First Branch Forecast for September 13, 2022: Fixing Congress

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TOP LINE

The Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress held its final hearing last Wednesday, aptly on how Congress should continue its work.

The Committee has issued 177 recommendations over its three-and-a-half year tenure and likely will surpass the 200 mark before its work concludes at the end of this Congress. By its own count, only 37 of those recommendations have been fully implemented. In advance of the hearing, Roll Call provided this excellent preview of what’s done and what’s yet to be done.

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What’s Next? Recap of the Final House Modernization Committee Hearing

Written by Taylor J. Swift, senior policy advisor with Demand Progress Education Fund

There was a feeling of serendipity during this week’s final Select Committee on the  Modernization of Congress hearing, where Members, witnesses, and staff all gathered to discuss the work of the committee and what the future may look like for this work. The Committee — or ModCom — has been working for the past two Congresses to examine ways to make the institution more modern, efficient, and transparent. It favorably reported over 170 recommendations with more on the way. It also recently introduced its second resolution which contains 32 recommendations. The hearing felt like the culmination of everything the committee, its staff, and its stakeholder groups have been working towards. 

The question on the table was: where does this modernization work go from here?

Chief Administrative Officer Catherine Szpindor was the first committee witness. Her testimony focused how the CAO has implemented several of the ModCom recommendations to strengthen the House, its offices, and its workforce. Whether it’s the creation of the Human Resources Hub, the House Resume Bank, the House Digital Service; the adoption of Quill — an online e-signature platform; and investment in staff training through the CAO Coach program, Szpindor comprehensively outlined how her office has listened to the committee and followed through on its commitments to foster a more modern, transparent, an inclusive workplace. Szpindor mentioned during the discussion portion that the CAO has monthly status meetings with stakeholders and staff regarding implementation tracking. The CAO also uses an internal tracker called ClickUp to keep things organized. 

Diane Hill of the Partnership for Public Service was the committee witness representing the Fix Congress Cohort, a group of over four dozen civil society groups and academics that includes Demand Progress. Hill’s testimony centered around providing four different avenues for which the modernization work can continue, including providing a pathway for ModCom’s recommendations to be implemented past the 117th Congress. Hill’s testimony mirrors some of the recommendations that we made for the future of this work. The four options in Hill’s testimony included:

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First Branch Forecast for September 13, 2022: And We’re Back

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A pre-midterm cram session is emerging as the Senate tries to squeeze in votes on same-sex marrige protections, reforms to the Electoral Count Act, insulin pricing, energy permitting reform, FDA user fees…oh, and avoiding a government shutdown Oct. 1. So here we are, less than two months before a very consequential midterm election with the prospect of a variety of major legislation heading to the President’s desk – and with significant bipartisan support. Weird, huh?

Finalizing the government spending package sounds much more like a when than an if, as both parties were seeking a continuing resolution that carried well past the midterms. The Biden Administration’s request of an additional $13.7 billion in military aid for Ukraine and more COVID spending may slow that down. Democratic leadership also has several tactical decisions to make on what measures to attach to the CR.

Sens. Tammy Baldwin and Susan Collins are continuing to seek out Republican co-sponsors of their marriage bill to get it over the filibuster threshold. On the ECA (S. 4573), Senator Charles Grassley’s office confirmed he will sign on to be the 10th Republican co-sponsor, joining Mitt Romney, Lisa Murkowski, and others critical of President Trump’s role in the January 6 insurrection.

The shifting political environment is providing a spark for reviving the ECA before the lame duck session. After President Biden’s speech in Philadelphia denouncing the “MAGA” faction of the GOP as a direct threat to democracy, 58% of poll respondents agreed with his assessment. Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed by CBS News at the end of August predicted an uptick in political violence in the coming years, up from 51% in Jan. 2021. On the question of democratic decline, 54% agreed that the country would be less democratic a generation from now.

A ban on stock trading by sitting Members of Congress also may sneak in under the election wire. Progressive and moderate sponsors of a bipartisan House bill have asked for a vote by Sept. 30. Reps. Jayapal, Rosendale and Senators Warren, Blackburn, Daines, and Stabenow have introduced their own bill. The House Administration Committee was expected to release a stock ban framework in early August, but if they have, we must have missed it.

This week on the floor. The House begins three weeks of votes starting Tuesday. Don’t miss Wednesday’s ModCom hearing on a roadmap to the future and the Transparency Caucus’ panel discussion on what’s next in transparency across the government.

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EveryCRSReport Adds Federation of American Scientists CRS Reports

We are pleased to announce that EveryCRSReport now includes all CRS reports published online by the Federation of American Scientists. Steven Aftergood, who led FAS’s efforts on CRS reports for decades, has retired from that role, although he still is active on a number of projects. He gave us permission to add those reports to our collection. Dr. Josh Tauberer, who runs govtrack.us and manages our website, incorporated the new reports this past week.

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Agencies Get Marching Orders on Congressional Budget Justification Transparency Act

The Congressional Budget Justification Transparency Act, which Demand Progress supported and became law last year, is coming into its own. The law requires (1) the publication of all agency Congressional Justifications on USASpending.org within two weeks of their submission to a house of Congress; (2) CJ publication at a vanity URL on the agency website; and (3) online tracking of when the reports were due to be submitted and whether they were published online on time.

