IT WILL COST BILLIONS to keep the Congress from literally (physically) falling apart, the acting Architect of the Capitol explained at an appropriations hearing last week. Read this round-up (with a nifty chart!) of the four legislative branch appropriations hearings on GAO, GPO, AOC, and CBO. One big take-away: if the House is going to modernize — or even keep things barely scraping along — appropriators must significantly increase the size of the appropriations pie going to Leg Branch. The original AOC is asking for a $100m bump this year. (There’s more in the blog, such as on IC oversight.)
The next budget fight is all cued up, as the Treasury is already taking extraordinary measures to pay the bills, with the tick-tick-tick-boom set to explode in September, just in time for the new fiscal year. Does anyone wanna talk about spending caps?
The House Budget Committee is starting to put together the FY 2020 budget resolution, although news coverage right now is about intramural skirmishes. As you know, the resolution will make a pot of money available to appropriators, and then they decide how to divy it up among the subcommittees. Just for fun, I looked at discretionary approps spending over the last decade. The results are not encouraging.
The amount of money spent by appropriators is up 10 percent over the last decade (adjusted for inflation), with State & Foreign Ops (+23.7%), Defense (+16%), and Homeland Security (+15.8%) taking the biggest percentage of plus-ups and the lion’s share of funding. By lion’s share, I mean 60 percent of the funding, or $786B of the $1.329T. Who were the biggest losers? Financial Services & General Government (-10.3%), CJS (-7.8%), and — you guessed it — Leg Branch (-7%).
No earmarks for you. Approps chair Lowey released a letter on Friday that rules out the return of earmarks unless there is a bipartisan, bicameral agreement to bring them back. Earmarks never really went away, of course, but became nearmarks, lettermarks, fauxmarks, and the like. Lowey is signaling that Dems would bring back earmarks if Republicans promise not to attack them.
The Library of Congress will have its time in the spotlight this Thursday at 9:15. Who’s excited? I’ll be listening very closely about whether the Library feels it is meeting the needs of Congress, whether it will fix the implementation of the new committee schedule website (which doesn’t let you see at a glance all the hearings for the week, including the name of the hearing and the witnesses), how it will finish the delayed implementation of the new CRS reports website, and whether the Library will talk with civil society about improving access to information. Looks like only the Librarian is testifying; past years have seen the CRS Director and others.
By the way, if a member wants to testify on Leg Branch, the instructions are now up, with a deadline of March 28. Similarly, written testimony for FSGG is due today. We note with favor that at least 3 House approps subcommittees so far will or have held public witness days (Energy & Water, State & Foreign Ops, and Interior). And 2 members of the Supreme Court will testify on Wednesdayconcerning the Court’s budget.
We built an approps twitter bot. It’s in beta, and you can check it out here and tell us what you think.
PARTY OR COUNTRY? I don’t really like writing about electoral politics in this newsletter, but the Washington Post had an insightful column on a new study by my old political science professor, Alan Abramowitz. His research found that, when it comes to the general election, people are voting based on who they want to control the chamber, not the ideology of the candidate. In other words, a liberal or a moderate will do equally well in the general election, and all that matters is your brand as a D or an R. “It doesn’t do you any good to position yourself in the center in hopes that that’s going to attract more votes from the other party. It just doesn’t seem to work.”
Obviously, this historically has not been true, and it has all sorts of interesting implications. It doesn’t mean gridlock, however, as James Wallner explains. The next opportunity to see this play out will be in the House on the “motion to recommit,” where Republicans successfully picked up Democratic votes to weaken a gun control measure.
Pelosi is urging Democrats to uniformly oppose these motions while Reps. Hoyer and Clyburn have supported some defections. This is a double-edged sword for rank-and-file Democrats, because what can be used to keep down Republicans can also be used to force them to agree to measures not to their liking. The ability to vote no (or yes!) empowers members to exact a price. This short history of the MTR is worth a skim. As is this long report from the Congressional Institute. For now, it appears Dems will forebear from changing the rules and will try to change culture instead.
