Forecast for September 16, 2019.

IN BRIEF
We’re in for another busy week and this week’s First Branch Forecast is more wonky than usual.

Here are the highlights:

• Senate appropriators allocated less money for leg branch than their House counterparts, setting up the need to reconcile funding levels. The process in the Senate was unusually partisan.

• Constitution Day is Tuesday, and Sens. Portman and King are trying to make CRS’s legal treatise on the Constitution more easily available to everyone.

• Ambiguity over impeachment may be harming congressional oversight.

• Among the interesting hearings this week are ones on fixing Congress’s spending process, celebrating CIGIE, and making DC a state.

WHY WE CAN’T HAVE NICE THINGS
Leg branch allocations
. Senate Appropriators adopted 302(b) allocations by a party line vote this week, including $5.092 billion for leg branch. House Appropriators adopted a $5.160 billion allocation in May (of which $1.067 billion is anticipated for the Senate). The House would allocate $68 million more than the Senate, and the two chambers must reconcile their numbers.

For context, total non-defense non-mandatory spending will increase by $24.5 billion, or 75 times the total amount the House proposed increasing leg branch funding (it’s 95 times what the Senate has proposed). The House would increase leg branch funding by 6.7% and the Senate would increase funding by a mere 5.3% — our numbers don’t account for inflation, which would lower these percentages. The increase in leg branch funding is in line with the non-defense non-discretionary percentage increase, but there’s a big BUT (and it does not lie).

Funding for the legislative branch has suffered tremendously in recent years. While the amount of non-defense non-discretionary spending increased by 5.97% from 2012 to 2019, the percentage for the legislative branch decreased from 0.85% to 0.81% over the same time. Are you eyes glazing over? We spent billions more on other federal agencies and millions less on Congress, adjusted for inflation. Here’s where the money goes.

More money requested. Last Monday, a bipartisan coalition urged Senate appropriators to increase spending on the legislative branch by $300 million, or roughly 1% of the new non-defense non-mandatory spending, to pay for congressional modernization, address crumbling infrastructure, and reverse the decline in congressional expertise in science and technology. Neither the Senate nor the House numbers are sufficient to fix the Congressional funding gap.

Making matters worse are where Congress spends its money. For example, a House Administration Committee hearing last week covered how the Cannon House Office Building renovation is expected to go $100 million over budget, costing $866 million in total. Even spread out over multiple years, this is a significant percentage of the leg branch’s comparatively tiny $5 billion budget.

Nota bene. It’s very hard to do the above calculations in part because there’s no comprehensive resource of allotment data. If you know of one — we tried to build one here — or catch a math error, please let us know.

 

CONSTITUTION DAY
September 17
 is Constitution Day, commemorating the signing of the U.S. Constitution in Philadelphia in 1787. For 11 years, we have celebrated Constitution Day by calling on the Library of Congress to publish the Constitution Annotated — a legal treatise written by the Congressional Research Service that explains the U.S. Constitution as it has been interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court — in a user-friendly form. We expect to publish another blogpost tomorrow.

But Sens. Portman and King beat us to the internets and published this joint letter to the Librarian of Congress last week. “We write to encourage you to modernize how the Library of Congress makes the Constitution Annotated available to the public.” They go on: “We urge you to publish the Constitution Annotated to the public in the same manner it is made available to Congress – as a series of web pages that are continually updated and viewable on multiple devices. In addition, we ask that you consider publishing the Constitution Annotated to the public as a continuously updated structured data file, such as the XML format in which it is prepared.”

We have heard rumblings that the Library of Congress is working on it. Stay tuned.

 

[SPENDING] BILLS, BILLS, BILLS
On the House side, Majority Leader Hoyer
 announced the chamber will take up a continuing resolution (CR) this week to extend funding through late November. Thanksgiving, anyone? The House passed 10 of its 12 spending bills earlier this year, but several may have to be reworked to fit in the confines of the top line spending caps set in August. The Leg Branch bill (which had some fantastic provisions) was put on hold over proposed cost-of-living-adjustments to members’ salaries.

On the Senate side, appropriators began marking up spending bills. Defense and Energy bills moved forward but the State and Foreign Ops. bill was postponed as was the Labor/HHS/Education bill (over abortion policy). Majority Leader McConnell says he wants to move as many of the regular appropriations bills as possible before turning to CRs; Appropriations Chair Shelby is in favor of CRs that extend funding through late November.

