Demand Progress Joins Pay Our Interns-led Coalition Urging Senate to Pay Committee Interns

This week, as part of a coalition led by Pay Our Interns, we sent a letter to leadership of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch ​​asking them to include at least $7 million in dedicated funding to compensate Senate committee interns.

Ensuring Senate committee interns can get paid removes personal wealth as a precondition for public service. That’s important for Senate committees to foster a more inclusive and diverse internship program that attracts individuals from different socioeconomic backgrounds, not just those of means who can afford to live in one of the most expensive US cities while not getting paid. Ultimately, this will improve the Senate’s ability to recruit interns into the congressional staff pipeline who better reflect the diversity of America.

Besides that, while the House currently has such a policy, the disparity between the two chambers can cause confusion to prospective interns. Imagine you were choosing an internship on the Hill — would you aim for the one you know has dedicated funding in the House or take your chances on a Senate committee that may or may not have a budget to pay you?  

Dedicated funding enables Senate committees to set clear objectives, establish structured programs separate from the personal office funding, and provide necessary resources and support for interns.
Read the letter here.

First Branch Forecast for 6/26/23 – Teeing Up a Busy July


This week Congress starts its two-week Independence Day holiday. We’re hoping to take next week off from writing our little newsletter, but we’ll be back.

Among the highlights from this past week:

  • Senate Appropriators adopted 302(b) allocations that are very different from the House’s untenable numbers, but with many Republican defections
  • the National Defense Authorization Act got a full committee markup in the House
  • the Leg Branch Approps bill was reported by the full Appropriations Committee with a few culture-war amendments
  • a resolution to allow for unions in the Senate was introduced by Sen. Brown
  • the Congressional Data Task Force discussed significant efforts to modernize congressional technology
  • the PRESS Act was introduced in both chambers
  • OMB released guidance for the Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports Act.
Continue reading “First Branch Forecast for 6/26/23 – Teeing Up a Busy July”

Demand Progress Statement in Support of New Resolution Granting Senate Staff the Right to Unionize

“The introduction of a resolution to grant Senate staff unionization rights long available to workers across this country is an important step toward strengthening Congress,” said Taylor J. Swift, senior policy advisor at Demand Progress. “We commend Senator Sherrod Brown and all senators supporting this important resolution to improve congressional workforce rights. A year of successful unionization efforts in the House has demonstrated that when congressional staff have a seat at the bargaining table, it results in higher wages, better benefits, and a healthier workplace. All staff — including those in Senate and Joint offices — must be afforded these same protections.”

Demand Progress Statement on Today’s Reintroduction of the PRESS Act

Today, Rep. Kevin Kiley and Rep. Jamie Raskin in the House and Sen. Ron Wyden, Sen. Mike Lee, and Sen. Durbin in the Senate reintroduced the Protecting Reporters from Exploitative State Spying (PRESS) Act, legislation that prohibits overreach by government prosecutors seeking to extract confidential information and sources from reporters and their communications providers.

The reintroduction of this strong journalist shield legislation in both chambers demonstrates a commendable and bipartisan commitment by its sponsors to ensure First Amendment freedoms and accountability journalism can thrive.

Continue reading “Demand Progress Statement on Today’s Reintroduction of the PRESS Act”

First Branch Forecast for June 20, 2023: Approps Heats Up


After a House Administration Subcommittee hearing focused on the personal rather than the institutional aspects of the Office of Congressional Ethics, we take a deeper look at why that office is vital to an ethical Congress.

Congressional unions scored an historic win for committee staff and others.

This week both chambers are in session through Friday after the Juneteenth holiday.

The full Senate Appropriations Committee plans to complete markups for the Agriculture and MilCon/VA bills at the funding levels set by the debt ceiling agreement, teeing up a conflict with House Republicans who are reneging on the deal. Meanwhile, House Appropriators will have a full committee markup on Wednesday for Leg Branch and Homeland Security, and on Thursday a full committee markup for Defense and Energy & Water.

