House Panels Seek Increases

Requests Defy Federal Cutbacks

Posted March 8, 2005 at 6:46pm

Despite expectations that Congress will act to cut discretionary spending programs across the board for fiscal 2006, it appears that a majority of House committees are seeking increases in their own funding for the 109th Congress.

Funding resolutions authored by 17 House panels seek increases of up to 45 percent over budgets from the previous two-year cycle.

Of the 20 committees whose budgets will be included in a unified funding resolution, the House Budget Committee has requested the smallest increase: a 1 percent raise that would bring its budget to approximately $12 million.

House Administration Chairman Bob Ney (R-Ohio) acknowledged the budgets are in part “wish lists,” but he defended the increases as necessary for Congress to carry out its oversight responsibilities.

“We have to ensure they get the funds they need to do their job,” said Ney, who expects his panel to seek an increase of at least $2.5 million over its current $8.5 million budget.

“We have to have the resources,” Ney said. “We have to have the ability to make [the government] accountable to the taxpayers.”

Among the largest increases requested in the new two-year cycle is the House Veterans Affairs Committee, which is seeking an additional $2.4 million. If approved, the funds would bring the panel’s budget to $7.9 million — a 45 percent increase over the current level.

The Homeland Security Committee is likewise seeking a significant increase, which would bring its budget up by 44 percent, to $15.8 million.

Despite looming cuts elsewhere in the federal budget, spokespersons for several committees defended their increases as necessary spending, citing Congress’ “watchdog” responsibility.

“There are a lot of needs for oversight and direct legislative jurisdiction,” said Rich Carter, a spokesman for the Small Business Committee. “You have to look at the overall picture.”

The panel is seeking an 18 percent increase that would bring its budget to $6 million.

In addition, Carter said, the panel is still attempting to “catch up” from budget cuts made in the 104th Congress, when lawmakers slashed the budgets for the committees.

An Energy and Commerce Committee aide noted that the panel’s $2.4 million request — an increase of $2.8 million, or 15 percent — is needed to fund seven additional staffers to handle an “aggressive agenda” that includes Medicaid reform, reauthorization of the National Institutes of Health and the 1996 telecommunications act, as well as “traditional oversight and investigations work.”

In additional, several cited cyclical needs that were included in the 2006 budget requests, such as technology upgrades and the replacement of equipment.

“Our job is to request and we will live with what they give us,” said a spokesman for the Science Committee.

The Science panel is seeking $13.1 million, a 12 percent increase over its current budget.

The Intelligence Committee is expected to seek an increase of 26 percent, to $9.9 million.

Both the International Relations and Judiciary panels have requested increases of approximately 30 percent, bringing their budgets to $18.7 million and $18.3 million, respectively.

The Government Reform Committee has asked for a 9 percent raise, to a total of $21 million, while the Education and the Workforce Committee has requested $15.5 million, an increase of 6 percent.

The Ways and Means Committee has requested a 10 percent increase to $17.8 million. The Resources Committee has also asked for a 10 percent increase, bringing its budget to $14.8 million.

Watchdog role or no, some observers criticized the House for seeking any increases at a time of swelling budget deficits.

“If Congress is going to ask the American people to take spending cuts, they should lead by example and reduce their own staff budgets accordingly,” said Brian Riedl, a federal budget analyst for the Heritage Foundation.

The House Administration panel is set to hold the first of a two-part hearing on the budget requests Thursday.

The panel is scheduled to hear from the International Relations, Judiciary, Budget, Financial Services, Small Business, Rules, Transportation, Agriculture, Armed Services and Science panels.

Tradition dictates that House Administration submits the budgets to the Appropriations panel without change. Likewise, the Appropriations Committee writes and funds its own budget and is not subject to House Administration’s oversight.