House Hopes for Progress on Continuity

Posted July 25, 2005 at 6:49pm

Despite reluctance from Senate lawmakers, House officials intend to advance a continuity of Congress provision included in its version of the legislative branch spending bill when conferees meet to address the $3.8 billion legislation.

The measure, included in the House bill at the behest of the chamber’s leadership, would expedite special elections in the event of mass casualties among House Members.

According to a spokesman for Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), the continuity measure will likely be included in an appropriations conference report, although it remained unclear whether the language would be included in the report accompanying the legislative branch bill or the Interior spending bill, which is slated for conference committee as early as Tuesday.

“We hope to have the continuity of government language taken care of early on in the appropriations process,” said Hastert spokesman Ron Bonjean.

The bill, originally authored by Judiciary Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), would mandate special elections within 49 days of an incident in which more than 100 lawmakers were killed.

House Appropriations Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) included the measure, which the House had earlier approved as a stand-alone bill, at the request of House leadership after Senate lawmakers failed to take action on the legislation.

But the Senate Appropriations panel subsequently struck the measure from its version of the spending bill, asserting that lawmakers needed more time to review the proposal.

Although Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), who sponsored the amendment to remove the language, has since spoken with Lewis, it remained unclear whether the pair had reached a compromise as of press time.

“Sen. Byrd certainly recognizes that it is important there be a continuity of government plan,” said his spokesman, Tom Gavin.

The West Virginian, who previously criticized the House for attempting to pass the measure without Senate input, remained hopeful Monday that a “bipartisan, bicameral approach” could be reached.

“There needs to be a plan in place should disaster strike the Capitol,” Gavin said.

A spokeswoman for Senate Appropriations Chairman Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) did not return a telephone call seeking comment.

In addition to the continuity measure, House and Senate conferees will also address key differences in funds provided to legislative branch agencies including the Architect of the Capitol and the Capitol Police.

In its version of the spending bill, the Senate allocated $427 million to the AOC, including $40 million for two new Library of Congress storage facilities that would be built in Fort Meade, Md.

The House bill, which does not include $67 million in funds for Senate buildings, would provide the Architect $317 million in the coming fiscal year, and does not include funds for the LOC’s storage units.

Both chambers declined to provide the AOC its full $506 million request, which would have marked a $157 million increase over its current budget.

The chambers similarly differed on funding for the Capitol Police, which had sought a $290 million budget in fiscal 2006.

The House approved a slight decrease in the law enforcement agency’s budget, to $240 million from $241 million, while the Senate would increase that figure to $264.6 million.

House lawmakers also approved a provision that would eliminate the Capitol Police mounted unit and transfer its horses and supplies to the U.S. Park Police, while the Senate bill includes funds for the program.

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