Forecast for May 10, 2021.

Welcome to the First Branch Forecast, your weekly look into the Legislative branch and government transparency. Was this email forwarded to you? Subscribe here.

TOP LINE

STOP EVERYTHING. “100% of my focus is on stopping this new administration,” said Sen. McConnell at a press conference. He added: Democrats want to turn America into a “socialist country” and Senate Republicans are in “total unity… in opposition to what the new Biden administration is trying to do to this country.” Does this makes it official?

The Justice Department was castigated for lying to a federal court in an effort to prevent public access to an Office of Legal Counsel Memorandum on whether Trump could be prosecuted. It’s not the first time DOJ has lied to a court about FOIA requests. This also highlights the importance of public access to OLC’s work, which we discuss below. We also note that Attorney General Barr okayed the collection of email contacts by journalists as part of a so-called “leak” investigation, another stab at the heart of government accountability.

Quill, an excellent new tool that allows Member offices to get electronic signatures on their Dear Colleagues, made its House debut; it is already available in the Senate. (More below.)

Kudos to the House Labor-HHS Approps subcommittee, which so far is the only subcommittee to hold public witness hearings. We are appreciative of Chair DeLauro for making it happen. We are tracking appropriations testimony deadlines here.

Earmarks. We also favorably note that the House Approps committee has both published earmark requests on its webpage ~and~ published them as a spreadsheet (downloadable here). We published recommendations on what data elements should be included in the spreadsheet, a spreadsheet being the bare minimum requirement for modern data disclosure. We welcome the appearance of data fields like Membername, subcommittee, project title, amount requested, recipient address, and explanation. However, there are serious deficiencies, such a lack of unique identifiers, missing data fields, and too many data elements in the same field. In addition, it is unclear whether the spreadsheet will be updated as earmarks move through the legislative process or how users would be informed that updates have occurred. I’m hoping this is an alpha release and it will be improved. There is a significant community of civic technologists who would be glad to help.

White House visitor logs will now (again) be made publicly available, but we are cranky about it. Transparency should be required by law and not granted at the sufferance of the sovereign. This illustrates one of the failings of the Obama administration, which repeatedly fought against turning good government norms into law.

This upcoming week will be busy: House Admin will hold hearings on Monday and Wednesday into the Capitol Police and the Architect. On Tuesday, Senate Rules will hold a business meeting on S. 1, which is the Democrats’ democracy reform package. On Wednesday, House Oversight will look into unanswered questions on the Capitol Insurrection (what an anodyne name for what happened). And on Thursday House Modernization will look into recruiting, empowering, and retaining a diverse congressional staff.

Last week on the Hill was busy, too. The House Oversight Committee held a hearing on transparency and accountability legislation; Demand Progress hosted its Advisory Committee on Transparency panel discussion on what’s on Congress’s transparency agenda. The House Modernization Committee looked at congressional staff capacity. And the Lincoln Network hosted an excellent event on GAO at 100. (More below.)

Continue reading “Forecast for May 10, 2021.”

Tracking Appropriations Testimony Deadlines for FY 2022

For the last few years Demand Progress has been tracking appropriations testimony deadlines in the House and in the Senate. Specifically, we have kept track of:

  • Public witness testimony deadlines and guidance
  • Member witness testimony deadlines and guidance
  • Member request deadlines and guidance
  • Subcommittee/ full committee markups.

Here is that information, in spreadsheet form, for FY 2022 (updated once a week), FY 2021, and FY 2020.

You can find the spreadsheet for FY 2022 below, or just click on the link above.

Forecast for May 3, 2021

First Branch Forecast Logo

Welcome to the First Branch Forecast, your weekly look into the Legislative branch and government transparency. We had thought last week would be quiet, but we were wrong. Was this email forwarded to you? Subscribe here.

