Kingston Moves to Cut Joint Economic Panel

Posted June 16, 2004 at 6:46pm

As House appropriators voted Wednesday to freeze legislative branch spending for the coming fiscal year, cardinal Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) proposed further cuts that include dismantling the Joint Economic Committee.

The subcommittee chairman aired the proposal during his panel’s markup of the fiscal 2005 legislative branch spending bill, which lawmakers voted to freeze at $2.75 billion.

The House bill — which does not include Senate operations funds — falls short of the $3.2 billion sought by legislative branch agencies.

Including the Senate’s funds, the agencies had requested a combined $4.4 billion in fiscal 2005, a 12 percent increase over the current year.

Under Kingston’s proposal, which he plans to introduce as a formal amendment when the full Appropriations Committee marks up the bill, funding for the 20-member JEC would be eliminated.

The joint panel, which Kingston said has 48 staff members, received $3.9 million in fiscal 2004.

Among his arguments against sustaining the economic panel, Kingston asserted that Congress’ research and analytical needs are covered by the Congressional Research Service, making the joint panel unnecessary.

“The average Member does not use them,” Kingston said.

In response, several Appropriations members suggested Kingston’s proposal requires further review, including a hearing that would include the Joint Economic Committee leadership.

“There’s probably no more contentious matter that Congress is called on to deal with internally than the matter of committee jurisdiction and, much more, the question of actually eliminating or adding committees,” said Rep. David Price (D-N.C.). “I wouldn’t suggest that there would be an easy way to do this, but I certainly think there would be a more responsible way to do it; in terms of calling in the committee leadership, having more deliberation, more discussion.”

Rebecca Wilder, a spokeswoman for the JEC, said panel members had no knowledge of Kingston’s proposal.

“We weren’t informed that he would be doing that,” she said. Wilder declined to comment further on the proposal, noting that it would be “premature.”

Following the hearing, Kingston acknowledged he has not sought the support of House leadership, nor has he approached his counterpart across the Capitol, Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.), who chairs that chamber’s Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch.

In the meantime, Kingston has suggested Appropriations could also consider examining other bicameral panels, including the Joint Library Committee and Joint Taxation Committee, to determine whether they remain vital to Congress.

“We’ve opened up discussion between now and the full committee markup,” Kingston said.

During the hearing, the Appropriations subcommittee did approve an amendment put forth by Republican Rep. Mark Kirk (Ill.) to eliminate the Capitol Police Department’s fledgling horse-mounted patrol unit.

Kirk, who asserted the six-horse unit is nothing more than a “police fashion accessory,” said the amendment would save an estimated $1.8 million. Of those funds, $1 million would have been required to construct stables for the department’s horses.

Among his additional complaints, Kirk said: “I’ll note that there is no plan to handle manure.”

Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), the panel’s ranking member, voted in favor of the amendment, but said that the issue will likely be revisited during the House-Senate conference, as Campbell had strongly supported the mounted unit’s creation.

In the House’s version of the fiscal 2005 spending bill, the Capitol Police would receive $232 million, less than the $292 million the department had sought but still an increase over its current $220 million budget.

Moran also introduced an amendment, unrelated to Kirk’s, which would allow the House Administration Committee to examine expanding health care benefits for House staff.

The amendment — which Moran withdrew to research further but will reintroduce during the full committee markup — would repeal language House lawmakers inserted into the fiscal 2004 legislative branch spending bill prohibiting expanded dental and vision benefits. The amendment would only repeal the prohibition for staff, however, and would not include health care services for lawmakers.

“I am full-bore for expanding health care benefits for our staff,” noted Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.), ranking member of the full Appropriations Committee.

Before gaveling the committee to a close, Kingston noted additional items that may be addressed in the spending bill, including issuing restrictions on legislative branch agencies’ media offices.

“Congress should be the mouthpiece of the legislative branch,” Kingston said.

The lawmaker declined to elaborate on his proposal or name specific agencies that would be affected.

“People who are appointed don’t have to go out and appease a constituency,” Kingston said.