A pre-midterm cram session is emerging as the Senate tries to squeeze in votes on same-sex marrige protections, reforms to the Electoral Count Act, insulin pricing, energy permitting reform, FDA user fees…oh, and avoiding a government shutdown Oct. 1. So here we are, less than two months before a very consequential midterm election with the prospect of a variety of major legislation heading to the President’s desk – and with significant bipartisan support. Weird, huh?
Finalizing the government spending package sounds much more like a when than an if, as both parties were seeking a continuing resolution that carried well past the midterms. The Biden Administration’s request of an additional $13.7 billion in military aid for Ukraine and more COVID spending may slow that down. Democratic leadership also has several tactical decisions to make on what measures to attach to the CR.
Sens. Tammy Baldwin and Susan Collins are continuing to seek out Republican co-sponsors of their marriage bill to get it over the filibuster threshold. On the ECA (S. 4573), Senator Charles Grassley’s office confirmed he will sign on to be the 10th Republican co-sponsor, joining Mitt Romney, Lisa Murkowski, and others critical of President Trump’s role in the January 6 insurrection.
The shifting political environment is providing a spark for reviving the ECA before the lame duck session. After President Biden’s speech in Philadelphia denouncing the “MAGA” faction of the GOP as a direct threat to democracy, 58% of poll respondents agreed with his assessment. Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed by CBS News at the end of August predicted an uptick in political violence in the coming years, up from 51% in Jan. 2021. On the question of democratic decline, 54% agreed that the country would be less democratic a generation from now.
A ban on stock trading by sitting Members of Congress also may sneak in under the election wire. Progressive and moderate sponsors of a bipartisan House bill have asked for a vote by Sept. 30. Reps. Jayapal, Rosendale and Senators Warren, Blackburn, Daines, and Stabenow have introduced their own bill. The House Administration Committee was expected to release a stock ban framework in early August, but if they have, we must have missed it.
This week on the floor. The House begins three weeks of votes starting Tuesday. Don’t miss Wednesday’s ModCom hearing on a roadmap to the future and the Transparency Caucus’ panel discussion on what’s next in transparency across the government.
SECURITY AND CONTINUITY
Sunday was the 21st anniversary of the terrorist attacks that were to include the US Capitol. The heart of our democracy was less than 20 minutes from destruction before passengers forced United Flight 93 down. Countless lives, including many reading this newsletter, were saved that day. It’s also worth contemplating what would have happened if that decapitation strike of the Legislative branch had succeeded. This remembrance is doubly chilling given the video and testimony we heard this summer from hearings into the January 6 insurrection, which put some if not all of Congress in mortal peril.
We know less about what would have happened if the insurrectionists had broken through earlier or taken different turns in the Capitol than we do if an airliner had struck the building at 500 miles an hour, but the minute twists of fate in both instances are uncanny and unsettling in creating far too many mental “what if” scenarios. In both events, it’s not hard to imagine having no sitting legislature at the end of the day.
It’s particularly frustrating that 21 years later, Congress has resolved few of the continuity of government issues raised by an act of extreme violence. The American people would have to wait for special elections to have a seated legislature again in the event of a mass casualty event. The inability to meet in person could deny Congress to muster a quorum, leaving only the Executive branch in charge for an indefinite period.
The Continuity of Government Commission made concrete recommendations to avoid doomsday scenarios way back in 2003, some of which merely require rules changes in both chambers.The House Modernization Committee held a hearing on the continuity of Congress this April. What needs to be done is out there: but Members are uncomfortable discussing their own untimely demise. Democracy therefore is less secure than it should be.
On an individual member basis, Rep. Jayapal spoke with the Washington Post about a series of incidents where she was stalked at home by an armed man who shouted racist insults at her. In another example, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, another major target of hatred and violence, told her story to GQ. Both these women’s stories are ones of accomplishment and pushing past barriers. And yet, they feel unsafe, unsupported, and possibly constrained by the personal safety risks that accompany their public roles. How can we do better to make sure that all voices feel safe to express their views?
MODCOM II, the latest package of reforms of the House Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress, was introduced September 6 as H.Res. 1331. The resolution is the sequel to H.Res. 756, which the House approved overwhelmingly last Congress.
Several of the 32 new recommendations call on House offices and the CAO to establish remote work practices, building off the experience at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic when Congress was caught-flat footed. Civil society organizations, including Demand Progress Education Fund, jumped in to provide guidance to the House and Senate. The resolution does not mention remote deliberation for unforeseen circumstances, the absence of which continues to wrankle the Senate in the 117th Congress.
Also of note, the resolution addresses the fractured nature of human resources within the institution by making the House workplace task force permanent and expanding its role. The FY 2022 Legislative Branch Appropriations Act established a task force composed of the CAO, Office of House Employment Counsel, Office of Diversity and Inclusion, and Office of Employee Assistance. The Modernization Committee resolution gives the task force greater responsibility, including managing an anonymized staff salary database and managing the Congressional Staff Academy and mentorship programs. Expanding the purview of the task force solidifies the role of the Office of Diversity of Inclusion in House operations.
