- The Washington Times - Monday, September 5, 2011

The House of Representatives that returns Tuesday is 10 percent leaner than a year prior — the result of a pair of mandates requiring largely symbolic cuts to the way it goes about its business enacted since John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, assumed the speaker’s gavel in January.

The cuts have resulted in raises for chiefs of staff, while the payroll for low-level aides was slashed. The largest savings, in mass mailings to constituents, may have come not from renewed financial prudence so much as technology.

Mr. Boehner also passed on some easy plans to cut spending on luxuries that were brought to his attention, such as nearly $1 million a year on bottled water.

With jobs a primary concern to Americans, the professionals tasked with the issue on the House Education and the Workforce Committee saw their spending shrink to $1.5 million last quarter from $1.9 million a year ago, while the spending for its security force rose by a greater amount.

Accountability could suffer. The spending for the House ethics committee, which investigates wrongdoing by members, went down more than 30 percent, three times that of most other offices.

With less federal money doled out, the House Appropriations Committee shed nearly 50 staffers, a reduction of $2 million. In many ways, that makes sense, observers say. But with increased competition for the smaller pot of money, they wonder whether offices are equipped to properly oversee programs whose budgets are thousands of times higher than those of congressional offices.

Sharing the pain

“The thinking is, if we’re going to ask other federal agencies to trim, we’ve got to feel it, too,” said Dino diSanto, chief of staff to Rep. Steven C. LaTourette, Ohio Republican, who ran one of the leanest House offices last quarter and flies home out of Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport instead of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport because airfares are cheaper.

The symbolic cuts have had an impact on the young workers who carry out the day-to-day business of legislating, but they have not been felt equally.

House salaries amounted to $130 million last quarter, more than $7 million below the period a year prior. About $140,000 came from a reduction in the amount spent on interns, which fell to a little more than $500,000. Pay to chiefs of staff rose about $700,000, to $14 million.

Rep. William Lacy Clay, Missouri Democrat, accomplished a $46,000 payroll savings for the quarter by pairing $2,000 reductions to checks written to most low-level staff with a $5,000 raise at the chief of staff level, payroll records indicate.

Mr. Clay’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Rep. Donna F. Edwards, Maryland Democrat, cut payroll 13 percent compared with a year prior. “Some of that is, we’ve brought on younger staffers, and we pay commensurate with experience,” said spokesman Ben Gerdes. The office was among those that stopped paying interns.

“There’s an irony to the intern situation,” said Daniel Schuman, policy counsel at the Sunlight Foundation. “Being an intern is the entree to working on Capitol Hill, and as you shift to more and more unpaid interns, it’s also a socioeconomic shift. You either have to immediately get a second job, which is difficult, or you have to come from a wealthy background so your family can foot the bill. You’re limiting the pool of people who can have different perspectives.”

Little luxuries

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