THE TOP LINE
Naughty or nice. Congress is still in session, so here’s a little something to read if you’re still hanging around.
Shutdown. For the first time in years, the House and Senate got their approps work done on time and five bills enacted into law. But instead of pushing for the remaining seven, they delayed and kicked the can down the road. And now, instead of protecting the legislative branch’s prerogatives, leadership in the House and Senate caved to Pres. Trump’s politically untenable demands, aimed at keeping his base happy, shifting blame, and distracting from his administration’s scandals. How does this end? Stay tuned.
In the last days of the 115th Congress, a few good bills made it over the finish line. The amended Open Government Data Act (HR 4174) requires the government to inventory its data sets; automatically publish its public data sets online, in a machine-readable format, in a catalog; and have each CFO agency establish a Chief Data Officer. (More) The GAO-IG Act (S 2276) requires each agency to identify, in its congressional budget justification, every GAO recommendation to that agency and whether it’s been closed. As mentioned last week, a watered-down Congressional Accountability Act (link) was enacted. As was the IDEA Act (HR 5759), which would require agencies to provide better digital services.
What’s next? Hold your horses, Jeb. Besides whatever is happening with approps — and I hope Congress passes the bills it worked so hard to draft — House Dems will release their draft House rules in the next week or two, with a vote set on Jan. 3. We’ll also see appointments to many of the committees. I’d also expect introduction in both chambers of an ethics, campaign finance, and elections reform bill, known colloquially as H.R. 1.
What else? The leg branch appropriations bill requires publication of new member bio guides, a joint congressional committee calendar, the promulgation of automated witness disclosure forms, and all non-confidential CRS reports online, plus studies of staff pay and retention in the House and Senate, a study of whistleblowing resources in the House, and an analysis of Congress’s Technology Assessment function. Oh, by the end of the year the Supreme Court will release its annual report on the judiciary. And the U.S. Capitol police finally agreed to start publishing limited arrest info online.
Wait, hold on! I know you’re getting ready to move on to your post holiday shopping list, but the holidays came early with the Lincoln Network’s phenomenal guide to IT acquisitions in the legislative branch.
MAKING YOUR LIFE EASIER
Keeping track of Congress can be hard, but here’s a few resources to help you as we slide into the 116th Congress. (If you like these tips, we’ll make it a regular feature.)
— Phone and room numbers for House Members, courtesy the House Clerk.
— An app to learn the faces of new Members, courtesy Ted Henderson.
— Our new Flack the Leadership Twitter (@LeadershipFlack) account, with press releases from all the leadership offices.
— The Demand-Progress-Run twitter account @OpenAtAGlance, with primary source news and analysis about Congress.
LEGISLATIVE PROCESS, CAPACITY, & POLY SCI
The federal budget is growing but approps staff responsible for doling out the cash are not; this resulted in a 52% increase in workload per House Appropriations Committee staffer between 2001 and 2016. Wow, right? Check out R Street’s new report.
Constituent letters do not inform policymaking, but are used to measure sentiment and formulate communications strategy, according to a new study. The study’s conclusions and prescriptions, however, are faulty, missing the fact that the volume of communications on a topic can influence member behavior even while the contents do not provide new info.
How does research affect policymaking? The UK’s technology assessment office found that MPs highly value research info and that MPs do not distinguish between different types of research. When do they use info? “The credibility of the source was ranked as the most important factor in helping respondents to decide whether to read or use a piece of research, followed by the relevance of the research.”
RULES & COMMITTEES
A new Congress means a chance to empower the House to do its job better through changes to rules, and while we haven’t seen the text, it may be that big changes are coming. Our top picks for rules changes can be found here.
Progressive groups have launched a push for progressive lawmakers to be appointed to important committees that preside over economic issues, instead of members with corporate and industry ties.
— The fight for a Green New Deal committee embodies this struggle: First the committee, pushed by progressive incoming Rep. Ocasio Cortez, was “defanged” and denied subpoena power.
— Second, Pelosi apparently will pick Rep. Kathy Castor to lead the committee. In response to calls that members not take money from energy lobbyists, Castor weirdly claimed and then retracted that the First Amendment prevents a ban on members who received fossil fuel company money from sitting on the committee — it doesn’t, of course. It just so happens that Castor received $10k from energy company PACs in the last cycle (General Electric, Covanta Energy, PG&E, TECO Energy, National Rural Electric Coop. Assnn). Maybe it’s the other kind of green that talks?
Speaker-designate Pelosi announced Budget and Rules Committees chairs last week.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee may add a new subcommittee next Congress that would investigate Trump’s financial ties to foreign governments.
The Washington Post profiled the 24-member Blue Dog Caucus, saying the caucus, which used to include members against the ACA and endorsed by the NRA, has changed a lot in recent years and will be a force next Congress. The fluff piece inaccurately frames the Blue Dogs as exclusively adopting a “adopt a nonpartisan, get-things-done ethos,” which of course is something that every member of Congress would ascribe to themselves and, in our experience, is not tied to ideology. Bipartisan is a tactic, not a political philosophy.
