House Committees Look at Fewer Resources on Top of Demands
House committee leaders face a dwindling pool of resources for the 113th Congress under budgets approved this week by the House Administration Committee.
The funding numbers, set by panel Chairwoman Candice S. Miller, R-Mich., in consultation with House leadership, trim an average of 11 percent off committee allocations from 2012 levels and come out to $120 million in total for the first session of the 113th Congress. That is down from the $135 million committees had to work with in the second session of the 112th Congress.
The budgets approved Thursday do not trim all committees equally. Three panels — Budget, Ways and Means and Intelligence — would receive cuts of 9 percent or less, but six panels, including Financial Services and Transportation and Infrastructure, would be slashed by nearly 12 percent.
Miller said the differing spending authorizations were based on anticipated workloads, adding that Intelligence would be spared a slightly harsher cut because of “cyberthreats to our digital infrastructure.”
While Miller hinted last week that the Judiciary panel might see relief as well, the committee budget received a 10 percent cut, which brought vocal opposition from panel Democrats.
Miller, a fiscal conservative from a district that has suffered under the recession, has taken somewhat of a hard-hitting approach to budgeting. On Thursday afternoon, when her panel approved the budgets, she acknowledged “it certainly is a difficult time to be involved in the federal government in terms of budgeting.”
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., a member of the Judiciary panel, said the reductions could hurt the committee’s ability to craft legislation on gun violence and immigration, as it is expected to do this session
“I know that on both sides of the aisle we want that to be done properly,” she said.
House Administration ranking member Robert A. Brady, D-Pa., also expressed concern that the reductions could hinder Congress’s ability to attract top talent.
“I wonder about the effectiveness of this house … when we can’t get qualified people and can’t keep qualified people,” he said.
But panel Republicans argued House committees need to lead by example in a Congress working to reduce the deficit.
“I believe this committee has acted in a deliberative and fair manner,” said Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga.
The final authorized expenditures come after two hearings last week that had members on edge about the effects the sequester would have on their budgets. Having already received news that they would be forced to cut their Member Representational Allowances — money members use, among other things, to travel to and from their districts — committee chairmen and ranking members asked the House Administration Committee to spare their panels from the heaviest cuts.
“The committee was able to absorb, in the 112th Congress, a . . . cut that would be very, very difficult for us moving forward,” Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., said last week.
The cuts could be particularly hard on Democratic committee leaders. Committee funds are split along party lines, with two-thirds of the budget going to the majority and one-third to the minority.
At the start of the 112th Congress, House Administration passed a resolution that allocated $284.8 million among 20 House committees for the Jan. 3, 2011, to Jan. 3, 2013, period. That was about a 5 percent decrease for most committees except for those that made cases to be spared the full extent.
But heading into the second legislative session, the committee called back chairmen and ranking members to, once again, defend their operating budgets in advance of an average 6.4 percent cut on top of what had already been shaved from panel coffers. At the end of 2011, the top-line number for all committees going into 2012, the second session of the 112th Congress, was brought down to $135 million.
Emma Dumain contributed to this report.