Politics

House Appropriators Vote to End Perk for Former Speakers

Paul Ryan, Nancy Pelosi both back ending office space, funding for former speakers

Legislative branch operations would get a boost under legislation the House Appropriations Committee advanced, despite the bill’s deletion of a perk for former speakers of the House. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The House Appropriations Committee advanced its $3.8 billion fiscal 2019 Legislative Branch spending bill to the floor Tuesday, after adopting an amendment to eliminate funding for a Capitol Hill office perk for former speakers.

The panel backed the bill, 47-0, after adopting by voice vote a manager’s amendment from Legislative Branch Subcommittee Chairman Kevin Yoder of Kansas, which would end taxpayer funding for an office for former House speakers, along with staff and other resources.

The overall measure would provide $132 million more than the fiscal 2018 enacted level to fund operations of the House and legislative branch agencies, including the Capitol Police, Architect of the Capitol and the Library of Congress. Senate-only spending will be considered for addition to the bill by appropriators in that chamber.

Member salaries have been frozen since 2010 and would remain unchanged under the bill.

The bill is the smallest and among the least controversial of the annual appropriations bills, but it nevertheless attracts regular attention from members seeking to address the use of tax dollars by lawmakers for staff salaries and their offices, and in this case, those of former speakers. 

“Taxpayers should not be on the hook to fund an office for former speakers,” said Nita M. Lowey of New York, the top Democratic appropriator, who worked with Yoder to include the provision.

She said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who is also a former speaker, supports the elimination of the office funding. Speaker Paul D. Ryan, who is entitled to this perk when he retires or departs Congress, also supports the rollback, according to his spokeswoman AshLee Strong.

Since 1970, House speakers have been entitled to a Capitol Hill office for five years after they retire or leave Congress. The Legislative Branch Subcommittee last month added language to slash the length of funding to just one year, but the full committee took it further Tuesday.

The move to eliminate the benefit was eased because no former speakers are currently maintaining such an office. John A. Boehner gave up his Capitol Hill digs in 2016 when he joined the firm of Squire Patton Boggs later that year.

Still, taxpayers spent about $183,000 on Boehner’s office in fiscal 2016 and about $28,000 in fiscal 2017, according to House disbursement records. Former Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, an Illinois Republican, spent about $1.5 million running his post-speaker office between 2008 and 2012.

The taxpayer-funded benefit for ex-speakers can’t be used for political purposes, but is intended to wrap up a former speaker’s congressional and constituent service.

The adopted manager’s amendment would also require a study on staff salaries in the House. California Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee praised the provision as a move to tackle the “huge gaps between staffers of color and white staffers on wages.”

“When we don’t keep pace with the private sector, the executive branch and frankly, the Senate, we lose or fail to attract talented professionals who are essential to the legislative process,” added Lowey. She criticized the underlying bill as “prioritizing property over people.”

Security spending, anti-harassment training

The bill would provide a 7 percent increase for Capitol Police over enacted 2018 levels, to $456.4 million. Yoder said threats against lawmakers have reached an “unprecedented level” in the year since the shooting at the GOP baseball practice.

Approximately 260 House members have installed additional security equipment in their district offices, Yoder told the panel. He pointed to the Capitol Police efforts to coordinate with local law enforcement to keep lawmakers and staff safe in their districts.

The bill would also increase by 9 percent, to $5.4 million, spending for the Office of Compliance, which oversees workplace safety and anti-harassment training and response.

These funds, along with the $147.6 million for the House chief administrative officer, will support the House’s effort to respond to “the sexual harassment that has been pervasive since longer than any of us have been members of Congress, but has only recently become a national scandal,” said Ohio Democrat Tim Ryan.

Funding proposed for other legislative branch agencies includes:

  • Library of Congress: The library would see an increase of $40 million above fiscal 2018 levels, to $709.8 million.
  • Architect of the Capitol: The office would get a $31.5 million boost over enacted levels, to $642 million. This includes $62 million for continued restoration and renovation of the Cannon House Office Building, a project that is nearing completion of its first phase.
  • Government Accountability Office: The watchdog agency would be funded at $579 million, the same as the fiscal 2018 enacted level.
  • Government Publishing Office: The GPO is also set for flat funding at $117 million.

The panel, in advancing the bill, rejected a call for cuts made Monday by Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney. In a letter, he stressed that the bill’s total is $327 million more than President Donald Trump proposed in his fiscal 2019 budget request and urged reduced spending on members’ office accounts, the Library of Congress and other agencies.

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