Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) holds the gavel during the first session of the 113th Congress in the House Chambers January 3, 2013 in Washington, DC. House Speaker Boehner was re-elected as Speaker and presided over the swearing in of the newly elected members of the 113th Congress. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
By Susan Davis, USA Today
WASHINGTON - The House of Representatives will spend 15% less on its
own operations this year than it did three years ago under a
cost-cutting effort launched by Speaker John Boehner that is on pace to
have saved taxpayers more than $400 million by the end of this year.
Republicans took control of the House in January 2011, Boehner, the new
speaker, said cutting House spending would be a priority.
then, House lawmakers have seen a nearly 20% decrease in their office
budgets. Three years ago, the average lawmaker had an annual $1.5
million budget, which is down to $1.2 million. Those budgets - which
vary by office - cover everything from staff salaries to district office
rent and bottled water.
The cuts trimmed $58 million from House
costs in fiscal year 2011, $143 million in fiscal year 2012, and are on
track to save $205 million through fiscal year 2013 when the
across-the-board government spending cuts known as sequestration are
factored in to the savings, according to Boehner's office.
The operating budget for the House in 2010 was $1.37 billion; that number has been shaved to $1.16 billion for 2013.
salaries and pensions have long been exempted from the budget ax, but
the costs of running the 435-member chamber have not been subjected to
significant cuts since the mid 1990s.
"Believe me, I am totally
aware that there is no sympathy for members of Congress. However, I
think we should lead by example," said Rep. Candice Miller, R-Mich., a
Detroit-area congresswoman who chairs the committee that oversees
internal budget cuts.
Leading Democrats have chafed at the belt
tightening, arguing it undermines adequate personnel resources for
research and oversight. "We are past the point of cutting what we want,
and we are now into cutting what we need - our ability to attract and
retain expert staff," said Rep. Robert Brady, D-Pa., in opposition to
further committee cuts approved in March.
Complaints have fallen
on a deaf ear in the speaker's office. "Many Americans are doing more
with less, and it's only right that we do the same in the House," the
Ohio Republican told USA TODAY.
Committee budgets, which vary
based on size and merit, have also been trimmed. The Natural Resources
Committee, for example, operated on $8.4 million annually in 2010 while
this year's budget is $6.5 million, a 22.35% cut.
The Senate is
subject to the sequester cuts which affect office and committee budgets,
but the Democratic-controlled chamber has not self-inflicted comparable
The cuts force lawmakers to find new ways to
save. Miller canceled a cleaning service for her district office - a
$4,000 decision her employees supported when they were informed it was
that or furloughs. Miller's message: "This is what a Swiffer looks
Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., directs staff to fly in to
Baltimore's airport instead of Washington's Reagan airport because
direct flights from Charlotte are cheaper. Rep. Gregg Harper, R-Miss.,
cut back on rental cars and online ad spending. Even Boehner has cut
back on subscriptions and spent less on events, including the St.
Patrick's Day lunch the speaker hosts each year. "It forces you to think
about ways you can save money," Miller said.
It's also forcing
tougher choices on where to spend money. The U.S. Capitol Police budget
hasn't faced cuts, and Boehner has pledged that none of the Capitol
complex will be closed to the public because of sequester cuts. The
White House has cut public tours, citing the cuts.
chafed at Boehner's decision to spend as much as $3 million in taxpayer
funds so the U.S. House can mount a legal defense of the Defense of
Marriage Act - which prohibits gay marriage - while staffers are forced
to go without pay. For example, about 17 Democratic aides employed by
the House Administration Committee face up to 19 days of furlough,
according to staff director Jamie Fleet.
Lawmakers approved a
spending bill that includes $61.2 million to repair the crumbling U.S.
Capitol dome, and Miller said her committee is working on how to budget
for an overhaul of the Cannon House Office Building in 2015, a costly
project that is likely to take ten years to complete. "You know what?
This is the new normal as far as I'm concerned because it's not like
next year there's going to be a whole bunch more money," Miller said.