On September 10, 2020, the Library of Congress held a Virtual Public Forum on the Library’s role in providing access to legislative information. The forum was held at the direction of the House Committee on Appropriations pursuant to its report accompanying the FY 2020 Legislative Branch Appropriations Bill. Per the legislative language, there will be another forum scheduled prior to October 2021. There was widespread interest in the topic: according to the Library, several hundred people registered for the event.
Prior to the forum, the Congressional Data Coalition and others sent a report containing more than two dozen recommendations concerning the Library of Congress’ legislative information services. They fell into five conceptual groupings: (1) Publish Information As Data; (2) Put the Legislative Process in Context; (3) Integrate Information from Multiple Sources; (4) Publish Archival Information; (5) Collaborate with the Public.
The following provides a recap of the three-hour proceedings. The Library indicated it will post video snippets of the conversation.
Congress holds the power of the purse. That is, they decide where to spend federal money. The Constitution expressly provides that “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law.” The process is convoluted, opaque, and subject to exceptions and personalities. The purpose of this article is to provide the big picture, show the immense importance of these decisions, and the impact on the Legislative Branch.
Congress controls a massive amount of money. For Fiscal Year 2020 (October 1, 2019 to September 30, 2020), the budget is about $4.7 Trillion. $2.8 Trillion is mandatory spending (legally required, like Social Security payments). $1.4 Trillion is discretionary spending (Congress can spend the money on anything). About $500 Billion is interest on the national debt. And, of course, there’s emergency spending, like the recently enacted Coronavirus legislation totaling trillions of dollars (with more to come).
(This is an update of a 2019 article on how Senate Committees are funded. It has been updated for the 116th Congress.)
UPDATED TRENDS IN SENATE COMMITTEE FUNDING
How do Senate committees get their funding and how has funding changed over the last 25 years? We crunched the numbers for you and here are the highlights:
Senate Committee spending saw a slight uptick in funding this session, but is still well short of its peak 2010 funding.
Appropriations continues to reign; the committee gets the largest portion of the funding and doesn’t have to ask for money.
Every Senate Committee experienced an increase in spending between the 106th and 116th Congresses in inflation adjusted dollars, with each committee seeing at least a 50% increase in funding since 1999.
While Senate Committees are still struggling with scarce funding, they’re in much better shape than House committees, which have seen draconian cuts since 2010.
(This is an update of a 2019 article on how House Committees are funded. It has been updated for the 116th Congress.)
Committee funding in the House of Representatives is accomplished through a somewhat quirky process. Appropriators in the House Legislative Branch Appropriations Committee set a top dollar amount for the committees — they appropriate the funds — but it is the Committee on House Administration that provides (i.e. allots) the funds to each committee on a biennial basis.
At the beginning of each new Congress, each committee chair and ranking member jointly testifies before the House Administration Committee and requests funds for their committee. For the 116th Congress, the hearing took place on March 12, 2019. Here is the committee notice; the written statements requesting funds; and video.
Total spending on committees is down by more than $115 million from its peak, using inflation adjusted dollars. The House of Representatives put $322,333,439 towards its committees in the 116th Congress, down from $437,680,105 in the 111th Congress, which incidentally was when Democrats last controlled the House. This is a 25% cut in funding. As a point of comparison, spending on the Capitol Police for FY 2020 amounted to $464,341,000.
What’s interesting is that committee spending is down from when Republicans last controlled both the House and the White House, in the 109th Congress. At that time, committees received $408,629,237 in inflation adjusted dollars, which is almost $90m more than the most recent Congress.
SPENDING PER COMMITTEE
In the 116th Congress, the appropriations committee received far and away the lion’s share of committee funding, more than double the next closest committee. The following two charts show how the last Congress prioritized its committee spending. As mentioned above, it is worth noting that the overall pie has shrunk considerably.
CHANGES IN SPENDING PER COMMITTEE
As the overall spending pie for committees has shrunk, who has come out ahead and who has lagged behind? Ethics, Intel, Financial Services, Veterans Affairs, House Administration, and Ways and Means are all up, but this can be deceiving. Ethics ($6.8m), Veterans Affairs ($8.3m), House Administration ($10.6), and Intel ($12.4m) have comparatively tiny budgets, as compared with quite well funded Financial Services ($17.1m) and Ways and Means ($18.3) committees.
