Congress finally introduced its FY 2023 omnibus bill. In the spreadsheet here and below, we broke down the Legislative Branch line items contained in the FY 2023 omnibus bill and compared them to FY 2021 and FY 2022. The spreadsheet also contains the requests published in the president budget, the appropriations levels supported by the subcommittee and full committee as they come out, and a comparison of how those levels have changed over time.
The end of this Congress feels like the run up before a high school graduation. Senior leaders are saying goodbye while the next crop waits their turn. Everyone’s rushing to turn in their remaining work, leading to sloppy mistakes. The turnover will lead to something new, but we’re not sure what.
This work week is the final one of the 117th Congress. The House will take up the omnibus spending bill — which it will see for the first time today — after agreeing to a short-term extension until December 23. The NDAA passed the Senate last Thursday, as did who-knows how many riders.
The January 6 Committee will hold its final public meeting on Monday and will vote on criminal referrals based on its findings. It will release its final report Wednesday. The Senate Rules Committee moved back its oversight hearing on the US Capitol Police to today. And it appears that Ways and Means had just scheduled a Tuesday hearing to discuss Trump’s tax returns.
NOT HOW IT’S SUPPOSED TO WORK
Like a student frantically finishing a term paper, congressional appropriators asked for an extension on the omnibus spending package last week after coming to a deal on a longer bill – it helps that they were asking themselves.
What’s striking about the deal announced by appropriators last week is who wasn’t involved: House Republicans. The adults in the room simply went ahead without them, knowing House GOP demands on social spending and Ukrainian aid would be unrealistic and counterproductive. Members’ posturing on picking funding fights in the next Congress likely made it more imperative to strike a long-term deal now.
Members with the ear of leadership are making or have just made one final run this week to insert last-minute provisions into the omnibus and NDAA while leadership plays abracadabra. As we’ve said before, this process is deeply dysfunctional for a representative body and is one of the worst consequences of the concentration of power. All sorts of things will be waived through in these bills because there isn’t enough time to stop and look.
Sometimes, good things move quickly or in unusual ways, like Rep. Zoe Lofgren’s resolution to update overtime regulations for House staff (more on that below). We’re certainly glad to see the Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports Act and Plum Act make it across the finish line. But sloppy and harmful work also gets through, like the unconstitutional judicial security bill that censors information about judges’ familial conflicts of interest from the internet while failing to touch the data brokers it ostensibly targets.
Senators, spooked enough by the antidemocratic tendencies of some House Republicans, apparently will tack on the Electoral Count Act to the Appropriations bill. Last week, Talking Points Memo reported 34 Republican members texted White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows about ways to overturn the 2020 presidential election, including Rep. Ralph Norman’s call for Trump to declare “Marshall [sic] law.”Continue reading “First Branch Forecast for December 19, 2022: Not O.K.?”
Within a week of our action with allies Congressional Progressive Staff Association (CPSA) and the Congressional Workers Union, the House approved overtime pay regulations for House staff to go into effect next year.
Outgoing CHA Chair Rep. Zoe Lofgren introduced a resolution Monday to implement the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights (OCWR) regulations to update Fair Labor Standards Act overtime provisions for congressional staff with a “nifty procedural move” according to CQ Roll Call’s Jim Saksa.
This is one of many reforms the House has passed this year to improve congressional staff pay and benefits that we have championed.
“This is an incredible investment in the congressional workforce and affirms the House’s commitment to improve workplace conditions, benefits, and pay for congressional staff” said Taylor J. Swift, senior policy advisor at Demand Progress. “This has been a paramount year for improving staffers’ rights in the House, and now it’s time for the Senate to take action to ensure their staff have the same overtime pay rights. We applaud congressional leadership for approving this overtime pay provision, and we laud outgoing CHA Chair Lofgren for her swift action to include it in the Continuing Resolution.”
We will continue to work with our coalition partners on the Hill to ensure Senate staff can enjoy the same rights.
No, this is not the most wonderful time of the year for people who care about Congress. The twin must-pass bills that remain for this lame duck session – the NDAA and additional government funding – encapsulate the most dispiriting aspects of current congressional procedure and leadership. Tracking what gets thrown into the vat and what is held out of the pink slime of legislation that oozes onto the floor this week is icky business.
This week, Democrats in the House were planning to release a government funding bill a few days ahead of the Thursday deadline to keep the lights on — but they’ve put that on ice, citing progress in their negotiations this weekend. Their floor schedule is heavy on suspensions but nothing pops out. Senate Republicans sound disinclined to accept it, and the bill needs 60 votes so we’ll see if a short-term alternative emerges instead. The hitch is whether to keep parity between increases in defense and non-defense spending and how to accommodate spending on veterans’ health care.
The full Senate Rules Committee will hear testimony from US Capitol Police Chief Thomas Manger in an oversight hearing Tuesday in the Russell Building at 3 PM ET.
The Senate is expected to vote on a war powers resolution that directs the President to stop providing support to Saudi Arabia for its military intervention in Yemen absent congressional approval.
