Forecast for July 27, 2020


CODA — Covid, Defense, and Approps — are the “must pass” summer blockbuster legislation (we miss movies) that lurched forward in both chambers. Sort of. But how does it end? We’re betting there will be sequels.

11 of the 12 appropriations bills passed or are scheduled for a vote in the House. The Senate has made no apparent progress: senate bills have yet to be considered in committee and the fiscal year ends September 30. A continuing resolution is pretty much inevitable, and CRs themselves incur significant costs to agencies.

Congress did not fund itself. The Legislative Branch approps bill was the only approps bill (so far) not set for House floor consideration

The NDAA passed the House and Senate (each chamber considered about 750 amendments), but those two versions now have to be reconciled. Plus the President indicated he may veto because of renaming bases.

The Senate failed to release its latest coronavirus relief package. House Dems are pushing to pass by July 31, i.e., this Friday, when the enhanced federal unemployment payments end, to which Leader McConnell laughed. As of this writing, 146,000 Americans have died.

Congressman John Lewis will lie in state at the Capitol. Details here.

Continue reading “Forecast for July 27, 2020”

House CJS Appropriations Report Calls for Greater Transparency of Office of Legal Counsel Opinions

The Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) serves as legal advisor to the president and executive branch agencies. OLC issues legal opinions and often acts as the final authority on how laws are to be interpreted. 

However, these legal opinions and how they are analyzed are often withheld from Congress and the public. In fact, the few OLC opinions that have become publicly available often reveal that they undermine federal legislation and reinterpret the Constitution to expand executive branch power. 

When opinions are kept secret, there is no way to know what opinions exist and Congress is unable to determine how the executive branch is interpreting the law, creating an imbalance of power between the branches. In sum, there’s no space for secret law, and OLC opinions can be a gateway to lawlessness.

Congress has struggled to access OLC opinions, and for years civil society has been pushing to make these reports available. However, there are avenues that Congress can take to bring much needed transparency and accountability to OLC opinions. 

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116th Congress Update: How Senate Committees Get Their Money

(This is an update of a 2019 article on how Senate Committees are funded. It has been updated for the 116th Congress.) 


How do Senate committees get their funding and how has funding changed over the last 25 years? We crunched the numbers for you and here are the highlights:

  • Senate Committee spending saw a slight uptick in funding this session, but is still well short of its peak 2010 funding. 
  • Appropriations continues to reign; the committee gets the largest portion of the funding and doesn’t have to ask for money.
  • Every Senate Committee experienced an increase in spending between the 106th and 116th Congresses in inflation adjusted dollars, with each committee seeing at least a 50% increase in funding since 1999.
  • While Senate Committees are still struggling with scarce funding, they’re in much better shape than House committees, which have seen draconian cuts since 2010.
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116th Congress Update: How House Committees Get Their Money

(This is an update of a 2019 article on how House Committees are funded. It has been updated for the 116th Congress.)

Committee funding in the House of Representatives is accomplished through a somewhat quirky process. Appropriators in the House Legislative Branch Appropriations Committee set a top dollar amount for the committees — they appropriate the funds — but it is the Committee on House Administration that provides (i.e. allots) the funds to each committee on a biennial basis.

At the beginning of each new Congress, each committee chair and ranking member jointly testifies before the House Administration Committee and requests funds for their committee. For the 116th Congress, the hearing took place on March 12, 2019. Here is the committee notice; the written statements requesting funds; and video.

On March 21, the House Administration Committee introduced a funding resolution in the House, and on March 25, the committee held a markup on House Resolution 245 that allotted funds to the committees. You can watch the very brief proceedings here. House Administration reported out the committee report on March 26th, and the House passed the resolution on March 27.

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Who Steers the Ship? An Examination of House Steering and Policy Committee Membership

House Democrats and Republicans use internal party committees to control major aspects of the legislative process, including choosing who gets to serve on legislative committees. As we all know, personnel is policy.

Under the House rules, each party decides committee assignments for its members. As a result, the steering and policy committees are the scene of intraparty jockeying for power. With a large number of members competing for a relatively small number of key committee assignments and leadership roles, the parties’ respective steering committees act as a filter for who will rise and a sorting mechanism among the party’s internal factions. It is also a mechanism by which leadership taxes members to provide financial contributions in support of the party.

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Forecast for July 20, 2020


The House Appropriations Committee finished its deliberations this past week, favorably reporting bills from its 12 subcommittees and marking the end of an era with Rep. Lowey’s forthcoming retirement as Chair. As we noted last week, this included much needed investments in the Legislative Branch, reclaiming Congress’ power of the purse, and increased transparency requirements.

