Capitol Hill is a terrible place to run — Thats the lasting impression one might have after listening to lawmakers this week discussed the budget for Congress at a House Appropriations Subcommittee hearing.
Here are some of objection and concerns the lawmakers debated at its present session 😛 TAGEND
— Low wages for aides
— How crummy and expensive the food is in the cafeterias.
— The vulnerability of House garages to a terrorism attack.
– How security precautions make it a ache for staff to navigate the workplace.
— The need to update the electronic voting system in the House chamber( Keep in intellect that an accurate tabulation of voting on the House is the quintessence of the entire enterprise ).
— Nobody knowing how many lawmakers carry pistols into the Capitol complex, perhaps increasing safety risks.
— The convenience store in the Longworth House Office Building and in womens restrooms.
— Whether girls should be charged for the aforementioned feminine hygiene products in the House.
Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the top Democrat on the Legislative Branch Appropriations panel and chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, posed multiple questions to acting House Chief Administrative Officer Bill Plaster at the hearing about the fact that there are tampons and sanitary napkins.
When you need a feminine hygiene product, you need one. Instantly, lectured Wasserman Schultz. For the convenience store to stop stocking products like that is really inconvenient. Its the opposite of the purpose of a convenience store.
She even depicted Plaster a photo of out-of-order signs slung across feminine hygiene dispensaries around the Capitol.
Multiple( female) congressional sources indicated that many of the machines hadnt carried the appropriate products in approximately one year. And when render was on hand, the product was described as outdated.
Moreover, Wasserman Schultz groused that women shouldnt have to pay the required 25 cents when in need.
Its like charging for toilet paper, she protested, then she didnt want to go into too much detail about the issue.
Plaster responded that the vendor has responded with additional stock, Wasserman Schultz pointedly retorted the new furnish was insufficient.
Still, Capitol Hill, with its marble floors and magnificently landscaped grounds, is for many a desirable place to work.
The time-off, include long wintertime and summer recess, for example, help compensate for the wages. And for many, the opportunity to work in arguably the worlds most powerful legislative body is a huge stepping stone for future endeavors.
A few years ago, Congress trimmed the overall spending it allocates for itself. This was an effort to lead by example. Plus, it looked like good politics back home — even if constituents received less from the members they elected.
The cuts make Capitol Hill hard — putting a squeeze on congressional salaries and the ability to retain good people. The total reductions merely amounted to $362 million. Thats a big impact internally but barely a dent when the federal government inches close to spending$ 4 trillion annually and runs a $19 trillion debt.
Legislative branch spending climbed to $4.36 billion in the most recent spending measure. Thats a $1.5 billion increase over the previous year but still below what Congress allocated for Capitol hill operations seven years ago.
It means having to let people go, told Rep. Sam Farr, D-Calif .,
Rep. Steven Palazzo, R-Miss ., told Plaster that any restoration of money to the accounts lawmakers use to pay staff and operate their offices would be helpful.
Last year, the House switched vendors for dining services in its cafeterias. The old vendor, Restaurant Associate, still runs Senate eateries as well as those in the Capitol Visitor Center.
French food services provider Sodexo succeeded Restaurant Associates in the House. That sparked an immediate outcry from the Capitol Hill community. The food wasnt as good. Prices were higher. There wasnt as much variety.
Wasserman Schultz said it was pretty bad when the dining dissension inspired an article late last year in the New York Times. She also questioned how some lower-rung aides could survive while paying them such paltry salaries.
After paying for rent and eating in the House cafeteria, were lucky we can keep anyone on faculty, she complained. Its expensing them an arm and a leg to eat.
Clerk of the House Karen Haas told lawmakers the electronic voting cards lawmakers use during roll call referendums are so outdated that an outside company stimulates them specifically for Congress.
She added that the voting system in the House chamber requires rewiring soon — a project which involves excavating for the purposes of the floor of the appeals chamber. Furthermore, Haas said Braille type must be added to voting stations sprinkled around the chamber for visually impaired lawmakers.
Security have all along been paramount on Capitol Hill.
But a lingering problem involves the risks terrorists could pose to congressional garages across the street from the Capitol beneath the House office buildings.
The garages are not what is known as clean, meaning aides and lawmakers can drive in, then move into the office builds without ever clearing security.
Individuals entering on foot pass through magnetometers. Inspecting every automobile and screening workers offsite would create catastrophic delays and traffic jam around Capitol Hill.
So, the U.S. Capitol Police operates with a lower level of security in the House office builds. People going through the underground passageways to the Capitol itself from the office complex are screened at checkpoints located there.
Of late, magnetometers lately presented up in the Longworth garage in an effort to bolster security. But the Rayburn garage still lacks the equipment.
At the hearing, Wasserman Schultz later took aim at House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving. She indicated the approved appropriations committee never signed off on implementing the additional safety measure. Other lawmakers see it differently, adding that the Appropriations Committee, which controls the purse strings, in fact allocated funds properly.
Wasserman Schultz hectored Irving with queries about who dedicated him the go-ahead to install the magnetometers. Irving said he took responsibility, subsequently adding he did so in concert with the Speakers Office and House Administration Committee.
I dont think Im getting responses to my topics, Wasserman Schultz protested, in apparent exasperation.
Irving said the House garages carry tremendous vulnerabilities to us.
Wasserman Schultz responded by saying that terrorists werent stupid since the magnetometers were installed in only one garage. She told terrorists would simply go to the garage thats not secure.
Sam Farr piped up. He indicated the extra screening was an affront to staff.
Were constructing an empire on the Hill, he said.
The California Democrat then asked if Irving knew how many lawmakers arm themselves when they walk through the Capitol. By statute, lawmakers are allowed to pack heat at the Capitol and are not required to go through security screening.
Staff and visitors cannot carry firearms at the Capitol complex.
We dont know that number, Irving replied.
Farr argued it was a fairness issue and that lawmakers shouldnt be allowed to carry handguns at work — especially if they were trying to lead by example.
There also fear the Capitol could join the long list of venues that have experienced deadly, workplace violence — just like Fort Hood, the Washington Navy Yard and San Bernardino.
Under such a nightmare scenario, there are questions as to whether lawmakers carrying their own guns could make a nightmarish shootout even more volatile if they started to fire their own weapons — in addition to U.S. Capitol Police policemen. Would extra firepower assist neutralize a situation or contribute to friendly flame injuries or deaths?
Physical security isnt the only concern at the Capitol. So too is cybersecurity.
Plaster told lawmakers that hackers pose a constant threat.
Theyre not knocking at the front door anymore, he said.
Plaster says that the House has about 12,000 people on its network, receiving some 200 million emails a year. He estimates that about one-third of all email traffic received is an effort to bore into the House computer system.
And with so many emails and so many users, its is difficult to harden those defenses.
So if you want to understand Congress and its internal operations, look at Legislative Branch appropriations. That could shed light into how lawmakers tackle issues ranging from ISIS to health care to the economy. It also says a lot about what its like to work on Capitol Hill.
Hardly a week goes by without a report demonstrating that Congressional approval ratings are in the tank.
Those are polls that examine the performance of lawmakers. And one wonders if aides who toil on Capitol Hill would rate Congress much higher.
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