Forecast for July 26, 2021

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

THE TOP LINE

Former Maryland police chief Tom Manger was sworn in as the US Capitol Police Chief. The Capitol Police are in disarray, with a dysfunctional and inadequate oversight structure, a poorly designed administrative structure, a well-founded absence of confidence in its senior leaders, a funding cliff that prompted the USCP to hold off on purchasing protective equipment like ballistic helmets, and have been pursuing the wrong mission — policing instead of protection — in an accountability-free environment that snubs committee oversight, the press, and the public and has left many police officers suffering with their trauma.

• A torrent of new money will eventually cascade on the well-heeled but financially depleted agency, just as it always has. The Chief spoke to Politico in a short interview — unusual in of itself because ex-acting police chief Pittman did not view it as part of the USCP mission to talk to the press — where he expressed a non-committal willingness to hold briefings and a desire for Pittman, who is reviled by the rank and file, to stay on his leadership team.

Meanwhile, the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the Capitol, which I guess we’re not supposed to call the Trump Insurrection Committee, will hold its first hearing on Tuesday. They don’t seem to yet have a website and the official meeting announcement has little info, but Reuters has their statement that the hearing will include testimony from USCP & MPD officers, which we found mirrored on Speaker Pelosi’s website. I won’t #bothsides our analysis, which is that Minority Leader McCarthy is just as opposed to allowing this committee to go forward as he was opposed to the commission — and for the same base political reasons — which is why he suggested two uncongenial members in the hopes of blowing it up when Speaker Pelosi declined to concur with the appointments. Minority Leader McCarthy gets to make his political point, I guess, but step-by-step he has moved into very dangerous territory for our democracy. With the appointment of Reps. Cheney and Rep. Kinzinger, he will lose the “bipartisan” talking point that has always been a reductivist and unhelpful way to talk about a pluralist political system.

COVID. Some Republican leaders are stepping up to encourage their members and staff to get COVID vaccines and even — gasp — to wear masks. Can you believe Minority Leader McCarthy didn’t get a first COVID shot until last week? It’s too soon to consider ending remote deliberations when we hear there are long lines and extended hours to accommodate staff (and members) who have yet to get the vaccine. Even if you wish to make a rhetorical point about this being a personal choice, you still have to exercise personal responsibility in actually getting one. Scientific modeling suggests a steep rise in COVID deaths, peaking in the middle of October, at 60,000 cases and 850 deaths per day under the most likely scenario, with a worst case for the most likely scenario of 240,000 cases and 4,000 deaths per day.

The House will consider up to ten appropriations bills next week, including this minibusState & Foreign ops, and of more interest to us: Leg branch approps and CJS. More below on the 37 Leg branch floor amendments. The minibus will be considered by the Rules committee on Monday, and the rest on Tuesday.

• Making matters more complicated is that the Senate Armed Services Committee decided that the House’s proposed increase to defense spending, which constitutes nearly half of the $1.5 trillion in total discretionary spending for everything, is not enough. They proposed to increase overall defense spending to $777.9 billion, including $740 billion for DOD, which is a $25 billion boost for the department over Biden’s already generous proposal which is on top of decades of generous funding. This places Armed Services numbers way out of line with the top line numbers proposed by Pres. Biden and those approved by House Appropriators. And of course they did it all essentially in secret, so only Lockheed Martin knows the nature of their deliberations. As a useful point of comparison, vaccinating the entire world would cost $50 to $70 billion, and paying for that would contribute mightily to improving global security. And, unlike a lot of Pentagon programs, the vaccine actually works.

The Senate plans to hold markups on FY 2022 Agriculture-FDA, Energy and Water, and Military Construction-VA bills before breaking for the August recess. The rest comes after? And sometime between now and then, the debt limit must be raised or suspended — it expires on August 1st — and Sen. McConnell is urging Republicans to oppose this effort in what some deem hostage-taking, which risks destroying the U.S.’s ability to borrow money on favorable terms.

In some good newstwo of my favorite bills are on suspension in the House this week. The Congressional Budget Justification Transparency ActS 272, which is the Senate companion to HR 22, would put all agency congressional budget justifications online in a central place so you can actually find them. It will go to the president. And the Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports ActH.R. 2485, would require all non-confidential legally-required agency reports to Congress be published online at a central website, and also for Congress to maintain a full list of these reports. The House has passed ACMRA many times before, and it enjoys bipartisan support and has been favorably reported by HSGAC several times. But, you know, the Senate….

Several right-of-center organizations and former Republican Members of Congress wrote to Senate Appropriators in support of strengthening Congress and restoring the balance between the executive and legislative branches, favorably citing funding increases included in the House appropriations bill. The letter underscores the need for lawmakers to assert congressional authority, leverage the power of the purse, and pare back excessively broad executive orders. This is a strong conservative case for why we need a strong Congress.

