- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 15, 2001

Congress, while talking about keeping the government's belt tightened, has found room for its own budget to grow.
"It's extremely disappointing," said Rep. Patrick J. Toomey, Pennsylvania Republican. "We should be leading the effort."
"Congress' budget sets a bad precedent," said Chad Hayward, spokesman for Rep. Jim Ryun, Kansas Republican. Mr. Ryun and Mr. Toomey were two of the 38 members who voted against the Legislative Branch Appropriations Bill approved by the House last month.
David Williams, vice president of Citizens Against Government Waste, called the vote a "disturbing trend" and a "microcosm" of the spending splurge spurred by budget surpluses.
Mr. Toomey agrees, saying he hopes the economic downturn will sober up his colleagues.
Overall, the annual funding increase for Congress would stay at a relatively temperate 4.5 percent under the fiscal 2002 appropriations bills wending through the House and Senate.
But in the House, lawmakers would receive 10 percent more money to run their personal offices than in 2001. Those in leadership would receive an extra 6 percent for their offices.
The Senate's budget for its own operations alone would increase 16 percent over the fiscal 2001 level.
About half of that increase would go to fund technical upgrades to the Senate's recording studio and to computers in senators' offices. A quarter of the increase would be used to boost the budgets for senators' personal offices by 7 percent.
In addition, the Democratic and Republican whips' offices would receive 11 percent increases in their budgets, and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, has rewarded his committee with a 13 percent budget increase.
In both the House and Senate versions of the bill, much of the increases are offset by cutting the budget of the Government Printing Office $15 million below what it says will be necessary to operate.
Mr. Williams called the cut unrealistic, saying that when GPO runs out of money, Congress will simply appropriate more.
Some lawmakers rationalized the increase by pointing to the deep congressional budget cuts after Republicans took control in 1995.
"Republicans came in here thinking they could" cut the budget to the bone, "but they are finding that is not possible," said Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat.
John Scofield, spokesman for the House Appropriations Committee, defended the 1995 cut, saying that by 2002 it will have saved taxpayers $1.3 billion. Those savings are calculated by comparing what was actually spent on Congress from 1996 through 2002 with what would have been spent had the pre-1995 spending trends continued.
But, Mr. Scofield said, "there is a point of diminishing returns" and Congress should not take deeper reductions.
Mr. Hoyer, who sits on the subcommittee in charge of the legislative branch appropriations bill, said the cost of hiring qualified staff has risen faster than inflation. He said Congress needs money to assure it is providing adequate oversight of the rest of government.
Congress has been erasing steadily the effects of the 1995 cuts on its own budget. After adjusting for inflation, both the House and Senate had restored nearly half of the reductions by 2001.
This year's budget would go well beyond restoring those cuts. After adjusting for inflation, the House will be 3.5 percent more expensive to run than it was before 1995. The Democrat-controlled Senate will be 9.3 percent more expensive to run.
Total discretionary spending will have increased from 1995 to 2002 by 10 percent after taking inflation into account. Spending on Social Security, Medicare and other entitlements has grown 13 percent since 1995 after adjusting for inflation.

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