Forecast for June 22, 2020

THE TOP LINE

Appropriations subcommittee markups are now two weeks away, but there’s no agreement or public statement on how much money will be available to the 12 appropriations subcommittees. Today we released a letter urging a $500 million increase (+10%) in funding available for the legislative branch appropriations subcommittee, co-drafted with the Lincoln Network and signed by 40+ organizations and 16 Congress experts. Why is it important?

• Spending on House and Senate committees has declined by 25% over the last decade, or $202 million each Congress; spending on personal offices is down 21% in the House and 10% in the Senate, or $224 million annually. 23% of all funding now goes towards security or buildings, or $1.16 billion annually, which reflects a 279% increase in funding for the Capitol Police and a 131% increase in funding for the Architect of the Capitol since 1995.

• Congress got shorted on federal discretionary spending. Annual discretionary defense spending has increased by 69% over the last quarter century; non-defense spending increased by 55%; and leg branch (which is part of non-defense) increased by 26%. Breaking down that 26% number: 10% is for the Architect of the Capitol; 9% is for the Capitol Police, and the remaining 8% is for everything else. Here’s those same numbers, but as nifty graphs.

• What’s that in real numbers? For FY 2021, non-defense discretionary spending is capped at $627 billion (plus another $8b for OCO); defense discretionary spending is capped at $672 billion (plus another $69 billion for OCO); outside of those caps are all the COVID-19 stimulus bills (which are more than $1 trillion). Spending on the leg branch is expected at around $5 billion, or less than 0.36% of discretionary spending (excluding the stimulus). More context here. (By the way, if anyone has a historic chart of the final 302(a) numbers, including the OCO, it would be incredibly helpful.)

You get what you pay for, and we’ve been underfunding Congress for decades. The big question is whether Chairs Lowey and Shelby and RMs Granger and Leahy see it that way. With rising constituent service demands, oversight of the COVID-19 response, challenges from the executive branch, and technology modernization, surely this must be the time to restore funding for Congress.

So, what should leg branch appropriators fund? We’re glad you asked. We’ve sorted through all the testimony and compiled a top-10 list of good ideas. If you want more, here’s all our recommendations for FY 2021. (We’ll be watching the House mark-up on 7/7.)

The Member Day Hearing for the House Approps Committee is tomorrow at 11am via WebEx; each Member will get three minutes for oral remarks. Members submitted more than 77,000 requests to the committee in March, according to Chair Lowey.

Here’s the House approps schedule:

6/23 Member Witness day

• Subcommittee Markups
7/6 State, Ag, MilCon
7/7 Homeland, Interior, Leg, Energy, Labor
7/8 CJS, THUD, FSGG, Defense, Full Cmte dry run

• Full Committee Markups
7/9 State, Ag, MilCon, 302b determination
7/10 Energy, Interior
7/13-16 All remaining bills (8)

• The Senate schedule is TBA.

REMOTE PROCEEDINGS

Lawsuit against remote voting undermines Congress. A dozen former Members from both sizes of the aisle published an op-ed last week urging the House GOP to reconsider its lawsuit against proxy voting. They stress the GOP stance to require physical presence to conduct business could set an adverse precedent that could have harmful consequences in the event of greater threat. You can follow the litigation here; we continue to aggregate resources on the continuity of Congress.

Remote proceedings and proxy voting are crucial for Congress given reports of 66 essential Capitol Hill workers testing positive for COVID, including 28 construction workers and 18 USCP employees. Speaker Pelosi recently implemented a strict mask policy for in-person committee proceedings and encouraged the chairs to enforce mask rules as a matter of comity.

House GOP Rep. Rice, who appeared on the House floor without a face mask two weeks ago, announced last week that he and his family tested positive for COVID. Rice was asked on May 28 why he wasn’t wearing a mask and responded with “I’m staying six feet away from folks.”

Another proxy voting bill is law. Last Wednesday, the president signed the Uyghur Human Rights bill, which was originally passed by proxy in the House. This is the second major piece of legislation that Trump has signed that passed using the House’s new rules.

Technical difficulties. Last Wednesday, three committee hearings had problems with their live streaming capabilities. Members themselves — who are using WebEx — seemed unphased by the issue, but the YouTube stream continued to cut out both audio and video. The Foreign Affairs Oversight and Investigations subcommittee hearing was forced to recess twice to deal with the glitches. Members were told it was a “House-wide bandwidth issue.” Does Congress not have enough bandwidth?

