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).

APPROPRIATIONS

CJS appropriations will hold its subcommittee markup today at 3:00 pm ET. The subcommittee has jurisdiction over the Justice Department, and Demand Progress requested the subcommittee include language on transparency for opinions issued by the Office of Legal Counsel. This office was the subject of a recent Senate Judiciary nomination hearing that we examined in last week’s newsletter. Congress has struggled to access OLC opinions, which in aggregate create a de facto body of secret law that largely defies public or congressional scrutiny.

House Appropriations Homeland and Defense Subcommittees will hold their markups on the FY 2022 Appropriations bills at 10:00 am ET tomorrow. Both subcommittee reports should be released at 10:00 am today.

Virtue signaling. Some members of Congress have decided to not spend all the funds allocated to them and “return them to the treasury.” This is foolish in part because if they used the funds wisely they would save taxpayers a lot more money than they “return.” It’s also, argue our colleagues at Issue Onean essential aspect of doing their jobs. What they are actually signalling is that they think their constituents will fall for this deception.

Some people argue, by the way, that increasing pay for staff does not actually go towards increased policymaking or better constituent services, but instead to build up a communications shop. In fact, Rep. Cawthorn said he would build his office around comms, not legislating. The data is in, thanks to Legistorm, and it appears that just isn’t true: his office looks like a typical congressional office, at least when it comes to job titles.

TRUMP INSURRECTION + CAPITOL SECURITY

House Minority Leader McCarthy’s appointees for the Jan. 6th Select Committee are yet to be named, and in the meantime he’s caught in a trap of his own making, at least according to Politico. I don’t follow their logic.

The Capitol fence was removed late last week. Other restrictions persist, and the Capitol Complex will remain closed to visitors (except those escorted by staff). On January 28, USCP Acting Chief Pittman called for the fence to be permanent; in February, Demand Progress led a bipartisan effort with Lincoln Network and a coalition of organizations to oppose permanent fencing around the Capitol Complex.

Reporters who responded to the events of January 6th continue to grapple with its deep psychological repercussions. Between returning to a site of acute trauma and covering the increasingly fraught partisan divide in lawmakers’ narratives of the day, many reporters are finding it more difficult than ever to continue doing their jobs. Some are still hesitant to reenter the building, some have entered therapy, and some have even taken early retirements. Journalists have been under attack for years — witness the abuse aimed at them by Pres. Trump — and we have to do more to protect the fourth estate.

The USCP says it has improved protection programs for Members of Congress beyond the Capitol region and is working to build field offices around the country to further bolster protections, including in California and Florida. We’ve seen the vast majority of changes driven by outside the USCP — by authorizers and appropriators — and we retain grave concerns about its leadership, its structure, its mission, its work environment, and how security is managed and overseen for the Capitol complex.

CONGRESSIONAL OPERATIONS

The Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress is restructuring how it holds hearings, one of several efforts undertaken to shift the culture of Congress toward one that champions collaboration and policymaking rather than posturing to adhere to social norms and political incentives.

Rep. Clyburn urged Pres. Biden to support amending the filibustercreating a carve-out for legislation that applies to the Constitution. As Supreme Court decisions combined with rising authoritarianism strengthen the likelihood of permanent minority rule, congressional Democrats are pushing for procedural reforms to allow Members of Congress who represent a majority of the country to fix our broken political system before it becomes impossible to do so.

TRANSPARENCY + ACCOUNTABILITY

Athan Theoharis, a historian who wielded FOIA like a scalpel, has died. From the obituary: “Beginning in the mid-1970s, Professor Theoharis, who taught history at Marquette University in Milwaukee, deftly used Freedom of Information Act requests to pry open the F.B.I.’s deep well of secrets, including the extent to which Hoover compiled damning information on public officials and his cooperation with Senator Joseph McCarthy’s campaign against people he accused of being Communists.” What did he find? A lot. And his work helped support the Church Committee, which found even more. With the FBI no longer subject to the post-Hoover restrictions, what’s past is prologue.

Modernizing the courts should lead to better accessibility, not worse, one would think. Courthouse News filed a lawsuit against county court clerks in Virginia after significant delays in disclosing court documents, which they justified as incidental to the process of switching to e-filing. The Fourth Circuit Appeals Court, however, ruled that court documents should be made accessible immediately upon filing, and that withholding them is a violation of First Amendment rights.

TECHNOLOGY

30,000 bills and resolutions from 1799 to 1873 were transferred to Congress.govfrom the outdated Century of Lawmaking website, the Library of Congress announced. Congress.gov is five years old and a welcome replacement to the terribly outdated THOMAS website — alongside the publication of its information as data — and the Library has even older web properties, such as the source of these documents. We are pleased to see the integration of this data and encourage the Library to continue efforts to make all legislation, committee documents, and other legislative information available online in a central website and available for download as data. Perhaps we will hear more about this at the upcoming Bulk Data Task Force meeting.

The 2021 Member Online All Star competition is underway, an annual contest that pushes House Democratic Members and Committee Majorities to gain more followers on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Youtube and incentivizes creative uses of social media and digital tools to better serve constituents. You can check who’s leading the race here.

ETHICS

Speaker Pelosi’s husband Paul Pelosi netted a $4.8 million financial gain from investments in the Alphabet Inc. stock just one week before the House Judiciary Committee advanced six antitrust bills that aim to significantly limit how big tech companies — including Google, Amazon, Apple, and Facebook Inc. — sell their products. Mr. Pelosi also bought thousands of dollars worth of “call options” for Apple and Amazon, betting that the companies will continue to see gains through next year.

I’m just reporting the headline: “Photos show shirtless Democratic congressmen and their wives riding camels on a Qatar trip paid for by a special interest group.” Uhhhhh.

GPO’s IG has a new report reviewing the agency’s suspension and debarment program.

CALENDAR

The House and Senate committee schedules are here.

Monday

• House Appropriations CJS Subcommittee will hold its markup of the FY 2022 Appropriations bill at 3:00 pm ET.

Tuesday

• House Appropriations Homeland and Defense Subcommittees will hold their markups on the FY 2022 Appropriations bills at 10:00 am ET.

Wednesday

• Senate HSGAC is holding a meeting at 9:15 em ET to consider numerous bills, including S.1324, to establish a Civilian Cyber Security Reserve as a pilot project to address the cyber security needs for the United States with respect to national security, S.533, to require a guidance clarity statement on certain agency guidance, S.629, to amend chapter 8 of title 5, United States Code, to require Federal agencies to submit to the Comptroller General of the United States a report on rules that are revoked, suspended, replaced, amended, or otherwise made ineffective.

• The Bulk Data Task Force has its next public meeting on Wednesday, July 14 from 10:00 AM to 12:00 PM. You must register to get the email with the link to attend the virtual meetingRSVP here.

Thursday

• Library of Congress will hold a webinar on Constitution Annotated on Congress.gov on Thursday, July 15 at 11:00 am ET.