Wasserman Schultz statement on 2017 Legislative Branch Appropriations bill
Thank you Mr. Chairman. The Legislative Branch Appropriations bill is $72 million above the fiscal year 2016 enacted bill.
After many years, I think it is appropriate to begin to provide relief to legislative branch agencies. I want to thank the full Committee Chairman, Mr. Rogers for understanding the challenges posed by years of cuts and providing an allocation to begin rebuilding the capacity of Congress to do the people’s work.
I began on this Committee and subcommittee in January of 2007. Liz Dawson, the majority clerk, was the minority clerk at the time and I like to joke that we started off rocky but I have come to rely on her counsel.
Mr. Chairman, I think that relationship is important to explain the bipartisan nature of this bill.
We have done some good in this bill, including establishing a Trust Fund that ensures we are fiscally responsible in how we budget for major construction of House buildings, like the Cannon Restoration.
We were able to provide the necessary funding to provide the Capitol Police with new radios, a need since before the tragedies of 9/11 highlighted that issue across the country’s law enforcement agencies.
We also worked on a bipartisan basis to get workers out of the hazardous tunnels that made many of them sick after while being exposed to asbestos. This bill, while it might be small, can and has made a difference.
That is why I am disappointed in where we find ourselves today. Since I have been Ranking Member, there have been things in bills that I would have changed. I have made the case for funding where the majority has cut and suggested changes to areas I found problematic.
But I hope it was clear to the Chairmen I have worked with that I wanted to move the bill and process forward. I think I can say I was optimistic about where this bill was headed before last minute changes poisoned the well.
Unfortunately, any good done in this bill has been overshadowed by a political poison pill that puts the Legislative Branch bill squarely in the middle of our nation’s immigration debate.
The report includes language that would instruct the Library of Congress to continue using what the Library has deemed after a lengthy review a pejorative term – “Illegal Aliens.”
The Library decided in March of this year to begin using the terms Noncitizens and Unauthorized Immigration for cataloging purposes.
They did so after being petitioned by Dartmouth College in 2014 – a petition they turned down initially – and then by the American Library Association earlier this year.
In January of this year, the American Library Association adopted a resolution calling on the Library of Congress to change the heading Illegal Aliens to Undocumented Immigrants. The Library did not adopt the term Undocumented Immigrants but chose to begin to use the two phrases – Noncitizens and Unauthorized Immigration.
The Library used a well-documented process that is used three to four thousand times a year to select headings for cataloging.
My side of the aisle could have certainly pushed to have the Library reconsider its decision after the Dartmouth petition was turned down, because many Democrats believe that the term “Illegal Aliens” labels a group of people based on a misconception that an immigrant’s presence in our nation is a criminal violation.
But we allowed the process to work because the Library is in the business of language and nomenclature and should be free to make these decisions outside of the political spectrum.
Let’s be clear: this bill puts the Library of Congress front and center on one of our nation’s most contentious and emotional political issues – in the midst of a presidential election year.
The Legislative Branch Appropriations bill is not a place for politics. The nomenclature the Library uses in its catalog headings is not an appropriate place for a political debate.
Furthermore, there are other problems with the bill.
The Capitol Police salaries grows to $325.3 million. This would grow the Capitol Police 5 percent above the 8 percent increase they received in the current fiscal year.
We value and respect the officers on staff, but I think many Members will join me in raising a skeptical eye when they realize this bill would add 72 new officers. Will these officers be for garage security, for pre-screeners, or to improve access?
I am not confident we know the answers, which is why I presume the Chairman added language requiring a plan for how the police will spend $7 million of their $16 million increase.
However, we have had significant issues getting plans from the Chief and the Sergeant At Arms that can be approved by both the House and the Senate. Until we receive the plans we were promised, the Capitol Police should only receive increases that allow current operations – not mass expansion.
Another area of the bill that I hoped would have received additional funding, given the increase in allocation, is the House Historic Buildings Revitalization Trust Fund.
The Architect asked for $10 million and that is what the bill provides. Unfortunately, that amount is wholly inadequate to save for large scale projects that we know are coming down the pike.
After Cannon Restoration, which is estimated at over $750 million, we will have to address Rayburn and Longworth. The Trust Fund ensures we don’t have another Capitol Visitor Center debacle with cost overruns that the smallest appropriation bill has to absorb. It is fiscally irresponsible to ignore future needs by not saving adequately.
The lack of bipartisan cooperation in developing what is usually one of the most bipartisan bills, is clearly an offshoot of the problems facing the larger Republican Conference.
So, at the same time I am arguing that we must allow the Library to do its job, this Committee must reject allowing politics to seep into this non-partisan subcommittee’s work and return to its job of working together to pass legislation that benefits this institution and the citizens we serve.
This bill reflects our priorities for our own House, figuratively and literally. We must be responsible stewards of one of the pillars of our democratic system.
With prudence and fiscal responsibility, we must provide the legislative branch with the resources we need to do our jobs of representing our constituents and making legislative decisions on their behalf. This is no place for political games.
I joined this Committee to show my constituents that there are Democrats and Republicans who can put partisanship aside and get the job done.
At a time when the Republican Party’s frontrunner for President is trumpeting his plan to build a wall on our southern border, shouldn’t this Committee be working to find common ground – instead of injecting partisan politics into the Library of Congress of all places?
I am disappointed in the product before us, and I am even more troubled by the partisan process that has shaped this bill.
It is completely unnecessary and wholly inappropriate to be interfering with the nomenclature of the Library’s cataloging system.
Mr. Chairman I cannot support this bill with the current immigration language included. As I said earlier, I have certainly had concerns with bills before in my 8 years on this subcommittee. But I regret that, for the first time, I cannot support moving this bill out of subcommittee.