This week. The House is in today and so is the Senate. After this week, both chambers will take a break from floor legislative activities until July 11th — according to the House floor calendar and Senate floor calendar — although the House will hold a committee work week next week. Afterward, the House has scheduled only 3 weeks of floor activities, and the Senate has scheduled only 4 weeks of floor activities, before both chambers go into summer recess. Rapidly approaching elections suggest the September work period will be short and the interregnum work period in December will be chaotic. It also means that over the next few weeks even the most minor legislative issues will take on a political import that scrambles the likelihood of passage in unusual ways.
As you might expect, this week is terribly busy. In fact, today is the longest day. (Sorry.) We are watching (and participating in) Tuesday’s meeting of the Bulk Data Task Force, Wednesday’s House Appropriations Committee markup of the Legislative Branch Appropriations bill and the Senate’s Leg Branch Approps hearing on the GAO & GPO, and Thursday’s House Modernization Committee hearing on Congress and Technology. There will be several Jan 6th Committee hearings and all of the House Approps subcommittee markups will wrap up this week. (House full committee approps proceedings wrap up next week.) There’s also an interesting House Judiciary hearing on oversight of the DOJ’s National Security Division on Wednesday and a House Admin hearing on disinformation. For more info, see the combined committees schedule.
To track appropriations… you can use our tracker for when the subcommittee markups are scheduled in the House — it also tracks testimony deadlines. In addition, because it’s often hard to find bill text, committee reports, and earmark requests as they move through the approps process, we’ve published a new tracker to find all those documents in the House. And don’t forget our explainer on how to track House approps proceedings. Obviously you should look to the official and semi-official sources for this information, such as Appropriators for the hearing/markup schedule, which is always subject to change, and Congress.gov for their language tracker, although we find the Congress.gov website at times confusing and slightly behind-the-times. (Pro tip: most of the good stuff is hidden behind the “notes.”) We aren’t making any promises on the reliability of our trackers.
Magic-8 ball. We don’t know what’s coming, but our magic-8 ball suggests at least a short term Continuing Resolution is in our future, especially so long as House and Senate appropriators don’t agree on top line spending numbers. The big question here is whether Senate Republicans agree to numbers at all, which they should, but likely will use CRs and the calendar to maximize their leverage to extract concessions. In addition, numerous reports suggest the COVID supplemental is dead, but who knows? And there’s rumors, once again of a budget reconciliation package, but that depends on Sen. Manchin who has shown himself to be half Hamlet and half Mad Max — and how concerned he is that recent moves by the Fed will push the economy into a recession.
LEG BRANCH APPROPRIATIONS
Last week the House Legislative Branch Appropriations subcommittee favorably reported the Legislative Branch Appropriations Bill for FY 2023. This week the full committee is expected to markup that measure on Wednesday. We published online our first reactions to the subcommittee approved bill as well as a line item-by-line item comparison of the FY23 draft bill against FY22 and FY 22. We’re waiting for the release of the draft subcommittee report Tuesday morning at 10 AM, which will put meat on the bones of the bill text.
Our view is that the draft bill is a good bill. Appropriators have proposed a 20% increase over FY 2022, which sounds like a lot until you realize that the Leg Branch bill is the tiniest of the 12 appropriations bills, at about $6-7 billion, and is basically a rounding error when it comes to federal discretionary spending, which is about $1.6 trillion. (If you do the math, it’s 0.375%.) In fact, the $71 million increase in spending on GAO, which has a return on investment that exceeds 100-1, fully pays for the expected ~$6 to $7 billion cost for the Legislative branch. (Yes, GAO’s funding at $790 million has a more than $80 billion return on investment, perhaps much more. In fact, the historical cuts to GAO starting in the Gingrich era probably cost taxpayers in excess of a trillion dollars.)
