Forecast for January 28, 2019. A Strange Game. The Only Winning Move Is Not To Play.


The shutdown was shut downat least for three weeks, after (we suspect) Sen. McConnell made clear to the White House that he would no longer use his position as Senate Majority Leader to block a real vote in which the majority of his party would defect. McConnell signalled this by holding two votes during which six Republicans voted for the Democratic proposal.

— McConnell and Senate Republicans tried to shift blame to the White House when they leaked the contents of their conference meeting where a few members blew up and McConnell attempted to distance himself from the shutdown.

— This is also a change in McConnell’s position, stated in the New York Times where, in response to the question “if a hypothetical shutdown-ending compromise landed on his desk that would command a veto-proof majority in both his Senate and Pelosi’s House, ending the standoff over the protests of Trump but without need of his signature, [would] he would bring it up for a vote,” he said “what you need in order to make a law is the presidential signature.”

— The Senate leaders remained unchallenged in controlling the floor agenda, as the the two Senate votes illustrated how the rank and file were unwilling to legislatively push McConnell or Schumer to end the shutdown.

— 30 House Democrats grew nervous about the Democrats’ strategy, at least enough to send this letter. Continue reading “Forecast for January 28, 2019. A Strange Game. The Only Winning Move Is Not To Play.”

How House Committees Get Their Money

(A version of this article updated for the 116th Congress is available here).

Committee funding in the House of Representatives is accomplished through a somewhat quirky process. Appropriators in 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 jointly testifies before the House Administration Committee and requests funds for their committee. For the 115th Congress, the hearings took place on February 15th and 16th, 2017. Here is the committee notice; the written statements requesting funds; and video from Feb. 15 and Feb. 16.

On March 7th, the House Administration Committee introduced a funding resolution in the House, and on March 8, the committee held a markup on House Resolution 173 that allotted funds to the committees. You can watch the very brief proceedings here. House Administration reported out the committee report a week later on March 15th, and the House passed the resolution on March 17.


What does this look like in practice? Drawing upon the excellent data in this CRS report, plus a little additional research on spending on the appropriations committee, we looked at:

  1. Total committee spending from 1995 to present
  2. The change in spending per committee from 1997 to present
  3. Spending per committee in the last Congress

What did we find? Overall, committees have significantly fewer funds available than their recent historical counterparts, which undermines their ability to do their jobs. Continue reading “How House Committees Get Their Money”

Forecast for January 22, 2019. Champagne Wishes & Caviar Dreams.


In a lengthy and insightful essay, noted Holocaust historian Christopher Browning drew ominous parallels between the destruction of the Weimar Republic by the “old right” and what’s happening today. The most gripping section is his analysis of the old Republic, but this section is striking as well:

“If the US has someone whom historians will look back on as the gravedigger of American democracy, it is Mitch McConnell. He stoked the hyperpolarization of American politics to make the Obama presidency as dysfunctional and paralyzed as he possibly could. As with parliamentary gridlock in Weimar, congressional gridlock in the US has diminished respect for democratic norms, allowing McConnell to trample them even more.”

H.R. 1. This week Sen. McConnell jibed at H.R. 1, the House Democrats’ legislation to protect voting rights, end gerrymandering, lessen the role of wealth in our political system, and improve ethical accountability for elected officials, as the “Democrat Politician Protection Act.” Long time reporter Eliza Newlin Carney explained McConnell’s position this way: “In making the case for Democrats’ bad motives… McConnell comes across as both remarkably out of touch with public sentiment and as incapable of debating the topic honestly.” Continue reading “Forecast for January 22, 2019. Champagne Wishes & Caviar Dreams.”

Forecast for January 14, 2019. Snow Day.


“Why is Congress so dumb?” Rep. Bill Pascrell’s op-ed does a masterful job of summarizing how the self-lobotomization of Congress caused a decline in congressional expertise and empowered special interests. It’s why the new House Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress is a big deal and represents an opportunity for Congress to stand up for itself. The last time the Congress looked systematically at its problems, in 1993, committee and party leaders thwarted much of the immediate progress to preserve their own power only to be thrown out at the next election. Perhaps that’s an object lesson for this go-round.

— The committee’s success depends in part on the skillfulness of its leader, Rep. Kilmer, the yet-to-be-named Republican co-chair, and remaining 10 members, all of whom must be savvy about Congress, reflect its various factions, and be able to work together and work with the gatekeepers. Another significant factor is its budget, which must support enough staff and resources for the committee to do its work and will be allocated in March by the House Admin Committee. Finally, leadership must be willing to share of some of its amassed power for the health of the institution.

— That’s not all, folks. While the select committee is one avenue for reform, it is not the only one. Last year’s House Leg Branch appropriations processput specific reforms in motion and could do so again. The House rules package contained significant process reforms and additional rules changes are just a House resolution away. And the House Admin Committee can be a force for good. Members of Congress would be wise to take advantage of all possible avenues for reform.

— On savvy staff: read this, a profile of Joe Donoghue, who spent 31 years in the Senate working for Sen. McCain. There’s shout-outs to a few other congressional institutions. Continue reading “Forecast for January 14, 2019. Snow Day.”

Forecast for January 7, 2019. All That’s Old Is New Again.


The House adopted the most transparent and open rules in my lifetime and by a huge bipartisan majority created a Select Committee on Modernizing Congress. There was a little kerfuffle over Pay-Go and a few surprise votes. More below.

The shutdown continues even as the House passed two approps bills that Sen. McConnell refused to bring to the floor. (It’s notable that the bills were available online for 72 hours!) Eight Repubs in the House voted for it and two Senate Repubs said that they would if given the chance. Dems will try again this week with stand alone bills, and accuse McConnell of being complicit in the Trump shutdown. McConnell is trying to prevent his conference from splitting, but he is creating a crisis by doing so. Senate Dems might slow things down in the Senate to increase the pressure.

House Dems introduced HR 1, a major ethics, voting rights, and campaign finance reform bill. It’s not up on, but you can read it here. The Dems had a major press event that you can watch here, and Vox has a decent summary. Continue reading “Forecast for January 7, 2019. All That’s Old Is New Again.”