Congress is significantly underfunded — especially compared to the executive branch — and it has suffered deep staff cuts over the last 25 years. In March and in September, we co-authored letters naming the fact that not only does the Legislative Branch receive the smallest funding level of the 12 appropriations subcommittees, it has received funding cuts (in real terms) over the last decade even as other appropriations subcommittees have received increases.
As we speak, the House and Senate are negotiating over how much in new funding to give to each of the 12 appropriations subcommittees. In play is how to divvy up a significant increase in overall funding: a $27 billion increase in non-defense discretionary spending over the next fiscal year.
According to CRS, in FY 2019 the legislative branch was funded at $4.836 billion. How does the proposed increases in Leg Branch funding from the House and Senate compare to last year’s funding level?
In summary, the Senate has proposed to increase the allocation for the Legislative Branch by $82 million more than the House, or an additional 1.7%. As you can see, the Senate has proposed to increase the Legislative Branch’s allocation to $5.092 billion, an increase of $256 million, or 5.3%. By comparison, the House of Representatives has proposed to increase the Legislative Branch’s allocation to $5.010 billion, an increase of $174 million, or 3.6%.
There likely are differences in how the two chambers would divide up funds over shared entities, which reflect different priorities and may contribute to the top line number. But it’s worth keeping last year’s spending levels in mind. For example, the Architect of the Capitol was appropriated $733.7 million, the Library of Congress was appropriated $696.1 million (including CRS), GAO was appropriated $589.8 million, the US Capitol Police was appropriated $456.3 million, and GPO was appropriated $117.0 million.
We are of the opinion that neither the House nor the Senate’s proposed increase is sufficient, and recommended a total increase in funding for the legislative branch of 10% for FY 2020, or $483.6 million. This could be paid for by a mere 1.78% of the agreed-upon $27 billion increase in non-defense discretionary spending for FY 2020. The benefits of an appropriately-funded Congress that is better able to manage its responsibilities are obvious.
When split among the legislative branch entities and used to address the under-funding of the House and Senate, even this 10% increase would be insufficient to get the legislative branch back to a baseline funding level, but it would make a huge difference in its efforts to meet its responsibilities and to modernize. It also would help to cover unexpected cost overruns, such as the Cannon House Office Building renovation that is $100m over budget.
Funding levels for the appropriations subcommittees is negotiated by the House and Senate leadership in conjunction with the leadership of the full appropriations committees. At a minimum, we urge the House to accede to the Senate’s 5.3% increase in legislative branch funding and to look to a more significant increase for FY 2021.
In light of current circumstances, we encourage both chambers to rapidly agree on the legislative branch appropriations bills and move them quickly into law.