House votes to fund Capitol Hill operations

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The House on Tuesday approved a $3 billion measure that would continue to freeze the salaries and office expenses of lawmakers on Capitol Hill. And when Capitol Hill itself is frozen, kids will be able to sled on it without being rousted by the cops.

The legislation is the smallest of the 12 spending bills that fund the day-to-day operations of government agencies. It may have a low profile, but Republicans controlling the House have been careful to protect rank-and-file lawmakers from criticism that they're raising their salaries or increasing spending for the thousands of staff aides that work for them.

The 357-67 vote sends the measure to the Senate, which is just getting underway on the spending bills. There, two panels gave initial approval to legislation funding veterans and energy programs.

The measure contains a provision that freezes lawmakers' salaries at $174,000, a level that hasn't been increased since 2010. That spurred limited griping from a handful of lawmakers such as No. 2 Democrat Steny Hoyer of Maryland, who warned that it won't be long before middle-class people won't be able to afford to serve in Congress.

Hoyer said that to continue the pay freeze "simply will dictate that the only people who can serve are the rich. I don't think that's what the Founding Fathers had in mind."

Under legislation passed in 1989, members of Congress were awarded an automatic cost-of-living pay increase every year, but they have, more often than not, voted to reject it.

Then there's the longtime ban on sledding on the Capitol grounds. While rarely enforced in the past, Capitol police have in the post-9/11 era been more quick to enforce the rules. Lawmakers protested this past winter after officers spoiled the fun during one snowstorm, but police officials said they had no leeway since the rules specifically ban sleds. During a subsequent snowstorm, angry parents organized a "sled-in" and flouted the rules. Rather than incur more bad press, the police let them be.

The legislation contains nonbinding language that urges the cops to "forebear enforcement of ... 'An Act to protect the public property, turf, and grass of the Capitol Grounds from injury.'" House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, offered his support with a #sledfreeordie hashtag on a news release.

The Senate measures would award an almost 8 percent increase over current levels for veterans programs and military construction projects and give the Energy Department the increases it sought to upgrade the Pentagon's arsenal of nuclear weapons.

Tuesday's legislation won bipartisan support, but Senate Democrats say they'll oppose most spending bills because Republicans are not providing domestic programs with budget increases to match the $38 billion boost the GOP has awarded to the Pentagon.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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