Forecast for March 30, 2020.


In case you need a reminder…it’s Monday again; we hope everyone is feeling well and hanging in there. This week’s First Branch Forecast focuses on continuity of Congress and the emergency Coronavirus bill, which are inextricably linked. We also have some important reads in our Oversight & Transparency + Odds & Ends sections as well as a discussion of presidential signing statements.

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Telework: Status of Congressional Offices

All Members of Congress and Staff in DC and District Offices Should Telecommute During the Coronavirus Emergency

Where Congressional Offices Stand One Week Later

(Update, 3/23/2020 2:18pm): Early last week, our team created a database with every congressional offices’ telework policy. Despite strong support from both lawmakers and staff to work from home, leadership in both chambers still do not have a universal policy for teleworking. 

One week later, findings from the database are grim to say the least. So far, Senate offices have been more publicly responsive regarding their telework policies. Informally, we have heard that a large majority of offices in both chambers are working from home. Our team plans to leave the database up, but will no longer be actively updating it.

Here are the key findings from our database after one week:

  • Most offices still do not have any official statements on their current work policy.
  • 89 DC offices have opted to fully telework (21 Senate, 68 House).
  • 14 DC Offices are staying open (All House)

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Forecast for March 23, 2020

The Pope banned public masses, closed Holy Week services, and is encouraging “spiritual communion” when it is unsafe to receive it in person; the New York Stock Exchange has rushed a rule into effect to facilitate electronic auctions in light of the temporary closure of the trading floor; and yet the Speaker of the House and Majority Leader of the Senate are forestalling rules changes to allow the temporary invocation of remote deliberations in either chamber during the pandemic.

At the same time, we’re seeing legislatures disband, from every member of the Georgia legislature in self-quarantine to the Parliament in Victoria, Australia, and many regions in the US are going on lockdown. The trendline is clear.

Addendum: Late Sunday evening, Sen. Rand Paul tested positive for Coronavirus and a number of Republicans began a self-quarantine. This has dropped the operational Republican majority in the Senate to +1R (at the time of this writing). In addition, Donald Trump endorsed remote voting for Congress. This pandemic could shift power in both chambers, the threat of which may finally impel their respective leaders to take another look at remote voting.

Welcome to a very somber First Branch Forecast. We hope that you are staying home and staying safe.

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Briefing On Continuity of Congress During Coronavirus

Congressional experts discussed the need for emergency, time-limited measures to allow for remote congressional proceedings during the coronavirus emergency. Speakers at the online event included:

Watch the briefing below or on online here.

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2010 vs. 2020: How The Legislative Branch Distributes Its Funds

Congress is underfunded, plain and simple.

The Legislative Branch has received the smallest slice of the federal spending pie— less than 1% of all non-defense discretionary funds — for years. How does Congress allocate these limited funds? Have those priorities shifted over the last decade?

We took a look at the 2010 and 2020 Legislative Branch budgets, plus the proposed values for 2021 to find out. Historic values were adjusted to 2020 dollars; figures do not include supplemental appropriations or Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) appropriations.

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Forecast for March 16, 2020.


Congress is open for business, but for how long? The Capitol Complex and Library of Congress are not allowing visitors through April 1st, although there are some loopholes for business visitors. The House put out telework guidance for offices — but no uniform telework requirement — and went into its district work period; the Senate cancelled its district work period to consider the emergency Coronavirus funding bill passed by the House, which it will take up only after a surveillance bill. Meanwhile, we urged both chambers to allow remote voting (editorialletter); so did Norm Ornstein; so did Rep. Katie Porter; and we put out a statement on remote voting in federal and state legislatures.

The House passed a resolution implementing recommendations from the Fix Congress committee. This is the first time in recent history a modernization committee has issued recommendations at all, let alone had the bipartisan recommendations be adopted.

A warrantless surveillance program is on deck for Senate consideration, after being rammed through the House by leadership and circumventing the committee process. It’s fate (like its policies) are murky at best.

Continuity of Congress Briefing. We have tentatively scheduled an online briefing for tomorrow, Tuesday, March 17, at 11:30 AM ET on Continuity of Congress, which will focus on remote voting and the issues at play. RSVP here so we can send you a link to the online briefing.

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What Items are Due in the Modernization Committee Resolution?

Last Tuesday, the House took a great step towards making the people’s chamber more efficient and responsive with the passage of a resolution (H.Res 756) adopting modernization recommendations of the Fix Congress Committee. 

The resolution contains five titles: (1) streamlining and reorganizing human resources; (2) improving orientation for members-elect and providing improved continuing education opportunities for members; (3) modernizing and revitalizing technology; (4) making the House accessible to all; and (5) improving access to documents and publications. Note, it includes a request that, whenever practical, the House Administration Committee will publish any report required under this resolution online. (Nicely done!)

The resolution calls on legislative support offices to start a number of projects and report back on how to implement others. We cataloged the projects and their due dates into a public spreadsheet, and broke down the items due by entity below.

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House Budget Committee: Protect Congress’ Power of the Purse & the Rule of Law

The Article I Renaissance continued at the House Budget Committee’s hearing on Protecting Congress’ Power of the Purse.  Ranking Member Womack noted budgeting is fundamental to government and that the process doesn’t work. (He noted the recommendations of the recent Joint Committee on Budget Reform failed to pass).  Members and witnesses engaged in a multi-hour discussion that featured serious discussion and concrete proposals for reform.

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