Congress returns from the July 4th holiday and dives into a three-week sprint of work before the longer August recess. Appropriations bills remain the focus, with the Senate set to markup the Leg. Branch, CJS, and FSGG bills on Thursday. Look out for the proposed text perhaps the day before.
The NDAA is slated to hit the House floor this week. As usual, the bill will swell with amendments that couldn’t pass as stand-alone legislation because of the procedural sluice gates of leadership control and the filibuster. It’s a great way to run a country. This year is a bit more complex as social conservatives have drafted a number of amendments affecting military policy on topics like DEI training, abortion restrictions, and transgender service members’ access to healthcare and facilities, sticking Speaker Kevin McCarthy back between the vice of what he’s promised the House’s far right and what the Senate will pass.
Six FY 2024 funding bills have passed the full House Appropriations Committee so far. Four are yet to be introduced. Minority committee staff have pulled together this very helpful update on their status. We’re keeping a bit more detailed record of progress here. The House has a mere three weeks to complete this process before the August recess and is still $119 billion apart from the Senate’s total allocation, leading some in the majority to talk of a short CR to avoid a government shutdown.
Staff diversity writ large is a major issue for this appropriations season, as the House majority plans to fold the Office of Diversity and Inclusion into CAO. As we explore below, although this is preferable to getting rid of it entirely, it’s not clear how core functions of ODI will be retained in the reorganization.
This week the Senate is in session all five days while the House takes an extra day of recess Monday.
A tremendous amount of work remains to be done before the start of the August recess, after which the appropriations process enters the danger zone of the end of the fiscal year. The four bills that remain to be introduced in the House are usually high-touch affairs, like T-HUD and Labor-HHS. Also to be introduced is funding for the Justice Department, which the MAGA faction has indicated it will be preparing retaliatory strikes for the indictments of Donald Trump. (We still hope the bill will be used for appropriate executive branch accountability measures.)
The promise of open floor amendments from Speaker McCarthy still stands, and the far right faction that extracted it intends to hold him to it. The Senate will have its own vote counting to do when bills potentially ping-pong over if Republicans hold together.
Congressional leaders also intend to move forward with FAA reauthorization and the farm bill on top of the NDAA and appropriations packages during July. With the GOP united in negative agenda setting, particularly on food security programs, there’s not a policy goal here beyond how low can you go. Right now, this process is still being driven by the maximalist faction of the GOP coalition. McCarthy just hopes to survive, but they can precipitate a floor strike at any moment as they did immediately after the debt limit deal.
The contours of this summer’s factional battle are becoming evident off the floor. In late July, Freedom Works will release a hagiographic look back at the speakership fight with a documentary featuring interviews with the leaders of the McCarthy hostage takers. It will attempt to set that faction as the conservative standard.
Meanwhile, the House Freedom Caucus ejected Marjorie Taylor Greene this week, nominally for calling Rep. Lauren Boebert a mean word but really because she has allied with McCarthy, part of his (or perhaps her?) divide-and-conquer strategy. The move will get hoots from the audience, but traditional Republicans still are not on the playing field.
DIVERSITY AND CONGRESSIONAL FUNDING
Intern pay stability
Pay Our Interns, Demand Progress, and a coalition of other organizations requested Senate appropriators include at least $7 million for committees for intern compensation. The House provides transparency and certainty through such a pool available to its committees. In its absence, our colleague Taylor Swift explains, Senate committees themselves carve pay for interns out of existing budgets, which may run out and leave interns in the lurch. Intern and staff pay should not be in competition. This uncertainty affects Senate offices’ ability to attract talent that cannot work for free, undermining the diversity of entry-level staff.
A recent story in Roll Call about the elimination of funding for an independent ODI highlighted how many pitfalls face a reorganization proposal. The story mentions a concurrent conversation between CHA and the CAO about streamlining and consolidating resources that currently are spread across domains. CAO Catherine Szpindor has proposed creating a Housewide Office of Human Capital Management and an Office of Talent and Development to do so. The majority on the Appropriations Committee proposes tacking ODI’s functions onto the Office of Talent and Development. We don’t know how the functions of the current ODI may span both offices as appropriators tie its funding to only one.
Some of ODI’s offerings will be by nature overlapping with those within CAO like resume banking, but some go beyond and serve additional needs, which was the point of making the office independent in the first place. In a consolidation, the unique and valuable services of ODI could be subsumed to those provided to all staff in a reorganization. Its flexibility in addressing the needs of specific audiences also risk being swamped.
As a new entity on its second director, ODI is still building awareness within the House about its role. We have heard that some committees still are unaware of its function as a repository for office training best practices. Its efforts to gather and report demographic data on congressional offices and hearing witnesses are still evolving. These functions could continue within CAO, but may redouble a visibility problem. We’re particularly concerned that ODI data collection, which represents the first internal effort to track House staff demographics and therefore makes it much more authoritative than outside efforts, continues.
