House makes 6.4 percent cut to congressional budget in 252-159 vote

The House on Friday approved a bill cutting the congressional budget by 6.4 percent. 

The bill funding the legislative branch and related agencies for 2012 was approved 252-159. Thirty-nine Democrats voted for the bill, and 16 Republicans voted against it.

The bill, H.R. 2551, would trim the legislative branch by $227 million, to $3.3 billion for the next fiscal year. The bill carries with it a message from appropriators that legislative-branch agencies need to pare back bonuses and other merit pay in light of the fiscal crisis.

Report language accompanying the bill calls on all agencies to justify bonuses paid out, and notes that some bonuses are lifting certain salaries higher than those earned by members of Congress. "The committee is very concerned about the amount of performance-based merit increases being given by some agencies of the legislative branch," that report said.

Under the bill, several agencies would be cut to the tune of 6 percent, including the Congressional Budget Office, the Government Accountability Office and the Library of Congress. However, the Sergeant at Arms's budget would increase by $3.5 million, and the U.S. Capitol Police budget would be level-funded.

Democrats argued in a brief Thursday debate that the bill would have a devastating impact on congressional staff, and estimated that they could force members to cut a handful of staff members.

"This cut will result in layoffs and pay cuts for members of the staff," Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) said.

But Republicans rejected this argument and said Democrats continue to oppose most cuts offered by Republicans, at a time of fiscal crisis that demands cuts.

"Mr. Speaker, our colleagues on the other side of the aisle simply cannot stand any kind of cuts," said Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.). "What they want are tax increases and continued irresponsible spending."

In Thursday and Friday votes, the House accepted amendments that boost funding for security in members' district offices, prevent funding for the leasing of cars beyond $1,000 per month, and stop the printing of the Congressional Record and legislation unless a printed copy is requested by a member. Another amendment cutting $4.9 million from the Government Printing Office was approved Friday.

But members also rejected several amendments, including language that would have slashed funding for the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) by 40 percent. Despite complaints from both parties about how the office has operated, most Democrats rallied to protect the OCE, which was established in 2008 by then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

The House also rejected attempts to require the use of U.S.-made light bulbs in the Capitol and prohibit the purchase of polystyrene food service containers.