Forecast for May 24, 2021

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The House is holding a committee work week and the Senate is in. Next week, both chambers will be out to coincide with the Memorial Day holiday.

The January 6th Commission bill (H.R. 3233) passed the House 252-175-3. (More below)

The security supplemental appropriations bill (H.R. 3237) passed the House by one vote and faces an uphill path from members of both parties in the Senate. (More below)

The Capitol Police Board. The Committee on House Administration invited the Capitol Police Board to testify; the Senate Sergeant at Arms, who serves on the Board, did not attend. (More below)

Safe in-person House proceedings require Members to be vaccinated, but up-to half of House Republicans are not vaccinated as they protest the consequences of their own behavior. (More below)

Continue reading “Forecast for May 24, 2021”

Pay Congressional Staff More! Says Bipartisan Group of 30 Orgs to House Approps

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

May 17, 2021

CONTACT: Daniel Schuman, policy director, Demand Progress, daniel@demandprogress.org, 240-237-3930

30 organizations and 11 congressional experts sent a bipartisan letter to House appropriators today calling to restore funding levels for congressional personal office and committee staff, amounting to double-digit percentage increases. The bipartisan letter was organized by the progressive organization Demand Progress and the conservative organization Lincoln Network. 

“For years the House of Representatives slashed funding for its staff, undermining the Legislative branch and dashing its abilities to meet the challenges facing the country. Turning the clock back to 2010 for funding levels for personal and committee staff would be a huge step forward to allow Congress to address its staff retention and diversity problem,” said Daniel Schuman, policy director, at Demand Progress. “We desperately need a Congress that addresses the problems facing our country, and redressing staff resources will improve Congressional capacity to get that job done.”

“Congress’s long-running loss of staff capacity, particularly in committees, has severely undermined its ability to oversee and rein in the federal government’s sprawling administrative bureaucracy,” said Zach Graves, head of policy at the Lincoln Network. “As we’re facing unprecedented new levels of spending and debt, it’s imperative that Congress invest in itself to preserve balance between the three branches, ensuring that our government remains accountable to the American people.”

A lack of adequate personal and committee office funding is a bipartisan problem, with lawmakers of both parties expressing support for funding increases. Several weeks ago, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) expressed their support for a 20% increase to personal office funding. House Modernization Committee Vice Chair Timmons (R-SC) put his support behind increasing House funds to address staff capacity and retention. 

You can read the full letter from Demand Progress, the Lincoln Network, and a group of bipartisan organizations here and below:

Continue reading “Pay Congressional Staff More! Says Bipartisan Group of 30 Orgs to House Approps”

Forecast for May 17, 2021

Welcome to the First Branch Forecast, your weekly look into the Legislative branch and government transparency. Encourage your colleagues to subscribe here.

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Both chambers are in session this week and getting down to business:

A bill providing for a January 6th Commission likely will be considered in the House this week. The legislation, introduced by House Homeland Security Committee Chair Thompson and Ranking Member Katko, provides for the creation of an independent, bipartisan Commission. (More below).

The Emergency Security Supplemental Appropriations bill is the subject of a House Rules hearing tomorrow and is on the House floor calendar for later this week. It’s not smooth sailing, however: Republican leadership is hesitant and Senate Appropriations Chair Leahy “would be more comfortable pushing through a security supplemental once an independent commission has completed a review,” Jack Fitzpatrick reports. (More below)

The Capitol Police Board will testify at the House Admin hearing on “Reforming The Capitol Police And Improving Accountability For The Capitol Police Board” this Wednesday at 3. The last time the trio (excluding the Police Chief) testified together in the House was in the 1940s.

Capitol safety and the January 6th insurrection were the focus of a House Oversight hearing with the DoD, DOJ, and Metro Police, as well as two House Admin hearings with the USCP IG and the Architect of the Capitol Inspector General. The upshot so far: the people responsible for security don’t regularly update their security protocols and practices, don’t plan together, don’t think ahead, communicate poorly, and engage in turf battles. The IGs have at times made recommendations for fixes, which are routinely ignored. The power to fix many of these problems appears to rest in the hands of the Police Chief and her senior leadership, who have a long history of failing to act. The USCP Board appears to be a mechanism to avoid public accountability for the USCP but does not collectively exercise control or impose accountability, with de facto power residing in the hands of the House and Senate Sergeants at Arms. And DC’s unique status as a non-state combined with the fiction of a cohesive Capitol Police Board create unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles to requesting and receiving aid from the federal government. Money alone cannot fix what is primarily a management problem. (More below)

Marjorie Taylor Greene appears to be unwell and erratic. The most recent example was when she chased down and verbally accosting Rep. Ocasio Cortez, calling the New York congresswoman a terrorist sympathizer and other untruths. Video surfaced of Greene in 2019 acting in a bizarre manner, videotaping herself taunting AOC’s staff through her office mailslot and having a colleague deface her guestbook. Republican leadership does not appear to be taking efforts to rein her in or address the creepy and escalatory behavior. Greene is the poster child for why everyone entering into the Capitol, including members, should be subject to security screenings. Leadership should not sleep on addressing this problem.

Continue reading “Forecast for May 17, 2021”

Forecast for May 10, 2021.

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STOP EVERYTHING. “100% of my focus is on stopping this new administration,” said Sen. McConnell at a press conference. He added: Democrats want to turn America into a “socialist country” and Senate Republicans are in “total unity… in opposition to what the new Biden administration is trying to do to this country.” Does this makes it official?

