The Costly Congress Becomes More Costly


The Costly Congress Becomes More Costly

May 30, 1991 9 min read Download Report
William Laffer III

(Archived document, may contain errors)

832 May 30,1991 THE COSILY CONGRESS BECOMES MORE COSILY INTRODUCI'ION The American people must "do more with less said Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, the Maine Democrat, in his January 29 response to George Bush's 1991 State of the Union message Governments must do the same added Mitchell, "to be more careful with your tax dollars."

Congress cannot expect the American people to "do more with less" until Con gress itself is willing to do th e same. It should start by freezing its committee budgets and staffs at last year's level. Instead, Congress has been boosting its own operating budgets, even after last year's hefty pay raise and major tax increase.

Unreasonable Proposals Slxrtking is ho w Senator Jesse Helms, the North Carolina Republican, on January 29 described the increases sought for the Senate Foreign Relations Com mittee budget by its Chairman Claiborne Pell, the Rhode Island Democrat. The reason for Helms' dismay: Pell proposed an d succeeded in getting the Senate Rules Committee to ignore its rules restricting the growth of committee budgets and staff. Pell obtained an exemption to increase fiscal 1991 spending by 17 per cent, or $345,000 to add eight new staff members to the Forei g n Relations Committee's current staff of 59 on the Persian Gulf war, both the House and the Senate approved record in creases in operating expenses for their committees.These increases were not in cluded in last fall's trumpeted budget deal between the Co n gress and the White House.The Senate on February 21 approved a biennial budget, increasing com mittee expenditures by almost $5 million over last year's budget authority of $53.4 These words ring hollow in the face of the Senate spending spree that follow e d Pell is not alone. Almost unnoticed this year, with the public's attention focused millioaThe House, meanwhile, on March 20 increased its annual committee budgets by 10.8 perceft to $55.1 million, plus an additional $5.7 million for House Information Sy stems. The only House committees not receiving more money for fiscal 1991 are Ethics and Intelligence.

Bread of Faith. Pell justifies the Foreign Relations Committees request for more tax dollars by arguing that it is in response to an expected large incre ase in the Committees workload including three major arms control treaties, five other major treaties, and activity relating to the Persian Gulf crisis.2 Senator Con rad Burns, the Montana Republican, denounced this and similar increases sought by other c ommittee chairmen as a breach of faith with the American people given last years budget, to waste even more tax dollars all, Congress has added roughly $14 million to congressional committee coffers.

These funds will add even more employees to the Legislative Branchs current staff force of 37,388.

In addition to outright increases in committee spending, Congress approved committee hikes that remain hidden from public view. Example: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee was permitted to roll over to fiscal 1991 some 345,000 in non-recurring funds approved for last years budget. Thus, although the public record shows that the Committees budget this year will increase by 2 percent, it will actually increase by 17 percent. Sleight of hand is how Helms charact erizes such budget deception by the Senate.

Committee Requests On February 22, the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration presented the Omnibus Committee Funding Resolution for 1991 and 1992 requesting in creases in all nineteen Senate committee budg ets for fiscal 1991 and 1992.Twelve of these committees are to receive spending increases, five of them beyond the amounts authorized by normal Senate rules, which only allow cost of living adjust ments. In addition to the 17 percent sought by the Foreign Relations Committee other Senate requests include: Sam Nunn, the Georgia Democrat and Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, for 14.2 percent more; Donald Riegle, the Michigan Democrat and Chairman of the Banking Committee, for 34 percent more; and Llo y d Bentsen, theTexas Democrat and Chairman of the Finance Com mittee, for 253 percent more.The biggest increase is sought by Daniel Inouye, the Hawaii Democrat; he is asking a for a 37 percent increase, or an extra $372,000 for the Senate Committee on Indi an Affairs, which he chairs.

After a review of the requests, the chairmen were granted only modest in creases of 2 percent for Foreign Relations, 8.6 percent for Arined Services, 24.4 Despite sucb complaints, Pell and his fellow committee chairmen prevaile d. In 1 Congressional Monitor, March 14,1991, p. 2 2 Quoted in Senator Jesse Helms statement to the Foreign Relations Committee, January 29,1991, p. 2 3 Congressional Record - Senate, February 28,1991, p. S. 2472. percent for Bankin& 23 percent for Financ e and 21.4 percent for Indian Affairs.

The increases, although seemingly reduced, do not include the rolled-over funds that Congress will allow committees to use this year.

