Washington (AP) - The Republican-controlled House voted Thursday to trim members' office budgets by $35 million, a symbolic down payment on a promise to bring the budget deficit under control.
That 5 percent cut is enough to keep the government running for about five minutes.
With the bipartisan 410-13 vote, lawmakers said they were leading by example as they work to fulfill a promise to return most domestic accounts to the levels in effect before President Barack Obama took office.
"This bill committing ourselves to a more responsible and efficient stewardship of taxpayer dollars demonstrates to the American people that we are listening," said Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Calif. "Across this country families and small businesses have cut their spending, are paying off debt, and are striving to live within their means. We should do the same."
But the accounts they cut by 5 percent to produce $35 million in budget savings have gone up by more than double that since the 2008 budget year. The budgets for the office expenses and staff salaries for rank-and-file lawmakers have gone up 14 percent since 2008; expenses for congressional committees and leadership offices have increased by smaller amounts.
Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said the cut "is just the first installment" and more are possible when Republicans wrap up the 2011 budget process in coming months.
He noted that the House GOP's pledge didn't commit Congress to cutting its budget to 2008 levels; rather it promised to cut domestic accounts, taken as a whole, back to those levels.
"House Republicans are walking the walk on reducing the size and scope of the federal government by first cutting the House budget," said Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas.
The budgets of House leadership offices have risen by 8 percent since 2008. The House Appropriations Committee's budget has gone up by 5 percent, but the chairman, Rep. Harold Rogers, R-Ky., orchestrated a 9 percent cut.
Lawmakers acknowledged that the savings was a token step in what promises to be a far more difficult challenge of wrestling the $1.3 trillion budget deficit to manageable levels.
"It is not massive," said freshman GOP Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo. "But it is monumental."