House Panels Get 10% Boost

Posted April 22, 2005 at 6:27pm

Under legislation approved by the House Administration Committee on Thursday, the chamber’s panels will receive a combined 10.1 percent budget boost over the previous biennial funding cycle, with the biggest percentage increase going to the ethics committee.

House Administration Chairman Bob Ney (R-Ohio) praised the $257 million proposal, which must still be approved by the full chamber, noting it is less than the 17 percent increase initially sought by the panels.

“This budget is in line with past committee funding resolutions,” Ney said. According to figures provided by House Administration, the $234 million budget provided to committees for the 108th Congress funding resolution represented an increase of 9.4 percent over the 107th.

The Ohio lawmaker said House Administration members faced the added challenge of funding a new committee in the 109th Congress, after lawmakers made the Homeland Security panel a standing committee earlier this year.

Ney asserted the addition of the new panel made the budget process “a little tougher” than previous cycles.

“We had to, for the first time in a long time, fund another committee,” he added. Ney noted that without the Homeland Security Committee’s budget, which was not included in the funding resolution for the 108th Congress, the combined budget totals only $243 million, a 9.2 percent increase.

Ney said he expects the bill to receive bipartisan support when it goes to the full House for a vote. The measure provides money to 20 House panels, with the exception of the Appropriations Committee, which writes and funds its own budget.

Among the most significant increases included in the legislation, the budget of the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, more commonly known as the ethics committee, will grow by 39.7 percent to nearly $4.3 million from $3.1 million in the previous two-year cycle.

Testifying before the House Administration panel in March, ethics Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) lobbied for the funds as part of his plans to create an “ethical culture” in the chamber through increased education and outreach for both Members and staff.

Although objections from Democrats to three Republican-drafted changes to ethics rules adopted at the start of the 109th Congress have led to a standoff over organizing the committee, both Hastings and panel ranking member Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.) have said they are in agreement on the program.

The House Administration panel also approved an amendment to the unified funding resolution that would apply new restrictions to committee use of franked mail, including spending limits.

Under the new regulations, committees would be authorized to spend no more than $5,000 per year on the taxpayer-funded mass mailings.

Additionally, restrictions that had previously governed only individual lawmakers would apply to committee mailings, including time restrictions that prohibit the mass mailings — defined as more than 500 nearly identical pieces of unsolicited correspondence — within 90 days of an election.

Committee chairmen would also be required to receive the approval of the Commission on Congressional Mailing Standards (commonly known as the Franking Commission) prior to issuing any mass mailings.

Although individual lawmakers have long been required to abide by restrictions on the content and timing of communications, the franked mail process has been far less restrictive for House committees.

Under existing guidelines, a committee may send out mass mailings at any time, without regard to the election calendar, and to anyone, so long as the content relates to the “normal business of the committee,” according to the House Franking Manual.