In principle, the NDAA would be the blueprint for arming a global superpower. It’s become so much more than that in the hands of modern House leadership, who determine what other pieces of legislation that would die on their own get to piggyback onto it. This year’s version arrived at more than 4,000 pages, including provisions never seen before. Once found by civil society or members, some disappear back into the ether.
Technology should provide a workaround to the “read the bill” mantra for a bill this size. The comparative print project the House Clerk has launched for congressional users at least in theory allows staff to track what is appearing and disappearing through different leadership drafts.
The NDAA (and to some extent the government funding omnibus) are tools for House leadership to maintain caucus discipline by creating an artificial pressurized environment and by tacking on bills to reward good team players and favored donors and interests. It forces members who want their provisions included or object to amendments conjured by leadership to play chicken with bringing the entire bill down. Progressives did so with Sen. Joe Manchin’s permitting reform proposal, for example. It’s a vote-free spectacle, not representative governance.
The Senate is far from blameless in this absurd practice as the preservation of the legislative filibuster and the control of precious floor time has made passage of small, single topic bills virtually impossible. Fixes that don’t make it through the sluice have to wait for next time.
Some good government reforms made it into in those 4,000 pages:
- The PLUM Act, which would require OPM to modernize its directory of senior federal officials
- The ACMRA, which establishes an online portal for congressionally mandated reports
- Counterintelligence assessment of foreign-owned spyware and prohibition of use by intelligence agencies
- The Financial Transparency Act, which would require consistently formatted data from all federal financial regulatory agencies
- Strengthen Inspector General independence and accountability
- America’s Taxpayers Act, which would require GAO to explain how much money the government would save if its recommendations were adopted by the federal government.
The version released last week also includes an unwelcome internet censorship provision that allows for the removal of information about federal judges, shielding them from oversight for ethical lapses. The ACLU says the provision “could impose unconstitutional restrictions on speech.” Organizations that conduct judicial oversight have expressed grave concerns that it will cause them and others to censor basic information about judges, such as their birthdays and where their spouses work. The bill also initially added a reference to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act that would have held websites liable like Google for not removing such information, but that provision disappeared overnight.
(On the topic of judicial transparency, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the SCERT Act, which would create a code of conduct for SCOTUS and require disclosure of dark money support or gifts to justices.)
It’s also notable that the NDAA did not include a repeal of the 2002 Authorization of the Use of Military Force. Nor does the bill include two anti-authoritarian measures. It did not take up blocking implementation of Schedule F, which President Trump proposed to use to fire federal civil servants en masse and shield policy roles from competitive hiring. The House also did not attach the John Lewis Voting Rights bill to the NDAA.
At this point in the lame duck session, Democrats have set at least one government finance trap for themselves. A short-term government spending bill creates a government shutdown opportunity for the hard right almost immediately into the new term. Without the time (and votes because of SineManchin) to pass debt limit expansion in reconciliation, the Republican hostage raid may hit before summer recess.
The Senate still has time to take up bills to make access to PACER free and establish a reporters’ shield law. Majority Leader Schumer simply needs to put them on the floor. CBO recently estimated that making PACER free through the Enacting the Open Courts Act would slightly reduce the federal deficit over 10 years.
An important institutional reform also remains: enacting new overtime rules for congressional staff. Demand Progress, the Congressional Progressive Staff Association, and the Congressional Workers Union last week reminded House and Senate leadership to pass resolutions adopting the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights’ suggestions for updating congressional workplace rules on overtime, which haven’t been revised since the 1990s. A majority of Hill staff work more than 50 hours a week, according to a CPSA survey. New regulations would pay non-managers time-and-a-half for time over 40 hours a week. Given their hostility to the unionization drive currently underway in member offices, the changeover to a Republican majority makes the issue urgent in the House.Continue reading “First Branch Forecast for December 12, 2022: Twelve Squared”
Demand Progress Action joined forces with the Congressional Progressive Staff Association (CPSA) and the Congressional Workers Union to implore leaders from both chambers to enact Office of Congressional Workplace Rights (OCWR) regulations to update Fair Labor Standards Act overtime provisions for congressional staff before the lame duck session ends. Demand Progress sent letters today to House and Senate leaders. The CPSA letter endorsed by the Congressional Workers Union and more than 220 congressional staffers is here.
Back in September, the OCWR described the current regulations as “woefully outdated” when it issued new guidelines that would bring congressional overtime pay to parity with the executive branch and private sector. The newly proposed regulations cannot go into effect until approved separately or collectively by each chamber of Congress.Continue reading “Demand Progress, Congressional Progressive Staff Association, and Congressional Workers Union Urge Congress to Approve Congressional Staff Pay Overtime Regulations”
Congress had some of its most substantive conversations about its rules in years last week. Although the results mostly fiddled around the edges of larger institutional problems, time and opportunity remain to continue the negotiations, at least in the House. The stasis within the Democratic caucus, however, was notable.
