Wednesday, May 20, 2015

House Passes Bill That Undermines Its Ability to Do Its Own Job

Yesterday, the House passed its FY 2016 appropriations bill for the Legislative Branch.
Since taking control of the House in 2010, Republicans in Congress have succeeded at cutting the funding for the House by 14%.

In their written dissent in Committee, Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL-23) and Nita Lowey (NY-17) argued that the bill "falls short in providing Congress with the resources needed to fulfill its constitutional duties":
The Legislative Branch appropriations bill is essential to Congress' ability to serve the Nation and fulfill its constitutional duties as an equal branch of government. Regrettably, this bill falls short in providing Congress with the resources needed to fulfill its constitutional duties. The Legislative Branch bill provides another year of flat funding, the third in a row. The bill reflects the Republican budget that set discretionary spending at levels not sufficient to grow the economy or invest in infrastructure. The President put forward a specific plan to avoid sequestration's harmful budget cuts and reduce the deficit in a balanced way. Unfortunately, the Republican Budget does not even meet the President's plan half way.
In the Legislative Branch Appropriations bill we see the effect of the Republican Budget most starkly on the Architect of the Capitol, where several projects with life and safety elements were left unfunded. The Office of Compliance issued a citation to the Library of Congress stating ``lack of exit stairwells and exit pathways in the Thomas Jefferson Building that are effectively protected against fire, smoke, or toxic fumes poses an undue danger to the lives and safety of the building occupants.'' Not surprisingly, the Architect ranked the Library of Congress North Exit Stair B as its second most critical project in need of funding. Nonetheless, this bill provides no funds for that and other necessary life and safety projects, including Library of Congress Elevator Modernization, South Stair E Phase I, and Fire Alarm and Audibility Upgrades.
The bill not only insufficiently funds the Architect but also includes language to withhold seventy-five percent of funding for any project or phase of a project funded in the bill over $5 million until the House Committee on Appropriations and the Government Accountability Office approve a plan for use of funds. The provision adds an overly burdensome requirement that will unnecessarily hold up the progress of essential projects. The low threshold of $5 million threatens to insert the Committee into the management of projects rather than promote the Committee's appropriate oversight role.
The largest reduction in the bill is to the Government Publishing Office (GPO), which was cut by over 8 percent from the fiscal year 2015 level. The office was formerly known as the Government Printing Office until the Committee changed the name of the agency in the fiscal year 2015 Omnibus Appropriations bill to reflect the digital transformation of the agency. GPO publishes information online and plays a vital role in Congress' transparency. Unfortunately, the bill denies GPO's request to continue to improve its Federal Digital System. The National Academy of Public Administration in 2013 recommended that GPO explore charging fees for access to online legislative data to ensure the long-term preservation of digital government publications. Congress should reject NAPA's recommendation to charge fees and adequately fund GPO through appropriations to ensure free access to government data.
Finally, the Ranking Member of the subcommittee put forward a commonsense amendment during Full Committee consideration that would have taken steps to ensure House of Representatives cafeteria workers are paid a livable wage. The amendment directed the Chief Administrative Officer of the House of Representatives to solicit and select a food service contractor who provides a livable wage to its employees to meet basic needs for food and shelter. The amendment set no amount for wages but required the contractor to use local economic indices to establish these wages. Regrettably, this amendment was defeated 29-21 with Republican Members voting against and Democratic Members voting in the affirmative. The Democratic Members of the Committee will continue to strive to require that contractors doing business with the House of Representatives pay wages and provide benefits that allow their employees to live above poverty levels and move into the middle class.
The damage of the bill can also be seen in how it treats the Congressional Research Service, a valuable source of independent policy and legal analysis. The bill rejected the Congressional Research Service's request for additional funding and maintained a ban on the CRS from releasing reports to the public:
The Congressional Research Service (CRS) will continue to be barred from releasing its reports to the public, the House Appropriations Committee said yesterday in its report on legislative branch appropriations for the coming year. “The bill contains language which provides that no funds in the Congressional Research Service can be used to publish or prepare material to be issued by the Library of Congress unless approved by the appropriate committees,” the House report said.
Because Congress prohibits CRS from publishing its own reports, most CRS reports are only available to the public from non-governmental organizations that take the initiative to gather and publish them. Many such reports can be found in a collection that is maintained and regularly updated on the Federation of American Scientists website.
In the new spending bill, the House Committee ominously rejected a CRS request for a $5 million budget increase in 2016, and allocated $107 million, the same as the 2015 level.
In a move that is perhaps even more worrisome for CRS, “The Committee directs the Library of Congress to commission an independent survey of all Members and committees of the House of Representatives to ascertain their fundamental and optimal requirements for services and support from the Library of Congress and especially the Congressional Research Service.”

The problem here is that the CRS services that congressional offices are likely to find most “useful” are not necessarily those that are most “valuable.”

What is most valuable, by contrast, is not necessarily of immediate use to individual Members and Committees. That is the kind of in-depth policy analysis that can only be helpful to those whose policy preferences are not predetermined by ideology or affiliation. CRS reports are now cited ever more frequently by reporters and others trying to come to grips with complicated policy issues that entail both costs and benefits.
The bill ultimately passed 357 to 67. 237 Republicans and 120 Democrats voted for it. 5 Republicans and 62 Democrats voted against it.

Here are the 62 Democrats you should thank for voting against it:

Karen Bass (CA-37)
Earl Blumenauer (OR-03)
Brendan Boyle (PA-13)
Corrine Brown (FL-05)
Mike Capuano (MA-07)
Tony Cardenas (CA-29)
Katherine Clark (MA-05)
Yvette Clarke (NY-09)
Lacy Clay (MO-01)
Emanuel Cleaver (MO-05)
Jim Clyburn (SC-06)
Steve Cohen (TN-09)
John Conyers (MI-13)
Elijah Cummings (MD-07)
Diana DeGette (CO-01)
Ted Deutch (FL-21)
Mike Doyle (PA-14)
Eliot Engel (NY-16)
Anna Eshoo (CA-18)
Sam Farr (CA-20)
Al Green (TX-09)
Gene Green (TX-29)
Raul Grijalva (AZ-03)
Alcee Hastings (FL-20)
Mike Honda (CA-17)
Steny Hoyer (MD-05)
Steve Israel (NY-03)
Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18)
Hakeem Jeffries (NY-08)
Eddie B. Johnson (TX-30)
Bill Keating (MA-09)
Joe Kennedy (MA-04)
Ron Kind (WI-03)
Joe Larson (CT-01)
Barbara Lee (CA-13)
Sandy Levin (MI-09)
John Lewis (GA-05)
Zoe Lofgren (CA-19)
Nita Lowey (NY-17)
Jim McDermott (WA-07)
Jim McGovern (MA-02)
Gregory Meeks (NY-05)
Grace Meng (NY-06)
Seth Moulton (MA-06)
Grace Napolitano (CA-32)
Richard Neal (MA-01)
Bill Pascrell (NJ-09)
Donald Payne (NJ-10)
Nancy Pelosi (CA-12)
Mark Pocan (WI-02)
David Price (NC-04)
Kathleen Rice (NY-04)
Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40)
Tim Ryan (OH-13)
Jan Schakowsky (IL-09)
Adam Smith (WA-09)
Bennie Thompson (MS-02)
Pete Visclosky (IN-01)
Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL-23)
Maxine Waters (CA-43)
Frederica Wilson (FL-24)
John Yarmuth (KY-03)

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