Continue reading “Forecast for July 26, 2021”

Forecast for July 19, 2021

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Welcome to the First Branch Forecast, your weekly look into the Legislative branch and government transparency. The House and Senate are holding floor votes this week; the House is currently scheduled to go into recess in two weeks and the Senate is scheduled to go into recess in three. We shall see. Subscribe here.

THE TOP LINE

House appropriators have favorably reported all twelve appropriations bills and are looking to move seven of those bills as a spending package during the week of July 26th — the last week the House is scheduled to be in before a month-long recess and two months before the fiscal year ends. Majority Leader Hoyer says the House may consider additional appropriations bills that week. Not in the package: the Legislative Branch, Commerce-Justice-Science, Defense, Homeland Security, and State-Foreign Ops. (What about the Senate???)

Transparency in appropriations bills. In the recently reported House CJS and Defense Appropriations bills are several measures to cheer fans of government accountability. The CJS appropriations committee report under the leadership of Rep. Cartwright once again included strong language encouraging the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel to proactively release final OLC legal opinions. Here’s why final OLC opinions should be available to Congress and the public. And the Defense Appropriations committee report included language urging the Director of National Intelligence to release all significant opinions by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, not just those from 2015 forward. Here is why FISC opinion should be available to Congress and the public. This comes on top of significant government strengthening and transparency measures in committee reports issued by the Legislative Branch (under Rep. Ryan) and FSGG appropriations (under Rep. Quigley).

The Bulk Data Task Force, the Legislative branch’s working group of internal and external stakeholders focused on the use of technology to cultivate collaboration, foster data standardization, and increase transparency, held its quarterly meeting this past week. You can watch the video or click through the presentations here, but I do promise we will have a comprehensive write-up because a lot of material was covered. Among the news: Deputy Clerk Bob Reeves, who has capably led the task force since its creation in 2012, will retire soon from the House of Representatives; he announced Kirsten Gullickson will be his successor. Everyone has tremendous respect and affection for Mr. Reeves and we will miss him. I would struggle to name an entity within the legislative branch that has been more productive and effective.

Conversations. RSVP for an excellent panel discussion set for this Tuesday entitled “Keeping the Free Press Free.” And ICYMI, watch this panel discussion, hosted by ProLegis, that focused on congressional staff pay and benefits and featured Rep. Kilmer and a motley crew of congressional experts.

Continue reading “Forecast for July 19, 2021”

Forecast for July 12, 2021

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Welcome to the First Branch Forecast, your weekly look into the Legislative branch and government transparency. This week’s newsletter is shorter than most; enjoy it while it lasts. You can subscribe here. The Senate is in; it’s a committee work week for the House.

THE TOP LINE

Follow the money. House Appropriators released text for the four remaining appropriations bills: T-HUDCJSEnergy & Water; and Labor-HHS. I have a twitter thread dissecting where the money (and increases) go; if enacted, 55% of all discretionary spending would go to Defense+MilCon-VA. Of the $120 Billion in increased funding levels, 46% would go to Labor-HHS, 18% to Defense+MilCon-VA, and the remaining nine committees receive the dregs. Subcommittee and full committee mark-ups are scheduled to wrap up this week, and floor votes presumably will follow prior to the August recess— assuming there is a recess. Look at the report language, which is generally released 24-hours before the full committee markup, because that language could survive intact even as the bill text changes as Senate appropriators work their way to 60 votes.

In the Senate, Appropriations Chairman Leahy plans ($) to start markups the last week of July or the first week of August. There is no news about negotiations on top line numbers. Few people expect approps bills to become law before the end of the fiscal year on September 30th — more like the end of the calendar year if enough Senate Republicans are willing to deal.

The days (and nights) will be long. Meanwhile, policymakers suspended the debt limit for two years — until this August 1st — and once it is reinstated the US Treasury will hit the debt limit sometime soonish. The congressional negotiation process to suspend or increase the limit most closely resembles a game of catch with a troop of enraged monkeys that toss live grenades. Not only is it a bad idea, but there’s no reason to play that game to begin with.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Capitol Police will run out of funding in August and need an infusion of funding or it will be forced to furlough employees. The House passed a supplemental spending bill, which didn’t contain much detail and was dismissed by Senate Democrats and Republicans. Senator Leahy has been urging Republicans to negotiate for more than a month. On Friday Senate Republicans finally made a counter-offerobtained by Politico, which is 1/3 of the funding level House Democrats had proposed. Well, well, well. Here’s what we think should be included in the bill.

The Bulk Data Task Force, a working group of stakeholders inside and outside Congress focused on improving legislative information, will hold its next meeting this Wednesday, July 14th, from 10:00 AM to 12:00 PM. The public, congressional staff from both chambers, support + agency staff, and everyone else is invited to attend and participate. However, you must register to get the email with the link to attend the virtual meetingRSVP here.

