Funding Bill Takes a Giant Leap to Rebuild Congressional Capacity

Today at noon the House Appropriations Committee’s Legislative Branch Subcommittee will mark up its funding bill for fiscal year 2022. This legislation constitutes a big leap towards addressing the devastating decline Members of Congress have inflicted upon the Legislative Branch over the past quarter century, including a nearly 40 percent staffing reduction at committees and legislative support agencies.

The bill includes a top line funding increase of 13.8 percent over fiscal year 2021; a 21 percent increase for personal, committee, and leadership offices; a 10.3 percent increase for the government’s watchdog, the Government Accountability Office; new funding for IT modernization initiatives; and many other important provisions. In recent historical terms, the legislation does not constitute an increase in funding to the Legislative Branch, but rather a restoration of funding levels from a decade ago. Moreover, the Legislative Branch has only grown at half the rate of the Executive Branch over the last few decades, and the lions’ share of those funds have gone towards security and infrastructure, not policymaking. This legislation begins to remediate those deficiencies.

These newly restored resources will be used to provide for better services for constituents, to support oversight work to root out waste, and to hire expert staff to help our elected representatives fulfill their Article I duty to lead in federal policymaking.

Building capacity in Congress is a sound investment. A stronger Congress can reduce opportunities for regulatory capture by lobbyists, mitigate the risk of unintended negative policy outcomes through stronger staffing, and increase accountability of the federal government through expanded and knowledgeable oversight. It also provides an opportunity to save taxpayers money: the Government Accountability Office consistently reports a savings of over $100 for each dollar of its budget and yet it has been consistently underfunded, leaving billions of dollars on the table.

This appropriations bill is a monumental break from decades of dysfunctional politicization of congressional funding, which undermined the legislative branch’s ability to fulfill its constitutional role under Article I. “Both Republicans and Democrats increasingly recognize that Congress has been unable to live up to the role envisioned for it by the Founders,” said Lincoln Network policy head Zach Graves. Adding that, “while there hasn’t always been agreement for how to fix Congress, we’ve seen a real shift in how both sides talk about Congress and a growing recognition that strengthening Congress should be an issue that everyone from across the political spectrum can agree upon.”

This new push for congressional capacity also comes after years of bipartisan coalition work by Lincoln Network, Demand Progress, the American Enterprise Institute, the Congressional Management Foundation, FreedomWorks, and other groups to reframe the conversation on Capitol Hill and educate stakeholders about this institutional challenge. “This important bill is the result of a decades’ hard work from a bipartisan cohort of reform-minded Members, working together with civil society, to strengthen Congress and create a new culture of institutionalism,” said Demand Progress policy director Daniel Schuman. Adding that, “while restored resources won’t fix all of Congress’s challenges, it will make it possible to gain traction on the remaining issues and move us closer to a healthier democracy.”

Lincoln Network and Demand Progress enthusiastically support these efforts to restore funding to Congress, congratulate members of the Legislative Branch Appropriations Committee for their leadership, and look forward to consideration and passage of the legislation.

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Written by Daniel Schuman and Zach Graves