TOP LINE

Calendar. The Senate is out this week and the House is holding a committee work week, which means there are hearings but not floor votes. Still, it’s another busy week. On Monday — yes, today — House Oversight is holding a hearing on Improving Government Transparency and Accountability and the Lincoln Network is hosting an all-star virtual conference on GAO’s Next 100 Years. Tuesday is our Advisory Committee on Transparency event on Congress’s Transparency Agenda and House CJS will have A.G. Merrick Garland testify on the Justice Department’s budget. On Thursday the House Modernization Committee is holding a hearing on Congressional Staff Capacity.

Restoring staff pay to historical norms is the subject of an excellent letter sent by Reps. Hoyer and Jeffries, who call to return staff pay to its 2011 levels (when it was 20% higher).

Continuity of Congress. Sens. Portman and Durbin reintroduced a resolution to allow for remote voting on the Senate floor, which would allow for the Senate to continue to operate in an emergency.

This past week was incredibly busy. Below we recap the Senate Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on budgets for GAO, CBO, and the Library; the House Modernization Committee’s hearing on interns and fellows, the House Budget Committee’s examination of the Power of the Purse, and a webinar hosted by Demand Progress where a dozen organizations gave five-minute talks on the requests they’ve made of the appropriations committee.

Quick bits. Sen. Manchin opposes DC statehood bill; House Admin received a third flash Capitol Police IG report on the same day a USCP intel official resigned; Sen. Leahy announced earmark regs; more news on when Approps testimony is due; and 4 new reports from the Clerk on implementing modernization proposals.

Continue reading “Forecast for May 3, 2021”

What Items Are Due to Congress: May 2021

Congress regularly requests reports on strengthening Congress but there’s no central place to keep track of what they’ve requested.

To help keep track of things, we built a public spreadsheet that maintains a catalog of projects, broken down by item due, entity responsible, and due date.

The catalog covers reforms and requests ordered by the House and Senate Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittees, the Committee on House Rules, and the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress. At the moment, the catalog includes major resolutions and measures: H. Res. 8, the House Rules for the 117th Congress, Legislative Branch Appropriations FY 2021, and H.Res. 756 from the 116th Congress.

We continue to update this list each month for what’s due and what’s outstanding. Here are the February, March, and April editions.

Due In May

This month has zero items that are due. You can see below what reports are past due and have yet to be publicly released.

Continue reading “What Items Are Due to Congress: May 2021”

Video: Demand Progress Webinar on FY 2022 Appropriations Public Witness Testimony

Demand Progress hosted a webinar on Friday, April 30 to hear from presenters who otherwise would have testified in person before the appropriations subcommittees on improving government transparency and accountability.

This webinar was moderated by Taylor J. Swift, policy advisor for Demand Progress. The timestamps for each presenter are included below.

Continue reading “Video: Demand Progress Webinar on FY 2022 Appropriations Public Witness Testimony”

How House Committees Get Their Money

Our 2019 and 2020 articles on how House committees are funded have been updated for the 117th Congress.

Committee funding in the House of Representatives is accomplished through a somewhat obscure process. Appropriators on the House Legislative Branch Appropriations Committee set a top dollar amount for the committees — they appropriate the funds — but it is the Committee on House Administration that provides (i.e. allots) the funds to each committee on a biennial basis.

At the beginning of each new Congress, each committee chair and ranking member are given the opportunity to jointly testify before the House Administration Committee and request funds for their committee. In recent years, few committees have testified, and most but not all chairs and ranking members agree upon a common request. This year, most committees introduced their individual committee funding resolutions, then the Committee on House Administration considered a funding resolution (H. Res. 316) on April 14th, and held a markup on April 15th; the resolution passed the House on April 20, 2021.

During the markup, Chair Lofgren noted that each committee would receive an increase in funding of roughly 5% over the last Congress. While this is a notable increase, House committees are still significantly below their funding levels from a decade ago. What does this look like in context? We reviewing decades of funding for House committees, excluding the Appropriations committee — see the un-adjusted committee spending data and the inflation-adjusted committee spending data covering 1995-2021 — and found:

Continue reading “How House Committees Get Their Money”

Demand Progress Webinar on FY 2022 Appropriations Public Witness Testimony Set for Friday

House appropriations subcommittees will not be holding “in-person” public witness testimony (via video) this year, citing the pandemic.

