As hearings into the Trump insurrection start, we join the #CapitolStrong community in recognizing that this can bring up strong feelings among the Members, staff, employees, journalists, and others who work on Capitol Hill or are close to those who do. Some mental health resources are available on the coalition website.
This week. The House is in on Monday and the Senate is in on Monday. The House begins subcommittee markup of its appropriations bills and will hold three hearings this week into the Trump insurrection. Senate Armed Services is holding subcommittee markups of the National Defense Authorization Act.
House Appropriations subcommittee markups will take place June 15-22, with full committee markups June 22-30, per the official announcement. Our spreadsheet includes the updated schedule for both chambers in an easy-to-read format. (Schedules are subject to change). We note there is no agreement on top line numbers, so funding levels are still subject to negotiation, and Republicans are already suggesting a short-term CR.
Tracking appropriations markups can be challenging. How far in advance does a meeting have to be noticed? When are the draft bills and reports due to committee members? To the public? We answer all those questions, and more, in our perennial guide on how to track House approps markups.
What will we be tracking? We’ll be keeping a particular close eye on Leg Branch approps, scheduled for subcommittee markup on Wednesday, June 15th, with a full committee markup on the 22nd; FSGG, which is June 16th and 24th; CJS, on June 22nd and 29th; and Defense, June 15th and 22nd. Also, the subcommittee allocations will be adopted in the House on June 30th — this is what establishes the funding levels for the twelve appropriations subcommittees for the chamber… although presumably the bills considered up to that point will be a good indicator. We’ll be watching those top-line numbers and whether good government priorities make it into the bill + committee reports.
A STRONGER CONGRESS
“Only the wealthy can afford to serve in Congress,” and how to address Member recruitment and retention issues, was the focus of a House Modernization Committee meeting this past week. (Video, documents). There are many reasons why private citizens run for Congress and why they depart.
• Some of these issues can be addressed directly, such as having a predictable schedule, ensuring people get credit for the (legislative) work that they do, and fostering a collaborative environment where people have agency.
• Some of the issues cannot be addressed directly, such as Member pay being frozen at 2009 levels, which affects the incentives for the congressional workhorses who can earn more money elsewhere.
• Some issues don’t have clear solutions, such as: how do you give Members opportunities to advance while also making sure that expert hands guide leadership and the committees? Or what to do about media narratives that equate recess with a vacation?
• Other issues have clear solutions, but the solutions are partisan, such as how to address all the money Members must raise to run for office.
Housing. One topic at the hearing that caused our ears to perk up is the question of housing. It is hard for many Members of Congress to maintain a second residence in D.C., prompting some to sleep in their offices, which is gross and unprofessional. It is also undoubtedly true that the value of the congressional salary has eroded in real terms. So why not provide a housing stipend for those Members of Congress who need it? (And, in doing so, trade off the existence of the stipend with a rule against sleeping in the office.)
• Let’s play it out. The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in DC is $2,527. An older OpenSecret report indicates about 80 Members of the House and about 16 Senators have a net wealth lower than their salary of $174k. Why not provide a housing subsidy for only those Members with a comparatively low net worth and need to have a second dwelling — at a rate pegged to the median cost of a one-bedroom apartment in DC? Why not provide a further benefit, for qualifying newly elected members, to help pay for their security deposit and initial rent? There’s not a lot of jobs that make you pay out of pocket for housing when you travel to another location, and even Members of Congress shouldn’t have to pay out of pocket for work-related expenses.
Floor for staff pay? Should there be a chamber-wide minimum pay level for Senate staffers like what now exists in the House? Pablo Manríquez put the minimum pay level question to a dozen senators. Their views did not follow party lines in the least. Sens. Rounds, Peters, Schatz, and Menendez were supportive. Sens. Shelby and Blunt had not previously considered the issue. Sen. Johnson seemed to oppose a minimum salary. Some senators said they pay above the $45k threshold but would not want a chamber-wide rule, such as Sens. Romney and Sanders. Sen. Kaine preferred setting his own path, saying his staff are compensated well. Hmmm.
