Groups call on appropriators to increase funding for committees, member offices

Letter asserts imbalance in security/infrastructure and policy spending

Advocates are calling on Appropriations committee leaders, from left, Sen. Richard C. Shelby, Reps. Nita M. Lowey and Kay Granger, and Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, to increase legislative branch funding. (CQ Roll Call)
Advocates are calling on Appropriations committee leaders, from left, Sen. Richard C. Shelby, Reps. Nita M. Lowey and Kay Granger, and Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, to increase legislative branch funding. (CQ Roll Call)
Posted June 22, 2020 at 9:00am

As appropriators move toward marking up spending bills, a broad swath of advocacy groups interested in how Congress works is asking them to increase initial spending allocations — so-called 302(b)s — for the legislative branch by over $504 million, or 10 percent, saying it has been disproportionately underfunded for years.

The letter, sent on Monday to top appropriators and spearheaded by Demand Progress and the Lincoln Network, notes that while money appropriated for nondefense discretionary spending for the past 25 years has risen 55 percent, money for the legislative branch has increased at half that rate. Further, the funding increases spent on the legislative branch have gone toward security and infrastructure, while policy capacity has been largely overlooked, according to the groups.

The legislative branch’s proposed fiscal 2021 budget calls for the Capitol Police to get a salary boost from $379 million to $417 million over the previous year. General expenses, which include police cars, uniforms, weapons and security equipment, would jump from $85 million to $103 million. The total proposed Capitol Police budget is $520 million.

The budget of the Architect of the Capitol, which maintains the buildings and grounds of the Capitol complex, would rise from $120 million to $139 million.

“Since 1995, Capitol Police expenditures went up by 279 percent and Architect of the Capitol expenditures increased by 131 percent,” the letter states. “The Capitol Police and Architect of the Capitol now amount to 23 percent of overall legislative branch funding, or $1.16 billion. Funding for the entire legislative branch, excluding USCP and AOC, increased a mere 8 percent over the last ten years.”

Signatories on the letter traverse the political and policy spectrum. They include the Bipartisan Policy Center Action, the liberal Progress America, the conservative FreedomWorks, academic outlets such as the Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation at Georgetown University, and even a former member of Congress, Washington Democrat Brian Baird, who served six terms in the House.

They want lawmakers to devote more funds to committee functions and the total budget for offices to function, known as the Members’ Representational Allowance.

“Spending on Congressional committees has decreased by 25 percent since the 111th Congress. House committee funding is down by $114 million from its peak, decreasing from $438 million in the 111th Congress to $324 million in the 115th Congress. Senate committee funding is down by $88 million from its peak, decreasing from $327 million in the 111th Congress to $239 million in the 115th Congress,” the letter reads.

The fiscal 2021 proposed budget increases the House Members’ Representational Allowances from $615 million to $672 million. Senate officers and employees would get an increase from $216 million to $223 million.

Rank-and-file staffers who work on Capitol Hill are generally not paid as well as other comparable professions off the Hill, such as lobbying.

“Inflation-adjusted spending on the House Member Representational Account is down by 21 percent since 2010, decreasing from $786 million to $615 million,” the letter says. “The Senate Official Personal Office Expenditure Account is down by 10 percent since 2010, decreasing from $502 million to $449 million.”

The letter was addressed to House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey, D-N.Y., and ranking member Kay Granger, R-Texas, along with Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala., and ranking member Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt.

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