First Branch Forecast for July 25, 2022: Après moi, le déluge


This week. In the House, it’s the last week before summer recess. It’s also the Senate’s penultimate week before recess — though we’re seeing calls for both chambers to stay in session. The House will consider a huge semiconductor R&D bill and perhaps public safety legislation concerning firearms. Senate Democratic Appropriators may publish their approps bills. Expect scores of UC and suspension bills.

In committee this week, House Admin will hold two relevant hearings: one on foreign and domestic sources of disinformation and another on the so-called independent state legislature theory. On Thursday, the ModCom will hold a hearing on innovative approaches to fixing Congress. There are also a bunch of red meat hearings.

Last week. The House passed the minibus package of six appropriations bills, but Majority Leader Hoyer told BGov it’s unlikely the other three (CJS, Labor-HHS-Education, and State and Foreign Operations) originally slated to go before recess will be brought to a vote, and of course there’s three more not yet on the docket. Steve Bannon was found guilty of contempt of Congress, but how we got here highlights problems with how the contempt process works. And ICYMI the ModCom favorably reported 29 new recommendations. More on contempt and ModCom below.

Building digital capacity in Congress. The recently-launched House Digital Service pilot presents an excellent opportunity to streamline and institutionalize congressional tech improvements. The Lincoln Network has a new report out with recommendations for strengthening the HDS. The authors advocate securing strong funding for the program; ensuring oversight over HDS; creating pathways for interacting with civil society; broadening HDS’s mandate; and more.

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Demand Progress Action and Congressional Progressive Staff Association Call on Senate Leadership to Increase Staff Pay Floor to $45,000

The CPSA letter was signed by 150 current congressional staffers, while the letter led by the advocacy organization Demand Progress Action was signed by over 15 organizations.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the Congressional Progressive Staff Association (CPSA) and Demand Progress Action sent two letters to Senator Pro-Tempore Patrick Leahy and Senate Leadership calling for the upper chamber to match the House’s commitment to paying their staff a minimum salary of $45,000 a year.

Following the release of CPSA’s survey data analyzing workplace conditions of over 500 staffers in both the House and Senate, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced a pay floor of $45,000 for all congressional staffers in the House. This will officially become House policy on September 1st, but thousands of staffers in the Senate will still be making less than $45,000 a year without further action from Senate Leadership.

Writing as the “staffers who make up the fabric of your offices,” the signers of the letter say that “establishing a minimum salary floor of $45,000 for Senate staff would be a welcome change for the staffers who commit their lives to this institution. Like House staffers, Senate staff struggle to pay rent, bills, and keep food on the table. 

Compensating Senate staff fairly would not only enable current staff to keep their heads above water while the cost of living rises across the country, but it would also open more doors in the halls of Congress to those who wish to make their country a better place.

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First Branch Forecast for July 18, 2022: Accumulation of Facts


Happy House Union Day to all those who celebrate! Today is the day House staff can join a labor union under protection of law. It’s a historic occasion a quarter-century in the making. And yet, some Senate staff cannot collectively bargain until the Senate approves regulations adopted by the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights and some joint staff cannot collectively bargain until both chambers approve OCWR regs.

→ If you missed our Power of Unions in Congress panel last week, catch up on the video here. We covered all you need to know and the fight yet to come. Also, don’t miss Pablo Manríquez’s New Republic piece covering much of the unionization road up to this point, including Manríquez’s own pivotal role in making sure the right questions got asked.

→ We’ll be tracking which offices are unionizing and we anticipate some announcements on Monday. If you’ve got news for us, reach out to [email protected].

This week on the floor. Both the House and Senate are in. House Democrats have unveiled their strategy to pass as many approps bills as possible before recess: bringing a package of six less-controversial bills to the floor this week (H.R. 8294), then trying to move at least three more — likely saving Defense, Homeland Security for later and Leg branch as well. On the Senate side, without Republican negotiation on topline numbers, Senate Dems will forgo markups and publish their draft bills by August. There’s a bunch of messaging bills moving, and the black hole that was Biden’s Build Back Better could show up any day now. “Trust me.” Ironically, apparently the deconstruction of reconciliation after the Manchin slow-roll — looks like progressives were right to try to tie infrastructure to BBB — makes it more likely appropriations bill become law this congress.

This Tuesday in the committees:

• House Intel will mark up the Intelligence Authorization Act (H.R.5412) at 10 AM

• House Judiciary will discuss the government’s unconstitutional access to our personal data purchased via data brokers at 10 AM. (For a fix, see the Fourth Amendment is Not for Sale Act, S.1265 and H.R. 2738).

• House ModCom will mark up its modernization recs at 10 AM

• Senate Rules will hold a hearing on the DISCLOSE Act (S.443) at 3 PM

• More in the calendar section

Don’t miss: the House passed the NDAA last week, which we haven’t had a chance to assess. We were alerted, by a House Oversight Committee press release, to the welcome inclusion of the PLUM Act — a bill we’ve long supported to increase transparency of political appointees — and many elements of the IG Independence and Empowerment Act. Also, the House passed the Improving Government for America’s Taxpayers Act, which Dan Lips at the Lincoln Network lauds as rightly requiring GAO to annually tell Congress what taxpayers could save if federal agencies enacted all of its open priority recommendations.

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Statement on passage of the Periodically Listing Updates to Management (PLUM) Act

The House included the Periodically Listing Updates to Management (PLUM) Act as an amendment to the FY 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) passed last week.

