Forecast for May 6, 2019. So It’s Finally Time for Infrastructure Week?

BIG PICTURE: SPENDING ON THE HOUSE

House Leg Branch Approps Subcommittee favorably reported its FY 2020 approps bill that contains a ton of great provisions. Oddly, Republican members spoke favorably about the bill during the proceedings even as they voted against it, suggesting that their opposition had to do with political concerns unrelated to the work of the subcommittee. (This is not uncommon.) Appropriators do not release the bill’s committee report until 24 hours before the full committee markup, and based on our experience there’s probably a number of additional good provisions in that text.

We ran the numbers and compared each line item against what Congress has appropriated over the last 25 years. (You can view our spreadsheet here.) We will highlight a few important items later on, but let’s not miss the trees for the forest:

There’s still not enough money for Congress. The proposed overall increase for the House of Representatives is well below the proposed increase in non-defense appropriations. It also fails to redress the massive cuts to the leg branch over previous decades. Let’s put this in context, comparing FY 2012 against FY 2019 (i.e., current year). Over that time, non-defense appropriations in general have increased by $35.6 billion, or roughly 6 percent (adjusting for inflation). However, non-defense appropriations for the legislative branch have decreased by $94 million, reducing its overall percentage of non-defense appropriations spending from 0.85% to 0.81%.

The proposed FY 2020 Leg Branch Budget continues to disadvantage Congress. House Democratic leadership has proposed a 5.7% increase in non-defense appropriations but only a 3.6% increase increase for legislative branch appropriations. In other words, overall non-defense spending is proposed to go from $597 billion in FY 2019 to $631 billion in FY 2020 to $646 billion in FY 20201, but the House is expected to get a comparatively frugal $135 million, or one-third of one percent of the proposed increase in appropriations.

Let’s look at individual items. The last time Democrats controlled Congress, in FY 2011, the House allocated $660 million to the Member Representational Account (not adjusted for inflation). The proposed funding for the MRAs for FY 2020 is $602 million — $58 million less, not accounting for inflation. Funding for special, standing, and select committees in FY 2011 was $139 million (not adjusted for inflation). The proposal for FY 2020 is $133 million — $6 million less, not accounting for inflation. Overall spending on the House of Representatives for salaries and expenses in FY 2011 was $1,369 billion (unadjusted for inflation). The top line budget for FY 2020 is $1,331 billion — $238 million less, not accounting for inflation.

The decision to shortchange the House was not Chairman Ryan’s. In our opinion, he and his colleagues did an excellent job of reflecting important priorities in the House legislative branch approps bill. Rather, the subcommittee must follow the top line number that is provisionally set by full committee Chair Lowey and Speaker Pelosi. The vote to approve that number will happen this Wednesday at 10:30 in the full Appropriations Committee. We can only hope that there’s discussion around adding an additional $300m to leg branch — bringing it up to a 10% increase over the FY 2019 numbers— to be drawn out of the proposed $34 billion increase in appropriations to try to start to reinvest in Congress. That would be slightly more than 1% of the proposed increase.

IN FOCUS: SPENDING ON THE HOUSE

Sorry about all the detail below. The short version is that there’s more money for House operations, modest increases for personal and support offices, and significant increases for leadership operations.

• Biggest spending increases in real terms: The House increased the overall MRA by $28m (+5%); the Library of Congress by $27m (+5.6%); the GAO by $25.8m (+4.3%); House officers and employees by $23m (+10.6%); Library Building and Grounds by $18m (+26%); the CAO by $14m (+10%); the AOC by $10.7m (+10.3%); and committee employees by $5m (+4%).

• Biggest percentage increases: Member transition activities got a 50% increase (+$1.5m); Library Building and Grounds got a 26% increase (+$18.3m); the Sergeant at Arms got 17.5% (+$3.3m); the Democratic Caucus got 16% (+$284k); Capitol Grounds got 15% (+$2.5m); Social Security/employee benefits got 14% (+$31.8m); the Clerk got 12% (+$3.4m); and multiple leadership offices got 12% — House Leadership offices (+$3m), Minority Leader (+$930k), Minority Whip (+203k), Minority Leader (+$312k), Speaker (+$840k), Majority Whip ($258k). GPO got 11.7% (+704k); House Officers and Employees got 10.6% ($23m); AOC general administration got 10.3% (+$10m); the Republican Conference got 10% (+10m).