Demand Progress will host a webinar this Friday where you can hear from organizations and individuals who otherwise would have testified in person on improving government transparency and accountability.

Presenters include:

  • Eli Lehrer, president of the R Street Institute.
  • Ginger McCall, legal director for Demand Progress.
  • Nan Swift, resident fellow of the R Street Institute.
  • Brian Baird, former Member of Congress.
  • Daniel Schuman, policy director for Demand Progress.
  • Jamie Neikrie, coordinator for Issue One
  • Amelia Strauss, policy advisor for Demand Progress
  • Bradley Moss, deputy executive director of National Security Counselors.
  • Irvin McCullough, national security analyst for the Government Accountability Project.
  • Michael Stern, founder of Point of Order.
  • Andrew Lautz, director of federal policy for National Taxpayers Union.
  • Kel McClanahan, executive director of National Security Counselors.

The webinar will take place Friday at 11 am E.T. RSVP here.

Forecast for April 26, 2021

First Branch Forecast Logo

Welcome to the First Branch Forecast, your weekly look into the Legislative branch and government transparency. Was this email forwarded to you? Subscribe here.

TOP LINE

Staffers on Capitol Hill continue to bear the trauma and burn out from working through a pandemic, the 2020 election, and the insurrection, leading many staff to leave their jobs, according to Business Insider’s Kayla Epstein. The article spells out what life has been like for them. Another factor is staff pay and benefits; CRS has a new report on staff pay levels in senators’ offices from FY 2001-2020. While it is not out yet, we are expecting a report from the Senate on staff pay and retention in that chamber; the House’s report is here.

Have politics ever been this nasty? Dr. Jon Grinspan discusses American politics in the late 19th century in a recent article in Politico. “In the years between the Civil War and the turn of the 20th century, U.S. politics was far more unruly, violent and corrupt than it’s been before or since, for politicians and ordinary Americans alike. It was a period of mass participation, but also mass outrage.” He notes that that era saw the highest voter turnouts in American history, actually stolen elections, and thousands dead in political warfare. Take a look.

Security supplemental draft language began circulating in the House last week, according to Roll Call’s Katherine Tully-McManus. We really don’t know much about the legislation except that Sen. Leahy elicited a positive response from the USCP and Architect regarding whether the funding levels it contains address their concerns. Even the scope of the legislation is unclear to us. Demand Progress released a security supplemental recommendations report on what should be included.

USCP, AOC, and the Senate Sergeant at Arms all testified before the Senate Leg Branch Appropriations Subcommittee last Wednesday, which we summarize below. The subcommittee will hold its second hearing on LOC, CBO, and GAO FY 2022 budgets on Wednesday. The House Leg Branch Appropriations Subcommittee, by comparison, is finished with its hearings except for Member day.

Congressional calendar. The Senate is in session this week but will move to a state work period next week. The next two weeks are committee work weeks for the House. President Biden will address Congress Wednesday evening, although only a fraction of members will be able to attend.

Hearings this week. On Tuesday, Senate Judiciary is holding a hearing on Supreme Court Fact-Finding and the Distortion of American Democracy. On Wednesday, Senate Legislative Branch Appropriations subcommittee is holding a hearing on budget requests for the Library, CBO, and GAO. On Thursday, House Oversight is holding a hearing on the Capitol Insurrection; House Budget is holding a hearing on Congress’s power of the purse; and House Modernization is holding a hearing on Congressional internships. More details below.

House approps subcommittees will not be holding “in-person” public witness testimony (via video) this year, citing the pandemic. Demand Progress will host a webinar this Friday at 11 am ET where you can hear from organizations and individuals who otherwise would have testified in person on improving government transparency and accountability. Speakers including former Member of Congress Brian Baird, Demand Progress’s Legal Director Ginger McCall, President of the R Street Institute Eli Lehrer, yours truly, and more. RSVP here.