Senate Armed Services Committee will have a series of closed hearings on the NDAA while the House will hold its markup of the bill Wednesday morning.

The Congressional Data Task Force will hold a quarterly meeting on Thursday from 2-4 PM in B-248/B-249 Longworth. If you care about congressional data, this open meeting is for you. RSVP and catch up on what happened in March.

A bipartisan quartet of members have circulated a Dear Colleague letter inviting cosponsors for the PRESS Act, an important journalist shield law, which the House passed unanimously last Congress but was blocked by a lone senator on a spurious basis. In light of the recent death of American hero Daniel Ellsberg, who told the truth about Vietnam at the risk of his freedom, we should make sure that the government cannot compel the press to spill on their sources.

Continue reading “First Branch Forecast for June 20, 2023: Approps Heats Up”

Statement on Today’s Announcement of New House Staff and Committee Unions

Today, several congressional offices — including the House Education and Workforce Committee’s Democratic staff — have filed union petitions in the House. Staffers in Reps. Val Hoyle, Sylvia Garcia, and Mark DeSaulnier have all recently filed union petitions while a majority of staffers in the offices of Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Mark Pocan, Mark Takano, Sean Casten, and Dina Titus have each formally voted to form unions.

“We commend the courageous congressional staff — including those on the House Education and Workforce Committee — who are organizing to create better working conditions on Capitol Hill, especially in the wake of new House Rules aimed at rolling back the rights of House staff to unionize,” said Taylor J. Swift, senior policy advisor at Demand Progress. “These offices continue to pave the way for Congress to be a more fair and democratic employer that can better attract and retain a workforce reflective of our nation.”

In a report released earlier this year, Demand Progress Education Fund analyzed the House Rules for the 118th Congress and affirmed the right to unionize by congressional staff following the passage of H.Res.1096 just over a year ago. We continue to urge the Senate to pass a similar resolution approving unionization for staff in the chamber.

First Branch Forecast for June 12, 2023: Who’s the boss?


This week. The House and Senate are in and we will see whether Republican House leadership regains control of the floor. (We discuss the power struggle in more detail in the next section.)

We expect to see top-line appropriations numbers in the House, a few (big) appropriations markups, and NDAA subcommittee markups in that chamber; the Senate will be holding appropriations hearings. There’s also a notable Tuesday House Administration Oversight Subcommittee hearing on the Office of Congressional Ethics, a Wednesday Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearing on providing a code of conduct for Supreme Court justices, and a Wednesday Senate HSGAC hearing on reducing duplication.

The Congressional Research Service has a new interim leader, Bob Newlen, after the ousting of Dr. Mazanec by Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden. People following CRS closely, like us, have been aware of major deficiencies in senior management for years. This transition provides an opportunity for that agency to better serve Congress. More on CRS below.

We have more to say on the topic of ethics and the Office of Congressional Ethics below, but first here’s a new, bipartisan letter from 35 civil society organizations and individuals released this morning concerning OCE and its upcoming hearing. Read all about it.

The Congressional Transparency Caucus is holding a coffee hour Tuesday morning from 8:30-9:30 at CVC 217. Hear from Rep. Quigley and friends from civil society while you munch on breakfast pastries. RSVP here.

FWIW, we expect Tuesday will be a great day, no, a huge day — the best day — to bury bad news.


Washington is so accustomed to command-and-control congressional leadership that it sometimes forgets there are other protagonists in the story of legislative sausage-making. By voting down a rule for the first time since Dance Punk was a thing, 11 MAGA faction Republicans brought the work week to an end on Wednesday, reasserting their prerogatives and underscoring their procedural power. A faction waved off as subdued last week hasn’t gone anywhere, and sticking together deprives Speaker Kevin McCarthy the control he musters only through party unity.

There are different definitions of “unity” at work among the conference. Rep. Dan Bishop said it was McCarthy that blew up GOP unity over the debt limit deal by swapping “one coalition partner for another.” Bishop’s statement suggests a view of equal partnership between a distinct MAGA faction and mainline GOP cemented last January over an agreement on hard-right policy positions. Bishop’s crew reportedly are particularly angry that successfully placing Rep. Thomas Massie on the Rules Committee did not achieve those results on the debt limit because he dared to choose governing over factional loyalty.