July 21st Webinar on freedom of the press. Next Wednesday, July 21st, our team is hosting a panel discussion focused on the status of the free press in the U.S., concentrating on surveillance of journalists and their sources. Panelists include Jennifer Henrichsen of Yale Law School’s Information Society Project, Kathy Kiely of Missouri University, and Michael De Dora of the Committee to Protect Journalists. It will be moderated by Sean Vitka, Senior Policy Counsel for Demand Progress. RSVP here. (Note the change in date).

Continue reading “Forecast for July 12, 2021”

Forecast for July 6, 2021

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Welcome to the First Branch Forecast, your weekly look into the Legislative branch and government transparency. Subscribe here. We hope you had a wonderful July 4th weekend.

THE TOP LINE

House Appropriations favorably reported six of the twelve spending bills, including a Legislative Branch bill and report that included desperately and long overdue investments in the Legislative Branch, and a Financial Services bill and report with welcome improvements to government transparency. More below.

Top line numbers for the twelve approps subcommittees, totalling $1.5 trillion, were adopted by House Appropriators. Funding is policy, so where will that money go? See below.

The August recess may be a mirage with Congress needing to address the debt ceiling, appropriations for the current fiscal year, the infrastructure/reconciliation bill, and much more (including election protection measures). Republican leaders have many incentives to run out the clock instead of legislate, which would be too bad; will Democratic leaders take advantage of the opportunity to put their agenda in place while they still can?

The Bulk Data Task Force, a working group of stakeholders inside and outside Congress focused on improving legislative information, will hold its next meeting on Wednesday, July 14th from 10:00 AM to 12:00 PM. The public, congressional staff from both chambers, support + agency staff, and everyone else is invited to attend and participate. However, you must register to get the email with the link to attend the virtual meetingRSVP here.

Webinar on freedom of the press. Next Tuesday, July 13th, our team is hosting a panel discussion focused on the status of the free press in the U.S., concentrating on surveillance of journalists and their sources. Panelists include Jennifer Henrichsen of Yale Law School’s Information Society Project, Kathy Kiely of Missouri University, and Michael De Dora of the Committee to Protect Journalists. It will be moderated by Sean Vitka, Senior Policy Counsel for Demand Progress. RSVP here. If you missed it and as preparation for the event, you should definitely read last week’s testimony from Microsoft’s Tom Burt before the House Judiciary Committee: “But what may be most shocking is just how routine court-mandated secrecy has become when law enforcement targets Americans’ emails, text messages, and other sensitive data stored in the cloud.”

Continue reading “Forecast for July 6, 2021”

Demand Progress Proposals Included in FY 2022 Legislative Branch Appropriations Bill and Report

On Tuesday, June 29th, 2021, the full House Appropriations Committee favorably (33-25) reported the FY 2022 Legislative Branch Subcommittee Bill and report. The FY 2022 House Legislative Branch Appropriations Bill and Committee report are packed with good government reforms and significant investments in Congress’s capacity to legislate, conduct oversight, serve constituents, and more.

We and our civil society colleagues made recommendations of dozens of items to include — see our FY 2022 Appropriations requests, FY 2022 appropriations testimony, and 2020 report on updating House Rules  — a number of which made it into the bill and report. We are deeply appreciative of Chair Ryan, Ranking Member Herrera Beutler, and members of the committee for their thoughtful consideration of our requests.

As the Senate considers what to include in its Legislative Branch Subcommittee bill and report, we highlight some of the notable provisions included in the House bill and report. 

Find the complete FY Legislative Branch House Bill here, the report here, and the full committee adopted amendments here. For resources on prior Legislative Branch Appropriations bills, go here.

We did not address this below, but we believe this bill takes a giant leap forward to restoring strength to the Legislative Branch through its efforts to redress decades of underfunding. You can see how line item funding changed over last year. The following addresses some of the policy language included in the bill but there is too much to summarize in this blogpost. Although we were unable to include everything below, you can find a complete list of FY 2022 Legislative Branch Appropriations report items in this comprehensive spreadsheet.

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Spreadsheet: Items Included in the FY 2022 House Legislative Branch Appropriations Report

On Tuesday, the full House Appropriations Committee favorably reported (33-25) the FY 2022 Legislative Branch Appropriations House Bill and report, which contain dozens of good government reforms and significant investments in Congress’s capacity to legislate, conduct oversight, serve constituents, and more.

To help keep track of all items requested by the Legislative Branch Subcommittee, we built a public spreadsheet that maintains a catalog of items, broken down by title, entity responsible, timeline for completion, and due date. See the spreadsheet here and below:

What Items Are Due to Congress: July 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.

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