published Sunday, February 6th, 2011

House GOP goes easy on budget cuts

WASHINGTON -- Republicans now running the House are barely touching Congress' generous own budget even as they take a cleaver to many domestic agencies.

A new GOP proposal would reduce domestic agencies' spending by 9 percent on average through September, when the current budget year ends.

If that plan becomes law, it could lead to layoffs of tens of thousands of federal employees, big cuts to heating and housing subsidies for the poor, reduced grants to schools and law enforcement agencies, and a major hit to the Internal Revenue Service's budget.

Congress, on the other hand, would get nicked by only 2 percent, or $94 million.

Recent hefty increases to the congressional budget -- engineered by Democrats when they held power in the House from 2007 to 2010 -- would remain largely in place under a plan announced Thursday by the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Harold Rogers, R-Ky.

The plan, developed in close consultation with Republican Speaker John Boehner's office, would cut Congress' budget less than any other domestic spending bill, except for the one covering the Department of Homeland Security.

All 12 spending bills left unfinished by Democrats will go into a single, enormous measure that Republicans promise to bring up the week of Feb. 14.

"Charity begins at home, and Congress should lead the way with cuts to their own budget," said Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a Washington-based watchdog group. "Instead they're protecting their bottom line while slashing everyone else's."

The cut to Congress gets a little deeper, to 3.5 percent, if it were imposed for a full calendar year instead of the seven months that will remain in the current budget year. But so, too, would the cuts to other agencies -- growing to 16 percent.

Republicans bristle at the suggestion that Congress is getting off easy. They promise further cuts when the Senate pitches in and when the two chambers work out joint items such as budgets for the Capitol Police, Library of Congress and the Government Accountability Office.

"Earlier this year, the House passed unprecedented cuts to its own budget, and we are cutting more ... a total of nearly $100 million in House-related spending cuts," said Boehner's spokesman, Michael Steel. "The Senate has substantial responsibility for the overall legislative branch appropriations bill, and we hope to work with them to cut even more going forward."

Republicans will provide more details about the spending bill in the week ahead.

Legislative branch cuts are hardly unprecedented. Former Speaker Newt Gingrich engineered an 8 percent cut in Congress's budget when Republicans last wrested control of the House, in 1995.

When Democrats gained a majority in 2007, the budget for the office of the speaker's office -- considered the most powerful of any in Congress -- exploded. As speaker, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., engineered a $2 million, 71 percent increase immediately after that transfer of party control.

A Pelosi spokesman attributed some of the increase to her decision to consolidate a variety of leadership jobs within her office -- as opposed to the power-sharing approach of her predecessor, Republican Dennis Hastert of Illinois.

Regardless, Boehner inherited a pretty flush office account, which permits him a sizable staff contingent, including a press and communications operation with a dozen people. Capitol Hill news coverage has increased considerably in recent years with the advent of the 24-hour news cycle, the growth of niche publications and a range of new online media, including Twitter and Facebook.

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