OMB just released an update to Circular A-11 that, for the first time, contains updated guidance in section 22.6(c) that will put the law into effect. This has been a long time coming, as OMB had resisted requests from appropriators to ensure that the reports are published online in a central location, intended to address both linkrot (when a URL goes dead) and that there was no central place to find all the reports. They’ll also have to have their data published in a structured format.

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First Branch Forecast for September 6, 2022: Democracy

TOP LINE

This week: Congress is back. The committee calendar is looking quiet. The House has a committee work week; the Senate floor will start by addressing some nominations.

On tap for the month: a continuing resolution publishing Appropriations until December is likely. On Friday, the White House’s OMB published what it would like to see included in the measure beyond continuity of operations: support for Ukraine, COVID-19, monkeypox, and natural disaster recovery. Also, the National Defense Authorization Act likely will be brought to the floor in the Senate. We will see whether the House considers/passes legislation concerning congressional stock trading.

NEW! We just released Union Organizing Rights on Capitol Hill, a report authored by Kevin Mulshine, who served as Senior Advisor and Counsel on the first staff of the Office of Compliance and later served as IG for the Architect of the Capitol. The report is designed as a handy guide for congressional staff who want to understand —

• How House staffers can select a union representative
• The value of collective bargaining in House offices
• What a contract might guarantee

Follow the link to read the report.

Transparency Across the Federal Government is the focus of a panel discussion set for September 14th and hosted by the Congressional Transparency Caucus in the Rayburn Building. The event, hosted by Reps. Quigley and Walberg, will feature panelists including me, POGO’s Liz Hempowicz, Free Law Project’s Mike Lissner, with moderation by Politico’s Katherine Tully-McManus. Learn more or RSVP here.


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Demand Progress Education Fund Releases Primer on Union Organizing Rights for Congressional Staff 

Report Authored by Kevin Mulshine, former Senior Advisor and Counsel on the first staff of the Office of Compliance/Office of Congressional Workplace Rights

Demand Progress Education Fund released today Union Organizing Rights on Capitol Hill to equip staff in the US House of Representatives with guidance on how they can implement newly won rights to collectively bargain. Written by former counsel from the Congressional office responsible for implementing House union rules, this primer covers topics including how House staffers can select a union representative, the value of collective bargaining in House offices, and what a contract might guarantee. Author Kevin Mulshine also discussed Congressional union rights at a Demand Progress virtual briefing the week the unionization rules went into effect.

“Now that staff in the House of Representatives have won the right to unionize, they need non-partisan, factual information that describes what they can negotiate for under a collective bargaining agreement in order to create a smoothly-functioning workplace,” said Daniel Schuman, policy director at Demand Progress Education Fund. “Along with recent reforms to improve the Congressional workplace and redress longstanding deficiencies, the ability for staff to negotiate for fair working conditions will allow the Legislative branch to continue to make course corrections to meet the needs of employers and employees, thereby sustaining Congress’s ability to recruit and retain diverse public servants dedicated to working on behalf of the American people for years to come.”

Daniel Schuman, policy director at Demand Progress Education Fund

The Union Organizing Rights on Capitol Hill report explains:

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Statement on House Staff Pay Floor Increase Going into Effect Sept. 1

“At long last, no Member of the House of Representatives is permitted to pay their staff poverty wages. As of September 1, every staff person in the House of Representatives must be paid at least $45,000 a year, which meets the living wage in high cost Washington, DC,” said Daniel Schuman, policy director at Demand Progress. “We applaud the House staff who have spoken out in support of a living wage for their colleagues, the Members of Congress who advocated for a pay floor, and Speaker Pelosi and House leadership for establishing this common-sense requirement that removes personal wealth as a precondition for public service. We urge the Senate to join the House and establish a $45,000 pay floor for all staff.”

Eras of Control of the House of Representatives

It is easy to imagine that the way the House of Representatives is run now is how it has been run in the past. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.

In the history of the House of Representatives, the Speaker has been all-powerful and virtually powerless; the president has run the House and has been run by the House; legislation enacted by the chamber has reflected the views of a majority of the House, reflected the views of the majority party, and reflected the views of just a handful; work was done by all the members in the committee of the whole and divvied up among the committees; power was centered in the floor leader, the speaker, the party caucus, the full chamber, the rules committee, and no one.

It is not too much to say that the rules of the chamber reflect efforts by its members to have and retain power and to address the problems that arise when members who desired power could not obtain and use it. Fights over the rules, and the leadership of the House itself, have at times consumed weeks of deliberations on the House floor — where the chamber is run under general parliamentary law until a package was drafted that could be adopted by the full chamber.

I’ve been looking at the history and development of the House by reading some of the leading experts and have started to put together a summary of the eras of control of the House of Representatives. This is a working document and likely contains inaccuracies, overstatements, and many other issues. But I thought it might be of interest to you so I’m publishing a live version of the working document below.

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