House gets its way on legislative branch bill

Although the House Appropriations Legislative Branch Subcommittee was eliminated early this year, several of the issues advocated by its former members prevailed in a final version of the bill, thanks to a change in strategy and strong leadership support.

"I think a stealth attack is better than a frontal assault," observed Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.). The provisions "were hidden from much exposure, so there wasn't a lot of controversial talk about those issues."

Moran also said the low-profile strategy helped other lawmakers believe appropriators were including provisions for the right reasons.

"I think [members] figured, well they aren't trying to get press for themselves, they are just trying to do what they think is right," he said.

Several members of the House Appropriations Committee credited Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) as the reason for the progress on key legislative-branch issues such as disbanding the Capitol Police mounted patrol and providing further oversight of the police force and for inserting a provision, at the request of leadership, ensuring the continuity of the House in the event of a disaster.

Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.) agreed that GOP leaders' involvement played a large role in the number of House provisions that were included in the bill. He praised Lewis and Rep. David Obey (Wis.), the ranking Democrat on the spending panel, for taking on many of the issues that were once under the purview of the Legislative Branch Subcommittee, giving them extra clout.

Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), former chairman of the subcommittee, also credited Lewis with providing the right climate to ensure that House priorities prevailed.

"[Lewis's] tenacity, dedication, and policy expertise were the right set of ingredients to getting it done," Kingston said. "I've always said that we need to be able to keep our own House in order if we expect everyone else to, and I'm pleased that fiscal responsibility and accountability far outweighed the need for redundant programs and bloated budgets."

The provision that provides for the continuity of Congress in case of a disaster was one of the most noteworthy House victories.

Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) pushed to add language to the legislative-branch measure that would instruct lawmakers on what to do should 100 or more members of Congress be killed in a catastrophe and direct the Speaker to hold elections 49 days after the event occurs to replace lawmakers.

Hastert asked Lewis to attach the provision to the appropriations bill because it had passed the House twice but was languishing in the Senate. Sen. Robert Byrd (R-W.Va.) stripped the continuity provision from the Senate version of the bill, but Senate conferees eventually yielded to the House leadership's request.

"The Speaker believed a contingency plan should be in place, should something terrible happen to Congress," Hastert spokesman Ron Bonjean said. "To get [the provision] in the conference report before the August recess was a top priority."

The allocations in the legislative-branch conference report reflected allotments recommended in the House version of the bill, a change from last year, when Senate preferences were more prevalent after the conference.

Moran said the House also received more support from the Senate regarding the elimination of the fledgling horse-mounted police patrol, even though Legislative Branch Subcommittee Chairman Wayne Allard (R-Colo.) wanted to keep the horse patrol in the budget.

Allard's office declined to offer further comment on the conference bill other than a statement Allard made on the Senate floor. The five-horse unit and their equipment will be transferred to the United States Park Police 60 days after the legislation is enacted.

Last year, funding for the patrol was retained in the conference bill, largely at the urging of former Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.).

Joe Shoemaker, a spokesman for ranking member Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), attributed the amount of House language in the bill to the restructuring of the House Appropriations Committee.

"The Senate chose to accept the language into the report in order to fund the police at the level that they did," Shoemaker said.

Jenny Manley, a spokeswoman for Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), said the legislative-branch conference bill was a reasonable compromise.

"The Senate accepted some of the House language, and the House agreed to some of the Senate numbers, particularly on significant increases in police funding," she said.