We see you rolling your eyes at the prospect of another “task force.” But the Congressional Data Task Force (formerly known as the Bulk Legislative Data Task Force), designed to bring together the disparate stakeholders of the valuable information Congress generates, continues to bear fruit. The Library of Congress just launched an API for Congress.gov, freeing developers of legislative data tools from the drudgery of website scraping or parsing bulk data. We review the history of how this game-changing release of government data came to be here.
MODCOM also included a recommendation to examine whether current formulas for establishing House Member Representational Allowances continue to make sense. The House increased the MRA significantly in FY2022, mainly to help raise staff pay. A recent LegiStorm study reveals, however, that little of that money has trickled to staff yet as 85% of offices have disbursed funds in Q1 and Q2 at rates that reflected the previous year’s funding level. The FY 2022 Leg branch package was authorized in March and the House established a minimum salary floor of $45,000 on Sept. 1, so there is time for pay bumps in the second half of the year, something that we think is happening based on anecdotal evidence. The LegiStorm study did not include Q3 data.
*Suggestion for the House Workforce Task Force: when salary data is compiled in that central database, release it to the public as data so we don’t have to rely on proprietary services for this information.*
Would TikTok modernize congressional communications? Is it too dicey from a security standpoint? The British parliament has decided to delete its account after only a few days because of security concerns related to its Chinese host company, even though those concerns were known at launch.
Investigations of the Biden Administration that may be coming if they take over the chamber during the midterm elections. Rep. Larry Bucshon has introduced a resolution of inquiry in the Energy and Commerce Committee, requesting the Administration share the data used to request supplemental COVID-19 funding this spring and the number of vaccines, drugs, and home test kits purchased by the federal government.
Used most prominently during the Vietnam War era, resolutions of inquiry are privileged and have been surprisingly successful in compelling presidential administrations to release the information requested, even when adversely discharged from committee or tabled on the House floor.
COVID is just one of the many issues Republicans have mentioned they will investigate if they regain committee gavels in 2023. Potential Oversight Committee Chair James Comer tabbed the origins of the disease along with many other Freedom Caucus favorites (half the GOP contingent on the committee is part of it) as on his radar. He mentioned Reps. Nancy Mace and Yvette Herrell as potential subcommittee chairs to reporter Kadia Goba.
The House Republican conference also has begun conducting its own staff training in oversight. The courses are part of the new “Level Up” professional development program, as reported by Punchbowl.
ODDS AND ENDS
The National Archives Information Security Oversight Office issued guidance concerning the National Security Council’s June Memorandum “Initiating a Process to Review Information Management and Classification Policies.”
Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists has shared his collection of CRS reports to our website EveryCRSReport.com, which has nearly twice as many CRS reports as the official site. Demand Progress and many others repeatedly have requested the Library of Congress make non-current reports publicly available to inform current debate.
GAO’s STAA, now up to 149 staff, published an update of its work and a look ahead to 2023. The office has issued 46 science and tech assessments since 2019.
The Congressional Workers Union is publishing online their monthly newsletter that doubles as a resource guide for staff on many workplace issues. (Did you miss our recent report on organizing rights for congressional staff?)
Congratulations to Scott Matheson, the new Superintendent of Documents at GPO. The former Associate Law Librarian for Technical Services at the Yale Law Library “will lead the Agency in providing public access to Government information published by the U.S. Congress, Federal agencies and the Federal courts.”
In a finding that won’t surprise anyone familiar with the White House’s “We the People” website, the British Parliament’s e-petition system actually may be undermining relationships between MPs and their constituents, a new study finds. FWIW, we don’t think these approaches are doomed to failure, but a lot depends on the built-in incentives.
We will have more to say about the insurrection bar to holding office, but in the meantime, here is an updated report from CRS on the topic.
Data Foundation and the Bipartisan Policy Center host a discussion of implementing the recommendations of the U.S. Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking on its five-year anniversary September 13 from 3:00 PM to 4:45 PM.
Rep.-elect Mary Peltola will be sworn in to serve out the remainder of late Rep. Don Young’s term on September 13. No word if that’s enough time for her to suit up for the Congressional Women’s Softball Game on September 14.
The House Modernization Committee will hold a hearing on a “roadmap to the future” on September 14 at 10 AM. This is likely the final hearing for that select committee.
The FOIA Advisory Committee will hold a public meeting on September 14 at 10 AM.
The Congressional Transparency Caucus is hosting a panel discussion entitled “What’s Next in Transparency Across the Federal Government” on September 14 at 11 AM. RSVP here. I’ll be one of the panelists. For those on the hill, it’ll be held in the Rayburn House Office Building, Room 2359; video will also be available, check the website for more info.
The Global Democracy Coalition hosts its International Democracy Day 2022 event at the OpenGovernment Hub and online on September 15 at 11 AM.
International legislative modernization and digital transformation is the topic of an upcoming digital conference hosted by Bussola Tech from September 12 – 16.
Constitution Day is September 17th
Down the line
The CATO Institute will host a panel discussion on the effectiveness of FOIA since its latest statutory update in 2016 on September 22 at 1 PM. Demand Progress Legal Director Ginger Quintero-McCall will be part of the discussion. Attendees can submit questions in advance.
The House Office of Diversity and Inclusion will host its inaugural open house on September 23 from 1 PM to 3 PM. On September 27, ODI will present a Hispanic Heritage Month virtual roundtable at 12:30 PM.
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.