We are neither thrilled nor surprised that 71% of newly appropriated funds will go to the Capitol Police and the Architect of the Capitol; the former has not shown the capabilities to manage the funds it already receives and the latter has been underfunded so long that it needs the cash infusion. Where we worry is that should we face an environment where funding for the Leg branch is not increasing, we cannot continue the pattern of growing spending on buildings and police, which historically has resulted in a brain drain inside the Legislative branch as policymaking functions are defunded. Such an approach weakens Congress at the expense of the Executive branch and is a false economy: promising savings but in fact massively increasing waste, fraud, and abuse across the federal government.
We applaud many of the smart funding decisions included in the bill, including significant adjustments to personal, committee, and leadership staff funding; improving the intern pipeline by providing a living wage and the creation of a new intern resource office; a significant investment in modernizing the House’s technology and implementing the recommendations of the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress, and providing adequate funding to support the House unionization process. There are also significant changes in funding levels for offices and policy agencies, including the GAO. There’s a lot more that we like, and a lot more details, which we cover in our blogpost. More to come as the committee report comes out.
You’ll note that we haven’t talked about the top line for the Legislative branch. The House approps subcommittee recommended a $5.7 billion funding level, which is a $954.4 million increase over FY22. That number does not include funding for the Senate, which we will not see until the Senate moves its own legislation. House Appropriators will vote Wednesday on the 302bs for Defense and the Legislative branch, which will establish the top lines for the Leg Branch approps bill until an agreement on that number is reached among Ds and Rs in both chambers.
Senate staff need a pay adjustment according to Sen. Schatz and 14 other Senators, as reported in Roll Call by Chris Cioffi. Sen. Schatz’s letter requests a 20% increase in the SOPOEA (the Senate MRA), or about a $97 million increase, and was endorsed by Sens. Coons, Gillibrand, Markey, Warren, Padilla, Sanders, Murphy, Brown, Blumenthal, Merkley, Booker, Wyden, Baldwin, and Klobuchar. We note that Sen. Murphy is the prior subcommittee chair of the Leg Branch Approps subcommittee and Klobuchar is chair of the Senate Rules Committee.
• S. Leg Branch Approps Chair Reed was noncommittal, and Sen Rubio made a non sequitur statement, saying that high inflation around the country is a reason to not increase congressional office budgets. (Obviously, when inflation is high, that’s the time to increase budgets for offices so they can pay their staff more to keep up… with… inflation.) What’s funny — in a sad, not funny kind of way — is that the arguments made in favor of vast increases in funding for the military, i.e. inflation, are the same arguments deployed against paying congressional staff decently. (Quod est demonstratum).
• If you want a capable Congress that can serve constituent needs, draft smart legislation, and conduct oversight, you need to pay people decently. There’s a long history of significantly underfunding staff for political purposes when, ironically, there’s basically no negative political consequence for paying people decently. Case in point:
House Republicans paid their staff slightly more than Democrats in Q1, according to Legistorm. Does this mean anything? (Not really)
Senate committee interns should also get dedicated funding per another letter sent by Sen. Schatz and signed by 15 colleagues, Sens. Brown, Murphy, Murray, Booker, Wyden, Warren, Sanders, Ossoff, Blumenthal, Klobuchar, Durbin, Menendez, Carper, King, and Van Hollen. Why? It means that you don’t have to be wealthy to intern for Congress — internships are a path to public service, you’re paying people for their work, and dedicated funding provides parity for support already provided to personal office interns.
Single Occupancy Restrooms in the Capitol and House of Representatives were requested by Reps. Clark and Jeffries. This kind of restroom is particularly welcoming for families, persons with disabilities, and gender nonconforming individuals. It also is (apparently) in the ADA Standards for toilet rooms.
Congressional unionization is the focus of a podcast from ProLegis that features my colleague Taylor Swift.
CONGRESS & TECH
The Bulk Data Task Force, a congressionally-authorized collaboration of congressional and public stakeholders concerning improving technology and data accessibility inside the Legislative branch, will hold a virtual public meeting this Tuesday from 2-4. All are welcome. On the agenda are presentations from civil society and reports from congressional stakeholders, including the Library of Congress, GPO, the House Clerk, the House CAO, the Secretary of the Senate, CBO, and others.