Our latest research. Our team published a lot of work this past week, keep up with it all here:

CONGRESSIONAL OPS

DC statehood heads to the House floor. The vote on H.R. 51 is set to take place Friday and has more than enough votes to pass. DC statehood implementation would impose negligible costs, mostly for adding two new Senate offices, according to an analysis by CBO.

Fix Congress Committee reports containing their recommendations are now available, including recommendations for improving transparency, strengthening Member civility and bipartisanship, the streamlining of HR, education, and technology resources.

Cloture helps the Senate majority. Leader McConnell filed cloture on the nomination of Cory Wilson to be US Court of Appeals Judge for Fifth Circuit. Conventional wisdom believes that filibusters and cloture in the Senate demonstrate the confirmation process is broken, with the minority party using cloture to obstruct the majority.

• But cloture has been used recently as a floor management tool, as our friends at Legislative Procedure point out, where consequential votes or nominations are often scheduled at the end of a week or right before a long recess to place the opposition in a bind because they don’t want to force weekend sessions or late night votes. Cloture also limits floor amendments, providing a more straightforward path for majority empowerment.

CONFEDERATE MEMORIALS

Taking down the Confederacy. Four portraits of previous House speakers who served in the Confederacy were removed last Thursday ahead of Juneteenth per a letter from Speaker Pelosi to the House Clerk.

Sen. Blunt blocked a bill to remove Confederate statues from the Capitol. Sen. Booker tried to move the bill by unanimous consent, but was blocked by the Missouri senator, who said he wanted more time to consider the measure. Blunt serves as Chair of the Joint Committee of the Library, which has the power to remove the statues from public viewas well as consider legislation to remove them entirely. Two weeks ago, Speaker Pelosi wrote to the joint committee urging them to remove them from view. Sen. Blunt is blocking that effort as well, backing up Sen. McConnell, who is taking a hard-line view, calling the effort “nonsense.” This is an odd juxtaposition with Sen. McConnell’s statement that his home state of Kentucky must remove the Jefferson Davis statue from the state capitol building.

“Remembering” history. Statues are about inculcating values, not teaching history. When it comes to Confederate statues, erected by racists during the Jim Crow era to send a political message, the values they represent are white supremacy. We know this because the people who created them told us. If the Senate flips Democrats likely will remove the statutes, and today’s opposition will be yet another “lost cause” on the wrong side of history.

OVERSIGHT

More problems with COVID funds oversight. Inspectors general warn Congress that the Trump admin has issued previously unknown legal rulings that could substantially block their ability to oversee more than $1 trillion in spending related to the coronavirus pandemic. The Congressional Oversight Commission — which STILL doesn’t have a chair and adequate staff, and is hiring — released its second report concluding the Fed and Treasury are aiding corporations more than small businesses. Furthermore, PRAC released a report last Wednesday and cited grant fraud (including PPP loans), accurate financial reporting, technology and security, and continuity measures as key areas of concern. There was some progress this weekend, where the SBA appears to have backtracked and will now disclose some PPP loan info, but it is not clear how far they will go.

US Attorney Fired? In a developing story, AG Barr announced Manhattan US Attorney Geoffrey Berman had resigned, only to have Berman say he had not resigned and had no intention of leaving; Berman ultimately resigned. This backdoor firing, according to Paul Rosenzweig, was aimed at subverting justice. “The attorney general’s apparent goal is to turn the Department of Justice into an arm of the president’s personal interests.” Meanwhile, the House Judiciary Committee Chairman, Jerry Nadler, says he has no intention of impeaching Barr, describing those efforts as a waste of time. What is more astonishing: corruptly firing a US attorney or House Judiciary unwilling to vindicate the rule of law?

Sen. Grassley intro’d bipartisan IG protection legislation
 that would strengthen a 2008 IG protection law by requiring the Executive Branch to provide detailed information regarding why an IG is removed from their position. Sen. Grassley originally decided to hold the nominees up after the WH Counsel refused to disclose its rationale, then withdrew objections after receiving additional reasons for the President’s decision to remove recent IGs, even though he disagrees with those reasons.

House Judiciary Committee issued subpoenas for testimony from two DOJ whistleblowers, John W. Elias and Aaron S.J. Zelinsky. Elias, Zelinksy and former U.S. Deputy Attorney General Donald Ayer will testify in a hearing before the panel next Wednesday.