Transparency webinar on Star Wars day. On Tuesday, May 4th, our team is hosting the first Advisory Committee on Transparency event of the 117th Congress, focused on what’s on Congress’s transparency and open government agenda. Panelists include Liz Hempoicz of the Project of Government Oversight, Freddy Martinez of Open the Government, and yours truly. It will be moderated by GovExec’s Courtney Buble. RSVP here.

Several appropriations deadlines are this week, with each House subcommittee closing its Member requests Wednesday through Friday. If you’re looking for ideas, check this out. No new public witness testimony deadlines have been added. Keep up to date with all of the deadlines by using our handy spreadsheet.

Continue reading “Forecast for April 26, 2021”

Forecast for April 19, 2021

First Branch Forecast Logo

Welcome to the First Branch Forecast, your weekly look into the Legislative branch and government transparency. (Tell your friends to subscribe.)

TOP LINE

White nationalism has no place in Congress and yet several representatives on Friday were gathering support to start the America First Caucus, ostensibly focused on Anglo-Saxon “political traditions,” per PunchBowl.news. The America First Committee, the obvious antecedent, was formed in 1940 to keep the U.S. from intervening in WWII against the Nazis and was led by the most prominent anti-semites of the day. In recent times, America First has been invoked by Pat Buchanan and Donald Trump. You don’t need German shepherd ears to hear this fascist dog whistle.

But you have to work very hard to avoid connecting the dots from the Trump administration to election rejection to the Trump insurrection to this caucus. Will Republican leaders continue their deal with the devil in hopes of regaining political control? The clearest signals so far are the continued caucusing of America First representatives with the Republican party and voter-suppression legislation across the country. It’s not like we do not know how to fix the minority-rule doom loop just like we already know who is digging the grave of our democracy.

A commission proposal aimed at nailing down the “scope, composition, and resources necessary to seek and find the truth” of the euphemistically-described “January 6th” events is being re-sent to Republicans by Speaker Pelosi. Just as before, there will not be any takers to do anything meaningful — Sen. McConnell will reject this proposal as he rejected the previous one, by calling it partisan. That’s a neat trick: by definition a proposal is partisan unless Sen. McConnell says otherwise, even though rejection does not negate its wisdom. Calls for bipartisanship to fix our broken politics in a two-party system where one party’s leadership by-and-large rejects fundamental democratic principles is a fools’ errand beloved by editorial page writers, cable news bookers, and reputation launderers. Either pro-democracy Republicans must retake their party, which is increasingly unlikely, or they must follow Rep. Amash’s example and start anew. “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

America has a long history of one-party rule at the state level. At the federal level, one-party rule has been manifested as a minority veto — the modern incarnation of nullification. Nullification is the mid-19th century political theory advanced by Sen. Calhoun that held a state could invalidate federal laws it did not like, and southern states did not like restrictions on slavery and the implications for their wealth derivered therefrom. Here’s how Sen. McConnell has described the modern incarnation of nullification, the filibuster: “So while Yarmuth calls the filibuster a ‘minority veto’, it’s really ‘Kentucky’s veto….’ It protects Jeffersontown and Shively from being steamrolled by Brooklyn and San Francisco. Last year, the voters rehired me to use Kentucky’s veto and protect our values.” We must ask: whose veto, Sen. McConnell? Which values? For what cause?

All is not lost, at least not yet. A handful of Republicans voted to impeach Pres. Trump and a third of the party stood for upholding the election results. Many more are privately horrified by what is happening but are unwilling to risk their positions. We are rapidly passing the point where only a political career is at stake. Only luck and happenstance prevented the Trump insurrection from decapitating Congress and murdering the Constitutional line of succession. We know what is necessary to save our democracy and we know the people who are standing athwart progress, yelling stop. It is not America they are putting first, but themselves.

