House opens appropriations debate

The House on Wednesday officially began consideration of fiscal 2015 appropriations after adopting a rule to set parameters for debate.

House members will first consider a $71.5 billion measure funding military construction and the Department of Veterans Affairs. It will be considered under an open rule, which allows lawmakers to offer any germane amendment as the bill text is read aloud section by section. Debate is consequently expected to last late into the evening, though the timing remains fluid.

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Amendments are expected regarding the VA benefits backlog and the use of funds regarding the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, among other provisions.

The rule, passed by voice vote, also provides for consideration of the $3.3 billion legislative branch appropriations bill. The measure funding the legislative branch will be considered on Thursday under a rule that only makes in order eight amendments. 

Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) expressed disappointment that his amendment to create a voluntary member housing stipend of $25 per day that the House is in session was not included. It would only be available to members that live more than 50 miles from Washington, D.C., and spend personal funds on a residence in the city.

Moran tried to offer a similar proposal in committee, but it failed on a voice vote. The Virginia Democrat, who is retiring, has come under fire for suggesting that members of Congress are "underpaid" and struggle to maintain residences with D.C.'s high cost living.

"I know it's not going to be popular among our constituents," Moran said. "We got hundreds of calls. All of them negative. Most of them profane. But that doesn't mean that it's an issue that should not be discussed on the House floor."

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said that Moran's proposal was "a very important point to be made," but argued members of Congress should not cut programs and then increase pay stipends for themselves.

"As long as we're preaching fiscal austerity, we've got to practice fiscal austerity," Cole said.

Amendments to watch on the legislative branch bill include proposals from:

- Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), that would provide $500,000 for sexual harassment training for all House offices.

- Rep. Richard Nugent (R-Fla.), that would prohibit House members from using funds from their representational allowances for car rentals.

- Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio), that would prohibit funding for delivering paper copies of the daily House calendar to members' offices.

- Rep. Ralph Hall (R-Texas), that would prevent funding for delivering printed copies of disbursement statements to members' offices.