Best Wishes for the Constitution Annotated on the Constitution’s 232rd Birthday

232 years ago today, 38 delegates came together to sign the U.S. Constitution. While there’s a lot of fanfare around the founding document, there’s not much noise about its lesser-known, handy companion, the Constitution Annotated (CONAN). Fortunately, Sens. Portman and King released a letter last week making some noise, calling for CONAN to be available online in an accessible format for everyone to us. Today it appears the Library of Congress has listened. (See their blogpost making the announcement and detailing the new website).

CONAN is a legal treatise prepared by the Library of Congress’s Congressional Research Service and published by the Government Publishing Office (GPO). The document is a non-partisan and comprehensive analysis of how the Supreme Court has interpreted the U.S. Constitution.

For a decade, we’ve been asking the Library of Congress and GPO to publish CONAN online in an accessible and user-friendly format. Congress shared our sentiments in 2010 when lawmakers authorized the Library to improve public access — “to update the online edition as frequently as possible, and to create new and improved functions on the CONAN site.” Lawmakers also noted “Congress and the public should find this site accessible and user friendly.”  Continue reading “Best Wishes for the Constitution Annotated on the Constitution’s 232rd Birthday”

Forecast for September 16, 2019.

We’re in for another busy week and this week’s First Branch Forecast is more wonky than usual.

Here are the highlights:

• Senate appropriators allocated less money for leg branch than their House counterparts, setting up the need to reconcile funding levels. The process in the Senate was unusually partisan.

• Constitution Day is Tuesday, and Sens. Portman and King are trying to make CRS’s legal treatise on the Constitution more easily available to everyone.

• Ambiguity over impeachment may be harming congressional oversight.

• Among the interesting hearings this week are ones on fixing Congress’s spending process, celebrating CIGIE, and making DC a state.

Continue reading “Forecast for September 16, 2019.”

Forecast for September 9, 2019

Recess is over, class is back in session. Let’s get caught up.


• Lawmakers have 3 weeks until the start of FY 2020, and both chambers must pass 12 spending bills by October 1. House Majority Leader Hoyer says the House will vote on short-term spending agreements (CRs) next week to keep the lights on. Expect the usual squeeze play at the end, probably around Thanksgiving.

• It’s likely the Senate has similar plans, and the chamber has started scheduling markups for 2020 spending bills. Defense and Labor subcommittee markups are Tuesday, the State subcommittee markup is Wednesday, and full committee markups of Defense, Energy, Labor, and State are happening Thursday.

• On Thursday, Senators are also having a full committee vote on 302(b) allocations. This is a big deal— at least, we think so. These numbers have significant consequences for a capable Congress, and leg branch keeps getting the axe.

• Speaking of spending, DoD is spending unallocated $$ on a border wall and Democratic Senators are not happy about it. The Senators say the project ignores congressional intent and have asked DoD why the project is circumventing standard funding channels. Dems have said they will not “backfill” funds for projects that will be delayed to fund the wall. Will Congress stand up for its prerogatives? Continue reading “Forecast for September 9, 2019”

Forecast for September 3, 2019.

It’s been a quiet week in Woebegone, D.C., our fair city. Uh, nope. It was a dark and stormy night. Nooooooooo. It was a bright cold day in September, and the clocks were striking thirteen. Ah, that feels right. Welcome to the First Branch Forecast.


More members announced their retirements, including Sen. Isakson and Rep. Duffy. In the House, departures include 13 Rs and 3 Ds; in the Senate, it’s 4 Rs and 1 D. Keep track here.

Cyber Day on Capitol Hill is this ThursdaySeptember 5th. The focus: training staff to protect themselves. RSVP.

The number of trade reporters covering capitol hill are up and daily newspaper staff are down. The Post cites this 2015 Pew study that specialty reporters outnumber those working at broadsheets. Digging deeper, much Congressional coverage is now done by niche reporters who charge a high premium for their specialty focus. So far unexamined: how does this information flow back to capitol hill, does it reach regular constituents, and what’s the result of inequities in access to in-depth information on the advocacy landscape? (BTW, our little newsletter is intended to fill one of the gaps.)

Russia denied Sens. Johnson and Murphy a visa to visit that country as part of a delegation, claiming Johnson had acted in a “russophobic manner.” Just recently Israel denied Reps. Omar and Tlaib a visa at the prompting of Pres. Trump.

Wow. Data scientist Will Geary made two amazing visualizations of the federal budget. Take a minute and watch these two videos: US discretionary spending from 1963 to present; and federal spending from 1963 to present. Doesn’t this really bring all that data to life? Imagine if the Budget Committee or CBO or even CRS presented material this way. All it takes is structured data and a clever person to analyze and visualize it. There’s more cool stuff on his website. Continue reading “Forecast for September 3, 2019.”

Forecast for August 26, 2019.



Are you pondering what I’m pondering? In this case, how would a new OTA decide what to study?

How do Senate committees get their funding and where does it go? The take-aways: Senate committee funding is at an 18-year low; it’s really good to be an appropriator; and Senate committees are in better shape than House committees. Inside: the raw data from 1994-present.

Speaking of approps, use our twitter Approps tracker and CRS’s Approps status tables to stay on top of the next 6 weeks. It’s gonna go fast.

Finding federal budget docs can be tricky. After a lot of needling, USASpending is now centrally posting (some) congressional budget justifications; FedScoop has the lowdown, including how it could be improved. Want more? We took a deep dive on budget justifications in March. Continue reading “Forecast for August 26, 2019.”

How Senate Committees Get Their Money


How do Senate committees get their funding and how has funding changed over the last 25 years? We crunched the numbers for you and here are the highlights:

  • Senate Committee spending is at an 18 year low
  • It’s good to be an appropriator; the committee gets the lion’s share of the funding and doesn’t have to beg for money
  • While Senate Committees aren’t exactly rolling in dough, they’re in much better shape than House committees, which are on a starvation diet

Continue reading “How Senate Committees Get Their Money”

How Should the New OTA Decide What To Study?

The likelihood of Congress reinstating a science and technology assessment office is at an all time high, but should such an agency be reconstituted, how should it decide what issues to address?

DCF 1.0
Source: Flickr

Congress’s other legislative support agencies — the Government Accountability Office, the Congressional Research Service, and the Congressional Budget Office — use various mechanisms to decide where to devote analytic resources. The GAO, for example, prioritizes congressional mandates, then senior leader and committee requests, and then individual member requests, with the practical effect that individual member requests are not usually considered. CRS, by contrast, leaves significant discretion to its analysts concerning which general distribution reports to create, although it does look at frequent requests from members of Congress. (CRS memos, of course, are written at the request of individual members.) Continue reading “How Should the New OTA Decide What To Study?”