Politics & Government

Why a Congress that’s protesting wasteful spending wants $77 million more for itself

Congress has slated $77 million for the legislative branch’s budget for the remainder of the fiscal year.
Congress has slated $77 million for the legislative branch’s budget for the remainder of the fiscal year.

Republicans have spent years railing against excessive government spending. Yet now that they’re in charge of Congress and the White House, they’re touting a plan that allows legislative branch spending to grow more than the rest of the budget.

The plan, due for a vote in the House of Representatives as soon as Wednesday, would give the legislative branch 1 percent more for the rest of fiscal 2017. The overall budget bill, which funds much of the government through Sept. 30, increases all spending by half of 1 percent.

The legislative branch would get an additional $77 million.

Democrats and Republican leaders are touting the overall budget plan as a worthwhile compromise. Not everyone agreed.

“It’s a bad deal,” said Chris Edwards, the director of tax policy studies at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank.

The legislative increase primarily goes to the Library of Congress, with $32 million more; the Capitol Police, with $18.3 million more and the Government Accountability Office, Congress’ auditing arm, with $13.5 million more.

The increase was necessary for basic improvements to the Capitol building and for the staff that keeps it running, said Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, the top Democrat on the Senate Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee.

He was quick to point out the increase was not slated for members of Congress.

“We’re not getting raises, but that doesn’t mean that the people who keep the lights on at night – the engineers, the painters and the carpenters – shouldn’t be able to get cost-of-living increases,” Murphy said.

Most members of Congress make $174,000 per year, while leadership earns more. The pay was last increased in 2009, from $169,300.

The Trump administration and Republicans in Congress have campaigned on cutting wasteful government spending. Edwards said this budget bill – including the increase in funding to the legislative branch – undermined that.

“This president came in saying we need to cut,” Edwards said. “Ultimately, if this administration really enforces spending cuts, they need to take the battle to the Democrats on that, and this shows they’re not willing to do that.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who had praise Tuesday for the new budget, had railed against increased spending in a statement on President Barack Obama’s proposed 2016 budget, saying, “Washington needs to stop spending money it doesn’t have,” and criticizing Obama for not “cutting waste while improving accountability.” But statements this year largely praised increases in spending for multiple agencies, while also praising cuts for certain programs, mainly Obamacare.

Edwards laughed when asked about the change in tone.

“We know the answer to that,” he said. “When your own team is at the White House, you pull your punches.”

Director of the Office of Management and Budget, Mick Mulvaney, outlined the impact of President Donald Trump's budget during Thursday's White House press briefing. "This is the message the president wanted to send to the public, to the press [and

Kate Irby: 202-383-6071, @KateIrby