CONGRESS IS BACK FOR THE NEXT FOUR WEEKS.
Buckle up, it’s gonna be bumpy. The Scylla and Charybdis of our odyssey will be Appropriations and the Trump investigation(s). It’s possible that the Trump administration’s refusal to meaningfully cooperate with subpoenas and accede to requests to testify will become fused to the appropriations process, as appropriations measures can be used to pressure a recalcitrant White House.
This fusion of appropriations and oversight isn’t necessarily a bad thing.The Trump administration may want to avoid a government shutdown out of fear that a slowing economy could hurt Trump’s reelection chances, and the House is being pushed to engage in sweeping oversight. It’s more likely House Dems will use leverage over the upcoming debt ceiling default to redress imbalances in appropriations funding and use other tools to vindicate their oversight obligations, but maybe they’ll go for a two-for-one. Notably absent in news coverage of this issue is the Senate, but I’m sure they’re there … behind the scenes.
Obscured by all of this
is probably the most important question relating to a strong Congress: will Congress at last spend more money on Congress? The vote on the terribly named 302(b) suballocations, where the full Appropriations committee decides how much to give each of its subcommittees, is likely set for May 8. This is important. Continue reading “Forecast for April 29, 2019. It’s off to work we go.”
THE MUELLER REPORT IS OUT, but you knew that already.
By outsourcing the investigation to Mueller, Congress shirked its constitutional obligation to oversee the executive branch. Mueller’s investigation was narrowly scoped to prosecutable crimes arising from “the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.”
It’s Congress’s job to examine the larger issues within our political system that allowed for foreign interference in the 2016 election and the broader unlawful and destabilizing actions of the Trump administration. Congress must act as a check on the executive branch, not tip off the administration regarding ongoing investigations, a point apparently lost on the Senate Intelligence Committee chair. Continue reading “Forecast for April 22, 2019. What happens next?”
Technology staff hiring faces huge challenges, according to House Clerk Cheryl Johnson and House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving. At this past week’s House Admin hearing, both agencies said they struggle with hiring and retaining IT personnel, a topic that came up several times. The House officers identified insufficient resources to pay staff, the pay cap, and increased competition from companies like Amazon for talent. Eliminating the pay cap would be very helpful — staff currently cannot earn more than a member of Congress, whose pay has been frozen at $174k since 2009, and is $41,000 less than what an equivalent member of congress earned in 1998 (adjusted for inflation).
Chief Administrative Officer Philip Kiko proposed creating a tech innovation lab, “where Member offices will be able to test, evaluate, and share innovative tools and ideas.” One such innovative idea was raised by Rep. Susan Davis, who proposed digitizing the process of co-sponsoring bills. There are about 135,000 co-sponsorships each Congress, and the Clerk’s office spends five hours a day collecting and confirming those co-sponsors, and then inputting the names into the system. Continue reading “Forecast for April 15, 2019. First hundred days.”
AUTHORIZERS AND APPROPRIATORS
This past week House Leg Branch Approps received outside testimony from members of Congress and 18 outside witnesses, of which a dozen were in person, concerning strengthening the legislative branch.
This sets the stage for this Tuesday’s House Admin hearing on House Officer priorities for 2019 and beyond, featuring the Sergeant at Arms, the Clerk, the Chief Administrative Officer, and the House Inspector General. Hopefully there is cross-pollination between Leg Branch Approps public witness testimony and priorities for House officers. (Live stream will be here.)
Meanwhile, Senate Leg Branch Approps will hear funding requests from GAO and CBO on Wednesday. (Live stream will be here.) Use our approps tracker to see all approps witness testimony deadlines.
The big question, according to House Leg Branch Approps Chairman Ryan, is whether there’s sufficient funds for any reform ideas. Congress has long been on a starvation diet, as was noted in this recent letter from several dozen civil society organizations and former members of Congress. Continue reading “Forecast for April 8, 2019.”
ALL ABOUT THE BENJAMIN (FRANKLINS): Last week the House approved H. Res 245, which contains House Admin’s recommendations on how to allot funds amongst all the committees (except approps, which is funded separately). The upshot: flat funding for everyone, and a smaller-than-expected amount for the Fix Congress Committee. We break down the numbers and analyze them here. With an unusually large $8m reserve fund, Chairman Lofgren said she’d to work with RM Davis to reach agreement on where the money should go
How big a pie? While House Admin is dividing up what the committees will get, Demand Progress and the Lincoln Network coordinated a letter from nearly fifty civil society organizations and former members of Congress calling on appropriators in the House and Senate to increase the allocation of funds to the legislative branch appropriations subcommittee. These 302b allocations determine how much money is available to each appropriations cardinal; leg branch gets the tiniest percentage of funding and has huge, unavoidable funding challenges ahead.
Speaking of fixing Congress, the Congressional Modernization Committee held its second hearing last week, where congressional experts presented on Congress’s past reform efforts. The meeting was a rare instance on Capitol Hill where it felt like everyone was on the same team trying to solve the same problem. The hearing offered up suggestions for a path forward, some of our picks include: Continue reading “Forecast for April 1, 2019. Every Day Is April’s Fools Day.”