Similar funding increases were requested by House Committee Chairmen Henry B. Gonzalez, theTexas Democrat and Cbairman of the Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs Committee asked for 25 percent more; John Dingell, the Michigan Democrat and Chairman of the E n ergy and Commerce Committee, for 15 percent; Morris Udall, the Arizona Democrat and Chairman of the Interior and Insular Affairs Committee, for 34 percent; Robert Roe, the New Jersey Democrat and Chairman of the Public Works and Transportation Committee, for 21 percent; and Les Aspin, the Wisconsin Democrat and Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, for 335 percent.

After several hours of debate, the House approved increases of 72 percent for Banking, 14.5 percent for Energy and Commerce, 17 percent for Interior and In sular Affairs, 10 percent for Public Works and 19 percent for Armed Services.

Request Justification. Like Pell, many members sought to just

their requests by arguing that such pressing policy concerns as the sahgs and loan scandal or th e Persian Gulf crisis require taxpayers to give more to congressional commit tees. But such justScations ignore the fact that Senators surely could perform their important legislative duties by using more effectively the 8,561 staff mem bers and $53 milli o n budget they now have. Example: If the Senate Banking Committee's current staff of 42 were not able to provide the oversight to prevent the $300 billion S&L scandal, will more staff be able to do it has increased in popularity and therefore needs extra f u nds. Senator Dale Bumpers, the Arkansas Democrat, justified one committee's request by stating that more money is necessary to hold hearings in home states of members facing reelection! Representative Dingell at least is more innovative. He says In 1795 t his was the only committee so it had actually lost power vis-a-vis other commit tees since its creation? He already employs 142 people on his committee staff.

Slashing Spending? Congress's funding increases for its committees came only months after the pas sage of the much-vaunted budget agreement that was sup posed to slash spending and reduce the deficit. As expected, however, it has done neither! During floor debate on committee spending this February 28, Senator Helms reminded members of their earlier b u dget promises by asking "what kind of message will we be sending to the taxpayers back home increasing our own Inouye, meanwhile, says that since he joined the Committee on Indian Affairs, it 4 Roll Call, February 11,1991, p. 5 5 Roll Gall, March 4,1991, p . 11 6 For further discussion on last year's budget see: Scott Hodge Your NewTaxes Working for You The Heritage Foundation Buckpundcr No. 795, November 2,1990 3staff after a major tax increase H~S plea has gone unkered. and the resolution to increase Sena t e m committee spending was passed on a near party-line vote: 41 against and 55 for. Concluded SenatorTrent Lott, the Mississippi Republican; How can we ever convince anyone we are serious about controlling spending if we do not begin here.d 1 W: I $1,199, 0 61,463 I This committeefunding feast occurs annually in the House and biannually in the Senate. In fact, since $2,230,497,000 1946, the legislative budget has soared by more than 3,000 percent. During this period the consumer price index has increased by j ust over 500 percent? As recently as 1960, the legislative budget was $131 mil lion. By last year it was up to $2.24 billion, an in crease of 1,709 percent. Estimated budgets for 1991 and 1992 are higher still 2.55 billion and $3 billion respectively. An a nnual budget of $3 billion is the equivalent of $5.6 million for each member of Congress per year Estimated Staff Increase The explosive growth in legislative expenses certainly raises the question of what Congress is doing with these taxpayer funds. One major expenditure is the 37,388 salaries of the congressional staff. Congress now employs almost 14,000 more staff members than it did in 19

80. Congresss legislative staff in 1987 was nine times greater than that of the Canadian Parliament the second largest legis lative staff in the world?

Congresss staff includes cooks (for subsidized cafeterias), beauticians (for sub sidized beauty parlors and barber shops technicians (for members personal recording studio travel agents (to plan tax-paid trips mail car riers (to deliver taxpayer-funded mail), and personal support staff and committee staff ing directly for members of Congress has almost tripled since 1960, from 6,791 to more than 19,000 today. Committee staff, meanwhile, has also more than tripled from 9 1 0 in 1960 to more than 2,800 today lation is drafted by unelected congressional staff, supported by a network of lob Although all areas of the congressional staff have grown, the support staff work Notes the 1989 book me Imperial Congress Congresss] most i mportant legis 7 Congressional Record Senate, February 28,1991, p. s. 2464 8 Ibid.p.S.2469 9 Vital Statistics on Congres 1989-1990 (Washington, D.C American Enterprise Institute, 1990) p. 128 10 Tax Features,Vol. 35, No. 3, March 1991 11 Vital Statistics o n Congress 1989-1990, p. 125 4 byists representing special interests his sentiment was echoed by Lott in his February 28,1991, remarks on the Senate floor I have read in publications where staff members were attend ing conferences in New Or leans on subje c t matter on which I am supposed to be ranking member. I did not know they were going down there. We need to tighten up thk-ship a little The explosive growth of congressional staff reflects the increased demands for con stituent services and the members e ncouragement of those demands for reelec tion purposes.