Meanwhile, things that need to be done — and done well — remain with little time to accomplish. Democrats continue to play small ball about the risk posed by the debt ceiling, while several House committees have weeks to sift through evidence of various Trump-related malfeasance.
This week, the lame duck session continues, with votes scheduled Tuesday onward in the House. Looking at the Weekly Leader, we see the NDAA, Respect for Marriage Act, a bunch of minor bills, and the reminder that “additional legislative items are possible.” Per Politico’s Olivia Beavers, Monday through Wednesday this week the House Republican Steering Committee will fill in committee chairs. We hear the House Democratic Caucus may continue to consider conference rules on Tuesday, including some that get at the distribution of power. The Georgia senatorial run-off is Dec 6, after which Republicans may become publicly serious about addressing the approps omnibus. The Senate floor schedule is unrevealing. Go here for the committee schedule.
TALKING ABOUT CHANGE
The process for establishing the rules of the House of Representatives is different this time. House Freedom Caucus members succeeded in forcing a conversation within the Republican conference, which continued last week in another round of closed-door meetings on member-proposed amendments to existing rules.
Freedom Caucus members did not secure their biggest objective, which was more member control of the Steering Committee through additional elected seats (although the House GOP does have new regional maps). They also failed to prevent the continued existence of earmarks, which most members see as a useful tool even if most of the gravy falls on appropriators. (There is a better way….) But HFC forced a serious and significant discussion within the conference about member power and leadership control. Such a discussion is healthy for the institution. It’s also one that will continue over the upcoming weeks and perhaps during the first meeting of the committee of the whole of the 118th Congress.
Democrats in both chambers, meanwhile, so far have chosen to freeze the status quo in place. After ratifying the generational shift in leadership, members of the House caucus are in the process of granting the Second Triumvirate the same ironclad control the last generation enjoyed. Accordingly, today’s rank-and-file and their successors may not get another chance to exercise power until another generation has passed. The pending transition will be about continuity rather than change and is a missed opportunity for a reform conversation like the one happening across the aisle. Of most significance, after a concerted leadership push, the caucus tabled Rep. Ed Case’s amendment to rebalance some of the power within the caucus through creating a more representative Steering and Policy Committee that has more member input. That measure could be brought up again on Tuesday, and other significant amendments have yet to be considered. (The concern here is not with the members of the Second Triumvirate, but with how broadly power is distributed.)
Senators, meanwhile, rejected Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse’s renewed effort to disallow top leadership from also holding A-level committee gavels. Although Whitehouse’s efforts might have been personally motivated, the principle of giving a few more Democratic senators an opportunity to lead is well taken. There is late word that the Senate Democratic Caucus will now begin to publish its caucus rules online, joining the other three party caucuses.
By the way, the fact that we only could learn about the outcomes of these party meetings through an amalgamation of reporters’ tweets and stories is frustrating. The parties should publish the proposed amendments, as well as the vote outcomes, because they are critical to understanding how the chambers will operate.
Also, to make your lives easier (and ours), we’re keeping track of proposed House Democratic and Republican amendments to their caucus rules, including the disposition of those amendments. This is hard to do because the information is all non-public, which is why we’ve been closely following the tweets and reporting of a handful of congressional reporters who have ferreted out some of the text and vote results. If we missed something or got something wrong, please let us know.Continue reading “First Branch Forecast for December 5, 2022: The Second Triumvirate”
Written by Taylor J. Swift
At the start of the 118th Congress, the House of Representatives will adopt new procedural rules that govern nearly every aspect of how it conducts business. In preparation, the House Rules Committee held its Member Day hearing (announcement, video) on Tuesday, November 28, 2022, to provide members of the House an opportunity to propose new Rules changes for the 118th Congress.
Members made several laudable recommendations during the proceeding:
- Rep. Davidson’s proposal to grant one staffer from each House office the ability to apply for TS/SCI clearance.
- Rep. Timmon’s recommendation to fix committee scheduling by creating an online portal for committee chairs to pick and choose hearing and markup times to help reduce scheduling conflicts.
- Rep. Griffith’s idea to have proportional representation on committees.
- Rep. Joyce’s proposal to establish a bipartisan ethics task force to study ethics rules and regulations.
- Del. Radewagen’s support for keeping the rule to allow delegates and resident commissioners to vote in the committee as a whole.
At the end of the Member Day hearing, multiple members, including Chair McGovern, urged the 118th House Rules to retain the ability for remote committee proceedings, a proposal we support. Reps. Jackson Lee and Grijalva submitted statements for the record supporting remote committee proceedings while Chair McGovern said he has heard from many members that remote committee proceedings have been helpful in obtaining witness testimony without the worry of travel or cost of the taxpayer.
Demand Progress and the Lincoln Network issued our own bipartisan recommendations package on what Rules should be updated in the 118th Congress in anticipation of this hearing.
The following is a high-level summary of each member’s requests and their justifications (with corresponding timestamps from the video). Please note that at the time of this writing, any submissions in writing by the members were not publicly available.Continue reading “Proposals for Modernizing House Rules — Summary of Committee Members’ Day Recs for 118th Congress”