So far in his tenure, McCarthy has acted much like any other modern Speaker, although we know little about the side deals he made in return for his high position. The MAGA faction reasserted itself, ironically enough, on a messaging bill about an appliance that produces hot air. More substantive bills will follow, as will the appropriations package with much higher toplines (at the moment) than the faction aimed for. This obstructionism could continue.

While leadership loathes this kind of behavior, these members don’t seem to care. Nor should they: Procedural power is real power and they shouldn’t be willing to cede it, even though most members do. So again, we’re in a situation where a faction is behaving in ways that theoretically benefit the institution by creating more member agency and breaking through dictatorial leadership, but with extreme minoritarian intent. (Do they think they are senators?) The MAGA folks want to dictate the terms and vote no when they don’t get everything. So long as McCarthy thinks in terms of party unity, he will be squeezed hard.

Procedure, of course, could be used just as well to isolate the obstructors and move issues where there is majority of member support but perhaps not unity inside the majority. Acting in unison, center-right Republicans have the same veto powers, as well as mechanisms like discharge petitions. Democratic leadership, again prioritizing unity and personal interests, seem content to let Republicans collectively twist. It’s a missed opportunity for Democratic members to gain some positive political power in the House.

There is space for creative politicking around the McCarthy-MAGA binary on things that actually would pass the Senate. Or McCarthy could redefine unity to exclude the MAGA faction and reinterpret them as a coalition partner, but not the only one. (Yes, that’s highly unlikely in an overt way.)

As mentioned above, the immediate challenge is restarting appropriations work post-debt limit with the MAGA faction still stewing about not rolling back spending to FY 2022 levels. Note, however, that their role is not necessarily to reach a legislative goal, but to move the Overton window for this and future negotiations. They may never be “satisfied.”

Four bills that were marked up before the debt limit deal are ready to go, including Leg branch. Indeed, it appears we can anticipate a full committee markup on June 13th for MilCon-VA and June 14th for Agriculture, with Subcommittee markups on June 15th for Defense and Energy & Water. (More full committee markups are expected for June 21-23.) Some House members and the Senate are posturing for even higher defense spending than the debt limit agreement set. The MAGAs want to come in below the caps for non-defense spending, which will create drama in both chambers. Sen. Collins said she wants to move the supplemental soon to support defense “needs.”

Speaking of, we came across this astonishing accounting of defense spending from the Watson Institute at Brown University. An enormous amount of money ends up in private hands, as more than half of the “defense” budget — roughly $400 billion of the $800+ billion — goes to contractors. And out of that $400ish billion, because of industry consolidation, $114 billion went to just five firms. War is big business. In addition, more than a third of the federal civilian workforce works for the Defense Department, while another 20% works at the VA. Anyone remember Eisenhower’s warnings about the defense-industrial complex?

Continue reading “First Branch Forecast for June 12, 2023: Who’s the boss?”

Bipartisan Coalition of 35 Organizations and Individuals Urge House to Protect and Strengthen the Office of Congressional Ethics

Logo for the Office of Congressional Ethics

In advance of tomorrow’s House Administration Oversight Subcommittee hearing on the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), 35 organizations and individuals across the political spectrum sent a letter today to leaders of the House Administration Oversight Subcommittee urging them to protect and further strengthen the OCE in its mission. Notably, the coalition asks for the removal of a new hiring provision instituted by the House Rules for the 118th Congress that could effectively prevent OCE from having staff and functioning. 

The House Rules adopted by the 118th Congress imposed a two-term limit for Board members and required the Board to appoint OCE staff and set their compensation within 30 calendar days of adoption of the Rules resolution. The confluence of these two provisions might inadvertently result in a Board unable to appoint staff within the required timeframe.

