered an era of doing “the same with less” or even “less with less.”
The brunt of cuts have come from the coffers that members use to run their offices, and the budgets that chairmen and ranking members rely on to run their committees; since 2011, they have been slashed by 18.3 percent and 22.4 percent, respectively.
Those cuts have resulted in staff furloughs and layoffs, salary freezes and hiring halts, cutbacks on constituent outreach, and restrictions on field hearings and travel.
In testifying about their funding needs for the 113th Congress before the House Administration Committee earlier this year, Republican chairmen overwhelmingly did not attempt to argue that they could do “more with less.”
“The partisan environment does not give me pause. The enhanced oversight burden that we face does not deter me,” said House Armed Services Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., at the time. “If there is one thing that I worry will stop us from getting our work done, or causes to produce a substandard product, it is a resource deficit that we face in our committee.”
More recently, Republican lawmakers speaking with CQ Roll Call praised their party’s fiscal discipline but didn’t indicate how they were doing, or whether they even could accomplish, “more with less.”
“We’ve been able to do more with less simply because we’re doing less,” House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch Chairman Rodney Alexander, R-La., said.
“Well, we’re doing the same with less,” he quickly clarified, “but we’re doing the same job we’ve done before and feel like we’re doing it just as effectively.”
Other members struggled to pinpoint tangible examples of Republican accomplishments in an age of fiscal austerity that have outnumbered Democrats’ strides during their years in the majority.
House Administration Committee member Gregg Harper, R-Miss., said his office “hasn’t missed a beat,” and he emphasized the Republican Party’s history of responsible spending when asked to describe how the GOP has been doing “more with less.”
Rep. Candice S. Miller, chairwoman of the House Administration Committee, said it is without question that Republicans have done more for the institution than Democrats did when they were in control. But the Michigan Republican also stuck to the theme of her party’s frugality, rather than listing off its accomplishments with fewer dollars to spend.
Democrats don’t have trouble rattling off a list of their own transparency and efficiency accomplishments during their time in control of the chamber. House Administration Committee Democratic Staff Director Jamie Fleet said that, in the years Democrats oversaw House operations, they put members’ disbursement statements online and implemented one unified House “Cloud” network, allowing congressional offices to stop working off of separate web servers that consumed an enormous amount of energy.
The measure of whether Congress is truly doing more with less, Fleet said, is not whether the House can offer live-streaming of committee hearings but “whether members have the tools to solve the country’s problems.”
At the same time, House Republicans have authorized up to $3 million to defend the Defense of Marriage Act, the law that defines marriage as between one man and one woman.
“Maybe with that money [Ways and Means Chairman] Dave Camp could have another tax attorney, or [Veterans’ Affairs Chairman] Jeff Miller could have another investigator for disability claims,” Fleet said.