Casey Burgat at LegBranch.org:
On March 26, observers received a glimpse into the what House Democrats will prioritize in the 116th Congress when the House Committee on Administration met in an open session and passed House Resolution 245, setting authorization levels for each of the chamber’s committees. (Note: the Appropriations Committee funding level is set in a separate stand alone measure.)
What do these committee allocations tell us about what House Democrats deem most important, and how does this differ from years past? Let’s follow the money.
Much to the delight of First Branch enthusiasts, Congress had been slowly but surely investing more money in its committees from 2013 through 2018. During that period, House committees were authorized just shy of $12 million more in constant 2019 dollars, a bump of 4.56% (again, keep in mind these numbers don’t include the nearly $50 million authorized to the Appropriations Committee). But, as the above figure makes clear, these modest gains were miniscule compared to the draconian 22% cuts Republicans instituted after they gained control of the chamber in the Tea Party wave of 2010. In fact, committee authorization levels in 2013 (113th Congress) were barely greater than those in 1995 (104th Congress) after adjusting for inflation. As a result of these cutbacks, House committees have been working with 1995 resource levels despite large increases in the size and complexity of the federal government, congressional districts, and a sped up economy complete with entirely new industries.
And unfortunately, the 116th authorizations reverse the trend of reinvestment experienced during the past six years and instead cut committee expenses by $2 million (0.86%) from 115th Congress levels. Though the decrease is marginal, the signal it sends is not. As many reformers have argued, the legislative branch has “suffered from a funding deficit and significant loss of institutional capacity in recent decades.” Big funding increases are needed to compete with special interests and the Executive Branch; decreases, especially in committees where much policy formation occurs, only exacerbate the capacity losses.