The House majority is approaching a crossroads. In order to fulfill its aspirations of a strong Congress with more member input, it needs to continue reinvestment in the capacity of Congress. Some deficit hawks, however, are pushing toward shrinking Congress in a way that undercuts these aspirations. The irony is that cutting the Legislative branch’s comparatively infinitesimal budget makes it impossible to counter the overpowerful Executive branch and run a legislature that’s capable of making smart spending (reduction) decisions.
This happened before, in 1995 and 2013, with disastrous results still felt today. But few are around to remember those lessons. All last week, Legislative branch agency directors cautioned House appropriators of the damage cuts would do to their ability to provide adequate service to congressional users. They explained how they were still digging out from sequestration a decade ago. The disappointing thing is that some House conservatives seem unaware of or unwilling to heed the lessons from the recent past: that slashing the capabilities of Congress left the institution in the state they find it in and to which they object.
This week both chambers are in session Monday through Thursday (with the Senate also in on Friday). House Leg Branch Appropriators will hear from House offices and the AOC on Tuesday and the Capitol Police on Wednesday. Senate Appropriators will hear from the Senate Sergeant at Arms and the Capitol Police on Wednesday.
The following two weeks are recess, with everyone back on April 17th. If you’re pondering what I’m pondering, our updated appropriations tracker has public and member testimony deadlines. Nearly all Senator appropriations requests are due in the next two weeks. The House data is more sketchy, but it appears all Representative appropriations requests are due by the end of the week.
Note to readers: we’re taking a hiatus for the next two weeks while Congress is in recess. The next newsletter will arrive April 17.
A handy list of deadlines for Members and the public for when testimony is due.
LEG BRANCH APPROPRIATIONS
Funding priorities for the Legislative branch came more sharply into focus last week with a number of hearings, including a members’ testimony day in the House.
The Library of Congress did double-duty with Senate and House appropriators, requesting a 7.5% increase from FY 2023 to take its budget up to $940.8 million. Librarian of Congress Dr. Carla Hayden noted 70% of the additional money requested would go to mandatory pay and pricing increases.
The Librarian of Congress, Dr. Hayden, faced a fiscally skeptical audience in the House, and both hearings felt like a missed opportunity to dig into modernizing CRS and its longstanding problems of envisioning how its products can meet its congressional users. CRS Director Mary Mazanec is requesting a $146 million budget, an increase of 9.7%, which includes an additional $13 million to hire additional staff for current products with which the office is struggling. The hiring of a dozen new analysts is intended to help reduce a backlog of over 2,4000 legislative bill summaries. New staff also would be brought on to focus on the service’s contributions to Congress.gov.
The trouble with this CRS request is that it limits itself to remedying a long-standing issue of the timeliness of one product line by throwing more people at the problem instead of demonstrating it is dedicating resources to where its services are most useful to congressional users while simultaneously figuring out how to use modern tools to address those needs more efficiently.
The House Administration Committee majority, in its oversight plan, describes its goals with respect to CRS as pushing the agency to “better meet the needs of a modern Congress, including shorter reports, more variety of products, thorough internal tracking of activities and product delivery rates, and greater efficiency in work product.”
The House minority also addresses CRS in its plan, pushing for “detailed oversight of CRS operations and consider[ation of] any need to modify management and organizational structure of the service.” Among the elements to consider are staff morale and attrition rates, work environment, and resource allocation.Continue reading “First Branch Forecast for March 27, 2023: Jello Pudding”