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.
THE HOUSE’S POWER STRUGGLE
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.”
Continue reading “First Branch Forecast for June 12, 2023: Who’s the boss?”
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?