Forecast for July 1, 2019.

CONGRESS IN BRIEF

• Only 36 (working) days are left for Congress to pass all 12 spending bills, so why is McConnell pressing pause on the approps process? More below.

• 90% of House offices either don’t pay their interns or — more likely — failed to announce they have paid internships in job postings on their websites.

• The Bulk Data Task Force, where congressional technologists and civil society work to improve legislative data, will meet on Tuesday, July 9th at 11. Location TBA.

• The Supreme Court poked a hole in the Freedom of Information Act. A federal agency can withhold commercial and financial information from a requester merely by determining that the records fit within an expansive definition of ‘confidential’, instead of having to show as well that disclosure would cause harm to the private-sector submitter, as lower courts had held.

• PACER yourself. Sens. Portman, Wyden, Cruz, and Hirono and Reps. Quigley and Collins are trying to enable free access to court records on PACER via the Electronic Court Records Reform Act. Is it coincidence the Courts are forming an advisory committee on PACER?

• A House Ethics Committee working group wants to hear from you: submit comments by July 11th on how the rules should address conflicts of interest that arise from members of Congress and staff who sit on outside entities.

 

IRRECONCILABLE DIFFERENCES

House Dems (and a few Republicans) who were trying to add safeguards and humanitarian provisions to an emergency border spending bill were steamrolled last week. There’s a lot of chatter about why the Dems split, who was to blame, and I haven’t found much of it persuasive.

Why anyone in Congress would defer to this White House is beyond me, especially given what we’ve seen. Cleavages inside the parties aren’t unusual, but this analysis of what happened to America’s center of gravity suggests that the American political system is becoming more illiberal and brittle, and the “center” between the two parties has been dragged hard to the right.

Don’t look to the Supreme Court to address fix these problems. A fairly astonishing ruling held the courts have no role in redressing partisan gerrymandering, which combined with other rulings means those with the power to rig our political and electoral systems will have no remaining reason to hold back — not that there’s much evidence they have been.

 

LEGISLATIVE PROCESS

Only 9% of House offices advertised paid internships on their websites despite each office being allocated (some) money to pay interns. I can’t believe I need to say that one of the major goals of paid internships cannot be attained when people don’t know they’re available.

How do House markups work? R Street has the answers.

The Senate had the longest vote in (modern) history last Friday on a retroactive amendment to the Defense Authorization Act (which was passed Thursday) that would force Trump to get Congressional approval before intervening in Iran. Ultimately senators rejected the amendment 50-40 while providing the anti-war folks bragging rights.

The vote comes amidst ever-expanding executive power, but is that power grounded in the law? The Office of Legal Counsel’s (OLC) says Congress can’t constitutionally compel senior advisers to the president to testify. Point of Order’s Mike Stern says Congress can too, and explains at length how OLC is bootstrapping its own arguments in an entirely unpersuasive way.

Is Sen. Grassley trying to intimidate CRS into withdrawing a report on the effects of the 2017 tax act? The former Chief of Staff for the U.S. Congress’s Joint Committee on Taxation thinks so. Edward Kleinbard points to an additional instance where members of Congress intimidated CRS into withdrawing a report on the effects of tax legislation in 2012, drawing a straight line between congressional bullying of CRS and a climate of fear among CRS analysts, which was a topic of discussion at House Admin’s oversight hearing of CRSlast week.

 

MONEY, MONEY, MONEY

Majority Leader McConnell has put a shot clock on budget cap negotiations, which I’m sure isn’t thrilling Appropriations Chair Shelby in the least. Tick tock.

We’re likely going to see a squeeze play. How to avoid it? A permanent appropriations with automatic increases? — not the answer, according to Brookings’s Molly Reynolds, as it creates an incentive for Congress to avoid governing.

Meanwhile, House approps has passed 10 of the 12 spending bills for 2020, approving Financial Services (+ amendments), and a second minibus bill(covering CJS, Ag, Interior, MilCon, VA, Transportation & HUD) last week. That leaves Homeland Security & Leg Branch.

Leg Branch has been on hold ever since a revolt by some centrist Democrats who are afraid that a tough vote would hurt their re-election chances, thereby scuttled the bill over not including a provision that would have prevented modest Member cost of living adjustments to go into effect. By the way, 26 members of the Executive Office of the President earn more than Members of Congress, including John Bolton, Kellyanne Conway, Stephen Miller, and recently departed Sarah Sanders.

 

ETHICS

You’ve probably read by now about Rep. Duncan Hunter: on top of being accused of sexual harassment by a former staffer, court filings show he used campaign funds to fund at least five extramarital affairs with Hill staff and lobbyists, including one he supervised in his personal office (see p. 5). Hunter, who has “temporarily” quit his committees, blames the deep state for his woes. His wife has plead guilty.

Rep. Matt Gaetz’s behavior will be explored by a newly formed House Ethics Committee investigatory subcommittee for his refusal to comply with its inquiry into whether Gaetz attempted to intimidate congressional witnessMichael Cohen.

The House Ethics Committee appointed Reps. Susan Wild and Van Taylor to draft regulations for implementing the ban on serving as an officer or director of any public company. The rule was at least partially in response to the indictment of Rep. Chris Collins for insider trading; his trial is set for February 2020. Suggestions from the public are being accepted through July 11th.
TRANSPARENCY & TECH

The Department of Justice collects data on foreign lobbyists through a law called the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). Now DOJ has rolled out an API that provides some info as bulk data plus the site now has a full-text search function. We haven’t gotten a chance to play with it yet, but we’re not entirely optimistic. For more ways to strengthen FARA, check out our recommendationsand Sen. Grassley’s new bill.
OVERSIGHT

The VA retaliated against a whistleblower by firing her the day before she testified in a House hearing on misconduct at the department. The Office of Special Counsel (not Mueller) has blocked her firing while it reviews her case. Misconduct she reported includes removing veterans from the waitlists by scheduling fake appointments for them in an imaginary clinic, coding indigent patients as “care no longer needed,” and reporting fake numbers to Congress.

Mueller will testifying before House Judiciary and House Intel on July 17th. Just in time for recess.
LEG BRANCH AGENCIES

The White House withdrew its nominee for director of the Government Publishing Office.

Need to ask an expert? GAO has a guide for that.

The Library of Congress is hiring an Innovator-in-Residence, the job description is listed here. Applicants can email concept papers to Loc-BAA@loc.gov by July 8th.

 

ODDS & ENDS

Rep. Wild gave a moving speech on the country’s mental health crisisfollowing the death of her long time partner.

Former Rep. Meyers passed away last week at 90 years old.

Georgetown’s Beeck Center has a new report on bringing Democracy into the 21st Century.

 

CALENDAR

Congress is out this week, here’s what you can expect down the line:

Monday, July 8th, there will be a Federal Data Strategy public forum hosted by the Office of Management and Budget and the Data Coalition at the Commerce Department. RSVP by July 5th.

Tuesday, July 9th, the Bulk Data Task Force is hosting a public meeting. Location TBA.