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House votes to trim operating budget

By the CNN Wire Staff
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The House has voted to cut its operating budget by 5%
  • Republicans claim the move will save $35 million
  • Some lawmakers may try to cut travel or communications costs to avoid cutting staff salaries

Washington (CNN) -- The new Republican-led House of Representatives voted Thursday to cut its operating budget by 5% -- a move meant to reflect the GOP's desire to reduce the size of the federal government.

The measure, which GOP aides claim will save $35 million, passed 410-13.

For the chamber's 435 members, who last year were allotted about $1.5 million each, the cut will mean trimming their budgets by $75,000 -- the equivalent of about 1.5 full-time staffers.

The $35 million in cuts amount to 0.001% of Washington's $3.5 trillion annual federal budget.

"Thirty-five million is absolutely nothing in terms of debt. It's not even a decimal point," said Craig Jennings, the director of federal fiscal policy at OMB Watch, a group that monitors federal spending.

Republicans insist the cut is a good starting point before pushing larger spending reductions.

"It is a down payment on the future actions of this House," said Rep. Dan Lungren, R-California.

The measure focuses on reducing the operating budgets of House committees, leadership offices and individual member offices. It does not affect Senate funding.

Each lawmaker is responsible for deciding how to allot individual office funds, and can choose how to implement his or her share of the cut.

"If the 5% comes out of salaries of staff, that could be pretty ... painful for them, because a lot of the staff are very young professionals who don't get paid much to begin with," Jennings said.

A congressional chief of staff on Capitol Hill might make more than $130,000 a year, but other staffers -- schedulers, legislative assistants and staff assistants -- make less than $50,000, according to the non-partisan Sunlight Foundation.

Some lawmakers might try to find other places to cut so they can keep staff salaries at their current levels.

A 5% cut is just slight enough to avoid "cutting into the bone," according to Bradford Fitch, CEO of the Congressional Management Foundation, a non-partisan organization focused on improving the efficiency of Congress.

For lawmakers, that might mean fewer trips to their home districts, the consolidation of district offices or scaling back communications expenses.

If that's the case, constituents might suffer.

"It could have a real impact on constituent services," Fitch said. "The mail might not get answered."

CNN's Charles Riley and Alan Silverleib contributed to this report

 
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