This Rules change is the latest in a succession of moves to weaken the independent watchdog or zero out its funding

The coalition led by Demand Progress and Public Citizen recommends the removal of the 30-calendar-day hiring provision. Board members are appointed by the Speaker and Minority Leader respectively, and should the Board lack a quorum and those appointments be delayed, the effect could be the constructive dismissal of all OCE staff with no ability to hire them. 

The letter is below and also available here.

Continue reading “Bipartisan Coalition of 35 Organizations and Individuals Urge House to Protect and Strengthen the Office of Congressional Ethics”

First Branch Forecast for June 5, 2023: A return to normalcy


The debt limit crisis mercifully is over, for now, without the Senate as much as cutting into its three-day weekend. The institutional conditions that enabled the drama, however, remain. For now, it’s back to business on the urgent matters of the day like messaging bills about appliances.

We’ll be waiting for the stalled appropriations process to restart soon. There’s already dissatisfaction in the Senate, however, with the deal’s level of defense spending and top lines generally that may mean for some interesting supplemental funding tug-of-war across the chambers.

This week the House is scheduled to be in session Monday through Thursday and the Senate Tuesday through Friday.


The climax of the debt limit drama last week obviously was a big sigh of relief considering the alternatives, but was an indication that a lot of what we were watching was simple posturing over decisions that nobody really wanted to make. The results, which at least by the vote tallies looked like previous divided-government debt ceiling lifts, have led to an all’s well that ends well spirit to break out amongst the punditry, or even cheers for responsible governance.

Once again, we’re the skunks at the garden party reminding everyone that a small faction of the House was able to wrest control of its agenda away for half this session and lead it out of bounds for democratic governance. A minoritarian faction may have fallen short of its maximalist demands in the end because too many colleagues were unwilling to go for broke.

Still, MAGA conservatives still got to take their shot, force the government to spend less on Democratic priorities, and further complicate the lives of some working-class Americans. These are some of the same crew that led the effort to overturn the last presidential election, and signs of their continuing commitment to democratic majoritarianism, nor that of their very online constituents, are not apparent. The structural dynamics of the House, meanwhile, will remain unchanged until January 2025, in time for this group to manufacture another crisis if they choose.

Ultimately, the extreme cost of following through on the default threat split even this faction. Many members had skin in the game in the case of a financial meltdown. Political scientists Christian Grose and Jordan Carr Peterson note that MAGA Republicans who voted for the deal owned significant stock, while opponents like Reps. Andy Biggs and Lauren Boebert did not, findings consistent with the previous debt limit crisis.

Personal portfolio exposure doesn’t explain everything, particularly given the political incentives that go along with supporting leadership’s agenda. For example, Speaker McCarthy has granted Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene access to January 6 security footage, which she will provide to fellow right-wing conspiracy theorists. No doubt this will help her ability to fundraise from small donors.

It’s difficult to tease out the extent to which political actions are driven by ideology, expedience, and avarice. That’s why reducing non-representative motivations, such as prohibiting members from owning individual stocks, is a good idea.

Other contingencies, as always, matter a great deal to this episode. They tell us that the MAGA forces had hit the wall in the Rules Committee vote when Rep. Thomas Massie stood down. His vote could have complicated the process that came perilously close to the x-date as is, while his presence on the committee was one of the aces the MAGA folks held from their McCarthy speakership strike. What happened there is intriguing. We’re also interested in the reported side-deal for bolstering Democratic earmarks that Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries may have wrangled for delivering his reserve of votes.

So this is probably it for big legislative accomplishments for this Congress. We will see an appropriations deal and likely an NDAA or two, but largely along the lines of this settlement. Bipartisan rumblings from the Senate indicate it might not be that sticky, as leadership immediately expressed concern about the House sequestration plan, especially for defense, but we suspect MAGA Republicans will be more careful to avoid getting the lower chamber rolled.

Related Resources

The House Administration Oversight Subcommittee has scheduled a hearing on the Office of Congressional Ethics on June 13th. OCE is the House’s independent ethics watchdog and one of the best innovations in Congress in the last quarter-century.

Continue reading “First Branch Forecast for June 5, 2023: A return to normalcy”