WHAT’S NEW

The US Capitol Police Inspector General testified & released two reports on the insurrection, focused on inadequate planning, failures of intelligence, and a dysfunctional civil disturbance unit. Notably the USCP IG does not have jurisdiction over the Capitol Police Board.

A committee funding resolution was reported by House Admin, with an average 5% increase that leaves committees still almost 20% below their levels from a decade ago

The Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress held a Member day hearing

The Senate Legislative branch appropriations committee has its first hearing scheduled this week, with testimony expected from USCP Acting Chief Pittman, AOC Blanton, and the new Sergeant at Arms

Deadlines for written testimony for House Legislative branch appropriations were announced and Member witness days are beginning to be announced. Notably, House appropriators are not inviting the public to testify “in person” this year.

A joint report on the Trump insurrection at the Capitol from HSGAC and Senate Rules is expected in the coming weeks.

The timing of the Security Appropriations Supplemental is unclear despite prior reporting. In fact, I’ve begun to distrust the vast majority of reporting on its size and contents and timing. The only report that makes sense is a lack of communication between the chambers. As you know, Demand Progress has recommendations for what should be in the supplemental.

House Admin’s activity report for the 116th Congressis out. It contains a lot of new and unreported information, from COVID adaptations and security reviews to new franking regulations. Admin has oversight of the Capitol Police, and its report provides insight on their activities to reform the USCP before it became a high profile issue.

The Advisory Committee on Transparency is hosting a webinar on Star Wars day, next Tuesday, May 4th, on Transparency in the 117th Congress. The webinar will provide an overview of transparency in the federal government, with a focus on where Congress likely will concentrate its attention and the status of past legislative efforts. Panelists include the Project On Government Overight’s Liz Hempowicz and yours truly, with GovExec’s Courtney Buble moderating and an additional panelists TBA. RSVP here.

Continue reading “Forecast for April 19, 2021”

Forecast for April 12, 2021

Welcome to the First Branch Forecast, your weekly look into the Legislative branch and government transparency. (Was this email forwarded to you? Subscribe here.)

TOP LINE

Welcome back, Congress. Send me a final out-of-office email so that I know you missed me.

Biden’s $1.5 trillion skinny budget was finally submitted to Congress on Friday. It would increase non-defense discretionary spending by 16% to $769.4 billion and increase defense discretionary spending by 1.7% to $753 billion. The proposal would finally end the so-called emergency Overseas Contingency Operations fund — an additional, bloated defense slush fund that was not counted against the so-called spending caps — by merging it with the base defense budget. On that point, CRS has a new report on the expiration of discretionary spending limits and you should read Mandy Smithberger’s testimony on ending OCO. The president can propose whatever he wants, but Congress sets the spending priorities.

A security supplemental will soon be taken up by the House, per an announcement from House Approps Chair DeLauro. Presumably this would pay for the costs of the Trump insurrection and fixing the flaws it revealed: addressing “intelligence collection and review, bolster the capacity and training of the Capitol Police, and make physical security improvements to the Capitol Complex.” Demand Progress published a menu of recommendations for the security supplemental recommendations that address additional failings of the Capitol Police, congressional cybersecurity, and contingency planning for the continuity of Congress.

The Capitol Police Inspector General will testify Thursday before the House Administration Committee on their preliminary findings concerning the Trump insurrection. Per orders of the Capitol Police Board, the USCP IG does not release its reports to the public, which contradicts best practices for IGs on political independence and fostering accountability.

What should appropriators do? Demand Progress published 56 appropriations recommendations with an emphasis on strengthening Congress and government accountability.

The Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress will hold its Member Day Hearing on Thursday. Members who wish to testify must complete this form by COB today.

What’s due in April? Congress often requires Legislative branch support offices and agencies to submit reports to Congress, and we track what’s due when. See our April update, which includes several reports from the CAO and a nifty graphic.

Continue reading “Forecast for April 12, 2021”