First Branch Forecast for September 25, 2023: A Solution to Stop the Shutdown


This week will be monumental for Congress not only because of whatever outcome arises from the deadline to fund the government, but also the institutional impact of the ways the factional politics play out in getting there. Although it is the hard-right members of the House urging each other to hold the line on spending, it is the much larger faction of “middle-of-the-road” Republicans, and their potential Democratic partners, that must stand firm in the face of this minoritarian power play.

Meanwhile, there’s also much to say about the state of congressional security both in terms of what members are spending on their own to achieve it and how the US Capitol Police allocates its ample resources. Efforts to modernize the House also continue to make progress on several fronts.

This week both chambers return to work Tuesday after Yom Kippur. There is much to atone for.

The Modernization Subcommittee of House Administration will hold a hearing on modernizing the GAO on Wednesday. Thursday, the House Oversight Committee is scheduled to start its inquiry into impeaching President Biden. As for what happens in the House Rules Committee, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯


We have thought from the start that the most productive way to understand how the House of Representatives in the 118th Congress operates is as a governing coalition, not a simple Republican majority. Far-right conservatives started preparing for this Congress with exactly that language and used the leverage available during the selection of a Speaker to maximize their faction’s position. They’ve followed that playbook ever since, extracting concession after concession out of that Speaker as a cost of maintaining the governing coalition, knowing they can back out at any time.

Having brought the nation to the precipice of default on its debt, that faction now holds Congress at the edge of shutting down the federal government. Finding a resolution to their demands to avoid one through regular appropriations is quite impossible, let alone in one week, and they’ve declared a continuing resolution dead on arrival.

Political observers and other Republicans in Congress are quick to point out that the political consequences of shutdowns typically have been bad for the party and inconsequential to spending reductions. Members, including those in leadership, are critical of the far-right factions’ showboating.

The spectacle, unfortunately, is entirely the point. This faction’s ascendence is deeply tied to the Trumpist core of the Republican base. A shutdown demonstrates their ideological purity and political dominance over the Speaker of the House — a position we’ve all become so accustomed to seeing as all powerful.

Any eventual resolution that requires Democratic votes, meanwhile, enables the faction to expand its numbers by supporting primary opponents of more traditional republicans in safe districts. Ken Buck, for instance, has become the new Liz Cheney.

Continue reading “First Branch Forecast for September 25, 2023: A Solution to Stop the Shutdown”

First Branch Forecast for September 18, 2023: The Ladder of Chaos


Happy belated Constitution Day to those who celebrate.

This week both chambers are in session Monday through Thursday, with the Senate remaining so Friday. The House has scheduled some sort of continuing resolution vote for Wednesday or later that contains greater than 8% cuts below FY 2023 levels and authorization text on immigration and border-related stuff. It’s a nonstarter in the Senate and with the White House, the only question is whether it even passes the House.

The House Republican Steering Committeewill vote onMondayto fill the vacant seat on the Appropriations Committee.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will visit the Capitol. We see an all senator meeting is scheduled for Thursday.

Deeper in the newsletter we have a recap of the Congressional Hackathon 5.0 and the Library of Congress forum on

Personal safety of those on the Hill is top of mind this week. In light of the increased visibility of property and violent crime in the District, CHA is hosting a security briefing for members and staff at 10 AM Monday in 1310 Longworth. Email this link to reserve a spot.

CHA’s Oversight Subcommittee also will hold a hearing ostensibly to assess the security failures that allowed the January 6th insurrection to breach the Capitol on Tuesday. The witness will be Steven Sund, who was chief of the US Capitol Police during the insurrection. Sund has attempted to shift the blame for the successful sacking of the Capitol by arguing that Nancy Pelosi’s resistance to prestaging the National Guard in anticipation of the election certification on January 6 shaped the Capitol Police Board’s decision to deny his request for their deployment on January 3. As we all know, Sund didn’t deploy his own resources adequately in light of incoming intelligence.

Hopefully soon, House Admin will return to issues raised in July’s astonishing hearing when the department’s inspector general explained his lack of independence in releasing his department’s reports and the agency’s habit of marking recommendations related to January 6 as complete even when they are not actually complete. Rep. Barry Loudermilk asked IG Ron Russo to follow up on how the office defines “complete” during that hearing, and we look forward to the answer.

After that hearing, our colleague Taylor Swift authored a comprehensive look at US Capitol Police compliance with post-January 6 congressional directives and completion of GAO recommendations. On many of these directives, it’s not possible to determine the status of progress with the information that’s available to the public. Although the department has completed some directives focused on officer wellness and workplace climate, it has failed to begin work on others and most GAO recommendations.

Related Resources: In light of Tuesday’s CHA’s Oversight Subcmte hearing on January 6 security failures, revisit our report on US Capitol Police compliance with post-Jan 6 congressional directives and completion of GAO recommendations.

Continue reading “First Branch Forecast for September 18, 2023: The Ladder of Chaos”

First Branch Forecast for September 11, 2023: Hackathon and HH Thursday


Welcome back to the mess that is the appropriations process. We’re also considering this week how the Senate’s rules contribute to much of the action at the top of the news as Congress returns from recess.

This week, the Senate is in session Monday through Thursday. The House returns from its recess on Tuesday and remains in session through Friday.

