First Branch Forecast for September 6, 2022: Democracy


This week: Congress is back. The committee calendar is looking quiet. The House has a committee work week; the Senate floor will start by addressing some nominations.

On tap for the month: a continuing resolution publishing Appropriations until December is likely. On Friday, the White House’s OMB published what it would like to see included in the measure beyond continuity of operations: support for Ukraine, COVID-19, monkeypox, and natural disaster recovery. Also, the National Defense Authorization Act likely will be brought to the floor in the Senate. We will see whether the House considers/passes legislation concerning congressional stock trading.

NEW! We just released Union Organizing Rights on Capitol Hill, a report authored by Kevin Mulshine, who served as Senior Advisor and Counsel on the first staff of the Office of Compliance and later served as IG for the Architect of the Capitol. The report is designed as a handy guide for congressional staff who want to understand —

• How House staffers can select a union representative
• The value of collective bargaining in House offices
• What a contract might guarantee

Follow the link to read the report.

Transparency Across the Federal Government is the focus of a panel discussion set for September 14th and hosted by the Congressional Transparency Caucus in the Rayburn Building. The event, hosted by Reps. Quigley and Walberg, will feature panelists including me, POGO’s Liz Hempowicz, Free Law Project’s Mike Lissner, with moderation by Politico’s Katherine Tully-McManus. Learn more or RSVP here.


We know not everyone was working the last few weeks, so in case you missed it…

Biden’s partial student loan forgiveness could help 2,000 or more Congressional staffers. Also, the Congressional Workers Union is looking into whether Congressional student loan repayment packages may be subject to collective bargaining.

The House staff pay floor of $45,000 went into effect this past Thursday. We applaud the House for guaranteeing its staff a living wage and urge the Senate to adopt a pay floor at parity with the House. Even before the pay floor, many staff in the House and Senate got positive salary adjustments this year, especially those in the House thanks to last year’s 20% approps bump to office MRAs.

About half of respondents to the CPSA’s July staff survey said they were more likely to keep working in Congress based on the raises. But there’s still much to be done: both chambers still perpetuate pay disparities for POC and women staffers. As my colleague Taylor Swift told Chris Cioffi in Roll Call: “Congress can and must create a more transparent and inclusive process for distributing taxpayer dollars to pay staffers’ salaries.”

The House should create an Intern Resource Office according to our own Taylor Swift and Pay Our Intern’s Habiba Mohamed in Real Clear Politics. (We note the FY23 House Leg Branch Approps Cmte Report identifies $350k for creating such an office inside the CAO; that bill is pending passage in the House.) Besides centralizing administration of internships, it would create new employment opportunities for lower income and other underrepresented young workers

The House and Senate Security Manuals are now publicly available thanks to litigation brought by journalist Shawn Musgrave arguing for a common law right of access. The House and Senate ultimately acquiesced to providing the information in an apparent effort to stop it from moving forward.

Whistleblower protections. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton introduced the Congress Leads by Example Act of 2022, H.R. 8743, to grant Legislative branch employees greater whistleblower and other antidiscrimination protections for occupational safety and health complaints. The bill would put into effect recommendations from the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights to:

  • Bring the Legislative branch in line with the legal requirements of private sector employers and the Executive branch;
  • Provide subpoena authority to OCWR to conduct inspections and investigations into OSHA violations;
  • Prohibit Legislative branch offices from making adverse employment decisions on the basis of an employee’s wage garnishment or involvement in bankruptcy proceedings; and
  • Bolster the CAA’s recordkeeping requirements.

We haven’t checked if the text is identical, but Del. Holmes Norton introduced similarly named legislation in the 116th, 115th, 114th, 113th, and 112th congresses. The late date of introduction and multiple committee referrals — Administration, Education & Labor, and Judiciary — suggests that those committees would need to decline to exercise jurisdiction if these important rights are to go into effect any time soon.

Incivility. Joanne B. Freeman’s The Field of Blood traces the history of violence in Congress to the lead up to the Civil War. Between 1830 and 1860 especially, southern Democrats deployed violence and threats of violence to silence those who wished to bring up slavery and southern domination of the legislature. Freeman’s work has an unfortunate resonance through the present day: as President Biden noted in a speech in Philadelphia last week, violence and threats thereof are still used for authoritarian purposes in our political system, and it once again is getting worse.