NFOIC, the National Freedom of Information Coalition, which plans the annual FOI Summit and manages Knight FOI Litigation Fund grants, is shutting down due to a funding shortfall and transferring its responsibilities to the Virginia chapter. The last half-decade has seen a serious defunding of the open government and accountability space, including the demise of the Sunlight Foundation and OMB Watch and a shift in priorities for other advocacy organizations that are struggling to maintain their programs. Transparency is essential to the proper functioning of government, but as funding follows political fashion, the circle of those watching the watchers grows ever smaller.
DHS is moving to a new FOIA system in June, which it expects will be able to process records faster but the transition may result in temporary delays in responding to requests. DHS is getting ahead of the disruptions by publicly announcing the issue, which is a smart move, and is publishing the transition schedule on its website. It will still be possible to submit requests by email, but it prefers folks use the new system.
The FOIA Advisory Committee at the National Archives has put out a call for new members, with nominations due by Thursday, June 30th at 5 PM.
More Capitol Police failures are on display in an excellent Rolling Stone article that features whistleblower documents that had not previously been disclosed, many of which point to significant mismanagement and retaliation in the intelligence division.
• We note, with a fair degree of irritation, that we now have access to the full text of a 114-page IG report on the performance of the intelligence operations related to January 6th, as contrasted with the flash report on that topic released to the public, which is only 7 pages long. There were 8 IG reports, which suggests only 5% of the IG findings were made publicly available. (All public documents are published here.) The full IG report was published by the Project on Government Oversight.
• The best practice for IGs, of course, is to publish all their IG reports, including the full text thereof, so as to create a culture of accountability and prevent agencies from sweeping problems under the rug. The USCP IG, per a non-public directive from the Capitol Police Board, does not publish its reports, although House Appropriators have pushed for the IG reports to be publicly available. We note that the head of the intelligence division is still in leadership at the Capitol Police and that USCP officers do not enjoy full whistleblower protections.
The Law Library of Congress has gathered together its reports going back to the 1960s concerning the regulation of firearms abroad. These reports on the legal approaches taken by other countries are an illustration of the breadth of the Law Library’s coverage of topics and highlight the utility of publishing historical reports online… especially as they can be relevant today. The Law Library of Congress publishes reports on foreign, comparative, and international law in response to requests by Members of Congress. This contrasts with the Congressional Research Service, which focuses on domestic matters and — despite congressional encouragement — generally does not publish its historical reports.
Finishing school for insurrectionists. Jail is strengthening bonds among the rabble who seek to overthrow the government, suggests Andrea Bernstein and Ilya Marritz in the New Yorker.
Now hear this. We are thinking a lot about the Trump insurrection hearings. Readers of this newsletter should have no doubts about our views on ex-Pres. Trump and those who aided and abetted him. The narrow aperture of this newsletter, at least with respect to the Trump insurrection, focuses more specifically on questions of: how do we secure our democracy against authoritarians? How do we strengthen Congress to push back against would-be autocrats? How do we modernize our legislature so that it reflects all the voices in our democracy and avoids political lock-in where a handful control its outcomes? And, how do you address circumstances where our democratic systems allow malefactors to undermine democracy itself? You know, easy questions.
An oversight? We also are thinking about what lessons, if any, can be learned from the conduct of the Jan. 6th committee (and others). Committees hold hearings for many reasons and in many different ways. We have many options here: how membership is structured, how leadership is chosen; who staffs the committee; what powers it has; whether proceedings are open; how questions are asked; how debate occurs; how the public-facing results are presented. When I see articles on these topics I’ll try to elevate them. I’d be glad to hear from you, too.
Pardon me. We’re also thinking about keeping a list of Members of Congress who asked Trump for a pardon. It appears there may be a fair number of them — and such a request may constitute consciousness of guilt that, to us, suggests an investigation by the appropriate congressional ethics entities may be in order.