Congress and Technology is the focus of a House Modernization Committee hearing this Thursday at 9 AM. Witnesses include Stephen Dwyer, senior advisor to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (and the person behind DemCom and DomeWatch), Reynold Schweickhardt, senior advisory to the Lincoln Network (and the former CTO for the House Administration Committee); and Melissa Medina, co-founder of appmyrep (and a former congressional staffer and Congressional Affairs Director for the Congressional App Challenge). The hearing will focus on modernizing the technology innovation cycle inside the Legislative branch.
The House Digital Service, an office set to be launched by the CAO, is the focus of a FNN article by Jason Miller, who interviews the House’s CIO. The office’s goal is to “help get offices from idea to implementation.” The Office will work directly with digital directors and is currently seeking them out to better understand their needs and challenges. I can’t really do the article justice, so you should just read it. 🙂
Rep. Barry Loudermilk is at the center of a fight over whether some Congressional Republicans aided the Trump insurrection by helping them to obtain information about the Capitol complex’s physical security apparatus. I’m not capable of disentangling all the threads here, but in summary: Rep. Loudermilk gave a tour in the Capitol complex on January 5th — but not the Capitol building itself, which is connected to the congressional buildings by tunnels — that apparently included a man who took photos of “areas not typically of interest to tourists.” We know the insurrectionists had sought maps of the congressional building tunnels prior to the attack. That man participated in the events outside the Capitol the next day — he has not been arrested — and the January 6th Committee released a chilling video taken by that man in which he apparently endorsed violence aimed at Members of Congress. “There’s no escape Schumer, Pelosi, Nadler, we’re coming for you…. We’re coming to take you out, to pull you out by your hairs.” He also referred to a man who had transformed a flag into a spear as his leader.
The Capitol Police, in a letter, said that they did not “consider any of the activities they observed” of the man on the tour on January 5th as “suspicious,” although eight Inspector General reports indicate that USCP judgment should not be relied upon as authoritative and the letter’s scope is narrow. The extent to which Members aided the insurrection, and who might have done so, is an open question.
A helping hand? Rep. Sherrill sent a letter on January 13th, 2021, to the Capitol Police asking for “an immediate investigation into the suspicious behavior and access given to visitors to the Capitol Complex on Tuesday, January 5th.” The letter stated that “Members of the group that attacked the Capitol seemed to have an unusually detailed knowledge of the layout of the Capitol Complex.” They seem to have detailed knowledge, perhaps derived from accessing publicly-available maps of the tunnels, but Rep. Loudermilk, who filed an ethics complaint against Rep. Sherrill, asserted that Rep. Sherrill claimed “Republican Members of Congress conducted these alleged tours in order to provide” knowledge of the Capitol Complex to the groups.
Questions. Did (a) Republican Member(s) lead a tour(s) of the Capitol complex on January 5th? Yes. Did a participant on a tour take a number of photographs seemingly relating to “sensitive” congressional security locations? It appears so. Did that participant also participate in the Jan. 6th “rally” outside the Capitol and express violent views towards congressional Democrats? Yes. Did he storm the Capitol? We don’t know. Did he share the photographs with others? We don’t know. Did Rep. Loudermilk have knowledge at the time of the tour that this person was connected with insurrection planning? There’s no public evidence to support that conclusion. Did other Members of Congress provide tours with this foreknowledge? We don’t know, although some Republicans were involved in dozens of planning meetings for the Jan. 6th event. Was it appropriate for Rep. Loudermilk to be giving these tours? In light of COVID, Capitol building tours were not occurring and while Capitol complex tours were discouraged, Republicans disagreed with the closure of the complex and apparently were conducting personal tours.
