Across-the-board federal spending cuts are forcing Miller to ensure she and her fellow 434 House members also slash their budgets to comply with the required sequester reductions that began March 1.
“They hide under their desks, I think, when they see me coming now,” jokes Miller, R-Harrison Township.
As the enforcer of the sequester, Miller responds to the grumbles of her fellow members with steadiness: It’s time, she says, for Washington to trim budgets like her fellow Michiganians.
Michigan’s 14 members of Congress receive about $1.3 million each to pay for staff in Washington and back home, office rent, supplies, mailings and more. After consecutive years of budget cuts, staff positions have gone unfilled, constituent mailings have been reduced, supply and travel budgets trimmed and salaries reduced for staffers, according to Michigan Congressional offices.
The new round of reductions — on top of a more than 11 percent cut Republicans instituted after taking control of the House in 2011 — also are cutting into committee budgets, hampering lawmakers’ abilities to tackle the day’s top issues, local members say.
“The (Judiciary) Committee is exploring ways to minimize the detrimental impact of these cuts and to ensure that the Committee’s important work on behalf of the public interest is not jeopardized,” said John Conyers of Detroit, the top Democrat on the committee, in a statement.
Miller started off the term vying to become chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, where she was climbing through the ranks. Instead, GOP leadership passed over Miller for a Texas congressman because of concerns Michigan had too many committee chairs, three of 21.
Republicans soon faced criticism for failing to name one female committee chairperson and tapped Miller to lead House Administration, a committee on which she wasn’t serving.
Miller argues her roots in recession-weathered Metro Detroit are an asset in her new job.
As the former Michigan secretary of state and Harrison Township supervisor, Miller says her resume fits in administration, which oversees federal elections, congressional mailings and day-to-day House operations.
She reminds frustrated colleagues: “If I told Macomb County, Michigan, the county government there, that over the last couple of years they just had to absorb an 11 percent cut, they would have said ‘thank you,’ because they have cut so much.”
Cutbacks hurt committees
Her first task was alerting House members their office budgets would be slashed 8.2 percent. Then she pushed through an 11 percent cut for committees.
Miller has insisted on reducing costs even as powerful committee leaders appealed to be spared. She has turned away committee staffers wanting to print large documents and told them to go paperless. She has proposed closing some post offices on the Capitol campus, believing money could be redirected to rural communities in need of service.
Michigan members have leadership positions on some of the House’s most powerful committees — Intelligence, Judiciary, Ways and Means, as well as Energy and Commerce — which tackle issues ranging from tax reform to cybersecurity and gun violence. Committee staff often includes experts with advanced degrees who are more costly to retain.
Rep. Dave Camp, R-Midland, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, and Rep. Sander Levin, D-Royal Oak, the committee’s top Democrat, said previous cuts have resulted in staff vacancies. More trims, Camp said, would hinder the committee’s ability to transform the tax code into a more fair, simple system.
The cuts could affect the Judiciary Committee’s work on immigration reform and voting rights, Conyers said. Expert staff is needed to conduct hearings, draft legislation and research laws, he said.
Some members have not spent all of their $1.3 million office budgets and returned the leftovers to the U.S. Treasury. The office cuts of 8.2 percent won’t have much of an effect on Rep. Justin Amash’s office as the Cascade Township Republican spent about 76 percent of his budget last year — the lowest among Michigan members.
On average, Michigan members who served a full term last session spent more than 91 percent of their budgets, with the highest totals going to Tim Walberg, R-Tipton, at 96 percent, and former Rep. Hansen Clarke, D-Detroit, at 98 percent.
Leading by example
Walberg said his office has been planning for the cuts and had frozen staff salaries, reduced constituent mailings and will likely limit travel back to Michigan and telephone town halls with constituents.
For Miller, who spent 87 percent of her budget, the cuts mean not filling staff vacancies. She also has directed her district office staff to start vacuuming and emptying trash to save money.
Rep. Steny Hoyer, the House minority whip, has criticized the funding cuts. Though he acknowledged Miller has been “given a tough responsibility,” the Maryland Democrat said, “eroding the ability of committees to do their work seriously limits the ability of Congress to engage in the people’s work.”
Ultimately, the House last month voted 272-136 to approve the committee cuts Miller sought. All Michigan Republicans supported the measure plus one Democrat, Rep. Gary Peters of Bloomfield Township. Democrats Levin, Conyers, John Dingell and Dan Kildee voted “no.”
The budget cuts may help counter the image of Congress, Miller said
“Believe me, I know there is no sympathy for members of Congress,” she said, “but we are really trying to walk the walk here and lead by example.”