ODI’s independence has generated its value for staff, particularly at the entry level. It can host events and provide services where people can feel comfortable discussing common challenges. Like many places in the US, working on the Hill is a different experience for white and non-white staffers. Staff are opening up about these differences in ways that are reshaping the institution, including through unionization. But staff will need places to continue to navigate their career development without having to muffle themselves or look over their shoulders. A subsumed ODI has to retain that function.
As members have stated in a variety of contexts, the collective goal for the institution is a staff that reflects the diversity of the American people. No one office can be expected to achieve such a goal. But attention to the problem is yielding some progress. The Joint Center at George Washington reported this June that people of color held 19.2% of top House staff positions, an increase of 1.2% from last Congress and more than 5% from the 115th Congress. The Senate saw an increase of 2.2% from last congress to 13.2%.
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FLIPPING THE BIRD SITE
The usefulness of Twitter took another hit for congressional users as the company will restrict access to TweetDeck to only paid subscribers in August. Meanwhile, the launch of Threads has opened up yet another alternative to move to for the congressional community. Its association with Instagram might finally drive a balkanization of the Hill’s social media presence as it’ll be an easier transition over to Threads – Politico has the early tally of congressional adopters.
Therein lies the trap, however. Meta is tying Instagram accounts directly to Threads, and users have to delete their Instagram accounts, too, if they want to deactivate Threads after finding it unsatisfactory. Instagram, it should be remembered, is itself basically spyware and a platform for third-party spyware for data vendors. We’re witnessing a double-enshittification event.
Ideally, Congress would decide to reduce its exposure to these kinds of companies in the basic functions of constituent engagement and move to platforms it can control better, like Mastodon. Congress could fund and set its own microblogging infrastructure on Mastodon easily and avoid distortions created by monetization and algorithmic design. Daniel started tracking the shift over to Mastodon late last year. Other services, like Bluesky, which also allow for self-authentication and avoid the mega-corp headaches, are also worth a look.
ODDS AND ENDS
Nathan Deahl has been named the new Inspector General of GPO. He has served as its Acting IG this year.
Help Wanted: CRS. Bloomberg details the challenges awaiting the next director of CRS.
House staffers now have access to the eDiscovery software platform, which allows for speedy processing and review of documents used in oversight, according to The Huddle.
No holds barred. With Senator Coach Tuberville continuing his DoD nominations holds, former Senate staffer James Wallner walks through the variety of holds senators can employ for various political purposes. He also reminds us that the Senate can move forward by following its own Rule XXII, even though it’s time consuming.
Rep. Joaquin Castro reflected on the very accidental discovery of his cancer and the costs of his treatment, even with members’ health insurance.
Norms tracking: the AP notices standards for censure and impeachment in the GOP-led House are slipping.
C-SPAN now has the ability to control cameras on the House floor to capture the action. Demand Progress Education Fund was one of the 43 organizations that requested independent camera control from House leadership at the start of the Congress. C-SPAN wants to have its own cameras, and we don’t blame them.
More than 100 US leaders – lawmakers, presidents, governors and justices – have slaveholding ancestors, a Reuters examination found.
22 years after someone sent anthrax-laced letters, the US Postal Service still screens congressional mail before delivery. It recently intercepted more than 100 letters to public officials, including Rep. Lauren Boebert.
The Law Library of Congress is requesting your help to transcribe an additional 400 historical reports to its extensive online collection. The crowdsourcing project has made make amazingly quick progress in making these materials available on the internet.
Guam, and its undemocratic form of government, is the focus of an excellent and rare New York Times article that focuses on the inferior relationship of individuals living in U.S. territories to the US government, people who lack the constitutional and representative rights nearly all Americans take for granted. Congress could remedy this problem, caused in part by a series of awful Supreme Court decisions, part and parcel of a much bigger legacy of colonialism and racism. If you like this article, and we do, we highly recommend reading the book How to Hide and Empire.
~ Wednesday ~
The Data Foundation will discuss the Foundation for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act (Evidence Act) and its implications for privacy from 1-2 PM. RSVP at this link
~ Thursday ~
The Senate Appropriations Committee will hold a markup of the Legislative Branch; Commerce, Justice, and Science; and Financial Services and General Government bills at 11 AM in 106 Dirksen.
~ Sunday ~
~ Down the road ~
Attorney General Merrick Garland is scheduled to testify in front of the House Judiciary Committee on September 20.
The Ridenhour Prizes, which celebrate whistleblowers, documentarians, and authors in support of government transparency and accountability, will hold its annual gala on October 25 at 6 PM. Subscribe to this link for ticket information.