Forecast for June 17, 2019.

CONGRESS IN BRIEF

• Congress’s staff retention and diversity issues will be the subject of a Fix Congress committee hearing on Thursday.

• The Congressional Research Service will be subject to a rare (and much needed) oversight hearing before the House Administration Committee on Thursday. It’s time to re-read Kevin Kosar’s “Why I Quit the Congressional Research Service.”

• Approps on the floor. The House is expected to finish consideration of its first approps minibus (Labor, HHS, Ed, Defense, State, Foreign Ops, Energy & Water — i.e. H.R. 2740) sans Leg Branch Approps on Tuesday, and start consideration of its second approps minibus (CJS, Ag, FDA, Interior, Environment, MilCon, Veterans, T-HUD — i.e. H.R. 3055) the same day. You can probably expect a lot of Roll Call votes. What’s going to happen to Leg Branch? Um.

• House amendments approved by bipartisan majorities were at 4% last Congressnow they’re at 40%.

• ICYMI: The House announced its Whistleblower Ombudsman job vacancy; a new-ish app uses facial recognition to identify members of Congress (Unmask); Leg Branch Industry Day at the Capitol is set for June 27; the Senate post office facilities are upgrading their CCTV surveillance system of 37 cameras: anyone know what “intelligent video analytics” means?

 

WHAT’S APPROPS, DOC?

The House Approps Committee approved their 12th and final spending bill last week: Financial Services and General Government (FSGG). The bill and its accompanying report contain important transparency provisions: a list of all IG reports in one central spot (page 32); a database of White House visitor logs (page 30); encouraging live video/audio of Supreme Court arguments (page 38); transparency around vendor and grant contracts at USASpending (page 17); a provision for OMB to create an online budget repository of congressional budget justifications (page 31); and more.

Meanwhile, in the Senate, appropriators haven’t started markups. Senators “opted to wait until they strike a deal on overall spending levels.” House Dems have the upper hand politically, tying spending increases to an increase in the debt limit. If the Senate dithers too long, some Republicans will call for the cancelling of August recess, which would make me very, very cranky.

Members who assailed the cost of living increase should be ashamed of themselves, but they succeeded in derailing the Leg Branch Approps bill over a dispute concerning less than $2m in spending. Cost of Living adjustments for members of Congress are like vaccines: they can hurt a little bit, but they prevent bigger problems — and we have much bigger problems. (Related reading in the Wall Street Journalthe New York TimesBloombergand Politico.)

This debate is tied to questions about Congressional capacity, and there’s a conservative case to be made for restoring Congress. Zach Graves and Kevin Kosar argue Gingrich’s budget cuts in the 90’s didn’t reduce the size of government, but instead created an imbalance of power. A weaker Congress can’t act as a check on the executive. A weaker Congress also can’t rely on internal expertise and instead has to turn to biased sources like K street.

One solution to this problem? (Besides more money, of course — ) Bring back the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) and invest in congressional IT infrastructure. OTA has gotten funding in the House, so now it’s up to the Senate to decide whether the think tank will be revived. Kevin Kosar has a great explainer of how OTA operated.

 

THE FIRST RULE OF HOLES — STOP DIGGING

In the absence of sufficient funding, Congress is looking to other means to get it mojo back —

(1) Drafting legislation: Sens. Paul and Wyden introduced the REPUBLIC Act to rein in presidential national emergency powers. This would restore the presumption of warmaking to Congress.

(2) Rebuking Trump on a bipartisan basis, re: arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

(3) Passing resolutions to strengthen contempt powers: the House voted to give the Judiciary Committee the power to take Trump officials to court quickly in response to Trump’s “oppose-all-the-subpoenas” strategy, although some wonder whether Congress should rely on its inherent contempt powers instead. Key language: “a vote of the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group to authorize litigation and to articulate the institutional position of the House in that litigation is the equivalent of a vote of the full House of Representatives.” (Incidentally, we think the BLAG should be more transparent.)

(4) Holding officials in contempt: House oversight voted to hold AG Barr and Sec. Ross in contempt last week after Trump tried to exert exec privilege over materials related to the citizenship question. (Sidebar: wtf!) Rep. Justin Amash,who recently left the Freedom Caucus, sided with Congress over the Executive Branch (and thereby crossed party lines) to vote in favor of contempt.

We’re skipping impeachment talk this week, instead check the LA Times’s profile on Rep. Zoe Lofgren’s interesting and thoughtful perspective on impeachment. She was on the Hill for both the Nixon and Clinton administrations.

 

A LITTLE HELP FROM OUR FRIENDS

Foreign oppo is a no-no for candidates, according to FEC Chair Ellen Weintraub.

“If lobbyists or public-relations firms are peddling policy preferences at the behest of foreign powers, we ought to know about it,” Senator Grassley told the WSJ. He reintroduced bipartisan FARA reform bill. (See our recs).

The House Armed Services Committee marked up the National Defense Authorization Act last week. More than 24 hours after passing the bill though, amendments and roll call votes still weren’t publicly available, in apparent violation of House rules.

 

ETHICS

Did Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao give her husband Mitch McConnell preferential treatment for federal transportation grants? Dems want to investigate but fear that Chao will retaliate.

Rep. Duncan Hunter’s wife Margaret changed her plea to guilty on using more than $200k in campaign funds for personal use and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors against her husband.

Former chief of staff to Rep. David Schweikert, Oliver Schwab, attended the Superbowl as part of a taxpayer-funded trip, violating outside earned income limitations, and used the MRA for unauthorized purposes, according to an Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) report. OCE also says that 14 witnesses (including Rep. Schweikert) refused to cooperate with the interview, and recommended issuing subpoenas. (We believe OCE should be granted subpoena power).

Rep. Schweikert’s office is currently under investigation by the House Ethics Committee. Turnover in Schweikert’s office is double the House average, according to Legistorm.

 

ODDS & ENDS

What the FACA? The White House put out an EO calling for 1/3 of non-statutory federal advisory committees to be eliminated and will conduct a review to figure out which ones to axe. This seems like an attempt to limit oversight of matters under review by federal agencies.

It would help if everyone on the Hill spoke the same (computer) language.

DOJ’s OLC is actively undermining Congress and issuing unsupportable opinions.

Free press: the Intelligence Community Inspector General (ICIG) floated the idea of using subpoenas to compel testimony in leak investigations, according to the latest semi-annual IC IG report. This is a terrible idea. If the ICIG had this authority, which can only be granted through legislation, journalists could be compelled to testify, thereby chilling the free press.

Republicans have stymied the filling of Democratic seats in independent agencies and there doesn’t appear to be any plan to confront the problem.

Missed this month’s Congressional Transparency Caucus event? Check out the event summary and video on GPO’s legislative branch innovation hub.

Rep. Susan Brooks will not seek reelection.

 

CALENDAR

Tuesday

• Senate Judiciary Committee, Dirksen 226 at 2:30 “Keeping Congress Accountable: Term Limits In the United States

Wednesday

• Senate Judiciary Committee, Dirksen 226 at 10 “Combating Kleptocracy: Beneficial Ownership, Money Laundering, and Other Reforms

• Senate Budget Committee, Dirksen 608 at 2:30 “Fixing a Broken Budget and Spending Process: Lessons from States

Thursday

• Committee on House Administration, Longworth 1310 at 10 “Oversight of the Congressional Research Service

• House Judiciary Committee, Rayburn 2141 at 10 “Hearing: Lessons from the Mueller Report, Part II: Bipartisan Perspectives

• Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress, Rayburn 2253 at 2 “Cultivating Diversity and Improving Retention Among Congressional Staff