Forecast for April 12, 2021

Welcome to the First Branch Forecast, your weekly look into the Legislative branch and government transparency. (Was this email forwarded to you? Subscribe here.)

TOP LINE

Welcome back, Congress. Send me a final out-of-office email so that I know you missed me.

Biden’s $1.5 trillion skinny budget was finally submitted to Congress on Friday. It would increase non-defense discretionary spending by 16% to $769.4 billion and increase defense discretionary spending by 1.7% to $753 billion. The proposal would finally end the so-called emergency Overseas Contingency Operations fund — an additional, bloated defense slush fund that was not counted against the so-called spending caps — by merging it with the base defense budget. On that point, CRS has a new report on the expiration of discretionary spending limits and you should read Mandy Smithberger’s testimony on ending OCO. The president can propose whatever he wants, but Congress sets the spending priorities.

A security supplemental will soon be taken up by the House, per an announcement from House Approps Chair DeLauro. Presumably this would pay for the costs of the Trump insurrection and fixing the flaws it revealed: addressing “intelligence collection and review, bolster the capacity and training of the Capitol Police, and make physical security improvements to the Capitol Complex.” Demand Progress published a menu of recommendations for the security supplemental recommendations that address additional failings of the Capitol Police, congressional cybersecurity, and contingency planning for the continuity of Congress.

The Capitol Police Inspector General will testify Thursday before the House Administration Committee on their preliminary findings concerning the Trump insurrection. Per orders of the Capitol Police Board, the USCP IG does not release its reports to the public, which contradicts best practices for IGs on political independence and fostering accountability.

What should appropriators do? Demand Progress published 56 appropriations recommendations with an emphasis on strengthening Congress and government accountability.

The Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress will hold its Member Day Hearing on Thursday. Members who wish to testify must complete this form by COB today.

What’s due in April? Congress often requires Legislative branch support offices and agencies to submit reports to Congress, and we track what’s due when. See our April update, which includes several reports from the CAO and a nifty graphic.

APPROPRIATIONS

An end to appropriations? Punchbowl.news reported “it’s hard to see Republicans agreeing to any kind of spending deal if Democrats do another big reconciliation package.” We love mad libs: “it’s hard to see Republicans agreeing to [noun] because [conditional clause].” This is another way of writing “Senate Republicans will stick together to oppose Democratic priorities.”

How does Congress fund itself? I spoke with AEI’s Kevin Kosar on his latest Understanding Congress podcast about the history and process of how Congress funds itself each year.

Public witness testimony. We are keeping track of Member and public witness testimony deadlines for the appropriations committees here.

CONGRESSIONAL OPS + PROCEDURE

Democrats found a filibuster work-around, budget reconciliation, which the Senate Parliamentarian apparently advised can be used more than once. We don’t know the full contours and this isn’t a cure-all. Reconciliation is laborious and works only on certain measures. It could help equalize matters: now Democrats can move some of their priorities without a 60 vote majority just like Senate Republicans have on judges and taxes — although Dems have a higher hurdle because of their structural underrepresentation in the Senate. For a fuller discussion on the filibuster, watch “Filibuster 101” featuring Molly Reynolds and Sarah Binder or read this excellent interview with Sarah and the Niskanen Center.

Doubling down. Last week, both Sens. Manchin and Sinema reiterated that they will oppose any attempt to modify or get rid of the filibuster. Sen. Manchin also doesn’t believe reconciliation should be used as a workaround to pass legislation and would prefer legislation garner bipartisan support. Who wouldn’t? In the real world, most legislative proposals have bipartisan support — but from voters, not senators.

A bridge too far. In another trend story, the New York Times’s Catie Edmonson and Luke Broadwater cover how many Dems are having a hard time working with their Republican counterparts who voted to overturn the election.

CAPITOL POLICE

A leaked summary from a USCP IG report reportedly reveals what we already knew: massive mismanagement inside the Capitol Police. It covers “new details about expired ammunition, ineffective shields and a previously unreported warning more than two weeks ahead of the insurrection about a map of the Capitol’s underground tunnels that was posted on a pro-Donald Trump website.” CNN’s Zachary Cohen, who has a summary of the report, said the Capitol Police did not properly store or take care of weapons and equipment and much more. Maybe we will learn more when the USCP IG testifies before House Admin.

Capitol Police management and union are joining forces to push for more staff as understandably sympathetic POLITICO and Roll Call stories report. You should be concerned , however. The problems with the USCP start first with management failures that left USCP employees exposed and traumatized. The suffering of the rank and file is a result of bad leadership — as is the sacking of the Capitol. The USCP has taken the lion’s share of new Legislative branch funding for decades. No amount of money for the USCP will ever be enough for them to address all contingencies by themselves — it is unrealistic to expect otherwise — and more money is the one thing that everyone can agree on without looking underneath to see why everything went wrong.

General Honoré called for background checks for Congressional staff in an interview with CNN. This needs some rethinking. First, he picked a small component of the hiring process without addressing that dysfunctionality of Congressional hiring and retention. Second, with Congress’s haphazard HR processes, what would happen with the results of background checks and who would apply those standards? Third, as we saw with the OPM hack when the Chinese government obtained information about 21 million people who applied for security clearances, it is unwise to require staff to give up personal information that could be easily stolen and used for influence operations — or to put all that information in one place.