It would be reasonable to assert that Rep. Loudermilk was unaware of the violent views of the person to whom he gave a tour. There may be non-suspicious reasons for the photographs, as the Capitol policy stated. However, it would also be reasonable to investigate that issue. Some congressional Republicans have been fairly overt in their support for efforts to unlawfully overturn Pres. Biden’s election, and it would not be unfounded to investigate how far that support went and who was involved. At the same time, it’s also important to remember that Rep. Loudermilk himself was the target of stochastic terrorism, which was the baseball shooting a few years ago. Some Republicans view that attack as a consequence of incitement. Nontheless, there’s a distinction between stochaistic terrorism (a lone wolf attack that is statistically likely but essentially unpredictable) and a coordinated assault to overturn our democracy. (Both are deplorable, but they’re not equal.) Republicans and Democrats do not understand or trust one another on a personal level. However, I think Congressional Republicans in particular do not understand the transformative nature of the Trump insurrection and how it has fundamentally affected the presumption of good faith, a perspective that inexorably leads to security measures like metal detectors on the House floor and investigations of whether Members gave aid and support to people trying to overthrow the government.
A few more data points on how the Trump insurrection has made Congress less safe:
• Rep. Dan Crenshaw and his staff “were violently confronted at the Republican Party of Texas convention” by far right activists, who called him a traitor and said he needed to be hanged. He was ridiculed as “eyepatch McCain,” a calumny invented by provocateur Tucker Carlson.
• Rep. Adam Kinzinger, who serves on the January 6th Committee, has received a death threat mailed to home for his participation in its oversight work. The letter threatened his life and that of his family.
• The comedian behind Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, and others, were detained and arrested by the Capitol Police for filming in a Congressional building. Congressional offices had authorized the seven person crew to enter the Longworth House Office Building to record interviews and the team stayed to finish up filming when they were detained by the USCP. There is a lot to unpack here — from how journalists are accredited to enter the Capitol complex to the instances where the USCP push journalists around and bend-over backwards to validate complaints by Members, not to mention whether the Capitol complex is considered a public place and “open” during COVID — but if you want to know how I really feel, check out my late night special, “Is the world getting dumber or is it just me?”
ETHICS & ACCOUNTABILITY
Most House Reps Won’t Cooperate With OCE, the independent Congressional ethics investigators, according to a new Campaign Legal Center report by Danielle Caputo highlighted in an article by Business Insider’s Madison Hall. Per Caputo: in 2022, 63% of members under investigation refused to cooperate; in 2021, 60% of members did not cooperate; but from 2009-2020 only 27% of members did not cooperate. Since 2009, 30 House members have refused to cooperate. Why can they ignore OCE? The 2007 Honest Leadership and Open Government Act, which established OCE, failed to include mechanisms that would encourage or compel members to testify, such as permitting OCE to release reports immediately (in the face of noncompliance) or granting the office first- and third-party subpoena authority. Instead, matters are referred to the Ethics Committee, which is evenly split between Ds and Rs — we note OCE was created in large part because the Ethics Committee was, at the time, unwilling to act and the resulting scandals in part led to a flip in control of the chamber. By the way, those provisions are readopted as part of the House rules package every two years and there have been recommendations for some time on fixes for this.
Is the STOCK Act coming soon? “Substantial changes” will be proposed, according to the House Administration Committee, as reported in Business Insider by Kimberly Leonard and Warren Rojas. When? In the coming weeks. When exactly? Uh….
In the tank. The Nation’s Kate Aronoff uses think tanks that weigh in on energy issues to expose the pipeline between energy companies (like ExxonMobil), the think tanks they fund, and the news media that elevate that analysis without reporting the sources of funding for the analysts and their apparent conflicts of interest. While the conflicts for some analysts at AEI, Brookings, CSIS, and Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy are obvious — others are simply excellent analysts — I urge you to consider that all this is why Congress must fund its analytical and research capabilities at GAO, CRS, CBO, and elsewhere. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts — and the best way to ensure that you’re getting all the facts with a minimum of bias is to have enough analysts of your own, that you pay, and whose loyalty is to you.
ODDS & ENDS
Where is the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights’ budget justifications? They promised to make them publicly available at an appropriations hearing, but indicated to us that they now wouldn’t do so unless specifically directed. So we wrote them a letter asking them to keep that online publication commitment. (We sent it this morning.)
