Safety Is Job No. 1 in Approps Bill

GOP to Contest Two Items in Legislative Branch Measure

Posted June 5, 2007 at 6:46pm

Republican appropriators in the House are prepared to fight for some of their favored funding initiatives today when the legislative branch subcommittee marks up the fiscal 2008 legislative branch spending bill.

The funding bill, which agency heads have said throughout the budget process is all the more important this year because they currently are operating under a continuing resolution, is expected to increase overall legislative branch spending by $251 million to $4.02 billion. The individual increases are expected to be well below what many agencies, such as the Government Printing Office and Architect of the Capitol, requested this year.

“I think the agencies’ heads are going to be happy that we’ve dealt with a lot of their backlogs in life-safety and security issues and a lot of their backlog in workload issues but there will be other things that they will be disappointed about,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), chairwoman of the Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch. “We were clear from the outset that this is a very difficult fiscal year, that we had very significant budget constraints and that we were going to deal with the highest priority items and that’s what we’ve done.”

But after a closed-door meeting on Tuesday preceding today’s markup, subcommittee ranking member Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.) said Democrats can expect to see at least two amendments to the bill as it will be presented.

The first, to be offered by Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.), would reverse a decision to cut off funding for the Open World Leadership Center, which operates out of the Library of Congress but is funded separately from the LOC.

The Open World program, which LaHood has advocated as an important educational and democracy-building tool, is the only exchange program within the legislative branch. It is designed to give leaders from the former Soviet Union firsthand exposure to America’s governmental and free-market systems. The program was established by Congress in 1999 and the Librarian of Congress heads its board of trustees. Open World leaders requested about $14.4 million in funding for fiscal 2008.

“Unfortunately [the Open World program] is one of those things that was in the ‘it would be nice to have’ category as opposed to the ‘gotta have’ category,” Wasserman Schultz said of the decision to cut the program’s funding this year.

“It did not meet the life-safety and security test,” she said. “It is a program that long ago should have been transferred to the Department of State. It was not a program that was envisioned for long-term funding in the Library of Congress.”

Wasserman Schultz called the Open World effort “a worthwhile and wonderful program” but said, “Given how long a lot of these life-safety and security funding issues have gone undone, we had to take care of them.”

Meanwhile, Wamp said he plans to offer an amendment today that would rename the Capitol Visitor Center’s Great Hall to set it apart from the Library’s space with the same moniker.

Since early in the appropriations cycle, Wamp has argued that naming the CVC space the Great Hall is not only confusing but also does a disservice to the older, much venerated space in the LOC’s Thomas Jefferson Building.

“The Great Hall of the Library of Congress has this unbelievable history,” Wamp said. “There are people in this city that can tell you every fresco on the ceiling and what it means. … And here [at the CVC] somebody in their arrogance named this hall the Great Hall. It is a huge mistake left unfixed as we move forward.”

Wasserman Schultz has said that a renaming effort likely will not be approved mostly because of the fact that $250,000 already has been spent on ordering signs for the CVC Great Hall.

Wamp added that one frustration he’s had with the Great Hall issue is that he has not found anyone who can explain why “Great Hall” was chosen when the CVC originally was designed.

Part of his frustration, Wamp said, stems from the fact that the Capitol Preservation Commission — the bipartisan, bicameral body of Congressional leaders that oversees the CVC — has not held a single meeting since Wamp was named as a representative to the body at the beginning of this Congress.

The 18-member CPC was formed in late 1999 to solve the problems created by too many panels having jurisdiction over the CVC. LaHood has raised concerns for years that the members of that body have deferred their responsibilities to staffers and that oversight has become only more complicated as a result.

Wamp, who first offered the name Lincoln Hall for the CVC space, is now pushing for the name Emancipation Hall as an alternative.

“Going back and seeing the [C-SPAN] documentary on the Capitol, which we did in the last Congress … the number one flaw with the history that is documented in our Capitol is the [lack of] recognition of the slaves that built the Capitol,” he said.

“This new hall is going be second to only the Rotunda in terms of people going through it. … If we named that hall Emancipation Hall it would send all the signals to the people in this country that this glorious Capitol honors the people who built it who of all things ironically were slaves, and that it is something we recognize was one of the greatest wrongs in the history of our country.”

Wamp said he hopes the Congressional Black Caucus “and all people of good will” will step forward and support the name.

“What is $250,000 given all the other mistakes made with the CVC,” he said. “Those signs shouldn’t have been ordered to begin with. … I’ve said forever that neither party has an exclusive on integrity or ideas, so just because this is an idea that comes from the minority doesn’t mean it’s not a good a idea.”

Wasserman Schultz said she would not approve spending additional money to reorder signs when the CVC already is battling “horrific” cost overruns.

“I’m not going to be a hypocrite and say, ‘Oh, what’s another $250,000?,’” she said.

Besides the two amendments that are expected to be offered today and possible questions from Republicans on Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) recently announced “Greening the Capitol” initiative, Wasserman Schultz said she expects “mostly smooth sailing” during today’s markup.

“The priorities that we have focused on in crafting this bill together in a bipartisan way have been fiscal responsibility, accountability and life-safety and security,” she said. “We have years of neglect and backlog for each of the legislative branch agencies on life-safety and security, and I think it’s really important that we address those because every year that goes by, more of them stack up and we jeopardize the safety and security of people who work here and the people that visit us here.”