Congress Proposes Giving Itself a Small Haircut

Today the House Appropriations Committee approved the Legislative Branch Appropriations bill, the funding mechanism for Congress itself. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) proudly tweeted that:

Leg Branch bill $34M less than FY12, “showing Americans their govt can make some of the same sacrifices they’ve had to make”

If this is an example of showing Americans government can tighten its belt like its constituents are having to, they need to try harder. A proposed $34 million reduction to a $3.334 billion budget is a reduction of about 1 percent. And, yes, Congress actually costs $3 billion a year to run. The year before, House Republicans won a reduction of roughly 10.5 percent. While this is good, proposing a further cut of 1 percent comes off pretty hollow.

Are you getting your money’s worth for this Congress? Go back in time a decade, and Congress only cost us $2.75 billion a year. Go back even further to 1998, and Congress was a steal by comparison, at $2.2 billion a year.

Even with some generous adjustment for inflation, Congress is still spending more on itself than it otherwise should. Let’s take a look at what some of that money actually funds.

One provision in the FY13 Legislative Appropriations bill puts a cool million bucks into an account for the “Open World Leadership Center Trust Fund.” What is that? A 2001 law, it is a center that, among other responsibilities, is tasked to:

“administer a program to enable cultural leaders of Russia to gain significant, firsthand exposure to the operation of American cultural institutions.”

To be fair, a main purpose of the center is to provide “firsthand exposure to the American free market economic system and the operation of American democratic institutions.” An admirable goal to be sure, but do our tax dollars really need to fund this? And for Russians, no less?

The bill does make some small positive changes, like restricting the delivery of printed bills and the Congressional record — neither of which are actually read through the paper medium by staff in the internet age. This should have been done years ago.

With Congressional employees literally robbing taxpayers, more can be cut. Especially on the administrative side. Congress has its own carpentry shop, making custom made to order office furniture for Senators and their staff. The operation is top notch, but it is not cheap. Do Senators really need custom furniture? Staples and OfficeMax should be fine.

In addition to being open to the public, the U.S. Botanical Garden, for example, provides plants to the offices of elected officials. They are largely are ignored by staff, only to die and be replaced a few months later. Does the Hart Senate Atrium really need to be an arboretum? Why Congress needs to maintain a vast botanical garden is befuddling. Why the government needs to run it, even if it is the oldest in the country, should be a question for conservatives to ask themselves. Senators can buy their own plants.

Lastly, the $50 million set aside for “Books for the blind and physically handicapped” (required by a 1931 law) can be scrapped. The law is dated, suited to older, less technologically advanced times. Kindles and iPads can read books to people now.

Last year’s reductions were a good start, but that’s all they were: a start. If conservatives are going to show they are serious about our crushing debt, proposing a 1 percent reduction for Congress in year two isn’t going to cut it.

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