The House Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee Tuesday passed a fiscal 1998 spending bill that would provide more than $1.7 billion for the legislative branch while cutting more than 300 employees, LEGI-SLATE News Service reported.
The draft legislation, which passed the subcommittee by voice vote, does not include money for Senate operations, but appropriators on that side of the Capitol eventually will add those funds to the bill.
Overall, the House subcommittee's portion of the bill represents a $9.7 million cut from last year's levels and $143.1 million less than what the president requested for the next fiscal year.
Restraining spending for legislative branch operations has been a key demand of the so-called GOP rebels in the House who have criticized the Republican leadership for failing to be aggressive enough in cutting spending.
"Our efforts should reassure American taxpayers that Congress is doing its part toward scaling back the size and scope of the federal government," said Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman James Walsh, R-N.Y.
Walsh noted Congress has cut spending on the legislative branch by almost $600 million over the past three fiscal years. And, he said, more than 3,800 full-time legislative employees also have been cut from the budget since FY94.
Overall, this year's House legislation would provide $47.4 million for a 2.8 percent cost-of-living increase in salaries and expenses across the legislative branch.
Due to these adjustments, House members' representational allowances would be increased by $13 million to a total of $379 million for FY98.
Under the section funding the Architect of the Capitol, the bill would provide $1.5 million for the first phase of repairs to the Capitol dome, which legislators said would cost about $3 million over the next two fiscal years to complete.
The bill also would provide funds to give the GAO 85 more full-time employees than the agency was projected to have this fiscal year.
At the same time, GAO contracting costs would be reduced under the bill due to multiyear contracting authority allowed under the recently enacted FY97 supplemental bill.
During Tuesday's session, subcommittee members did not offer any amendments to the spending legislation.
Some legislators, however, said they would bring up changes at the full committee markup, scheduled for the week after the July 4 recess, or on the floor.
In addition, House Appropriations ranking member David Obey, D-Wis., said he and most other Democrats would vote against the appropriations bill on the floor if it still contains its current provision allowing for a 20 percent increase in the number of staff at the Joint Committee on Taxation.
The legislation, as it stands, would provide $656,000 for the committee to increase its total number of employees to 73 from 61.
"Their staff will be larger than the majority staff on the Appropriations Committee, and I find that ridiculous," Obey said. He added that the JCT does not have any legislative responsibilities, and "essentially serves to give advice."
There have been periodic tensions between key House Democrats and the JCT Staff Director Kenneth Kies.
Walsh said both House Ways and Means Chairman Archer and Senate Finance Chairman Roth had requested the staff increase at the JCT.
Walsh noted the Ways and Means staff had been reduced a couple years ago and may need help in analyzing proposed tax reforms.