Candice Miller for Congress, Michigan

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Miller leads charge to tighten lawmaker budgets

by Candice Miller on April 22, 2013

Washington — When U.S. Rep. Candice Miller took the helm of the House  Administration Committee this year, she learned quickly the position wouldn’t  win her popularity points.

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.”

http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20130422/POLITICS02/304220350

mschultz@detroitnews.com

(202) 662-8736

mschultz@detroitnews.com

(202) 662-8736

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