“In passing the Periodically Listing Updates to Management (PLUM) Act, Congress just took an important step to increase transparency of political appointees, who are among the most senior leaders of the Executive branch, and known for having ‘plum positions’ because of their close and confidential relationships with key officials and ability to steer policy matters with little public oversight,” said Daniel Schuman, policy director at Demand Progress.

“The PLUM Act provides Congress and taxpayers with a tool to hold administrations and their appointees accountable by requiring the Director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management to create a frequently-updated online directory of senior government leaders and vacant senior Executive branch positions. This is a vast improvement over the current practice of publishing a paper-only book every four years and should also increase the visibility of public service opportunities and widen the pool of diverse candidates pursuing high-level positions in the federal government.

Demand Progress has long supported the bill, and we commend Representatives Connolly, Castro, Mfume, Ocasio-Cortez, Sarbanes; Del. Norton; and Senators Braun, Duckworth, and Merkley for advancing this bipartisan legislation to resolve an important issue raised by the Government Accountability Office, which noted in a March 2019 report that ‘there is no single source of data on political appointees serving in the executive branch that is publicly available, comprehensive, and timely.’”

Statement on House Union Rules Taking Effect

Today, the House is marking a major milestone that will forever change the rights of staff as recently-approved Office of Workplace Rights regulations permitting unionization go into effect.

“Staff in the House of Representatives work long hours at low pay to meet the needs of the American people and we are pleased they will finally be able to enjoy a crucial right long available to workers across the country: the right to collectively organize to improve their working conditions,” said Daniel Schuman, policy director at Demand Progress. “Providing House political and non-political staff the ability to join a labor union, an effort a quarter-century in the making, illustrates one avenue to transform the institution from within, as Congress’s ability to function well depends on a well-trained, expert staff devoted to making our democracy work for all. Additional work remains, including extending these labor rights to Senate political staff and some support agency staff currently excluded from collective bargaining laws.”

Video – The Power of Unions in Congress: Know Your Rights

Demand Progress Education Fund hosted a virtual event on Wednesday, July 13, 2022, titled “The Power in Unions in Congress: Know Your Rights.” The event featured recorded remarks from Representative Andy Levin, lead sponsor of the House congressional unionization resolution.

Panelists helped clarify what rights and protections will be granted to congressional staffers, what will happen when staffers officially unionize their offices, and also discussed the history of the unionization movement in Congress.

The distinguished panel included:

Katherine Tully-McManus, Politico Huddle (moderator)

Rep. Andy Levin, lead sponsor of the House unionization resolution (opening remarks)

Jeff Friday, general counsel at the National Federation of Federal Employees

Kevin Mulshine, former counsel at the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights

Yvette Piacsek, deputy general counsel at National Federation of Federal Employees, IAMAW, AFL-CIO

Taylor J. Swift, policy advisor at Demand Progress (event host)

Watch the full discussion below.

First Branch Forecast for July 11, 2022: The Plot Thickens


This week. There are just a few weeks left until August recess — three in the House, four in the Senate — which means everything’s accelerating.

• They’re back. The Senate is back on Monday and the House is back on Tuesday. It’s NDAA week in the House (amendments are here); Senate Dems appear to be lining up another stab at reconciliation. On suspension in the House is the Improving Government for America’s Taxpayers Act, which strengthens how GAO reports to Congress on open priority recommendations. (Maybe the Senate should be thinking about hotlining the bill?)

• Looking at the committee calendar, we note a Thursday ModCom hearing on modernizing constituent services. Also, join our panel discussion on congressional unionization Wednesday, which anticipates the regs going into effect next Monday. (CPSA & DWS happy hour this Friday at 6 — coincidence?)

• Looking ahead, the House will vote on an approps package of six bills, i.e., HR 8294 containing transportation, agriculture, energy and water, financial services, environment, and military construction, the week of July 18th, according to BGOV ($). Submit your amendments to House Rules by this Wednesday at 10 AM. Presumably we will see a Senate approps markup or release of their bills in the next few weeks, and possibly a floor vote on the other 6 House approps bills — watch for triangulation on defense spending. Also watch out for a Joe Manchin-sized reconciliation package, which in theory could happen any day now.

Do you have a pet bill that must move in the next few weeks or risk dying at the end of this Congress? We’re keeping informal track of bills to strengthen Congress, promote government transparency, and bring balance to the force. Just hit reply — yes, those all go to me — with the bill name, number, and why there oughta be a law (or a resolution). We’ll feature (anonymously) some of those bills-on-the-bubble in the hopes it might spur a Senate hotline or House suspension.

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Event Announcement – The Power of Unions in Congress: Know Your Rights

How does unionization work in Congress? What’s the history behind this congressional unionization movement? What rights will be granted to me as a congressional employee? 

There’s a lot of information — and misinformation — out there. With the July 18 deadline for the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights to implement the resolution that grants House staff the right to organize quickly approaching, Demand Progress Education Fund is convening several government labor experts to discuss various rights and protections offered to staff to empower congressional staff with the knowledge they need to successfully implement unions in the House of Representatives. 

Join Demand Progress Education Fund for a virtual briefing that will include remarks from Representative Andy Levin and top government labor experts on making unions work in Congress. Panelists will clarify what rights and protections will be granted to congressional staffers, what will happen when staffers officially unionize their offices, and will also discuss the history of the unionization movement in Congress. 

RSVP here

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