Confrontation on Continuity Looms

Posted June 24, 2005 at 6:13pm

The Senate Appropriations Committee approved its version of the $3.8 billion legislative branch spending bill Thursday, and voted to strike a House provision addressing continuity of Congress.

Asserting that lawmakers need more time to review the proposal, which would expedite special elections in the event of mass casualties in the House, Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) criticized the chamber’s lawmakers for inserting the measure into a spending bill.

“Continuity of Congress is an issue of enormous, enormous consequence, and is not something that should be decided by the House or Representatives alone,” said Byrd, who authored an amendment to remove the measure from the Senate bill.

Committee members supported the amendment in a unanimous voice vote.

If approved by the full Senate, the action sets up a confrontation with House lawmakers when the two bodies meet in conference committee on the bill.

House Appropriations Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) had included the measure in his chamber’s version of the spending bill at the request of House leadership.

The bill would mandate special elections within 49 days of an incident in which more than 100 lawmakers were killed. House Members approved the legislation authored by Judiciary Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) in March, but the legislation has languished in the Senate.

A Lewis spokesman said the California lawmaker will continue to support the measure in conference, adding that direction on the issue would be set by House leadership.

“He anticipates a good conference and certainly intends to make the case for why that belongs in the bill,” the spokesman said.

The House approved its version of the spending bill Tuesday after Rep. Brian Baird (D-Wash.) failed in his efforts to remove the continuity legislation.

Baird praised the Senate’s action Friday and said he remains hopeful that the chamber is able to eliminate the measure from the final version of the spending bill.

“I find it doubtful that people would hold up this important appropriations bill to get this extraneous legislating element passed,” said Baird, the author of an alternative proposal that would require a constitutional amendment and allow lawmakers to be elected with ranked alternatives who would serve in the event of a disaster.

A ‘Lean Bill’

Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.), who chairs the Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch, praised the spending bill, which would provide Congressional agencies with a combined increase of about $230 million, or 6 percent, over the current fiscal year.

“This is a noncontroversial and lean bill that meets the most important needs of the Congress,” Allard said.

Although the bill provides significantly less than the combined $4.03 billion legislative branch agencies had sought in their initial fiscal 2006 requests, Allard said it will nonetheless maintain current operations at all of the groups.

The Capitol Police Department would receive $264.6 million under the Senate spending bill, an increase of $23.1 million over its current budget, but below the $290 million the agency had requested.

Included in the appropriation are funds to maintain the department’s five-horse mounted unit.

Capitol Police officials had requested $160,000 to continue the program, which marked its first anniversary this spring.

However, House appropriators critical of the program have cut funding for the unit in their version of the bill — which would provide the department $240 million in fiscal 2006 — and called for the transfer of the horses and related equipment to the U.S. Park Police, which maintains its own equestrian division.

Senate and House appropriators likewise differed over funding levels for the Architect of the Capitol, including the Capitol Visitor Center.

While both panels approved the Architect of the Capitol’s request for $36.9 million to complete construction of the project — which the AOC estimates will have cost $517 million when it opens to the public in late 2006 — the Senate bill includes an additional $5 million recommended by the Government Accountability Office to address unforeseen costs.

Additionally, the Senate bill includes a provision that would allow the Architect to create an executive director post to oversee the visitor center. The position would be appointed by the Architect.

Under the Senate bill, the AOC would receive a total of $427 million for the coming fiscal year, below the $506 million the agency had sought but more than the $317 million proposed in the House.

Among the items included by Senate appropriators that do not appear in the House budget are two new Library of Congress storage facilities, estimated to cost $40.7 million, that would be built in Fort Meade, Md.

The Senate version of the bill would fund the Library of Congress at $580 million, a 6.4 percent increase over its current $545 million budget, but below the $628 million outlined in its request. The House bill would provide $553 million to the agency.

The Government Printing Office would receive $126.9 million under the Senate bill.

The appropriation is less than the $131.1 million the agency had sought, but it includes $5 million requested by GPO officials to fund workforce “retraining” for current employees as the agency shifts to a digital platform.

The Congressional Budget Office would receive its full request of $35.9 million in fiscal 2006, an increase of 3.8 percent over its current $34.6 million budget.

Similarly, the GAO would receive an increase of 3.6 percent under the Senate bill to $484 million, slightly below it’s $486 million request.

Additionally, in the report that accompanies the bill, the Appropriations panel outlines its plans to apply the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993 to legislative branch agencies.

Allard raised the proposal during appropriations hearings this spring, asserting such standards could help to better gauge organization’s financial needs.

“GPRA encourages greater efficiency, effectiveness and accountability in Federal spending, and requires agencies to set goals and use performance measures for management and budgeting,” the report states. “While most Legislative Branch agencies have developed strategic plans, several agencies have not effectively dealt with major management problems and lack reliable data to verify and validate performance.”

While the 1993 law applies only to executive branch agencies, the committee states that the “spirit and intent” of the act should apply to the legislative branch.

Under the proposal, legislative branch agencies would have 90 days to submit reports to the Appropriations panel outlining their plans to develop and implement such “performance measures.”

The bill would also provide $80,000 to the Secretary of the Senate to conduct a survey of staff salaries, under an amendment sponsored by Allard and approved by a voice vote.