The Senate is back and is in session until August 7th, and the House votes this week on the NDAA, confederate statues, and some approps bills. The House district work period in theory starts on July 31, but Speaker Pelosi said the House would absolutely stay in town to pass coronavirus relief and Members were told to plan to be in town the first week of August. Who knows what will be in that bill.

A remote Congress is better than no Congress. The House moved in May to allow proxy voting, but allowing fully remote deliberations (including remote voting) is a much better option, as we’ve been arguing since March. The House Admin Cmte held a hearing on Friday that checks a box to allow remote deliberations; even former Speaker Gingrich, who testified, agreed that secure remote voting is technologically feasible, and he praised the proceedings. As to the wisdom of such a move, see our letter (co-authored with the Lincoln Network’s Zach Graves) to the Committee. Roll Call has an excellent summary of the hearing.

Rep. John Lewis has died. His life exemplified how a principled leader moves the political middle and the value of standing up for what you believe.

Continue reading “Forecast for July 20, 2020”

Update: What Items are Due in the Modernization Committee Resolution?

On March 10th, the House passed H.Res 756, adopting modernization recommendations of the Fix Congress Committee. The resolution included 29 recommendations that were unanimously reported by the Modernization Committee last year. The resolution calls on legislative support offices to start a number of projects and report back on how to implement others. 

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. It also states that, whenever practical, the House Administration Committee will publish any report required under this resolution online. 

Accordingly, on July 10th, the Committee on House Administration released a series of congressional reports that were due in H.Res 756. Those reports include:


Feasibility of Establishing a Congressional Staff Academy Needs Assessment

Clerk of the House

Adopting Standardized Format for Legislative Documents

Legislative Comparison Project

Assignment of Unique Identifiers for Reports Filed by Legislative Lobbyists

Database of information on the expiration dates of all Federal programs

Database of votes taken in committees

Office of Diversity and Inclusion

Operations Plan as Submitted

Committee on House Administration Committee Resolution 116-21

We applaud the release of these reports to the public to help give a better understanding of the implementation of various recommendations from the Modernization Committee resolution. We continue to catalogue the projects and their due dates into a public spreadsheet, and have them broken down by items due below.

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Forecast for July 13, 2020.

Congress may finally have begun investing in itself — House appropriators favorably reported a 5% increase in funding for the Legislative Branch. That’s half of the 10% increase sought by good government types (like us), and while Congress is still significantly below its funding level from a decade again, we are starting to dig out of the hole. Read Zach Graves on the conservative case for increased policy capacity, and please thank your nearest appropriator, especially those on Leg. Branch.

Money isn’t everything (but it’s really important). Approps bills and reports set policy and direct agencies, and in the Leg. Branch approps bill, the House took a major step towards reclaiming its power of the purse by strengthening GAO and putting in place scores of improvements to congressional operations. More below.

The rules behind the power. Party rules and customs determine committee chairs, policy, and which legislation gets a vote. House Dems finally released their caucus rules (thanks! even if it took 500 days from our request). We’re going to keep digging into the caucus rules, who serves on the steering and policy committee, and the secret rules under which it operates.

Power switch. The House continues to use proxy voting, which some view as having the effect of consolidating power in the hands of leadership while avoiding the worse fate of a defunct Congress. This Friday, House Admin will hold a hearing on remote voting, which could be a step towards turning on the power of the House to deliberate fully in virtual session. Given what’s happening in the world, this is a wise course of action.

Continue reading “Forecast for July 13, 2020.”

Forecast for July 6, 2020.

Welcome back. This week will be busy in the House, so let’s go!


The House Appropriations subcommittees are holding mark-ups all week, plus a Thursday vote on the 302(b) allocations and full committee markups on Thursday and Friday. The full schedule is at the bottom of this email.

• One notable change: for the first time, members of the media can obtain offered amendments by email; previously, you had to be there to get copies.

• We’ll be closely tracking the 302(b) allocations and Leg Branch, FSGG, and CJS markups; and for Leg Branch, we have a spreadsheet of 25 years of spending by line item, adjusted for inflation, which we expect to publish with the proposed spending numbers at

• We’re starting to forget, but the bill text should be up 24-hours in advance of each markup (per House rule XI, clause 2(g)(4)) and any adopted amendments should be online no later than 24-hours after the meeting (Rule XI, clause 2(g)(6)). Subcommittee reports are expected online within 24-hours. Approps committee rules require roll call votes online within 48-hours. Keep an eye on the full approps committee page, the relevant subcommittee page, and Don’t forget our handy bot @AppropsTracker.

Proxy voting and virtual committee actions were extended by Speaker Pelosi through August 18. Will the House’s calendar now change with another COVID bill coming?

Intern Diversity. Pay Our Interns released an excellent report on House intern diversity: “Color of Congress.” We have a summary below.

Continue reading “Forecast for July 6, 2020.”