U.S. Capitol Police Officer William “Billy” Evans will lie in honor in the Capitol Rotunda tomorrow. He is the fourth USCP officer to do so, after Jacob Chestnut and John Gibson, killed in 1998, and Brian Sicknick, killed in the January 6 insurrection. Pres. Biden will pay his respects in the Capitol Rotunda on Tuesday.

ETHICS

Rep. Gaetz is now the subject of an investigation by the House Ethics Committee. This follows a federal criminal investigation that apparently concerns sex trafficing. We expect the Ethics investigation will be paused while the federal investigation plays out.

Rep. Tom Reed also had an investigation opened into him by the House Ethics Committee. Reed is accused of sexual misconduct after reports surfaced that he groped a lobbyist at a dinner party in 2017. Rep. Reed apologized, kind-of, decided he will not run again for Congress, and has stepped down as co-chair of the Problem Solvers Caucus.

Sen. Cruz is being accused by the Campaign Legal Center of using campaign funds to pay for Facebook ads to promote his book.

TRANSPARENCY

All document access. GPO and the Federal depository libraries are aiming to make every single U.S. government publication digital and accessible. This massive effort will require GPO to locate, catalog, digitize, and preserve all documents and materials. This is a herculean task — and a welcome one.

Going through hay to find a needle. Courtney Kueppers of the Chicago Tribune explores what it is like for employees to respond to FOIA requests.

The Free Law Project asked the Judicial branch last July for a spreadsheet of all federal magistrate judges from 1990 onward. The data was delivered last week and is publicly available here.

SCOTUS

SCOTUS commission. On Friday, President Biden signed an EO to create the Presidential Commision on the Supreme Court. The commission will be made up of 36 members who will report within 180 day on terms and turnover among the Justices, the Court’s size and membership, its jurisdiction, rules, and practices. By our math, the report would be due October 6, 2021, which is around the start of the new term. Is this a punt?

ODDS & ENDS

The Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus will meet with Pres. Biden on Thursday. We would expect the meeting will address some of the hatred aimed at members of the AAPI community and possibly the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act (S. 937).

Representative Alcee Hastings, dean of the Florida delegation, died last Tuesday at age 84 after a battle with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Hastings served 15 terms in Congress. Prior to serving, he was impeached and removed from the federal bench for lying to prosecutors during his 1981 criminal trial.

When you can beat them, join them. The decision by leading progressives to “play by Congress’s rules is giving them clout in a government under unified Democratic control with President Joe Biden,” according to BGOV’s Jarrell Dillard. “Members of Representative Ocasio-Cortez’s so-called Squad are taking leadership roles in the House and building experience on Capitol Hill, turning them into not just ideological purists but also strategic legislators.”

House Oversight will mark up and vote on H.R. 51, the DC Statehood bill on Wednesday.

Rep. Fitzpatrick was elected Co-Chair of the Problem Solvers Caucus, taking the place of Rep. Reed.

Track House member stock transactions on Housestockwatcher.com. This is the latest tool that tracks House member stock trades that was built by the same person who made senatestockwatcher.com. According to the user, it took longer to build the version because the House discloses their investments in PDF with no uniform system, making it much more difficult to transcribe. If you want to contribute to the data, you can do that here.

The House Modernization Committee is hiring a Communications Director. Interested applicants can send a resume, cover letter, two short writing samples, and two social media posts to ModernizeResumes@mail.house.gov.

Vote faster.House Majority Leader Hoyer announced the House will scale back its voting block time from 45 minutes to 30 minutes to “allow for the House to complete its work more expeditiously.” Members will still be required to vote in groups and proxy voting is still in effect. I wouldn’t expect anything different.

Oh, if you noticed a bunch of typos and run-on sentences in this week’s newsletter, consider looking at rural broadband deployment.

Take a deep breath. Welcome back.

CALENDAR

The House and Senate committee calendars are aggregated here. Should there be House floor activity, it will be here. Information about the Senate floor schedule is here. Select events and proceedings are listed below.

Wednesday

• HSGAC is holding a “Business Meeting” at 9:45 am ET.

• House Oversight is holding a meeting to consider “H.R. 51, DC Admissions Act” at 10:00 am ET

• House Natural Resources is holding a hearing on “H.R. 1522, Puerto Rico Statehood Admission Act” at 1:00 pm ET.

• Tech Congress is hosting a panel on “Building a Congressional Digital Service” at 5:00 pm ET. RSVP here.

Thursday

• House Modernization Committee is holding its “Member Day Hearing” at 12:00 pm ET.

• House Administration is holding a hearing on “Oversight Of The United States Capitol Police And Preparations For And Response To The Attack Of January 6th” at 1:00 pm ET.

• Hack the Capitol 4.0 hosted by R Street Institute, the Cyber Bytes Foundation, and the National Security Institute is happening May 4th 9:00 am – 5:30 pm ET.

Down The Road

• Bipartisan Policy Center is holding a webinar on “Modernizing Congress: Progress and Prospects” featuring Modernization Committee Chair Kilmer and Vice Chair Timmons. RSVP here.