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It didn’t take long for a hearing on legislative branch funding to get tense Tuesday, with House Democrats blasting Republican leadership for authorizing $3 million in taxpayer money to defend outside legal challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act while at the same time calling for sweeping cuts to members’ offices, committee budgets and congressional operating agencies such as the Capitol Police.
“At a time when most members of this body are representing newly formed congressional districts with a need to open new offices or move to new locations, we find ourselves with an 8.2 percent decrease in the very operating budgets that support constituent services,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., the ranking member of the Appropriations Legislative Branch Subcommittee. “And yet, we spend up to $3 million to defend the Defense of Marriage Act.”
Democratic members of the subcommittee — including Wasserman Schultz and James P. Moran of Virginia, as well as Appropriations ranking member Nita M. Lowey of New York — said at the hearing that they are worried about the long-term viability of keeping the House staffed with the best employees they can find and serving their constituents properly with such diminished budgets.
The subcommittee’s chairman, Republican Rep. Rodney Alexander of Louisiana, who was the only Republican in attendance during the DOMA portion of the hearing, did not respond to their statements. Michael Steel, spokesman for Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, defended the DOMA legal fees later in the day. “As long as the Justice Department refuses to defend the law of the land, Congress has a constitutional responsibility to do so,” Steel said.
President Barack Obama instructed the Justice Department to stop defending DOMA in court in February 2011, and the Supreme Court is slated to hear oral arguments on the DOMA challenge March 27.
In January, Republicans on the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group authorized continued funding to outside legal counsel to defend challenges to DOMA in federal courts across the country. The BLAG is tasked with directing the House Office of General Counsel and is composed of five members of House leadership, including the speaker, the majority and minority leaders and the majority and minority whips.
That same month, the House Administration Committee approved a contract with the law firm Bancroft PLLC that increased the budget for such outside legal challenges to DOMA from $2 million to $3 million.