This week. It’s recess-ish. The Senate passed the Inflation Reduction Act reconciliation package over the weekend and the House is expected to briefly reconvene on Friday, August 12 to pass that legislation and perhaps a few other bills.
The events of the past week highlight that normal spending processes rarely go by the book; that ethics and accountability issues still plague Congress and the Executive branch; and that Congress plays a role in foreign diplomacy. More below.
We did the legwork on Leg branch approps. Please see our list of every notable policy provision in the Senate Leg Branch Approps bill that relates to congressional capacity, transparency, and accountability, and also a list of select civil society recommendations incorporated into the draft bill and accompanying report.
The Congressional Workers’ Union announced its interim board last week. Congrats to all Board members: Philip Bennett, Emma Preston, Courtney Rose Laudick, Kyle Decant, Taylor Doggett, Saul Levin, Mason Pesek, Courtney Koelbel, Alexander Gristina, Jessica Schieder, Janae Washington, and Leigh Whittaker.
FEDERAL SPENDING AND DEBT
What did you expect? Since Congress created a failed framework for federal spending back in the 70s, that process rarely, if ever, is followed as imagined by its creators. No one should be surprised that we are headed for a continuing resolution when FY 2022 evaporates at the end of September or that we don’t have an agreement on top line spending numbers.
Republicans’ stated reasons for refusing to negotiate: “policy riders.” The actual reason: leverage — the filibuster empowers a minority of legislators representing a minority of the population to hold up funding for the government, threatening stasis or a shutdown, until they get their funding and policy priorities. Appropriators generally take into account the wishes of the minority when crafting their bills, so the matters in contention are often priorities that require negotiation by the chairs/RMs or senior party leadership and the failure to reach agreement can paralyze the government..
Governance-thru-CR has consequences, GAO warns in a new report about how CRs impede federal agencies and programs, including their ability to bring in new employees. The use of a continuing resolution, while convenient for some in Congress, is awful for the business of government.
BGov notes the eventual CR may include a number of provisions not included in the reconciliation package, including COVID aid and expediting energy infrastructure permitting.
Meanwhile, the debt limit may not be addressed until after the midterms. Dems had previously planned to address the limit in November or December of 2022, but it appears they don’t have to rush. The debt limit is one of those stupid things that shouldn’t exist: Congress’s decision to spend funds is a decision to increase the federal debt, and the debt limit is a forum for fiscal chicken-hawks to rant and rave while taking fiscal prudence hostage.
Dems recognize that raising the debt limit “unilaterally,” as Republicans have insisted on framing this issue, could be politically damaging before the midterms. Considering what’s come before, I don’t blame the Dems at all for making the possibly-Republican House in the 118th Congress to address this issue and share the blame, as well as some Republican senators, but that’s a risky game.
Moving on to mandatory spending, the Senate passed the PACT Act to provide aid to veterans exposed to toxins during their military service last week after much consternation from Republicans who had previously approved the legislation but then cried wolf about ‘mandatory spending.’ What it looked like was retaliation for reaching a budget reconciliation agreement. There does seem to be an implicit pattern of linking the passage of some bills to stopping unrelated legislation.
Earmarking allocations in Senate Dems’ draft FY 2023 approps bills favor small states and outgoing senators. Minoritarian earmarking tracks with the “design of the Senate itself dating back to the Constitutional Convention,” Peter Cohn observes for Roll Call.
CONFLICTS OF INTEREST
Congress should ban its Members from trading stocks ASAP, Demand Progress and a coalition of good government groups wrote in a letter to leadership last week. We’re expecting to see House Democrats’ proposal for stopping Members from inside trading any day now.
Conflicted contractors. The Senate passed legislation to help prevent conflicts of interest in federal contracting, S. 3095, inspired in part by the House Oversight Cmte’s striking investigation into federal contractor McKinsey & Company’s double dealing between the FDA and opioid manufacturers.
It’s Congress’s job, too. Congress’s roles in conducting diplomacy and addressing matters of state are often forgotten or trampled on by the Executive branch. Several recent events illustrate Congressional diplomacy — a key function of the Leg branch described by Ryan Dukeman in a 2016 law review article.
The summer ceasefire in Yemen was extended for two months, through October 2, thanks in part to Members’ efforts to pass a Yemen War Powers Resolution to end unauthorized support for the Saudi-UAE coalition. The introduction of the resolution and a growing number of cosponsors puts pressure on the Biden administration, which is a little too close to the Saudis, to get concessions even as it seeks to sell $5.2 billion in arms to the Saudis/UAE and induce the authoritarian regime to increase oil production.
As the Washington Post has reported, the administration and the military are turning a blind eye to the fact that US military aid to Saudi Arabia is being directly used for war crimes. Violation of the laws of war are definitely within Congress’s purview.
The Senate passed a resolution approving Sweden and Finland’s induction to NATO.
Speaker Pelosi traveled to Taiwan in defiance of Chinese bullying, a clear exercise of Congressional diplomacy.
Also, the House Democracy Partnership, the Congressional Office for International Leadership, and CODELs play a big role in informing Congress’s views about and interactions with the world.
Top Pentagon officials’ cell phones were wiped clean at the end of the Trump presidency, destroying information pertaining to Jan. 6, a new court filing revealed last week. The destruction of these records was first revealed in a FOIA request filed by American Oversight for Jan. 6 records from the former Secretary of Defense, Secretary of the Army, and other top officials.
Biden Should Fire the DHS Inspector General, writes POGO Executive Director Danielle Brian in the Washington Post, and CORE Chair Maloney and Homeland Security Chair Thompson called for him to step aside. Sen. Murphy is looking to overhaul the DHS IG to make it more independent, as part of the FY23 approps bill, and HSGAC Chair Peters is considering holding a hearing. Also on tap for Peters is legislation to overhaul government document retention requirements — we wonder whether it addresses the ability of civil society to act when the government does not.
Nomination of 11th Archivist. Pres. Biden nominated Colleen Shogan to succeed David Ferriero as the Archivist of the US last week.
Rep. Andy Levin lost his primary last week. Levin has been a strong champion of workers’ rights — including, of course, the right of Congressional staff to collectively bargain. Rep. Levin introduced the original resolution allowing House staff to unionize (later passed as part of the Ukraine supplemental) and was a vocal champion throughout the process. Speaker Pelosi thanked Rep. Levin for his work in Congress. (ICYMI, his remarks at our Power of Unions briefing last month are worth watching.)
Rep. Peter Meijer also lost his primary. Meijer was one of 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Trump.
Progressive talent pipeline. Are you a progressive thinker, communicator, or organizer interested in working in Congress or the executive branch? The Progressive Talent Pipeline is now accepting applications for its 2022 round of endorsements. The program identifies, trains, and recommends candidates for staff roles in order to bring new perspectives and energy into government and advance progressive priorities.
3,000 historical and contemporary legal reports are now online, the Law Library of Congress announced last week.
How district staffers should handle whistleblowers is covered in a new Starter Pack from the Office of the Whistleblower Ombuds.
The Modernization Staff Association has a new website.