Forecast for July 27, 2020

THE TOP LINE

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.

APPROPRIATIONS

The four bill minibus (State-Foreign Ops, Agriculture, Interior, and MilCon/VA) passed the House 224-189 on Friday. The White House indicated a veto. A seven bill minibus (Defense, CJS, Energy, FSGG, Homeland Security, Labor, and Transportation) is set for this week, but progressives are pushing to pull DHS.

• OLC Transparency. The seven bill minibus being voted on this week includes the CJS bill, whose committee report included language aiming to increase transparency of DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel opinions. Read our analysis of how this report language could change the way Congress and the public can gain access to secret OLC opinions.

No soup for you, Congress! The Legislative Branch Approps bill has not been scheduled for floor consideration. This makes us very nervous, as it is a bulls-eye for a veto that would incur no costs to the administration. (The bill itself is very good.)

Members jockey for Chair of the Appropriations Cmte, “touting their partisan bona fides” and noting “their strong working relationships with Republican ranking members.” Reps. DeLauro, Kaptur and Wasserman Schultz are the current contenders.

How committees get their funding. We published two new articles updating the trends in committee funding for the House and Senate. Spoiler alert: both chambers are nowhere near their 2010 funding levels, even when adjusted for inflation. A picture is worth $100 million dollars.

CONGRESSIONAL OPS

A House divided. The Republican Conference had a dustup with members criticizing Conference Chair Cheney (R-WY) for several reasons including backing a primary challenger, supporting Anthony Fauci, and insufficiently supporting the president. Just FYI, Rep. Cheney voted for the president’s position 96.6 percent of the time, according to Roll Call. She is one of only thirteen women in the House GOP and may be angling to move up.

Party rules control. We noted last week the hidden power structure of the party system. Similar systems exist within the states, as the state party chair was selected to run in Rep. Lewis’ place.

The Foreign Affairs Cmte Chair is in play with Rep. Engel’s primary loss. Rep. Brad Sherman released a lengthy candidacy letter. Rep. Castro is campaigning as well, as is Rep. Meeks.

Oversight Chair Maloney’s fate is unknown, but she appears to be pulling ahead in her primary (the challenger has already filed suit).

A remote Congress works better? Rep. Raskin (D-MD) suggested this may be the case on a Federal News Network podcast: “Because we have not been here, members aren’t preening for the TV cameras so much. There’s real work being done.” Perhaps remote proceedings could help the Senate catch up to the House.

Even DoD is figuring out how to work remotely with classified information. The number of staff teleworking increased by 10x during the pandemic (from 90,000 to 960,000). The Federal News Network explains how. It’s a great writeup of how DoD had to rethink their internal processes and adapt.

FIX CONGRESS

Zoom for government is available in the House starting July 27 for Members, staff, constituents, and guests, but not yet for official committee proceedings, according to a Dear Colleague email. This is distinct from the commercial version of Zoom. CAO will provide one license for each Member and Leadership office and two per Committee. The Congressional Staff Academy will offer Zoom training. More, for those inside the House firewall, here.

There’s an app for that. That’s now possible in the House, as it approved Apple Business Manager to essentially allow an app store for Congress. Kudos to Ranking Member Davis for leading on this issue. Read the backstory from Marci Harris and Lorelei Kelly.

Listen to more on House IT modernization on the Federal News Network podcast with the House Modernization Cmte’s Chair Kilmer and Vice-Chair Graves.

NDAA

Amendments, so many amendments. Members submitted about 750 amendments to the House Rules Cmte for the NDAA (407 were considered in the House rule) while over 760 amendments were submitted for the Senate NDAA. James Wallner has a technically excellent overview of the Senate process. But it’s still confusing.

The reliable kitchen sink of legislation. The NDAA has passed for 59 years in a row. Most legislation dies after being introduced but the NDAA (and Appropriations) are considered “must pass” legislation. Members attach provisions to the NDAA as amendments under the theory it’s more likely to pass as part of the NDAA. Theoretically, these provisions are all defense related, but…you know.

Just kidding. The Senate and House now have to reconcile their versions and there’s an election, prompting reports that a defense bill won’t be sent to the President until mid-November at the earliest. Meanwhile, in appropriations land, the fiscal year ends September 30, so Congress needs to pass a continuing resolution or the government shuts down. The costs of continuing resolutions on the Navy alone was projected at $4 Billion from 2011-2018 (“we have put $4 billion in a trash can, put lighter fluid on top of it and burned it”).

House progressives pushed for a 10% cut to defense spending. It failed 93-324. Sen. Sanders’ amendment for the cut also failed 23-77.

The House did limit the president’s ability to invoke the Insurrection Act, constraining his power to deploy troops during civil unrest.

Demilitarize the police. Sens. Schatz and Inhofe had competing amendments to restrict military equipment going to local law enforcement. Sen. Inhofe’s weaker amendment won. Check out Visual Capitalist’s great visual showing where this $1.7 Billion in military equipment goes.

OVERSIGHT

The Chairless Congressional Oversight Commission released its monthly report (their third). Roll Call has a summary.

