First Branch Forecast for May 31, 2022: Capture the Flag

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This week. Happy Memorial Day recess—both chambers are out this week, giving us (and hopefully you, too) a chance to take a break, or at least slow down.

Approps. We were expecting Senate Leg branch approps hearing with the USCP, GAO, and Library of Congress last week, but it was postponed. Stay tuned

Approps timeline. Here is our list of deadlines to submit appropriations requests and testimony. According to Bloomberg government ($): in the House expect June markups teeing up July floor votes; in the Senate expect markups in July and early August. The Senate timeline will depend heavily on whether senior Appropriators reach an agreement on the top line spending numbers for defense (wartime) and non-defense (peacetime) spending. Summer recess is currently scheduled to start July 29 (House) and August 5 (Senate). 

More appropriations. It’s possible there will be more supplemental appropriations bills, and of course there’s the upcoming markup of the (authorizing) National Defense Authorization Act, which means the calendar could go sideways.

Earmarks? Appropriations bills could contain significantly more earmark requests than last year’s, and more people are requesting earmarks, according to Roll Call, although the total amount is kept as a constant percentage of federal discretionary spending.

Unionization timeline clarified. OCWR published a statement that regulations allowing House staff to unionize will go into effect on July 18, 2022 (not July 15, as we wrote last week). The regulations were published on May 16, 2022. The OCWR has the authority to shorten that time period for “good cause,” an authority it thus far has declined to exercise.

Next week. We’re planning on taking a week off from the newsletter, unless of course something big happens. Send us your tips!

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First Branch Forecast for May 23, 2022: Member Days

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This week. The Senate is back Tuesday; the House has a committee work week. Approps hearings continue, with USCP, GAO, and the Library of Congress testifying re: their budget requests before the Senate Leg Branch SubCmte on Wednesday. Also on Wednesday, HSGAC will hold a markup for a slate of good government bills, some of which are worthy of our attention. (More on that below.)

Unionization timeline. The OCWR published its final regulations allowing for House staff to unionize on May 16th. This sets a 60-day clock for implementation on July 15, 2022. The OCWR declined to exercise its authority to shorten the waiting period “for good cause,” but maybe it can be persuaded.

Approps. When is your testimony due? Remember our list of appropriations deadlines.

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First Branch Forecast for May 16, 2022: A better Congress

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This week. The Senate is in today as is the House. Next week is a House committee-only work week, followed by the Memorial Day break in both chambers. On suspension on the House floor is a bill to strengthen the VA IG. The committee schedule is filled with appropriations hearings, but we also note that the House Judiciary Cmte has a hearing on potential reforms to emergency powers and the House Leg Branch SubCmte is holding a Member Day hearing.

Because this IS appropriations season, here is our list of appropriations deadlines for member testimony and public witness testimony in both chambers.

UNION

The big news. Many political and nonpolitical House staff will be able to unionize now that Rep. Levin’s resolution, H.Res.1096, passed the House last week. The OCWR must publish the regulations in the Congressional Record and (oddly) the OCWR has not (yet?) exercised its authority to shorten the 60 day waiting period, which starts upon publication in the Congressional Record, for the protections to go into effect. OCWR had testified to House Admin that the House could speed up implementation if it elucidated good cause to shorten the window, suggesting (at the time) that those views could be published in an accompanying committee report. Maybe there’s some other way they could be communicated?

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Statement on Vote on May 10, 2022 to Allow House Staff to Unionize

“Today’s vote to allow House staff to unionize portends a significant advance in the working conditions for congressional staff and is a high point in efforts to restore Congress’s strength as a robust institution capable of working on behalf of the American people,” said Daniel Schuman, policy director, Demand Progress.

“In the wake of a series of revelations about mistreatment of congressional staff and in the aftermath of decades of neglect, House political and non-political staff will finally be able to organize and negotiate for better working conditions without fear of retaliation.

We applaud all the congressional staffers and particularly the Congressional Workers Union for their ceaseless advocacy in support of improving staff working conditions; we commend Representative Andy Levin for his championing of the congressional unionization resolution, co-sponsored by a wide array of Members of Congress; Representative Zoe Lofgren for conducting thorough oversight through the Committee on House Administration; and Speaker Pelosi and senior leadership for bringing the measure to the House floor.

In combination with adjusting office funding levels by 21%, providing significant investments in Congress’s oversight capabilities, ensuring that no staffer earns below a living wage, and strengthening workplace protections, this House of Representatives has done more to strengthen the Legislative Branch than any Congress in the last 30 years.”

First Branch Forecast for May 9, 2022: Union means together

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Welcome back. The Senate is in today; the House is back tomorrow. On the House floor, a resolution to allow House staff to unionize will be brought to a vote later this week. Senate Leg branch approps has started its hearings, with the Architect, CBO, and Senate SAA on Wednesday; House FSGG approps will hear from the federal judiciary on Thursday and hold a member day hearing on Friday.

TREATING STAFF LIKE PEOPLE

Overview. This week had a ton of good news for Congressional staff. A vote is set to adopt Rep. Levin’s resolution that would afford many House political and non-political staff the opportunity to organize into a union. Speaker Pelosi issued a pay order that will require, by September 1, that all House staff be paid no less than $45,000 annually. And Speaker Pelosi increased the maximum pay a staffer can earn to $203,700, from $199,300, an amount identical to the top rate for Senate staff. The minimum pay levels and pay order enjoys strong bipartisan support, and rightly so. Last week Reps. Hoyer and Jeffries sent an excellent letter calling for COLAs for political offices and a wide range of improved staff benefits. And, lest we forget, the House Modernization Committee has advanced scores of recommendations to improve legislative operations. This House is on track to improve the working conditions for its staff in the 117th Congress more than Congress has over the last three decades combined.

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Statement on House Unionization Vote + Establishment of Minimum Wage

“Today is a proud moment in congressional history and portends a significant advance in the working conditions for congressional staff,” said Daniel Schuman, policy director of Demand Progress, a non-governmental organization focused on strengthening our democracy that has led a broad coalition to advocate for the right of congressional staff to unionize and pushed for higher staff pay.

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First Branch Forecast for May 2, 2022: A real coup

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This week. The Senate is inthe House is out until May 10. We are sending an abbreviated First Branch Forecast because we are tired. Don’t worry, we’ll have the highlights from the gazillion hearings this past week, including 3 Leg Branch, 2 CJS, and House Judiciary and ModCom hearings.

TREATING STAFF LIKE PEOPLE

No one noticed, but the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights published a notice of proposed rulemaking on updating outdated overtime regulations for the Legislative branch. This is a BFD if you think that staff who work more than 40 hours a week should receive overtime pay. And we do. OCWR said this rulemaking would “modify this substantially lower salary test set by the 1996 FLSA Substantive Regulations that are financially outdated and yet remain in effect.” How out of date? The current requirements make staff eligible for overtime only if they earn under $13,000 per year, way below poverty level. If you think it should be higher, public comments are due by May 26 to [email protected].

Compensating Leg branch staff on par with Exec branch staff remains a priority for Demand Progress and other civil society organizations, Chris Cioffi noted in Roll Call last week. The House should implement the House IG’s 2021 recommendations to ensure pay parity and provide an annual cost-of-living adjustment for Leg branch employees.

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