In light of the upcoming 118th Congress and competition over elevation to leadership roles and appointments to committees, we believe that the rules and membership of the Democratic caucus and Republican conference as well as the rules and membership of the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee are just as important as the rules of the chamber itself. The party rules in concert with the chamber rules dictate who has power, how it is exercised, and how it is distributed.

People forget how important and how contested the rules have been in history — and how much they have changed. At times, the House has spent weeks organizing, operating under general parliamentary rules of order, while members drafted and fought over chamber rules and/or who would serve in various positions. Our system has gone from one where the president has near absolute power, the Speaker has it, a Rules Committee triumvirate has it, a bipartisan coalition of southern Democrats and moderate Republicans has it, committee chairs have it, and so on. To try to sketch out this history, I put together a quick blogpost on the eras of control in the House of Representatives.

To make your life easier, here are the rules for the House Democratic Caucus and the House Republican Conference. The House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee is the secretive body that appoints Democrats to committees and has enormous hidden power. They have refused to make their rules publicly available and did not publish their committee members, but we published this blogpost that lists their members. (Republicans, by contrast, helpfully publish their membership list.)

For more background on the secretive Democratic Caucus Steering Cmte, check out this Sludge piece. And learn about committees and subcommittee assignment procedures by reading this newly updated CRS report.


The Congressional Budget Justification Transparency Act, which Demand Progress supported and became law last year, is coming into its own. The legislation requires (1) the publication of all agency Congressional Justifications on within two weeks of their submission to a house of Congress; (2) requires their publication at a vanity URL on the agency website; and (3) requires online tracking of when the reports were due to be submitted and whether they were published online on time.

OMB just released an update to Circular A-11 that, for the first time, contains the updated guidance in section 22.6(c) that will put the law into effect. This has been a long time coming, as OMB had resisted requests from appropriators to ensure that the reports are published online in a central location, intended to address both linkrot (when a URL goes dead) and that there was no central place to find all the reports. They’ll also have to have their data published in a structured format.

LegiStorm has developed a Congressional Record search feature that allows users to search by Member, key word, date, and committee. This is helpful because it allows you to search — and receive alerts — when specific words are spoken by a member, not merely whether a phrase appears on the same page that a member’s name is mentioned. See a demonstration of how it works.


USCP’s officer shortage is the focus of a recent Politico feature. While it is welcome to hear what the Chief thinks, we continue to believe that the governance and oversight system for the USCP is fundamentally broken in a way that fails to push and prod the USCP

Trump’s tax returns will be turned over to the House Oversight Cmte, the committee announced on Thursday, bringing to end litigation that began back in 2019 and marched all the way up to the Supreme Court and could have been heading there again. This tug-of-war is high stakes because it implicates Congress’s ability to get the information it needs, a power under attack by a Supreme Court populated by attorneys used to arguing in favor of Executive branch powers.

Expired approps for FY2022. The CBO’s annual report on expired and expiring appropriations authorizations identified 1,118 separate appropriations that expired before the beginning of fiscal year 2022, and 111 authorizations that are set to expire before the end of FY2022. “CBO also found that $461 billion in appropriations for 2022 was associated with 422 expired authorizations of appropriations.” Translation: Congress often lags behind in re-authorizing programs that receive appropriated funds.

Gosar to pay Dems damages. Rep. Paul Gosar and two other Arizona Republicans have been fined over $75,000 in legal fees for their groundless lawsuit against State Rep. Charlene Fernandez, who signed a letter calling for an investigation of the three officials for possible involvement in the Jan. 6 insurrection.


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.


The FOIA Advisory Committee will hold public meetings on September 8 and 14.

The Congressional Transparency Caucus is hosting a panel discussion entitled “What’s Next in Transparency Across the Federal Government” on September 14 at 11AM. RSVP here. I’ll be one of the panelists. It’ll be held in the Rayburn House Office Building, Room 235; video will also be available.

Down the line

International legislative modernization and digital transformation is the topic of an upcoming digital conference hosted by Bussola Tech from September 12 – 16.

Library of Congress virtual public forum on, set for September 21 from 1:30 to 4:30 PM. Register here and submit comments here.

Law reform. The Seventh International Conference on Legislation and Law Reform, a conversation about how laws are written in the US and around the world, will be held November 3 and 4 in-person in DC. Register here.