The pro-business New Democrat Coalition, which will grow to about 90 members next Congress, is cozy with K Street, according to The Hill. We’ve worked with and like many New Dem members, but contra the unnamed lobbyist quoted in the article (really, no attribution?!!), I haven’t seen anything indicating that one kind of member is more likely to reach across the aisle than another. It does appear that someone is trying hard to push this political frame. Research suggests that “unlikely” left-right alliances are quite effective as they provide political cover for more moderate members.
Rep.-elect Ocasio-Cortez and the group Justice Democrats may have lined up a primary challenger to face off against Rep. Hakeem Jeffries.
Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander won’t run for re-election in 2020.
Arizona Governor Ducey has appointed Martha McSally, who lost her bid for a Senate seat this fall, to fill departing Senator Jon Kyl’s seat.
To impeach or not to impeach: that is the question, but it shouldn’t be. The New York Times‘ take: it doesn’t look like impeachment proceedings will happen, but if they do, it’s a waste of time and could backfire. White House Watch, on the other hand, says if Democrats aren’t politically ready to for impeachment proceedings they could establish a select committee on impeachment.
— Our take? As Washington Watch pointed out, there is a middle point between jumping right to impeachment proceedings on January 3rd and doing nothing. It’s crucial for Congress to carry out its oversight duties, investigate, and create a record. As it uncovers wrongdoing, this will shape public perceptions. Ultimately, the responsibility of assessing Trump’s fitness is on Congress, as a co-equal branch of government
— Waiting on Mueller isn’t enough. While it’s understandable that Congress doesn’t want to get in his way, Mueller ultimately is investigating criminal activity, but Congress’s responsibility is much broader and should look to how our political system is functioning and what should be crimes or lacks sufficient evidence to be proven in court.
Incoming House Oversight Chair, Rep. Cummings, has set a January 11th deadline for the White House to respond to 51 previously ignored documents requests.
Sen. McConnell’s employment agency? He’s arranging jobs in the executive branch for under qualified candidates, such as his brother-in-law, according to Politico.
The JACK Act, bipartisan legislation that would requires lobbyists to disclose prior convictions, was enacted by both chambers of Congress and awaits presidential signature.
GAO released a report on USASpending.gov. The takeaway? They’re doing pretty good, and could do even better. Check out the report for details like the five “key practices” for transparency in government data.
CRS published 167 reports on its website during the week ending on Dec. 19th, which brings the total count to 1,890. Here are our top picks:
Rep.-elect Ross Spano is staffing up his office despite probes by the FEC and House Ethics Committee into illegally funding his campaign.
The Ethics Committee released its report investigating outgoing Rep. Elizabeth Esty for continuing to employ her former Chief of Staff, Tony Baker, after she learned he had threatened and abused a former staffer and engaged in harassment of others. Notable in the findings was the terrible advice given to Esty by the Office of House Employment Counsel and that the Ethics Committee did not punish Esty. The Appendix makes for heartbreaking reading. Also notable: why did the Ethics committee wait until now to put out guidance on how offices should respond to harassment complaints?
The House Ethics Committee is expanding its inquiry into Rep. David Schweikert to include additional allegations based on OCE’s new referral. The new charges include whether Schweikert used official resources or pushed staff to perform political activities, and more.
The House Ethics inquiry into Rep. Rod Blum for potential misuse of House resources to support a business endeavor will be cut short when Blum leaves office in January, whether the inquiry is finished or not. Blum is accused of misusing official House resources to support a business endeavor. This is yet another example of a member leaving office before ethics can reach a determination on misconduct.
Longtime Senate Intelligence Committee aide, James Wolfe, was sentenced to two months in prison for lying to FBI agents about contact with reporters during a leak investigation.
Rep. Grijalva has been cleared of any wrongdoing for reaching a settlement with a former female staffer who accused him of being drunk on the job. Both OCE and the House Committee on Ethics voted to dismiss the allegations. Given the publicity of the charges, this exoneration should get more attention.
ODDS & ENDS
House Leadership presented the McCormack Award to Hugh Halpern, Bernie Raimo, and Austin Smythe earlier this month. The award recognizes long-time House employees who displayed dedication to bipartisanship. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Hugh over the years and will miss working with him. Here he is in a panel discussion from the 112th Congress on opening up the House.
Here are the ethics rules for Members’ swearing in ceremonies.
Who knew lawmakers were good for more than just legislating?
— Future Minority Whip, Rep. Scalise, has an online cooking show with his roommates (who also serve in Congress).
— Crooning Crowley strikes again: you can watch the outgoing Congressman performing at his going away party in this video, and yes that’s Nancy Pelosi singing along in the front row.
22 Images that defined Congress in 2018 via Roll Call.
Lawmakers return to Capitol Hill on January 3rd to start the 116th Congress, and may be back sooner to vote on appropriations bills. For more information check out the 2019 House and Senate calendars.