Key Role of Staff. In addition to handling the constituent services that help in cumbents get reelected, congressional staff often play a direct role in Congressmen's reelection campaigns. Congression al staff produce the massive tax payer-funded mailings to constituents that indirectly help incumbents get reelected. Republican and Democrat campaign committees, meanwhile, conduct training seminars for congressional staff during election years to help c oordinate campaign strategies with legislative operations. Committee staff also play a key role in helping incumbents obtain federal benefits for voters and campaign con tributors.

The congressional staff is the vital resource that enables members of Congr ess to coerce the Executive Branch. It is this staff that writes the letters, makes the telephone calls, arranges the hearings, and otherwise pressures the federal bureaucracy to serve the interests of Congressmen. Thus, powerful incumbents owe much of th eir power to their large staffs. It is not surprising that these Con gressmen want more staff members.

Congressional staff members are also the essential ingredients in Qpitol Hill's micromanagement of the Executive Branch. Revealing the extent of this mic romanagement are the records of the contacts between Congress and major federal departments. The Pentagon, for example, receives 2,500 phone calls every working day and more than 100,000 letters per year from Congress The Depart ment of Housing and Urban D evelopment, from 1986 to 1987, received an average of 2,425 phone calls per month from Congressu 13 l2 Gordon S. Jones and John A, Marhi, editors, The Imperial Gmgwss (New York The Heritage Foundation and 13 hid, pp. 125-126 14 Mark Lie& "Congress's Busyw o rk The Wrrsliington Past Outlook, January 28,1990 15 hid Pharos Books, 1988) p. 1 5 Often such communication between Congress and the federal bureaucra~ is not congressional oversight, but strong-arm tactics to pressure the bureaucracy to deliver benefits to a Congressman's state, district or campaign contributors.

Sleight of Hand Although some increases in committee spending have been approved openly this year, other increases have been disguised by the codttees.To appear to be saving taxpayer money, Cong ress uses an accounting gimmick that allows a roll over of funds left over from a committee's previous budget Without having to put such spending on the books.The result: Rolled-over funds give the committee more money to spend while making it appear as t h ough the requested increase has not been granted floor debates that the roll over distracts attention from the actual amounts budgeted. For example, the Foreign Relations Committee originally requested a In the case of the Senate Foreign Relations Codttee , Helms revealed during I Committee I Chahn I Committee I Chairman Funding I 1991 I 1990* Request* Increast 1 I Funding 1 1991 /In-st 1990 Request 2281 3354 17.65% 18.08 21.14 16 31 19 23 sun 5m loyec 19!0 21 37 42 77 50 59 22 52 I 174 42 I 83 Em lo ed Inc reasc le* j 100 1 376 74 I lrn 110 I Estimated costs are from Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, Senate Comrnhtee Funding: 102nd Con ress, 1 st and 2nd Sessions, 1991, Committee Print No. 3 la1 RepuMican Committee &ey. /p>

I Vita/ statistics on Cong ress 7989-7990, American Enterprise institute, p.128 6 17,percent increase in its budget for fiscal 1991 that would hike its budget from 2.7 million to $3.2 million.The Rules Committee ostensibly approved only a 2 percent hcrease, to approximately $2.8 mi llion. Yet, according to Helms, the Rules Committee would also allow $345,000 in non-recurring funds plus unspent funds hm the previous year to be rolled over.Thus, the total 1991 funding recom mended by the Rules Committee is

183,488.That is only $1 less than their original request. All sleight of hand CONCLUSION Congress, obviously, should practice what it preaches. Just as obviously, Con gress does not. Instead, it continues its self-indulgence at the expense of the American taxpayer. If Congresss constant claims of concern over ~UMWY spend ing are genuine, it should extend line-item veto authority to the President.

For now, Congress should freeze staff and freeze its costs. It should not be al Lowed to pretend to be concerned with the federal deficit or federal spending, if it cant control its spending on itself Luis Saenz Research Assistant


William Laffer III