House Panels Seek Big Funding Boosts

Posted March 11, 2003 at 6:45pm

With ballooning deficits and a looming military conflict, House committees have asked for a funding increase of almost $50 million for the 108th Congress.

A large chunk of the additional funds, to the tune of $11 million, were requested by the new Homeland Security Committee. The figure is significantly higher than the amount initially discussed when the panel was created earlier this year.

At the time, leadership aides said the nascent committee would either receive an allocation similar to that of the Select Intelligence Committee, around $7 million, or borrow staff from related committees to forestall the need for a significant outlay of funds in the short term.

Chairman Christopher Cox (R-Calif.) and others seeking to make the Homeland panel a major player eschewed that thinking in asking for $11 million, which comes on top of $700,000 in “seed” money the committee received at the start of the session.

“What we feel is that it really reflects how serious the Speaker and the House are about protecting Americans and how important they think they committee’s job is in the 108th,” said a Homeland Security aide.

But even without accounting for the Homeland panel, total committee funding requests represent a 19 percent increase over the amount allocated for the 107th, or almost $38 million. Including homeland funding, the requests mark a 24 percent increase over last year’s total committee outlay.

“Everybody has submitted a wish list,” House Administration Chairman Bob Ney (R-Ohio) said. His committee will hold hearings on the funding requests today and Thursday.

In percentage terms, the two committees seeking the biggest increases are House Administration and Financial Services, and the latter also asked for the largest increase request in raw dollars.

Financial Services, led by Rep. Mike Oxley (R-Ohio), is requesting $17 million, a 43 percent increase over the panel’s budget in the last Congress. The request for $5.1 million in additional funds this year comes after the committee requested a $5.8 million increase for the 107th and received only an additional $2.5 million. The previous requested increase corresponded with a broadening of the committee’s scope after it evolved from the Banking Committee.

“Per Member, we’re still near the bottom, despite last year’s increase,” spokeswoman Peggy Peterson said, adding that Financial Services took on “massive new responsibility last Congress” with hearings on market irregularities and corporate governance issues. The panel has 70 Members, making it one of the House’s largest.

The House Administration Committee is seeking the second largest increase: 40 percent, or $3 million in additional funds. The panel’s budget for the 107th was $7.4 million.

A spokesman said that the committee has taken on vital responsibilities because of increased security concerns.

“This funding increase would come as a result of increased demands on the committee, especially with regard to security issues and in light of the anthrax attacks in 2001,” said Brian Walsh, Ney’s spokesman. “The committee in the coming year is going to be continuing to explore several important security and technological upgrades.” The panel also has oversight of election and campaign finance reform, both of which could require attention this Congress.

Other committees requesting significant increases included International Relations, Judiciary and Resources, each of which are seeking about a 30 percent increase over last year’s allocations.

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Asking for the smallest bumps, both in dollar and percentage terms, are the Rules Committee, Government Reform and Budget, each of which came in requesting less than $1 million in additional funds and less than a 10 percent increase.

The individual budget requests will be hammered out by House Administration over the next several days. The chairman and ranking member of each committee is scheduled to appear before the panel to explain — and in some cases justify — the amounts sought.

Ney said that the panels’ requests have not been evaluated beyond “number crunching” and the committee is waiting to hear testimony by the top Republican and Democrat on each panel before making decisions.

“We haven’t prejudged or predetermined or predecided any of this, I assure you,” Ney said. “With every request, I don’t sit today and view any of them as unreasonable. They all ask for what they think they need.”

Per tradition, the Appropriations Committee funds the budgets as decided by the House Administration panel without change. Likewise, Appropriations writes and funds its own budget and is not subject to House Administration’s oversight. Following the hearings, House Administration will create a unified funding resolution for all of the committees.

“Whatever passes the House is the number we will carry,” said Appropriations spokesman John Scofield.

As for what his committee would look for when determining how much of its request each panel will receive, Ney said the relative responsibility levels of each, along with the level of activity, the number of staff and how much of the budget each used in the last Congress, will factor into the equation. He said the requested increase is also evaluated in both percentage and dollar terms, citing as an example that a 6 percent increase for a large committee could equate to a roughly 30 percent increase for a smaller panel.

As to whether funding for the new Homeland panel will draw money away from other committees, Ney indicated that it isn’t a zero-sum game.

“There is no direct correlation,” he said, explaining that the Homeland Security panel will be funded independent of other committee’s needs.

“But at the end of the day, we only have so much money to go around,” Ney said, although exactly how much he declined to specify. “We’ll have some type of figure we try to live within. We haven’t decided that number yet.”

One thing that Ney promised to keep going is the two-thirds, one-thirds ratios for majority and minority committee funding. He cited his predecessor Rep. Bill Thomas’ (R-Calif.) success in getting the chamber 90 percent of the way toward that goal during his tenure as House Administration chairman.

“[Ranking member John] Larson [D-Conn.] and I talked about this the first day he was appointed,” Ney said. “Two-thirds, one-third is a part of life here in the House.”