No president is above the law. The House Judiciary Cmte held a hearing on Thursday to “close a dangerous loophole” created by an OLC opinion and push back on the president’s pardon power. Here is the argument on why Congress can’t act (from a former House lawyer) and possible existing limits on the power.

After the GAO flagged improper payments to Congress, the IRS reports it has recovered over $1 Billion (of $1.6B) in stimulus payments to dead people. Brookings has recommendations to reconcile the four existing coronavirus relief oversight bodies.

Listen to POGO’s Rebecca Jones talk about the Vacancies Act and the high number of acting officials in the Trump Administration, subverting transparency and accountability requirements.

TRANSPARENCY

The PLUM Act was favorably voted out of HSGAC on Wednesday, with only 4 Senators (all GOP) voting no. As a quick refresher, the PLUM Book is the list of Executive Branch political appointees that is published only once every four years. This bill would require the OPM Director “to establish and maintain a public directory of the individuals occupying Government policy and supporting positions.” The bill has strong bipartisan support from good government groups (including us). Read our writeup.

The House will have to wait. The Supreme Court denied House Dems’ attempt to expedite the case seeking President Trump’s financial records. House committees will need to wait nearly a month from the July 9 Trump v. Mazar opinion to proceed.

Open Government Playbook. The U.K. released an open government playbook that “provides guidance and advice to help policy officials follow open government principles when carrying out their work.” The US government released a comparable playbook in 2015, but the executive branch has receded from those efforts.

ETHICS

Leader Hoyer called for Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL) to be reprimanded for derogatory remarks he made after confronting Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) on the Capitol steps. See the ethics complaint we filed here. Rep. Yoho kinda apologized for confronting her (when he called her “disgusting” and “out of [her] freaking mind”) but did not apologize — or substantially address — his subsequent reported statement calling her a “fucking bitch.” Rep. Ocasio-Cortez delivered a must-watch speech rejecting Yoho’s false apology and calling out misogyny by powerful men. This weekend, Rep. Yoho was asked to resign from Bread for the World for “not reflective of the ethical standards expected of members of our Board of Directors.”

DOJ filed charges against a former democratic congressman from Pennsylvania (who was expelled for taking bribes). The charges include conspiring to violate voting rights and bribery of an election official, among others.

The OCE released its second quarter report. 1,808 private citizens contacted OCE during the second quarter; 3 complaints commenced preliminary review as of June 1.

ODDS & ENDS

Capitol Police disclosed one incident with two arrests this past week after two individuals were detained after a physical altercation. The arrests were made near the 300 block of Independence Avenue, SW, which is near the National Museum of the American Indian.

Is COVID pushing power from parliamentary sovereignty to autocratic technocracy? That’s the concern in Australia, where a competent executive branch is assuming emergency powers to address the public health emergency.

It’s official. Acting White House Budget Director Russell Vought was confirmed by the Senate on a party line vote. He also has a history in Republican leadership, serving as the Conference policy director under then Rep. Mike Pence.

TechCongress is accepting applications from technologists until August 27 to work in Congress.

Speak no politics. CATO reports 62% of Americans have political views they are afraid to share. 52% of Democrats and 77% of Republicans are self-censoring.

The AOC has two interesting blogpost about caring for the Capitol roof and the history of the U.S. Botanic Garden.

EVENTS

Monday

• House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law is holding a hearing on “Online Platforms and Market Power, Part 6: Examining the Dominance of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google” at 12pm in 2141 Rayburn.

Tuesday

• Congressman Lewis will lie in state at the Capitol. The public viewing line will begin at approximately 8am and continue until 10pm.

• House Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing on “Oversight of the Department of Justice” at 10am in CVC 200. Unless he ducks out, A.G. Barr is expected to testify.

• House Natural Resources Committee is holding a hearing on “Unanswered Questions About the US Park Police’s June 1 Attack on Peaceful Protesters at Lafayette Square” at 10am in 1324 Longworth.

• Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee is holding a hearing on “To Examine COVID-19 Financial Relief Packages” at 10am.

• Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet is holding a hearing on “To examine the PACT Act and Section 230, Focusing on the Impact of the Law That Helped Create the Internet and an Examination of Proposed Reforms for Today’s Online World” at 10am in 106 Dirksen.

• Library of Congress is hosting an Orientation to the Law Library Collections at 11am where they will give an overview of their wide range of online resources as well as their print collections.

• Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs and Federal Management is holding a hearing “To Examine Modernizing Telework, Focusing on a Review of Private Sector Telework Policies During the COVID-19 Pandemic” at 2:30pm.

Wednesday

• Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is holding a hearing “To Examine Lessons Learned From Remote Working During COVID-19, Focusing on if the Government Can Maximize Use of Leased Space” at 10am in 106 Dirksen.

Thursday

• Library of Congress is offering a webinar overview of Congress.gov at 2pm.

Friday

• House Oversight and Reform Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis is holding a hearing on “The Urgent Need for a National Plan to Contain the Coronavirus” at 9am in 2154 Rayburn