Similarly, Rules, Appropriations, Budget, and Oversight appear down, but this too can be misleading. Rules ($6.6m) and Budget ($10.4m) are comparatively small, whereas Oversight ($18.9m) is the third largest committee, and Appropriations ($47.4m) is the largest.
WHAT DOES ALL THIS MEAN?
House Democrats could increase funding for committees by 20-25 percent and still be within historical norms for committee spending. Indeed, what the data shows is that the House’s committees have been hollowed out in recent years.
The biggest likely constraints on returning to normal allotment levels are that the legislative branch budget is comparatively smaller than historical norms, and it will be hard to find the money. Spending on other items consume a comparatively larger share of legislative branch funds.
First, and not to make things too complicated, but the allotment process (the divvying up of funds among the committees) happens only once, at the start of each Congress, and the allotment resolution covers a two year period. By contrast, the legislative branch appropriations process, which is what okays the spending of money, happens every year. You can imagine the appropriation as Congress spending money to buy a pie, and the allotment process as cutting up pieces for each committee. The appropriation and allotment process run on different calendars, which can make things confusing.
Second, generally speaking, funds for a committee are further subdivided, with 2/3s available to be spent by the majority and 1/3 by the minority. This isn’t always true, such as for the Ethics committee, and there can be other considerations, but that’s generally how it works. One notable exception is the Modernization Committee, which has a bipartisan staff. In addition, the funds are generally allotted in two segments, for each year of the Congress.
Third, in some Congresses there is a separate reserve fund, just in case a committee overspends.
Fourth, while most committees are allotted funding, Appropriators appropriate funding specifically for the Appropriations Committee in a separate line item.
Finally, the last time there was a select environmental committee, back in the 111th Congress (2009-2010), the committee was allotted $4,968,243 (in inflation-adjusted dollars); by comparison the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis created during the 116th Congress was allotted $3,781,500. This report is an update to our January 15, 2019 report “How House Committees Get Their Money,” which analyzed House committee allotments up to and including the 115th Congress.
The 2021 appropriations process is ramping up with markups scheduled over next month and just a few months left before the end of the fiscal year. Appropriations bills can be a vehicle for institutional reform; we would like to elevate a few modernization ideas from a number of civil society organizations that lawmakers may wish to consider. (All of our recommendations are available online.)
Late last year, Congress passed the Legislative Branch Appropriations bill for FY 2020, starting the clock on dozens of Leg. Branch projects and reports across several legislative agencies.
In January, our team reviewed requests from the Leg. Branch approps bill, broke them down by entity, and organized each of the deadlines. All requests are organized in a comprehensive spreadsheet that can be accessed here.
At the beginning of every month, our team provides updates of what items are due from the Leg. Branch appropriations bill, broken down by entity. Our previous installments include due dates for March and April (May had zero items to report). Each article also includes which items were due during the previous month at the end of the post.
Expected This Month
Below are the three items that are expected in June 2020:
Last week Congress enacted its third Coronavirus supplemental bill in an effort to stabilize the country. The legislation limped out of Congress, requiring unusual voting procedures, a stifling of debate, and an almost unprecedented level of unanimity.
The Senate supplemental bill totals $2 trillion, the largest stimulus in our history. While the bill addresses somes issues critical to the preservation of life and functionality of the country — while missing others — Congress failed to provide sufficient funding for the Legislative Branch to ensure it can continue to operate during the crisis.
The appropriations division of the Senate’s bipartisan coronavirus aid and economic relief agreement contains $330 billion in new funding. Title IX of S. 3548 includes $93.1 million in funding for the Legislative Branch, a number that is far too low. It represents roughly 1/2000 of the expenditure.
Back in December 2019 – which feels like ages ago – Congress passed the Legislative Branch Appropriations bill for FY 2020, starting the clock on dozens of Leg. Branch projects and reports.
In January, our team reviewed requests from the Leg. Branch approps bill, broke them down by entity, and summarized the deadlines. For those interested in looking at the complete spreadsheet, you can access it here.
We will regularly post a list of items due from the Leg. Branch approps bill, broken down by entity. We also will include which items were due during the previous month at the end of the report.