THE TOP LINE
It’s a little off topic, but there is legislation to allow states to elect to observe daylight savings time for the duration of the year. It’s HR 1601 and has 13 co-sponsors (from both parties). Just saying.
Another continuing resolution seems almost inevitable to keep the government open beyond Thanksgiving, when the current CR runs out, and it will be interesting to see whether it is “clean.” Appropriators & Leadership don’t see eye-to-eye on how long the CR should last. Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader McConnell want a short term CR that expires at the end of the year; Senate Appropriations Chairman Shelby says a February or March deadline is more realistic; and House Approps Chair Lowey says sometime in between. For added spice, last minute brinkmanship might ruin everyone’s Turkey-day plans.
A CR makes us nervous, especially as conflict over impeachment could trigger a government shutdown. Not to put too fine a point on it, but there’s a great incentive for Trump to distract our attention, and a shutdown would do it for weeks (or months) on end. FWIW, Speaker Pelosi thinks an impeachment-triggered shutdown is unlikely; Trump won’t rule it out. If we can’t avoid a shutdown it will cost taxpayers big time—the last 3 cost taxpayers $4 billion.
Running Congress takes money. If you want meaningful oversight, smarter laws, protected whistleblowers, a warm welcome to visitors, and a safe capitol campus, there has to be enough money in the piggy bank to pay for it. To make up for decades-long funding shortfalls, we believe Congress should provide the leg branch a 10% bump to help get closer to parity for FY2020. Senate Appropriators proposed a 5.3% increase (to $5.092 B) and House Appropriators proposed a meager 3.6% increase (to $5.010 B). With a $27 Billion increase on the table for non-defense discretionary spending, the total increase over FY 2019 spending levels under our proposal is $0.48 Billion, or 1.78% of the anticipated new spending. But since it’s not up to us, given the choice, we’d urge the House to give way to the Senate’s numbers, and plan a bigger increase for FY 2021 — assuming we’re not stuck in permanent CR, which is why getting it right now matters so much.
You probably heard something about the House vote on the impeachment resolution,and perhaps saw some of the amendments considered by the House Rules Committee. The resolution was a fairly obvious effort to have the House endorse impeachment proceedings without holding a vote to start them. From a process perspective, the better move would have been to hold the vote at the start, but the reason why that was not done is obvious. It’s important to remember that polls are often a lagging indicator of public sentiment and can be shaped by public debate.
Republican complaints and amendments to the impeachment resolution generally (but not entirely) focused on giving the minority the power to act without being fettered by the majority. We support empowering members to be more engaged with the process and to pursue their own lines of inquiry, as far as that goes. I am struggling to find an equivalent rule from the 115th Congress, however, where Congressional Democrats were empowered to investigate Pres. Trump without approval from the majority. (You could point to the Mueller investigation, but that was a Justice Department investigation.) Incidentally, Rep. Zoe Lofgren has a fascinating point of view on impeachment proceedings generally.
Missing from the resolution was a commitment to release all non-classified portions of transcripts by a certain date, to make proceeding records open to historians after a certain date, and to bring on an archivist or historian as staff to help manage document organization and retention in real time.
Open process. A fair amount of the work of the pre-impeachment committee probably (regrettably) must happen behind closed doors, but the case for impeachment must be made publicly and the articles of impeachment must be supported by public evidence. Democrats should not rush the process and they should keep the scope broad. They’ve been pushing for a fast and narrow inquiry — and make be making rash political judgments about the value of taking their time — but hopefully that perspective is changing.
Tacky. The NRCC caused a bomb scare when they sent empty boxes to vulnerable Democrats who voted for impeachment, suggesting that they’ll need boxes to move, that were labeled with the phrase “Get Packing!” Please send me any articles you see condemning them for a lack of civility, and would someone please flag David Brooks?
15 years of CRS Annual Reports are missing and we don’t know where they went. Do you?
Speaking of improving access to important information: HSGAC will mark up the Congressional Budget Justification Transparency Act this Wednesday at 9:30. The Portman-Peters bill would make difficult-to-locate Congressional Justifications (CJs)—plain language explanations of how agencies plan to spend federal funds—available in a central repository as structured data. A bipartisan House companion was introduced by Reps. Mike Quigley and Doug Collins this week. Both the Senate and House version have the support of 20+ civil society organizations.
Whistleblower advocates wrote to Congress last week to say it’s time to reform Intelligence Community whistleblower laws. (Right?!!!) IC whistleblowers don’t have the same protections as other federal employees covered by the Whistleblower Protection Act.
Rep. Porter is trying to make it easier for parents of all incomes to run for Congress with the Help America Run Act (H.R. 1623). The bill, which passed the House by voice vote last week, will amend the law so Congressional candidates can use campaign funds to cover childcare and similar costs. The legislation has bipartisan support: House Admin. RM Rodney Davis spoke in support on the House floor.
FRANKenstein. Dad jokes aside, the ‘Fix Congress’ Committee hosted a hearing on how to bring franking into the 21st century. Later this week we’ll publish our round up of the proceedings. What the frank is Franking? Marci Harris explains.
The Senate Budget Committee heard from GAO Comptroller Dodaro at a hearing on federal financial management and reporting last week. The upshot: the Executive Branch hasn’t gotten the memo that sharing is caring. Siloed information costs taxpayers big $$ and hinders Congressional oversight.
• Information is not making its way to Congressional overseers. For example, Sen. Grassley noted that DoD still hasn’t responded to questions for the record from a hearing back in April and Sen. Van Hollen saysno one knows the total number of federal contractors (although he’s heard estimates of around 3.7 million). Congress is in charge of managing spending, but that’s a difficult task without comprehensive metrics and data.
