Committee chairmen and ranking members were a united bipartisan front two weeks ago when, testifying one after another, they told the House Administration Committee that steep cuts to their panel budgets would severely hinder their work on behalf of the people they serve.
Still, when the House on Tuesday voted to slash most panel coffers by an average of around 11 percent for the 113th Congress, the breakdown of 272-136 was largely along party lines, with the vast majority of Republicans standing as the self-proclaimed party of fiscal discipline in difficult times.
“These cuts . . . will undoubtedly challenge each committee to do more with less,” House Administration Committee Chairwoman Candice S. Miller, R-Mich., said in a statement following the vote. “But I know we will rise to the occasion. We must all remember that every two dollars spent today is a dollar borrowed against our children’s and grandchildren’s debt. Enough. The federal government must stop living beyond its means.”
Committee on House Administration Republicans, in consultation with the chamber’s GOP leadership, decided that the average House committee budget should be reduced in the double digits to help the legislative branch meet the required top-line reduction mandated by sequestration.
But the 11 percent cut that will be endured by most panels in the 113th Congress under the resolution adopted Tuesday comes on top of the 11.4 reduction made to most committee budgets in the 112th Congress, meaning the average chairman and ranking member will be put back nearly 22 percent from 2010 levels.
Democrats, led by House Administration Committee ranking member Robert A. Brady, D-Pa., said that the past two years have already been tantamount to sequestration and argued that the budgets should stay frozen rather than slashed deeper. Republicans and Democrats alike have already had to halt staff hiring and in some cases have had to lay off or furlough aides, in addition to scaling back on field hearings and technology upgrades.
“Year after year we reduce our ability to conduct the oversight necessary to ensure that the people’s government is operating consistent with the law and on behalf of the people of the United States,” said House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md. “To to the extent that we undermine that ability, we undermine free government, a free people, a free country.”
There were some Democrats who voted for the resolution, like freshman Ann McLane Kuster of New Hampshire.
“At a time when New Hampshire families and businesses are cutting back to balance their budgets, Republicans and Democrats in Congress should do the same,” she said in a statement. “Both parties need to find responsible savings wherever we can — including in Congress’s budget — so that we can reduce the deficit in a balanced way that will help create jobs and grow the economy.”
Although the committee-funding resolution would on average impose an 11 percent cut from the amounts authorized at the beginning of the 112th Congress, funding decreases vary by committee. Three committees — Budget, Ways and Means, and Intelligence — would be cut around 9 percent, reflecting an anticipated hefty legislative workload over the next two years.
Others, including Financial Services; Foreign Affairs; Science, Space and Technology; Small Business; Transportation and Infrastructure; and Veterans’ Affairs would be cut nearly 12 percent.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.