Legislative Branch Measures Match Up

Posted June 20, 2007 at 6:42pm

The fiscal 2008 legislative branch appropriations bill could see action in both chambers today, with the Senate Appropriations Committee set to mark up its version of the spending measure while the House may send its bill to the floor for a vote this afternoon.

By tradition, neither chamber considers funding to run the other when crafting their versions of legislation, but a comparison of funding allowances for the various legislative branch agencies shows the two bills are strikingly similar.

Both Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) — the chairwomen of each chamber’s Appropriations subcommittees on the legislative branch — have indicated security and safety issues in the Capitol complex were their main concerns in crafting their respective bills.

The Senate version grants the Capitol Police about $2 million less than the $286 million provided in the House bill. The Senate legislation would authorize the department to operate with 10 more sworn officers (for a total of 1,691) but nine fewer civilian full-time equivalents (430) than the House legislation. One notable inclusion in the Senate bill is language that would seek to finalize the Capitol Police-Library of Congress Police merger, a four-year-old process that has stalled. (See related story.)

A Landrieu spokeswoman said Wednesday that in an effort to ensure a seamless security net on Capitol Hill, the Senator made the completion of the merger and the opening of the Capitol Visitor Center next year two of her top priorities.

For the Architect of the Capitol’s office, the Senate bill is recommending a $4.5 million increase over the $348 million allowed in the House version. Included in that total is an extra $1.2 million in CVC operations funding that the House does not provide.

The Library itself earned an almost equal level of funding in both bills, about $577 million. The Senate measure that will be marked up today includes $12.5 million for the LOC’s digital “talking book” program for the blind and physically handicapped, which was included as an amendment to the House bill. It also funds the Open World Leadership Program, the exchange program operated out of the Library, at a level almost equal to the $14 million provided in fiscal 2007. The House bill cuts the Open World funding in half as it seeks to transfer the program to the Department of State.

The Office of Compliance and Congressional Budget Office also have almost equal funding allowances in the two bills, about $3.8 million and $38 million, respectively.

The Government Accountability Office and Government Printing Office make out slightly better in the Senate bill.

The GPO would receive $8 million more in the Senate bill for a total of $139 million. Much of the increase would go to cover the cost of updating the U.S. Code, a mandatory requirement every six years.

The GAO would receive an additional $7 million (for a total of $510 million) in the Senate bill.

Both bills include specific funding for the GAO to increase its role in technology assessment initiatives on Capitol Hill. At a House hearing earlier this year there was some discussion on whether Congress should reconstitute the defunct Office of Technology Assessment, but, at least in the immediate future, it appears the GAO will be handling those studies.

The bill being marked up today recommends a Senate budget of $842 for fiscal 2008, an increase of $38.5 million over fiscal 2007. The House budget for next year is expected to be $1.2 billion, which is $61 million over the current year.

The Senate budget includes $207 for the office of the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms, $24 million for the Secretary of the Senate’s office and a provision that would grant the wife of the late Sen. Craig Thomas (R-Wyo.) a $165,200 death gratuity.

Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer was given about $20 million less than the $227 million he asked for at his budget hearing, while Secretary of the Senate Nancy Erickson received about $1.5 million less than her $25.5 million request.

Asked about the budget on Wednesday, Gainer said, “We saw the handwriting on the wall and knew we weren’t going to get everything we wanted so we did a couple things. We deferred some projects into 2009 … and we’ve also worked hard to bring some of our projects in under budget so it will give us some money left in ’07 to begin some of those ’08 initiatives. But the bottom line is we’re in good shape.”

A spokeswoman for Erickson gave the same assessment.

“We will continue to effectively work with the level of funding that we are provided,” the spokeswoman said.