But on many fronts, Lungren struck out on his own to hold the House accountable for fiscal discipline. By the end of his first month on the job, he had decided to end the $474,000-a-year composting program that had been a hallmark of the Democrats’ reign over the chamber from 2007 to 2011.
He pledged to find a cheaper alternative, and later that year he did, convincing the Senate to join forces with the House to burn Congress’ trash to generate energy rather than send it to a landfill.
In ending the composting program, however, he got his first taste of political backlash as a committee chairman. While House Democrats had reimbursed the chamber’s private food service vendor, Restaurant Associates, for buying compostable dishware and corn-based utensils for dining facilities, the new Republican majority said it would no longer front the cash. Instructed to buy the cheapest alternative, Restaurant Associates introduced dishware made from Styrofoam. Democrats were outraged, saying the material was environmentally unfriendly and posed health hazards.
“While some reforms to the House dining program may have been warranted as cost saving measures, replacing highly recyclable containers and cups with polystyrene products is not,” read a Democratic “Dear Colleague” letter. “The House should be a model institution setting an example for others to follow . . . the desire to save a few pennies should never come at the expense of jeopardizing staff, members and visitors’ health.”
And as chairman of the committee that authorizes contracts between the House and outside groups, Lungren also was been scrutinized for signing off on a $1.5 million contract for the House to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court. The Justice Department announced in early 2011 that it would no longer argue in favor of the law prohibiting same-sex marriage, and House Republicans decided their chamber would do so instead.
Additional hallmarks of Lungren’s legacy might be shaped by his actions in the aftermath of the January 2011 near-fatal shooting of Arizona Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords during a constituent event in Tucson, which reminded all members about their own vulnerability — and their staff’s — on Capitol Hill and in their districts.
In addition to coordinating with the Capitol Hill law enforcement to ensure that precautions were being taken to protect lawmakers, Lungren signed off on letting them use their Members’ Representational Allowances for security upgrades to their district offices.
With House security always of concern to Lungren, he did away even before the Tucson shooting with the panel’s security subcommittee — the thought being that the issue was important enough to deserve the attention of all nine members of the full House Administration Committee rather than of just a select few.
And it was ultimately that concern that caused the man who pushed so hard for fiscal discipline on Capitol Hill to put the breaks on a proposal to cut deeper into the legislative branch.
When Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Jordan of Ohio offered up an amendment to the short-term spending bill for consideration on the House floor in February 2011 to slice $500 million off the budget for congressional operations, it was Lungren who led the campaign to vote against it.
“If adopted, this amendment would severely restrict the U.S. Capitol Police’s ability to secure the Capitol campus. A cut of this magnitude would force Capitol Police to face today’s ever-growing security threats with significantly fewer resources and officers,” he wrote in a letter to RSC members. “While I support this effort to reduce federal spending, I fear the wholesale approach in this amendment will render the House and its members incapable of upholding our promise to the American people.”
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