The Justice Department was castigated for lying to a federal court in an effort to prevent public access to an Office of Legal Counsel Memorandum on whether Trump could be prosecuted. It’s not the first time DOJ has lied to a court about FOIA requests. This also highlights the importance of public access to OLC’s work, which we discuss below. We also note that Attorney General Barr okayed the collection of email contacts by journalists as part of a so-called “leak” investigation, another stab at the heart of government accountability.

Quill, an excellent new tool that allows Member offices to get electronic signatures on their Dear Colleagues, made its House debut; it is already available in the Senate. (More below.)

Kudos to the House Labor-HHS Approps subcommittee, which so far is the only subcommittee to hold public witness hearings. We are appreciative of Chair DeLauro for making it happen. We are tracking appropriations testimony deadlines here.

Earmarks. We also favorably note that the House Approps committee has both published earmark requests on its webpage ~and~ published them as a spreadsheet (downloadable here). We published recommendations on what data elements should be included in the spreadsheet, a spreadsheet being the bare minimum requirement for modern data disclosure. We welcome the appearance of data fields like Membername, subcommittee, project title, amount requested, recipient address, and explanation. However, there are serious deficiencies, such a lack of unique identifiers, missing data fields, and too many data elements in the same field. In addition, it is unclear whether the spreadsheet will be updated as earmarks move through the legislative process or how users would be informed that updates have occurred. I’m hoping this is an alpha release and it will be improved. There is a significant community of civic technologists who would be glad to help.

White House visitor logs will now (again) be made publicly available, but we are cranky about it. Transparency should be required by law and not granted at the sufferance of the sovereign. This illustrates one of the failings of the Obama administration, which repeatedly fought against turning good government norms into law.

This upcoming week will be busy: House Admin will hold hearings on Monday and Wednesday into the Capitol Police and the Architect. On Tuesday, Senate Rules will hold a business meeting on S. 1, which is the Democrats’ democracy reform package. On Wednesday, House Oversight will look into unanswered questions on the Capitol Insurrection (what an anodyne name for what happened). And on Thursday House Modernization will look into recruiting, empowering, and retaining a diverse congressional staff.

Last week on the Hill was busy, too. The House Oversight Committee held a hearing on transparency and accountability legislation; Demand Progress hosted its Advisory Committee on Transparency panel discussion on what’s on Congress’s transparency agenda. The House Modernization Committee looked at congressional staff capacity. And the Lincoln Network hosted an excellent event on GAO at 100. (More below.)

Continue reading “Forecast for May 10, 2021.”

Tracking Appropriations Testimony Deadlines for FY 2022

For the last few years Demand Progress has been tracking appropriations testimony deadlines in the House and in the Senate. Specifically, we have kept track of:

  • Public witness testimony deadlines and guidance
  • Member witness testimony deadlines and guidance
  • Member request deadlines and guidance
  • Subcommittee/ full committee markups.

Here is that information, in spreadsheet form, for FY 2022 (updated once a week), FY 2021, and FY 2020.

You can find the spreadsheet for FY 2022 below, or just click on the link above.

Forecast for May 3, 2021

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Calendar. The Senate is out this week and the House is holding a committee work week, which means there are hearings but not floor votes. Still, it’s another busy week. On Monday — yes, today — House Oversight is holding a hearing on Improving Government Transparency and Accountability and the Lincoln Network is hosting an all-star virtual conference on GAO’s Next 100 Years. Tuesday is our Advisory Committee on Transparency event on Congress’s Transparency Agenda and House CJS will have A.G. Merrick Garland testify on the Justice Department’s budget. On Thursday the House Modernization Committee is holding a hearing on Congressional Staff Capacity.

Restoring staff pay to historical norms is the subject of an excellent letter sent by Reps. Hoyer and Jeffries, who call to return staff pay to its 2011 levels (when it was 20% higher).

Continuity of Congress. Sens. Portman and Durbin reintroduced a resolution to allow for remote voting on the Senate floor, which would allow for the Senate to continue to operate in an emergency.

This past week was incredibly busy. Below we recap the Senate Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on budgets for GAO, CBO, and the Library; the House Modernization Committee’s hearing on interns and fellows, the House Budget Committee’s examination of the Power of the Purse, and a webinar hosted by Demand Progress where a dozen organizations gave five-minute talks on the requests they’ve made of the appropriations committee.

Quick bits. Sen. Manchin opposes DC statehood bill; House Admin received a third flash Capitol Police IG report on the same day a USCP intel official resigned; Sen. Leahy announced earmark regs; more news on when Approps testimony is due; and 4 new reports from the Clerk on implementing modernization proposals.

Continue reading “Forecast for May 3, 2021”

What Items Are Due to Congress: May 2021

Congress regularly requests reports on strengthening Congress but there’s no central place to keep track of what they’ve requested.

To help keep track of things, we built a public spreadsheet that maintains a catalog of projects, broken down by item due, entity responsible, and due date.

The catalog covers reforms and requests ordered by the House and Senate Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittees, the Committee on House Rules, and the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress. At the moment, the catalog includes major resolutions and measures: H. Res. 8, the House Rules for the 117th Congress, Legislative Branch Appropriations FY 2021, and H.Res. 756 from the 116th Congress.

We continue to update this list each month for what’s due and what’s outstanding. Here are the February, March, and April editions.

Due In May

This month has zero items that are due. You can see below what reports are past due and have yet to be publicly released.

Continue reading “What Items Are Due to Congress: May 2021”