WASHINGTON -- Maryland Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski has sent a not-so-subtle message to Housing Secretary Jack F. Kemp: Stay home and do your job.
The appropriations subcommittee that the Democratic senator chairs passed a spending bill last week that would terminate the jobs of all 27 employees in the Department of Housing and Urban Development's public affairs office and limit HUD's travel budget.
Congressional officials say the action was the result of a simmering feud between the secretary and the senator.
"This is just a warning . . . a simple matter of the senator and subcommittee on the whole wanting the secretary to spend more time in Washington managing his department than on the road," a congressional aide said.
The cut money for HUD public affairs employees is expected to be restored, the aide said. But it appears likely that a final budget accord will restrict Mr. Kemp to business class rather than first class when he travels by air.
"The fear is that he is trying to run for president from the Cabinet," the aide said.
Originally, a third of Mr. Kemp's $135,000 travel budget was cut, but a later revision of the Senate bill calls for restrictions only on first-class travel. The House bill does not include those cuts. Differences in the two bills will be worked out next month, when the money for the public affairs office is expected to be reinstated.
Mary Brunette, Mr. Kemp's spokeswoman, said the HUD secretary needs to be out of Washington often because it is "essential for him to visit housing programs and inner cities to get first-hand knowledge of the extent of the problems. The same people that condemned [Mr. Kemp's predecessor, Samuel Pierce for never leaving the office condemn Kemp for being away too often."
In the past, the committee has been at odds with HUD over the department's resident ownership program, which gives low-income families the option of buying their residences.
The project is one of Mr. Kemp's favorites because he believes that it gives residents an incentive to enhance their living conditions and thus become more self-sufficient.
Ms. Mikulski and her counterpart, Representative Bob Traxler, D-Mich., chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee that deals with HUD, believe that at a time of long waiting lists for housing, the priority should be on creating housing rather than selling it.
Ms. Brunette said she's "mystified why the public affairs department would be the target for what is largely a policy disagreement."
However, Ms. Mikulski's spokesman, Mike Morrill, said the subcommittee's action "is not a personal attack . . . [it's] a matter of making sure that the department's priorities match those of the subcommittee."