ETHICS & ACCOUNTABILITY
Model of a modern major general. Retired four-star General John R. Allen, who went on to lead the Brookings Institution in 2017, had his electronic data seized by the FBI, according to the AP, which reports he “made false statements and withheld ‘incriminating’ documents about his role in an illegal foreign lobbying campaign on behalf of the wealthy Persian Gulf nation of Qatar.” We are reminded of the 2014 New York Times article entitled “Foreign Powers Buy Influence at Think Tanks,” which explains how “Qatar, the small but wealthy Middle East nation, agreed last year to make a $14.8 million, four-year donation to Brookings, which has helped fund a Brookings affiliate in Qatar and a project on United States relations with the Islamic world.” Experts suggest this constitutes “implicit agreements that the research groups would refrain from criticizing the donor governments.” Other think tanks have these non-transparent arrangements where influence is apparently purchased and used to influence governmental policy. (Update: as of Sunday, Allen has resigned. No word on whether the underlying problems will be addressed.)
It’s good to be the philosopher-kings. Supreme Court Justices are raking in the cash and were compensated for attending some very questionable events, according to their newly-released financial disclosures published by FixTheCourt. It shouldn’t have taken a law to make them publish this information online, but it did, which will go into effect soon.
How to identify whistleblower-related matters is the focus of a video short and related guidance document from the House Office of the Whistleblower Ombuds for congressional caseworkers.
Know a champion of effective oversight? The Levin Center is seeking nominations.
ODDS & ENDS
Dianne Feinstein’s career, a retrospective: where did it all go wrong? In a lengthy profile full of insight, by The Cut’s Rebecca Traister, the article asks again and again about what does an institutionalist — focused on respectability politics and civility — do when the institution itself is on fire? A contrasting article, published in The Nation by Jeet Heer, argue that the fault is not in the stars, dear friends, but in ourselves: arguing that Sen. Feinstein and her generational cohort “remain committed to a fantasy politics unsuited to our age,” i.e., “Feinstein’s centrism is merely an exercise in fatuous and feckless nostalgia.”
The fate of Puerto Rico is in Congress’s hands, but should that draft legislation be translated into Spanish? Por que no?
Pensions for felon ex-members? The National Taxpayers Union Foundation is celebrating a fifteen-year-old law that cuts-off pensions for congressional felons, but is concerned both about what they view as loopholes in the law and a lack of information about its application. I don’t know how I feel about this law and whether it should be amended, but it is interesting.
House Office of Diversity and Inclusion is hiring for three new positions.
Inside the Ukrainian Parliament. How is it continuing to operate? Two Ukranian parliamentarians will speak on this topic, and answer questions, in a discussion set for June 16 at 10 AM.
A public safety deal concerning firearms has come together, providing ammunition for the argument that the Senate can do something and also that the Senate is unable to do enough to stem the ~45,000 gun-related deaths each year, as the 60 vote threshold means many measures supported by an overwhelming majority of Americans cannot come up for a vote.
Trump insurrection hearing #2, held by the January 6th committee, on Monday at 10.
GAO’s recs to “Reduce Fragmentation, Overlap, and Duplication and Achieve Billions of Dollars in Financial Benefits” is the focus of HSGAC hearing on Tuesday, June 14th.
Trump insurrection hearing #3, held by the January 6th committee, on Wednesday at 10.
Leg Branch approps markup, held by the House Leg branch approps subcommittee, on Wednesday at 11.
FSGG approps markup, held by the House FSGG approps subcommittee, on Thursday at 11.
Down the line
• Bulk Data Task Force — quarterly meeting onTuesday, June 21 at 2 PM.
Leg Branch and Defense full approps committee markup, held by the House Appropriations committee, on Wednesday, June 22 at 10 AM.
CJS Appropriations subcommittee markup, held by the House CJS approps subcommittee on Wednesday, June 22, at 6:30 PM.
FSGG Approps full committee markup, held by the House appropriations committee on Friday, June 24, at 9:00 AM.