• It’s not just Congress who can’t get their hands on Executive data. For instance, the Social Security Administration has a “death” database, but other agencies can’t see it so “dead” people are receiving government checks. Over $140 BILLION is spent on improper payments per year. (Our friends at POGO regularly beat this drum.) Some good news: GAO’s new Innovation Lab is testing ways to use AI to curb the predicted TRILLION-plus dollars in improper payments projected for the next decade.
Last week was a big week for the Senate Budget committee: on top of the great hearing, Sens. Enzi and Whitehouse introduced a bill to overhaul the budget process. (Paging the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress.)
The House’s fight with the Administration is a multifront battle: on top of the impeachment inquiry, the House has taken the Administration to court (and vice versa) on several occasions. Former House Counsel Mike Stern wonders whether the House Counsel’s Office has the bandwidth for these cases on top of its normal duties? (We suspect that, like everything else, they need more funding… and more transparency.)
Over the last year there’s been a lot of discussion of Congressional contempt powers, but did you know that only 2 executive branch officials have been arrested by the Sergeant at Arms for contempt of Congress?
The US Capitol Police, who are being sued for sex discrimination by Chrisavgi Sourgoutsis, will go to trial on Monday before Judge Ketanji Jackson of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Roll Call summarized the complaint, you can find the court filings here.
• The USCP have approximately 2,300 employees, receive 10% of all funding for the legislative branch (i.e., ~$450 million), and — unlike nearly all other police forces — are not subject to public records requests. We have struggled to obtain basic information from them, such as their primary jurisdiction, misconduct complaint data, and arrest information. The USCP has an Inspector General, but neither the IG reports nor an index of the reports are made publicly available; most IGs publish this information.
• The USCP was the subject of a House Admin hearing earlier this year, and the head of the USCP’s FOP made clear his belief there are significant problems between the rank-and-file and management. The statistics that we’ve seen suggest that leadership is not as diverse as the rank and file. There was a new stat that came out of the litigation, according to Roll Call: “In 2017, out of 1,759 total officers at the agency, there were 1,440 males and 319 females. For 2016, the numbers weren’t much different: 327 female officers and 1,440 males, marking a total of 1,767.” The new head of the U.S. Capitol Police has declined multiple requests over many months to meet with us concerning his vision for the department.
CAPITOL HILL SHAKEUP
House Oversight Committee. Rep. Carolyn Maloney has been serving as Acting Chair of the Committee in the wake of Rep. Cummings death; Reps. Stephen Lynch and Jackie Speier have announced that they’re running to take over the gavel. The House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee will meet with potential candidates for permanent Chair on November 12th and then make their (nonbinding) recommendation. (Is it publicly known who serves on the committee beyond the announcement of its three co-chairs?)
The House Appropriations Chair position will also open up in 2021. Reps. Marcy Kaptur and Rosa DeLauro have previously announced their interest in the spot; last week Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz expressed her interest.
The rules governing House Democrats, cleverly entitled the Democratic Caucus Rules, still are not publicly available despite correspondence from Caucus Chair Jeffries to us on this point in February (after we wrote him 3 times).
19 House Republicans have announced they will retire at the end of this Congress, with Rep. Greg Walden being the most recent. Rep. Walden is the top Republican on the Energy and Commerce committee and the fourth House Ranking Member to make a retirement announcement.
Sen. Grassley will reclaim the Senate Judiciary gavel next Congress should Republicans retain control of the Senate. Grassley is a strong champion of FOIA and whistleblower protection.
Rep. Matt Gaetz filed an ethics complaint against Rep. Adam Schiff last week. It appears that Gaetz has confused holding a hearing with taking a deposition. Gaetz is also under Ethics Committee investigation for threatening “to release embarrassing personal information about President Donald Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen.”
Not for nothing, many commentators have raised the fact that Duncan Hunter, who is 3 months away from a criminal trial on a 60-count indictment, is still in Congress. The Ethics committee typically pauses its activities pending prosecution. Should they?
Former Sen. Hassan aide Samantha Davis was sentenced to 2 years supervised probation + 200 hours of community service and ordered not to use TOR for her role in assisting the man who doxxed Senators during the Kavanaugh confirmation process. The perpetrator, Jackson Cosko, was sentenced to 4 years in prison earlier this year.
ODDS & ENDS
Will evidence-based legislating resurrect Congress as the co-equal branch?
Pay Our Interns is looking for a (paid) Spring Intern.
The House is out for recess; the Senate is in for another week.
• Wednesday, November 6 at 9:30: HSGAC will hold a series of markups, including for the Congressional Budget Justification Act. (Oddly, Congress.gov’s calendar does not have this markup listed and seems to be missing others as well.)
• Thursday, November 7th at 10: The Senate Rules Committee is holding a hearing entitled “Library of Congress Modernization Oversight,” with the Librarian of Congress, the CIO, and the Register of Copyrights. Based on the witnesses, it may be more narrowly focused on the Copyright office.
• Tuesday, November 12th at 12: R Street is hosting a symposium on Congressional Capacity and Endless War in Afghanistan & Syria. The event will feature expert discussion of this constitutionally anomalous situation and congressional capacity over war powers and foreign affairs.
• Wednesday, November 13th at 5: Issue One is hosting the inaugural Teddy Awards. The off-the-record event will recognize four lawmakers for their dedication to bipartisan political reform and election security.
• Thursday, November 14th at 12: POGO is hosting an oversight training seminar titled, “Agency Objections: From Deliberative Process to Legislative Purpose.” The off-the-record event is held on the Hill and open to Congress, GAO, and CRS. RSVP by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.