Wasserman Schultz Floor Statement on 2015 Legislative Branch Appropriations Act
Madam Chair, I yield myself such time as I may consume.
First, I want to thank Chairman Rogers and my ranking member, Nita Lowey, for the commitment that they made to regular order, which is why we have our second appropriations bill on the House floor by May 1. It is my hope that we can stay true to this commitment throughout the remainder of this year.
I also want to thank my friend, the gentleman from Oklahoma, Tom Cole, who I really couldn't say enough good things about what an incredible partner he has been. We really have--and I will say that several times throughout my remarks--worked cooperatively, collaboratively, and I think the finest compliment that I can pay another Member is that they are an institutionalist--someone who has incredible respect for those that came before us and the history and tradition and all that has led to us being the finest democratic institution in the entire world.
We are stewards of the Capitol complex in the Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee, and the chairman really has most definitely recognized that and honored it.
The budget deal struck during the shutdown last year gave us 2 years of discretionary caps so that the Appropriations Committee can now get on with the business of funding important government programs.
There are many opinions about how these resources should be allocated amongst programs, but that is a legitimate debate, rather than the alternative, which we saw during the government shutdown last October.
For my part, I am pleased with and supportive of the bill that my good friend Chairman Cole has put forward today, done within the funding constraints that the Legislative Branch Subcommittee had to operate under. We worked collaboratively, and, as always, it was a pleasure to work with him.
The bill provides level funding, and, unfortunately, the constrained allocation has ensured that there is no increase for Member and committee offices. Personal office budgets have been cut by 16 percent since 2010, while committees have been cut by 14 percent over the same period. When considered through a long lens, those cuts are even more damaging.
The Congressional Research Service reported in August 2010 that House committee staff levels declined 28 percent between 1977 and 2009. The recent cuts have only served to compound the decline in staffing levels highlighted by CRS.
There is no question that these cuts will continue to have a harmful effect on this institution--on our ability to retain the best and brightest and to serve our constituents most effectively. We have gone through some difficult economic times, there is no question, but as we emerge, we need to consider how continuing these stark funding levels affects our ability to compete with the executive branch and the Senate for the best talent. When a Senator can offer to double the salary of a legislative assistant working for a House Member, there is an imbalance that we ignore in the House, at our peril.
I want to thank Chairman Cole also for the focus placed on the Copyright Office in this bill. In the FY 2015 budget hearing with the Library of Congress last month, we heard about the need to bring the copyright system into the 21st century with business practices that provide for more interaction and improvement with the copyright community.
This bill starts that process by investing $1.5 million in much-needed IT improvements for the Copyright Office. The bill also carves out $750,000 to deal with the copyright backlog, which grew larger over the last few years as they lost staff due to tightening budgets.
As the authorizing committees review our Nation's copyright laws, these additional investments will ensure that the Copyright Office can meet immediate needs as well as prepare for new ways to do business.
During the Capitol Police hearing and during subcommittee markup we heard from Members on both sides of the aisle about the impact door closures have had on our constituents and staff. This is why we included report language requesting a report on how the Capitol Police can accomplish door openings without increasing overtime. We have now received what I can only hope is a draft report from the Capitol Police that details the opening of only two doors for 2 1/2 hours each day.
The committee has been clear that access is one of the Capitol Police's top priorities, and the current plan does not reflect that priority. My expectation, which I know is shared by many Members, is that now that the Capitol Police have been provided essentially full relief from the sequester, multiple doors throughout the House should be staffed and opened for the entire workday.
Reducing overtime costs through door closures is unacceptable. Forcing our constituents, staff, and people trying to do business at the Capitol into long lines is inefficient and stressful for the public and the officers.
I will be asking the Chief to go back to the drawing board on this report.
The bill continues funding for the House Historic Buildings Revitalization Trust Fund at $70 million, for which I thank the chairman. Since the estimate to rehabilitate the Cannon House Office Building, which is 100 years old, has come in at a staggering $753 million, investing a little at a time in the trust fund is the most responsible way to fund this and other major projects.
The bill also includes funding for the final phase of the Capitol dome project at $21.2 million. The funding provided this year will address the interior walls, columns, and coffered ceiling that have sustained significant water damage and paint delamination.
The public will soon see the skyline of our Nation's Capital changed with scaffolding on the Capitol dome that will begin to go up at the end of this month, using funds from previous years. The total pricetag to restore the dome will be around $106 million after this year's funding is provided.
This bill also directs the Library of Congress to continue their 30-year program to deacidify books and provides an additional $1 million to keep that program on track.
Also of note, the bill cuts the Open World Leadership Center by 43 percent to $3.4 million. The Stennis Center Leadership program is funded at $430,000 after finally--and thankfully--providing the committee with a budget justification for the first time, on time.
I congratulate Chairman Cole on writing a balanced bill with a few targeted investments. Even though I wish we could do more--and I know he does too--to invest in our staff, I know that the chairman had many competing priorities, including our vast infrastructure needs.
Chairman Cole, again, I have truly enjoyed working with you in this role, and I appreciate the accommodations made for the minority in this bill. Working with our colleagues on both sides of the aisle has been an absolute pleasure. It was a collaborative and cooperative effort. We are truly, I think, the example for the entire Congress on what collegiality means. The process in putting this bill together was really a team effort.
Chairman Cole understands that this may be the smallest appropriations bill, but one that is essential to his colleagues and the job they do to serve their constituents.
In conclusion, Madam Chairman, I want to thank the committee staff as well who has helped to craft this bill and assisted in a bipartisan manner: Shalanda Young; Liz Dawson, who continues to amaze us every single fiscal year; Chuck Turner; and Jenny Panone.
Also, we could not have done this without our personal staff: Maria Bowie and Sean Murphy, with Chairman Cole's personal office; and Ian Rayder from my office.
Madam Chair, I reserve the balance of my time.