Senate Republicans appear to have no such compunction, having just confirmed the first federal appellate judge — Eric Miller — without the approval of either home state senator. The Blue Slip has become a thing of the past. Let’s put this in historical context.
It’s not all doom and gloom as thirteen House Republicans supported a House resolution negating Trump’s invocation of a national emergency for the border wall. News reports described the reps as “defecting,” which is a terrible way to describe members defending Congress’s role as a co-equal branch of government and pushing back on a power grab by the executive branch. LegBranch has more on the National Emergencies Act of 1976, which was intended to protect Congress’s prerogatives against presidential overreach.
IN PARTY POLITICS, Politico profiles Ben Ray Lujan as in line for the throne, and it’s been 23 days since Chairman Jeffries said he’d bring to the caucus the question of publishing the caucus rules. We’re still waiting.
FOR YOUR WEEKLY GROSS OUT, Swiss drugmaker Novartis tried to pay former Trump attorney Michael Cohen $1.2 million to lobby on its behalf. The telecom industry hosted a fundraiser for Sen. Roger Wicker the night before he presided over a hearing on data privacy. Disgraced-but-still-in-office Rep. Duncan Hunter’s legal defense fund is being financed by top defense contractor executives — Hunter had sat on House Armed Services committee. And Rep. Matt Gaetz, who flagrantly tried to intimidate a witness before Congress, is under investigation by the Florida Bar. How long until OCE or the Ethics Committee gets into the act? (Seriously, how long?)
85% of Pentagon whistleblowers suffer retaliation for coming forward — 350 substantiated allegations of retaliation against 195 people. This information was buried on pages 62 & 64 of this IG report. (H/T John Donnelly)
THE US CAPITOL POLICE had a bad week, as a(nother) Capitol Police officer left his (or her) service weapon unattended on the Capitol campus last week. This Glock 22 doesn’t have a safety that can be turned on and off. Unrelatedly, a federal court ordered a(nother) officer fired for misconduct to be reinstated.
We finally got a response from the USCP to our letter asking for information about arrests. What’d we learn? “Not all USCP arrests result in publicly-available reports.” Huh, ok, interesting. I wonder if those arrests are being noted in the weekly arrest summaries. What reports are available? “Event/incident reports and traffic collision reports.” I have no idea what counts as an “event/incident” report and what that excludes. How do the public reports overlap with the weekly arrest summaries? No idea. But for each “available report,” whatever that is, you can request it by filling out form CP-1439, which is now magically available on the USCP’s weekly arrest page. (It wasn’t previously). It takes a minimum of 7-10 days (!!!) to process. Apparently, you find out if it’s a public report after you request it. Guess what we’re doing next?
ON TRANSPARENCY AND ACCOUNTABILITY, GAO will discuss its High Risk Report on Wednesday; we urged HSGAC to move forward on the House-passed Presidential Library Donation Reform Act; Rep. Bill Pascrell suggestedWays & Means Chair Neal get a move on in obtaining Trump’s tax returns; and a Trump lawyer asked the House Judiciary committee to stop investigating Trump. I suspect it’s a hard pass on the last one.
A FEW QUICK ITEMS. HR 1 gets a floor vote this week after a markup with 40 offered amendments and multiple committee hearings. Please bring back OTA thoughtfully. Meet some new committee members. The Law Library of Congress and the EU Parliament signed a MOU on working together. And meet the pizza guy.
Join BPC tomorrow for a panel tomorrow on “How is Congress Doing?” with Fix Congress Committee Chair Derek Kilmer.
Congratulations Cheryl Johnson, the 36th Clerk of the House, and thank you to Karen Haas for your service.
Save the date for the FOIA Advisory Committee meeting on Wednesday, March 20th.
This isn’t just good, it’s grape.