Trump said any communications with him are classified. Meanwhile, Congress continues to struggle with access to classified info, unwisely deferring to the executive branch on classification. Congress should establish federal law on how classification works (outside of the Atomic Energy area, where it already has legislated); provide more of its staff with clearances; and strengthen oversight of the Intelligence Community.

TRANSPARENCY

More trouble for Senate Foreign Relations. Minority Members from the FR Committee wrote to Chairman Risch saying they would block all State Dept. nominations until the committee starts doing its job — engaging in “a sustained, concrete, and public agenda for policy and oversight.” The committee has only held three hearings all year and there has been very little, if any, bipartisan work. You might remember how the Chair pushed through the nomination of Michael Pack to run the Voice of America in proceedings that were not televised; Pack is now purging VOA staff for reporting the news.

A bipartisan call for all unclassified DoD reports to be publicly online will be made by Reps. Porter, Speier, and Rooney, who plan on offering amendments during the upcoming NDAA markup sessions. The Pentagon is already required by law to publicly disclose report on dozens of topics — such as projected spending, military sexual assault, and counter intelligence — but often ignores those requirements.

SCOTUS  2019 financial disclosure are out. Seven Justices’ 2019 financial disclosures were released last week show that RBG and Sotomayor took over a dozen free trips while Thomas nearly maxed out his teaching compensation while his wife’s consultancy soared in value. Justices Alito and Gorsuch didn’t disclose reports, but are permitted to request a 90-day extension.

U.S. CAPITOL POLICE

Lack of transparency from the U.S. Capitol Police continues to draw attention on the Hill. We have written extensively about USCP over the past two years, so we decide to compile all of our resources into one place.

• Capitol Police requested an 11% increase in funding this year, despite the department already comprising 10% of the Leg. Branch budget. While working to address police reform around the nation, Congress must also look to heighten accountability and transparency for the police force that oversees the Capitol complex and reevaluate its jurisdiction.

• We wrote a letter to House and Senate lawmakers two weeks ago expressing concerns regarding inadequate accountability for USCP and provided a series of recommendations for Congress to take to improve transparency within the department.

Last week’s USCP arrest report only had one arrest disclosed; a theft arrest off of the Capitol complex. The department has disclosed just 12 arrests since the start of April.

ETHICS

At least four members of Congress or their spouses have tapped the small business relief loan program created during the pandemic, Politico reports. It’s not illegal for lawmakers to apply or accept the loan money.

Ethics stops Loffler inquiry. The Senate Ethics Committee has closed their investigation into alleged insider trading by Sen. Loeffler, just four weeks after the DOJ closed its insider trading inquiry.

The TRUST in Congress Act was introduced last week, which would require Members and their spouses and dependent children to place certain assets into blind trust while they are in office. The bill allows Members to still own assets, but wouldn’t allow them to make trades and other transactions.

Ethics investigation into Rep. Bishop extended, according to the Chair and RM of the House Ethics Committee. Rep. Bishop has had prior run-ins with OCE and has tried to undermine the ethics watchdog.

ODDS & ENDS

McConnell. Senate Majority Leader McConnell said he planned to stay GOP leader next session regardless if his party retains control of the Senate.

More McConnell. There was a demonstration at Sen. McConnell’s Kentucky house on Juneteenth to raise awareness of racism.

Roll Call had a great piece last week on how lobbying firms are changing their ways to influence Congress during the coronavirus.

NDAA. This week’s newsletter did not talk much about the NDAA, which was previously marked-up in Senate committee and will soon be considered in the House. We could write a whole newsletter on just that bill, but we won’t.

OLC LOL. We found a hilarious YouTube video on the Office of Legal Counsel and secret law from the show The Good Fight. Watch it for a laugh.

EVENTS

Tuesday

• House Appropriations Committee is holding a hearing on “Member Day Testimony for FY21 Appropriations” via WebEx.

• House Armed Services has a series of “subcommittee markups on the FY21 NDAA” starting at 11am. All markups are virtual.

Wednesday

• Senate Budget Committee is holding a nomination hearing for “Derek Kan to be Deputy Director of White House Budget Office” at 2:30 pm in 301 Russell.

Thursday

• Senate Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing to examine “S. 685 – Inspector General Access Act of 2019” at 10 am in 325 Russell.

Down the Line

• On Wednesday June 24th, the Levin Center is hosting a panel entitled “Battling Cybersecurity Threats: Role of Congressional Oversight” from 2 pm to 3:15 pm.

• House Armed Services Committee is holding a full committee markup on “H.R. 6395 – FY21 NDAA” on July 1, 2020. The markup will be virtual.