The House is out for August recess; the Senate has one week to go. Here’s what you need to know for the week of July 29, 2019.
SELECT COMMITTEE GRAND SLAM
The Fix Congress Committee adopted two-dozen recommendations last week and also turned their May recommendations into H. Res 526. A super-majority of the committee is required to adopt recommendations; these were adopted unanimously.
The new recommendations include restoring and updating the Office of Technology Assessment; creating a one-stop HR hub; increasing the cap on the number of allowed personal office staff; mandating cybersecurity training for members; improving member orientation; allowing newly-elected members to hire a transition staffer; leveraging bulk purchases for the House to reduce costs; paying staff bi-monthly; providing more assistance to individuals with disabilities; regularly surveying staff on ways to improve benefits, pay, and quality of life; and 14 more recommendations.
The first set of recommendations, adopted in May and now in resolution form, include the adoption of USLM for legislative documents; speeding up the legislation comparison project; making it easier to track lobbyists through unique IDs; establishing a database on the expiration of authorization for programs; and building an online database of committee roll call votes.
The committee continued to tackle IT challenges last week with a hearing on “Modernizing Legislative Information Technologies,” where state legislature witnesses shared best practices.
CONGRESS IN BRIEF
The House passed a two year agreement to raise the debt ceiling and set top line spending numbers last week, and the Senate is likely to vote on the bill before adjourning for recess. Once passed, Sen. McConnell will no longer stop Senate appropriators from holding markups and negotiating with the House over how much each appropriations subcommittee is allowed to spend — those final subcommittee numbers are known as a 302(b) allocation. The legislative branch needs a bigger slice of the pie, and it’s not just us saying so. Check out this conservative argument on how strengthening Congress can help rein in the administrative state.
The Supreme Court poked a big hole in FOIA this summer with its Argus Leader decision; now Sens. Leay, Grassley, Cornyn, and Feinstein are trying to fix it. The bipartisan group introduced the Open and Responsive Government Act (S. 2220) which, if enacted, will restore the corporate information exemption to only cover information that will cause substantial harm if released.
Asking a county election IT employee to fight Russia’s cyber army is like “ask[ing] a local sheriff to go to war against the missiles, planes and tanks of the Russian Army.” In no uncertain terms in SSCI’s report on Russian interference in state election systems, Sen. Wyden says it’s up to Congress to secure American elections (PDF).
A newly enacted House rule bans members and employees of the House from serving on the board of public companies and directs the Ethics Committee to draft regulations on other prohibited services or positions that could lead to outside conflicts of interest. The panel tasked with drafting the rule invited some outside experts to testify. Read written testimony from Issue One, GovTrack, Public Citizen, CLC, or CREW or watch it here. Our comment on congressional fellows paid by outside entities is here.
GPO is struggling: it has an acting director, many vacant spots on its leadership team, and an insufficiently fire-walled IG, according to last week’s Senate Rules Committee oversight hearing of the GPO IG. Unlike at most other agencies, GPO’s head can fire the IG at will; doesn’t have to give any notice for the firing; and the IG’s salary is set by agency leadership. In our opinion, this creates an unhealthy environment and creates problems like this one. More here.
ODDS & ENDS
When will House Dems update their caucus rules? The caucus was initially expected to update its rules by February 15, including making them publicly available in response to 3 letters (Jan. 31, Feb. 7, April 10) and implementing a deal putting term limits on Speaker Pelosi and perhaps other Dem caucus leaders. Roll Call’s Lindsey McPherson reports that Rep. Perlmutter has not only stopped pushing for leadership term limits, but said he was personally inclined to drop it and never bring it up. The working group, chaired by Rep. Meng, plans to meet again in September to discuss another caucus rule proposal concerning how staff are interviewed. We published recommendations in April on how the caucus should update its rules.
The Senate Judiciary committee couldn’t vote on a (bad) asylum bill because only one Democrat (Sen. Feinstein) attended the meeting. In response, Chairman Graham threatened to change committee rules so the panel can vote with fewer than 2 minority members present.
There are now 100 Dems who say it’s time for impeachment. Here’s the how-to guide from CRS. Is the House already conducting impeachment proceedings? Doesn’t seem like it, does it?
#Senioritis: Check out the House Press Gallery’s ‘casualty list’ to see which members aren’t running for reelection or otherwise have departed the chamber. Based on retirement announcements, it looks like Republican women in Congress are going extinct, composing 6% of House Republicans.
Trump vetoed the Senate resolution disapproving of arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other countries. The chamber will hold a veto override vote today.
Trump is continuing his racists attacks on members of the House of Representatives, this time it’s Rep. Cummings. These types of attacks are a typical divide-and-conquer approach from autocrats who seek to distract attention from other matters, like impeachment proceedings and child separation at concentration camps, and shore up their political base.
WORTH THE READ
The Office of Congressional Ethics put out its quarterly report. More than 2,300 citizens have contacted the office this year.
Apply to be a 2020 Congressional Innovation Tech Fellow by August 19.