Congress Costs Too Much

April 12, 1993

The House of Representatives is not ready for reform -- not of the type that would reduce legislative spending.

Urged by the freshman class of Democrats to cut the House's bloated budget by 25 percent by 1997, Speaker Tom Foley expressed shock. He said, "That's far beyond anything that has been proposed before by the executive branch for this operation or any operation of the government."

In fact, President Clinton has proposed cutting the White House staff by 25 percent, but that's beside the point. The point is that many freshmen were elected to the House this year by promising to reduce legislative spending that voters regard as excessive.

It is excessive. Look at it in historical perspective. The legislative appropriation bill was $168.4 million in 1964, the year Mr. Foley was elected to Congress. It is $2.3 billion today. In constant dollars Congress now costs 200 percent more than it did then. Of course it could be cut by 25 percent.

Some students of congressional operations believe that such a reduction not only would not hurt but would improve Congress' ability to do its job. A lot of what Congress does that is unnecessary and a lot of what it does that is wrong is generated by too many staff members justifying their existence. Congressional staff and support personnel total over 30,000 now. Members' personal staffs and committee staffs have risen about three-fold since Mr. Foley was first elected.

The Democratic freshmen have it in their power to bring about significant reductions in legislative spending, if they just stick to their campaign pledges and stick together. They demonstrated that last month when the House voted on its committee funding resolution. Several insisted that as the price for approving the leadership resolution, which left spending on legislative committees at about 99 percent of last year, they wanted an honest study of more drastic reductions. Speaker Foley promised such, and the resolution passed by 28 votes, with 53 of 61 Democratic freshmen voting with the leadership.

If they don't get an honest study and an honest proposal for legislative spending reductions this year, truly reform-minded, economy-minded freshmen Democrats should rise above party and join Republicans who voted solidly for real cuts in Congress' own budget.

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