News Column

Budget Cuts Would Hit Congress but Not Members

February 26, 2013

By Gregory Korte


As the rest of the federal government prepares for furloughs, layoffs and sweeping budget cuts caused by the "sequester," the people who could prevent the cuts are the ones whose paychecks are protected: members of Congress.

The 27th Amendment to the Constitution -- intended to prevent members of Congress from voting themselves a pay raise -- also prohibits them from taking a pay cut until after the next election.

Congress will feel the pain in other ways. Members' office budgets, committee staff and leadership offices will all see the same across-the-board cuts as any other discretionary, non-defense spending.

Other legislative branch functions -- the Capitol Visitor Center, the Library of Congress' Books for the Blind program, even the Capitol Police -- would take cuts of about 9%, according to a report from the Office of Management and Budget.

In the House, each representative gets an annual office budget of about $1.5 million; members from expensive and faraway districts get more.

Some congressional offices may feel the cuts more deeply than others. A USA TODAY analysis of 2011 congressional spending showed that 40% of House members spent more than 90% of their office budgets, and Congress has cut its own budgets by about 8% since then. Additional cuts imposed by the sequester could force these offices to lay off staff or implement other cost-cutting strategies.

In 2011, Congress passed and President Obama signed into law the Budget Control Act, which required the across-the-board cuts of $1.2 trillion as a way to motivate lawmakers to find some other way of reducing the federal budget deficit. They didn't.

Much of the $85 billion cost savings this year will come through furloughs, the administration has said. As many as 800,000 civilian employees in the Defense Department will have to take 22 days of unpaid leave before Oct. 1. Active-duty military and civilian defense employees in combat zones are exempt, as are senior political appointees in the Obama administration who don't fall under federal civil service rules.

The Executive Office of the President is subject to the sequester, but White House spokesman Jay Carney, while warning of the dire effects of agency cuts, declined to elaborate on how the presidency would be affected. The president's salary wouldn't be cut.

When Congress passed the sequester, Rep. Norman Dicks of Washington state, then the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, warned colleagues that the sequester would mean the elimination of about two legislative aides in a typical congressional office.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., runs two offices: his member office and the House Judiciary Committee, which he chairs. He said the sequester hasn't come as a surprise, so he doesn't expect that draconian measures will be necessary to come within budget. "We have been taking this into account with our hiring, both on the committee and in my congressional office, so I hope to be able to avoid that," he said.

Contributing: Alan Gomez

Source: Copyright USA TODAY 2013

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