GOP measure protects lawmakers' office budgets

Members of the House of Representatives voted Friday to protect their own office expense accounts from budget cuts.

The bipartisan 307-102 vote came on a $3.3 billion measure funding congressional operations.

Republicans controlling the House have been trying to cut domestic agency budgets by about 5 percent. But when it came to their own staff, travel and office expenses, GOP leaders opted to freeze their $574 million budget after two years of cuts.

The funding bill includes a 1 percent cut that comes chiefly from cutting back on repairs to the iconic Capitol dome, which dates to the Civil War.

After passing the measure, lawmakers immediately left Washington for a weeklong vacation.

In two earlier rounds of spending bills, Republicans imposed a 10.5 percent budget cut on House operations. Their office budgets — officially called the "members' representational allowance" — have been cut by a total of 13 percent from a record $660 million approved by a Democratic-controlled Congress for 2010.

"Listen, the House has taken cuts two fiscal years in a row, and the Appropriations Committee went through a very detailed process of listening to members, listening to House officers in terms of what the budget should be," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said recently. "And I think a budget freeze is the appropriate course of action."

Several GOP tea party freshmen had sought to cut office budgets by 11 percent, but House leaders shut down the effort. Instead, lawmakers voted to cut spending on the U.S. Botanic Garden on the Capitol grounds and on the Congressional Research Service, which does reports and analysis for lawmakers.

In March, the House passed a budget plan to force non-defense cuts of $27 billion below levels agreed to in a budget and debt pact forged by President Barack Obama and Speaker. Since then, spending bills have generally shielded some Cabinet departments — like Justice, Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security — from the cuts, while the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Interior will bear a much larger share.

In addition to cuts to day-to-day agency operating budgets, Republicans last month passed legislation cutting food stamps, pension benefits for federal workers, health care and social services programs like Meals on Wheels for the elderly.

Office budgets for members of Congress vary somewhat depending on how far they live from Washington and how expensive it is to rent office space back home. The average office budget is $1.4 million a year, according to the Congressional Research Service, but not every lawmaker spends that much. Staff salaries account for about 70 percent, on average.