• Biggest cuts: the Congressional Research Service -4.6% (-$5.8m), although they get an offset through another mechanism; a subset of the Capitol Police (which got an overall increase); the Capitol Power plant at -10% (-$11.5m); House Office Buildings at -18% (-$33m).

• New items: Leadership office intern allowance was created at $365k, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion was created at $1m, the Office of Whistleblower Ombudsman was funded at $750k, and the Office of Technology was funded at $6m (more below). There was also a significant increase in the personal office intern allowance to $11m (+25%). It’s notable there’s no allowance for committee interns.

 $6m for the Office of Technology Assessment: “In the ecosystem of Congressional support agencies CRS summarizes; GAO evaluates; and the OTA anticipates,” Reps. Takano and Casten wrote in an op-ed last week. OTA would provide more accurate information to help lawmakers crafting major legislation on issues like climate change and biotechnology.

The bill also contains language allowing DACA recipients to work for Congress.

Chairman Ryan, Ranking Member Herrera Beutler, member of the House leg branch approps committee, and staff obviously did a tremendous amount of work to get the bill into good shape and the positive results are apparent to everyone.

WHAT’S NEXT ON APPROPS?

A markup? We had thought that House appropriators would hold a full committee markup of the leg branch bill this week, but it has not yet been announced. There will be a vote in the full committee on the 302b allocations on Wednesday — the amount of money that goes to each subcommittee — and that will determine the top line figure for leg branch. Regardless of when the full committee meets, expect the committee report to be published online 24 hours in advance. The legislation likely will advance to the floor the following week.

The Senate leg branch approps process usually runs about a month behind the House. That subcommittee held a spate of oversight hearings in late March/ early April, and written testimony from the public was due last Friday, so we expect they will move forward soon with a markup.

The big open question is how much non-defense funding will be available — Sen. Shelby rejected the House’s proposed $664 billion for defense and $631 billion for non-defense in fiscal year 2020 — and the House and Senate will have to reach some kind of agreement. Until and unless there’s an agreement, all this will grind to a halt.

Nota bene: Demand Progress submitted testimony to House and Senate leg branch approps.

Approps and Non-Approps Markups?

Other money matters you need to keep an eye on this week: House appropriators will hear from Interior Secretary Bernhardt on Tuesday at 3, and have a markup for the Labor, HHS, and Education spending bill Wednesday at 10:30. On the Senate side, public witness testimony is due for the CJS appropriations subcommittee on Friday. See our appropriations tracker.

House Oversight on Wednesday will mark up the White House Ethics Transparency Act, among other measures.

House Finance on Wednesday will mark up the corporate transparency act of 2019, updating the SEC organic law on the definition of a whistleblower, insider trading legislation, and more.

The House will consider a supplemental appropriations bill (for FY 2019) sometime this week. Among other things, it provides $10m for GAO audits and investigations related to the various hurricanes and other natural disasters.

THE FIX CONGRESS COMMITTEE invited former lawmakers to testify last week. Former Reps. Tom Davis, Vic Fazio, Martin Frost, Reid Ribble, Tim Roemer, and Illeana Ros-Lehtinen offered their two-cents to the committee.

The committee has clearly put its goal of improving the institution ahead of partisanship: the mood in the hearing was congenial, committee staff have a unified twitter account, members sat alternating by party instead of Democratic lawmakers on one side of the dias and Republicans on the other, and witnesses were seated alphabetically instead of by party.

Here are the main points of conversation:

The cap on staff pay is hurting the institution: Career staffers have invaluable institutional knowledge and have the historical knowledge necessary for good policy making; when a staffer leaves (prompted in part by inadequate pay), they take that knowledge with them. Many of those staff end up on K street, which means that lobbyists and special interests have money and insight that Congress can’t compete with.

