Forecast for May 28, 2019. Slow-mo.

HOLD ON TO YOUR “OUT OF OFFICE” RESPONSES

• Congress doesn’t have the resources right now to take on Trump and House Dem Leadership isn’t fighting to acquire them.

• The Fix Congress Committee unanimously approved five measures to improve congressional transparency and accountability.

• Oversight wars: the military is trying to hold info back from Congress; McGahn may be held in contempt; and what about those tax returns?

• Defense spending bill amendments would assert Congress’s war powers.

• The Congressional Transparency Caucus will demo free tools for staffers to help them do their jobs next Friday, June 7th. RSVP.

 

MODERNIZING CONGRESS

The Fix Congress Committee 

unanimously approved five recommendations for improving Congress last week. They are: (1) adopt a standard for drafting and publishing legislation; (2) provide resources to finish the amendment track-changes project; (3) modernize lobbying disclosures by including a unique ID for lobbyists; (4) create a central hub for all federal agency/program reauthorization dates; and (5) create a central hub for committee votes and publish that information as data.

Vice Chair Graves noted “there’s been several special select committees over the last many years we’ve all heard about and I believe this is the first special select committee that is producing recommendations here on a rolling basis or any basis at all.” Not only are they recommendations, they are darn good ones.

The recommendations followed a hearing on making legislative information more transparent, and it’s obvious that the members engaged with the subject matter and each other. Chairman Kilmer, who is ably leading the bipartisan review, mentioned at the end of the mark-up that the transparency recommendations would later be introduced as legislation.

The only way to address intractable issues is to keep the ball moving forward, which is what the committee is doing. There’s an instructive lesson from how the civil rights movement came to Congress and made reform possible.

 

THE ROAD AHEAD

One of the biggest hurdles for Congress is insufficient funding. I published a snapshot of the landscape. This issue is in leadership’s hands, but will they act?

What is it that lawmakers don’t understand about tech? Listen to this Cato Institute podcast on the demise of the Office of Technology Assessment, and the libertarian case for bringing it back. Oh, by the way, Gingrich de-funded OTA, but 10 years later he said it was essential and wanted to find new ways to re-establish it.

 

OVERSIGHT & IMPEACHMENT

I don’t wanna write about the impeachment impasse, so I’ll just mention internal Dem politics appear to be shifting. Will Pelosi follow her party’s lead or continue on her own course?

A small step towards a big win: the CJS appropriation bill’s report language (p. 45) would require the DOJ to provide to Congress a list of all its final OLC opinions, which amount in essence to a body of secret law. Matt Glassman explains why Congress shouldn’t defer to them; and we suggest a big problem is non-disclosure of the opinions.

Does impeachment strengthen the House’s arguments for info? Lawfare explains.

What’s going on with the CRA? CRS suggests that OMB’s new Congressional Review Act guidance has “apparent changes to rulemaking procedures for statutorily designated independent regulatory agencies.” Why does this matter? “First, the requirement for IRCs to submit rules to OMB before publication could alter the relationship between the President (through OMB) and those agencies, which were statutorily designed by Congress to be at least partially independent from presidential control. Second, the memorandum could be interpreted as a new requirement for some of those agencies to engage in cost-benefit analysis.”

 

OY GEVALT

A secret Pentagon memo detailed how the DOD is planning to pull the wool over Congress’s eyes. It included providing summaries of docs instead of the docs themselves and a more political review process. The nonsense is predicated on bad-faith arguments about who leaks, which is both factually inaccurate and not their call. House Armed Services Chair Smith and Ranking Member Thornberry say the Department of Defense “is overstepping its authority by presuming to determine what warrants legislative oversight.” Yep.

Former WH Counsel McGahn likely will be held in contempt by the House Judiciary Committee for defying subpoenas.

Executive privilege isn’t mentioned in the Constitution and its legal foundation is actually relatively shaky. Judicial recognition of executive privilege didn’t happen until the 1970’s and “lacks a clear historical or textual anchor,” according to Washington Post contributor Aziz Huq.

The Senate Intelligence committee OK’d the Intelligence Authorization Act earlier this month. The bill makes it easier for intelligence community employees to report possibly illegal actions.

The House Intel committee postponed a contempt vote for AG Barr after DOJ offered to provide some info. They may want to re-think after Trump gave Barr plenary declassification approval. FAS’s Steve Aftergood helpfully pointed me to this discussion on fixing how (de)-classification works, from the Moynihan Commission’s final report.

 

THEATER OF THE ABSURD

Members vote the same regardless of whether it’s a messaging bill or could actually become law.

Senate Republicans voted to permanently ban earmarks during a closed-door caucus meeting last week. Except that it’s a Republican conference rule and earmarks happen all the time under another name.

The budget process was established nearly a half-century ago and is most notable for not working. Join R Street for a discussion on reviving responsible budgeting at “Can Budget Reform Revive the Congress?” on Thursday June 4th at 12 in Rayburn 2103.

 

ODDS & ENDS

Panelists will discuss the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and its uses against activists, journalists, and Julian Assange on Wednesday June 5th at 2 in the Capitol Visitor Center, room SVC 203-02. The panelists are Esha Bhandari (ACLU), Rama Krishnan (Knight First Amendment Institute), Gabe Rottman (Reporters Committee), and David Segal (Demand Progress). The recent Assange indictment places “U.S. Media in the Crosshairs“.

Two long time Senate employees passed away last week: Senate barber David Miles Knight, who worked on the Hill for 36 years lost his long battle with Cancer and Berner Richard Johnson III, 48, known as “Bud,” died after a verbal argument inside a Navy Yard restaurant turned physical outdoors.

Republican Fred Keller won the Pennsylvania special election last week. The seat was vacated earlier this year when GOP Rep. Tom Marino resigned 2 weeks after being reelected.

The next FOIA advisory committee meeting is happening on Thursday June 6th from 10-1 at the National Archives.

This week’s top CRS reports include a primer on the legislative process on the House floor, the effects of House Rules changes this Congress, and an explainer of OMB’s new guidance on the Congressional Review Act.

Don’t forget our approps tracker — we’re waiting for the Senate to start approps mark-ups — and the Capitol Police’s weekly arrest summary.

And nowsome music.