Legislation that has bipartisan support would boost spending for House members' offices by 7.3 percent for the upcoming election year.
The increase is included in a $1.92 billion bill financing Congress' operations next year that may be considered by the full House as early as next week. The total excludes Senate expenses, which that chamber adds later.
Though the overall bill is 6 percent below this year's $2.05 billion measure, it would increase House members' allowances for staff salaries, taxpayer-paid mail to voters and district office rents. It would also boost spending for leadership offices and most committees and pay for renovations of a fountain, a cafeteria and other Capitol Hill facilities.
The legislation has support from both Democrats and Republicans, but some conservative House members have vowed to fight the measure.
"I'll work to try to change it," said Rep. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who last month was among conservatives who blocked passage of an agriculture bill they said was too costly.
The extra dollars for members' offices come even as Republicans plan other bills slicing education, aid to veterans and other popular domestic programs in the coming year. That juxtaposition has drawn fire from conservative and liberal congressional watchdogs alike.
"It would be good if the House leadership would show some leadership and eliminate waste from their own budgets," said Gary Ruskin, director of the Congressional Accountability Project, which is affiliated with consumer advocate Ralph Nader.
If conservatives do try to amend the bill, they could give House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., his newest headache in a year when Republicans' thin majority has made it tough to move legislation through the chamber.
But conservatives face a tough task cracking the broad bipartisan support the annual bill financing Congress' own operations traditionally draws. Most incumbents of both parties, eager for the electoral advantages the measure would provide, are likely to support the bill, said GOP and Democratic aides, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Trying to cut members' office accounts "is where it gets very personal," said Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., another conservative. He said lawmakers think, "You're talking about my chances of getting re-elected."
The cut in the overall bill's price tag from last year is "the important factor here," said Michele Davis, spokeswoman for House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas.
But conservatives say that comparison is phony. They say when one-time emergency spending for 1999 for Capitol security and other items is subtracted, next year's bill would be nearly $100 million, or 5 percent, higher than this year's.
Staff director James Dyer of the House Appropriations Committee, which produced the bill, said he has detected little support for cutting it.
"If members want o go out on the floor and say, 'Cut me, cut me,' OK, we have provisions to allow that to happen," he said.
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