Congressional calendar conflicts: Members discussed a 2 week legislative period in DC where lawmakers stay over the weekend and work Monday through Friday followed by 2 weeks in members’ home districts. Rep. Pocan lamented he spends a full day a week traveling to his home state of Wisconsin and another full day traveling back to DC, and we’re sure he’s not alone. Less time spent traveling means more time legislating. Lawmakers also proposed a block schedule of holding votes on certain days and doing committee work on other days to avoid conflicts that can cause members to have to choose between questioning a witness and casting a vote. We’d like M-W-F for floor votes and Tuesdays/Thursday for committee business.

Power is unduly concentrated in leadership’s hands: Former Rep. Ribble commented that legislation was driven by leadership and committee chairs, not rank and file members and noted that regular order had become a talking point in his opening statement.

RAISING THE BARR ON EXECUTIVE POWERS

AG Barr ignored a congressional subpoena and lied to the Senate. Politico suggests Barr is motivating by promoting a unitary executive, which comes at the expense of congressional control.

For the House Judiciary Committee to remain a viable political body, it must reach an agreement with Barr to get the info it needs, hold him in contempt, or force the information out. It’s not uncommon for Congress to have trouble getting information out of the executive branch, although there’s a road map for resolution from an unlikely source: the Benghazi Committee. Yes, that’s right, the Benghazi Committee has concrete recommendations on restoring the congressional contempt power. (We round up the major proposals we’ve seen here.)

The fight to impeach Barr is a distraction from the fight to impeach Trump. It’s not to say that it’s wrong to go after Barr — he does not belong in office — but rather that the focus on Barr is being ratcheted up by Democratic leadership as a means to focus attention away from the underlying problem: Trump. This is in significant part because Democratic leadership in the House is unwilling to “go there.” It’s that reluctance that has and continues to empower presidential overreach.

SECURITY & SURVEILLANCE

A DC Circuit Court rejected CREW’S “reading room” claim for OLC opinions. See our testimony on OLC.

Capitol Police Chief Verderosa will retire on May 31st. His tenure coincided with an uptick in internal complaints according to USCP reports, based on the incomplete data we’ve been able to pry out of USCP. There are also rising concerns about mission creep at the department with arrests occurring past eastern market and NOMA; the department’s jurisdiction was expanded in 1992 after a young staffer working for Senator Shelby was tragically murdered. See the recent USCP weekly arrest data.

Stephen Taubert was sentenced to 46 months in prison for three felony counts of placing menacing (aka racist and threatening) phone calls to black Democratic leaders including Obama and Rep. Maxine Waters. The man who said he would attend every one of Waters’s public events, threatening to kill her and every member of her staff, also called a Capitol Police officer ‘n—-r boy’ 30 times during an interview. (There’s a video of this.) Here is the government’s sentencing memo and the defendant’s memo. Court Listener has the docket.

QUICK HITS

The Ethics Committee put out a memo on fundraising rules for staff and members. It includes a new simplified process for requesting waivers to exempt individuals from those rules.

KTM has an excellent summary of the Ethics Committee’s reauthorization of investigations into Reps. Collins, Hunter, and Schweikert. The Ethics Committee named subcommittees to investigate Collins and Hunter and said it will defer investigations pending prosecutions in New York and California. Schweikert’s investigation will go forward. We still think that members who resign from Congress prior to the conclusion of an inquiry should be permanently barred from access to the House floor and gym unless the House votes to restore it.

An advocate with late stage ALS testified before Congress using text to speech tools for his testimony. The tech has only been used in Congress a few times: an entrepreneur who helped create it used it to testify twice in the 80s to show off the automation and ALS patient Eric Obermann used similar technology to testify before the Senate in 2005.

There’s a new space dedicated for journalists in Rayburn across from the cafeteria; it’s replacing “one that served as both time capsule and workspace”. Anyone wanna give us a tour?

EPIC’s case for the release of the unredacted Mueller Report is moving forward.

Senator Enzi is retiring.