Is the pardon power constrained? With news about a coterie of Trump associates apparently having requested pardons for their activities, what limits are there on the pardon power?
Will earmarks go away? With the retirement of prolific Senate Republican earmarkers at the end of this Congress, Roll Call’s Aiden Quigley wonders whether “it may be difficult for leadership to continue a practice so unpopular in their ranks.” In the meantime, BGOV’s Jack Fitzpatrick reports ($) that House appropriators are fielding more earmark requests for FY23 than FY22: “House members submitted requests for 74% more funds in fiscal 2023 compared to their 2022 requests.” In fact, 345 House lawmakers submitted earmark requests, including 224 Dems and 121 Republicans. (Is this a good time to mention that we wish the earmark request information was published as data and in a central location? )
NFOIC Correction. Last week I wrote that the National Freedom of Information Coalition is shutting down and transferring its responsibilities to the Virginia chapter. Instead, the NFOIC, which has suffered a funding shortfall, will be housed and supported by the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, as per the headline: “NFOIC begins transfer of admin duties to Virginia coalition.”
Casework and redistricting. What happens to casework when redistricting removes constituents from a Members district? I’m honestly not sure, but Rep. Ruiz just introduced legislation, H.R. 7943, that would permit members “to continue to provide services for casework projects on behalf of former constituents who no longer reside in the Member’s congressional district as the result of congressional redistricting.” This would be permitted for the first succession of the succeeding Congress.
A celebration of Carl Levin’s life and legacy was held by the Levin Center.
Five years after the Congressional baseball shooting, Rep. Scalise shares his memories and makes a few political jabs.
My friend Lorelei Kelly and her efforts to build a modern democracy are the focus of an article by the Beeck Center. The dawn of her career saw her delivering books to underground libraries in East Berlin just as the wall came down. Lorelei’s analysis about the state of Congress is spot on: “Congress is incapacitated, physically disconnected, and technologically obsolete,” and it something she has labored long and hard to fix. Her time at the Beeck center is wrapping up and she is looking to her next adventure. Drop her a line.
The Mikulski room and the Chase Smith room are the first rooms in the Senate to be named after women, and the Washington Post’s Paul Kane tells the story of congress’s edifice complex, or why virtually all the rooms are named after men and most of the facilities historically have accommodated only men.
Working with whistleblowers? The House Office of the Whistleblower Ombuds issued recommendations on what language to use when communicating with whistleblowers.
What should Biden do on transparency and the rule of law? The administration has asked for the top three priorities from civil society on this topic, which is essentially an impossible ask in a pluralist society. And yet, a dozen organizations answered the call with this list of priorities. But will the administration take these priorities seriously?
Tuesday, June 21
Hearing on the Trump insurrection, held by the January 6th Committee at 1 PM.
Bulk Data Task Force — quarterly meeting at 2 PM.
Wednesday, June 22
Leg Branch and Defense full approps committee markup, held by the House Appropriations committee at 10 AM.
Report on the Suballocation of Budget Allocations for FY23 for the Defense and Leg Branch Approps bills, House Appropriations Committee, will occur at 10 AM.
Library of Congress and GAO Budget Requests hearing, held by the Senate Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee at 10 AM.
How Disinformation Damages American Democracy, House Administration Committee at 2:30 PM.
CJS Appropriations subcommittee markup, held by the House CJS approps subcommittee at 6:30 PM.
Thursday, June 23
Congress & Technology: Modernizing the Innovation Cycle, held by the House Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress at 9 AM.
Hearing on the Trump insurrection, held by the January 6th Committee, at 1 PM.
Friday, June 24
FSGG Approps full committee markup, held by the House appropriations committee at 9:00 AM.
A PROGRAMMING NOTE
With Congress largely out of town next week and certainly not working the following week, we’re considering taking one (or two) weeks off. You’ll likely see a truncated First Branch Forecast next week and then we’ll just skip a week entirely. Or maybe we’ll send you pictures from the ocean or the mountains. Who knows? Safe travels, everyone.