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Every chairman and ranking member said he or she is already unable to fully staff their sides of the committee aisle under current budget constraints. Many added that they have had to consolidate subcommittees, cut back on field hearings and site visits and delay technology upgrades and repairs.
Tighter purse strings also come as many committees are beginning to simultaneously tackle legislation of unprecedented scale and scope.
The Judiciary Committee, for instance, will consider overhauls to the country’s gun and immigration laws. Meanwhile, the Science , Space and Technology Committee needs to reauthorize the NASA, and the Ways and Means Committee could revamp the tax code for the first time since 1986.
Not only did each committee’s chairman and ranking member have a similar narrative, but they also each had a strong case for how their panel’s workload entitled them to the largest budget feasible.
“As you determine how to allocate resources among the committees, I would argue that the Dodd-Frank bill is equal to the health care law,” Financial Services Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, said of the sweeping 2010 financial regulatory overhaul measure still being implemented. “While the Affordable Care Act expands across three committees of jurisdiction, the Dodd-Frank Act is almost exclusively within jurisdiction of the Financial Services Committee.”
Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., described his panel as “unique.”
“We look for waste, fraud and abuse, and at a time when you are trying to find win-wins, we can help provide them,” Issa said. “We’re not a spending committee; we’re a savings committee.”
If the House Administration Committee does decide to boost some committee budgets at the expense of others, that would be fine with some of the chairmen who testified last week.
Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., chairman of the Education and the Workforce Committee, said he hoped to have his committee’s budget cut by 11 percent from the 2012 allocation. He and his Democratic counterpart, California Rep. George Miller, were able to spend just 82 percent of their 2012 allocation, and they shouldn’t be penalized for being “good stewards” of taxpayer dollars, Kline explained.
“If [another committee] spent 98 or 99 percent of its budget last year, while we were being good stewards of the money, it’s not fair for us to take bigger cuts,” Kline told CQ Roll Call after his testimony.
The cuts that lie ahead also loom large for the ranking members, who typically receive one-third of their committee’s overall budget for Democrat-specific staff salaries and operating expenses. While it’s always a challenge to do more with less, the minority party is at even more of a disadvantage under the sequester.
“I’ve always said sequestration is no way to run a country,” Oversight and Government Reform ranking member Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., said in a brief interview. “And it’s no way to run the Congress, either.”
In addition to allocating panel budgets, the House Administration Committee is also responsible for calculating the Members’ Representational Allowance, which under sequestration has been reduced by 8.2 percent.
But members can’t compete over MRAs: Everybody will have their office expense accounts cut by the same percentage, and each baseline is calculated according to a specific formula that changes depending on certain characteristics of each lawmaker’s district.