On deck: House appropriators are holding several oversight hearings and as early as today the House will consider a CR. In the Senate appropriators are holding subcommittee markups for the Military Construction/VA bill and the Transportation/HUD bill on Tuesday.

 

CONGRESS VS. THE EXECUTIVE BRANCH
What’s in a name? Last week the House Judiciary committee 
voted along party lines to approve an investigation to determine whether the committee should recommend articles of impeachment. This Washington Post article lays out which issues the committee may investigate.

Judiciary Chairman Nadler has said it doesn’t matter what name is given to the effort but Speaker Pelosi appears to disagree. (The Justice Department is citing Pelosi’s statement in an effort to undermine congressional efforts to obtain Mueller-related info.) As the Daily Beast puts it, “Pelosi and the moderates already know that the man [Trump] obstructed justice, abuses power every day, and is clearly unfit for office,” yet they continue to push back. Why? Fear about upcoming elections. I had always thought the elections were a referendum on the president….

Speaking of abusing power, House oversight will no longer be allowed to visit an executive branch agency it’s overseeing (Interior); D’s believe the move is a proxy fight for larger tensions between the subcommittee chair and DOI Secretary Bernhardt, NBC reports.

Senate Minority Leader Schumer says he will force a vote to terminate Trump’s national emergency declaration at the border. Congress has the power to vote on an emergency every 6 months after the initial declaration; the last vote was in March when 59 senators (including 12 Republicans) voted to terminate the emergency. Senators have also asked GAO to look into the issue; the leg branch watchdog says it will be able to take up an investigation of the border wall in 3 months.

Sometimes you should copy off your neighbor: Current and former MPs in the UK are calling for Speaker nominees to produce plans to address bullying & harassment in parliament. Our neighbors across the pond published a report on the effectiveness of the select committee system (check out the sparknotes here).

Last Congress, members introduced fewer than half as many bills as they did in 1990; are schedule changes to blame? An APSA task force has some thoughts on the issue. (I wonder whether this is the right question, fwiw.)

 

DATA ACCESS
A court decision from the 9th circuit 
held that it’s legal to scrape public websites. For those of us who regularly scrape public websites and live on the west coast, this is good news. Check out all the docs related to the case on RECAP here.

The National Archives has some thoughts on how to leverage technology in FOIA searches.

On October 30th, the Data Coalition is hosting a policy summit GovDATAx that will bridge the silos of government data. RSVP here.

 

ODDS & ENDS
The GAO launched a new unit to prepare Congress for the future, launching it with a conference on critical issues facing lawmakers.

The Congressional Management Foundation recently opened nominations for the (third annual) Democracy Awards, which recognize exemplary public service in Congress. Nominate someone here.

The House Freedom Caucus elected Rep. Andy Biggs to replace Rep. Mark Meadows as Chairman.

The Growth of Capitol Hill. This neat AOC video shows the growth of Capitol Hill.

North Carolina’s 9th district elected Republican and Trump loyalist Dan Bishop last week. The previous Republican candidate illegally collected and in some cases filled out absentee ballots for voters.

Israel was caught planting stingrays near the White House. Next time you’re in the Longworth cafeteria, take a look around.

 

CALENDAR
Tuesday

• House Judiciary has a hearing on Presidential Obstruction of Justice and Abuse of Power at 1 in Rayburn 2141. Stream it here.

Wednesday

• The Committee on House Administration has an oversight hearing of the Smithsonian Institution at 9 in Longworth 1310. Stream it here.

• House Judiciary has an oversight hearing on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and section 215 at 10 in Rayburn 2141. Stream it here.

• House Oversight is holding an Overseeing the Overseers” hearing on CIGIE 10 years in in Rayburn 2154 at 2.

Thursday

• The Fix Congress Committee will hold a hearing on Recommendations for Improving the Budget and Appropriations Process at 10 in Rayburn 2359.

• House Oversight is having a DC statehood hearing at 10 in Rayburn 2154.

Down The Line

• Thursday, October 10th from 2-4, GPO is hosting a celebration for the 10th anniversary of the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS). RSVP to OGIS Deputy Director Martha Murphy at Martha.Murphy@nara.gov.

• UMD is hosting a conference on The Organizational Climate of Congress” October 24th & 25th; you can RSVP here.

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