The House is scheduled to start consideration of the Defense Appropriations bill on the floor on Wednesday. The Rules Committee will meet on Tuesday to consider that bill and we see 339 amendments on deck. We do not see the Homeland Security Appropriation bills lined up in the people’s chamber this week. Amendments to the Homeland Security package were due last week and Republican members made ample use of the Holman Rule, targeting 12 DHS officials.

The Senate, meanwhile, is moving forward separately, beginning floor consideration of a MilCon-VA, Agriculture, and Transportation-HUD minibus Monday.

Several important events are happening on the Hill this week, too: Monday, POPVOX Foundation will host its Internapalooza event for fall interns. A variety of folks from civil society groups, including our Taylor Swift, will participate. On Wednesday, the Library of Congress will host a public forum on improving Thursday marks the return of the Congressional Hackathon (with a happy hour afterward).

Speaking of a different kind of hack, don’t forget to update your iOS if you use an Apple device to close a security gap.


We’re pretty pessimistic at the moment about the House, Senate, and White House finding a way out of the appropriations muddle before the end of the fiscal year. The dynamics that nearly precipitated default on the national debt remain in place and the deal to break that crisis did not attempt to address them. The Senate is attempting to jam a group of House holdouts whose demands continually change.

Although it’s tempting to bemoan the unique dysfunction of this current Congress, the truth is the modern appropriations process has been a mess for our entire lifetimes. Since FY 1977, only four times has Congress enacted all appropriations bills before October 1 – the most recent being 27 years ago. It has enacted an average of a single bill on time since then.

It’s a signal that the current system in place provides too many incentives to break it and that the only current forcing mechanism — the fiscal year deadline — is insufficient to compel any adherence to the process as conceived. Perhaps no other activity that Congress regularly engages in reveals the state of institutional decay present.

Something structurally needs to change. Unfortunately, reform ideas being bandied about at the moment don’t rise to that level. Rep. Donald Beyer and Sen. Tim Kaine last week introduced a bill similar to one introduced in January in the Senate that would generate an automatic continuing resolution if Congress failed to enact spending bills by October 1. GAO actually looked at this idea back in 1986 and concluded that it would disincentivize Congress to take concrete action, forcing agencies to operate under temporary funding over long periods of time. It also may lock in funding levels that were not based on real-world spending needs and provide a preference for the status quo. Changing members’ incentives to encourage more inaction is not what Congress needs more of at the moment.

Another proposal to shift to biennial budgeting doesn’t make sense in a world that has expensive contingencies like armed conflict and natural disasters. Nor does it solve the underlying problem. It also would scramble the agenda-setting power of the presidency during a four-year term, which Congress does enough of already.

More comprehensive appropriations reform deserves discussion on Capitol Hill, particularly to iron out veto points, make it more solidly majoritarian, and align with proper oversight and evaluation of federal programs.

Continue reading “First Branch Forecast for September 11, 2023: Hackathon and HH Thursday”

First Branch Forecast for September 5, 2023: Back to work


The political and institutional dynamics that have defined the 118th Congress are building to a crescendo as recess comes to an end and the new fiscal year looms. This week we consider:

  • How the far-right faction of the House GOP continues to maneuver successfully because of the procedural landscape it shaped at the start.
  • The continuing challenge of managing members’ health in the absence of contingency plans and impediments to elderly members’ retirements.
  • The full legacy of a retiring CRS legend.
  • Some wacky stuff going on with bill engrossment and redactions.

This week the Senate returns. Although the House is still in recess until September 12, the Rules Committee is gearing up to move the Homeland Security Appropriations Bill (H.R. 4367) to the floor and has set a deadline for the submission of amendments at noon Wednesday of this week. The Rules Committee is also getting ready for a possible meeting the week of September 18th to consider the State-Foreign Ops Approps bill and set this Friday as the deadline to submit amendments.

Leg branch data for the last 30 years. We have gone through all of the Legislative Branch spending bills for the last thirty years and lined up the spending items in a downloadable spreadsheet. The line item spreadsheet has sections for the House, Senate, and agencies, as well as tabs that adjust funding for inflation, allowing readers to see how spending on each line item has changed since 1994 in both constant and real dollars.


The House returns next week with leadership and some members divided on the desirability of a federal government shutdown with a dozen working days to go. Speaker Kevin McCarthy tried out a new argument with the holdouts during recess, claiming that a shutdown would impinge the House’s ability to begin impeachment proceedings against President Biden – which nobody seems to have bought.

The decision to resurrect the Holman Rule at the start of the 118th Congress has given those whose political interests align with the shutdown additional bandwidth to garner attention and slow the works. Three members – Reps. Paul Gosar, Majorie Taylor Greene, and Anna Paulina Luna – have proposed invoking it to cut the pay of Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, and Air Force Major General Troy Dunn, respectively, to $1. Taylor Greene also wants to make a Price is Right bid (RIP, Bob Barker) on Special Counsel Jack Smith’s salary as he prosecutes former President Donald Trump.

The first skirmish of this intraparty funding battle may come if/when the Appropriations Committee considers one of the two bills it has remaining, the Commerce-Justice-Science package. Committee member Andrew Clyde announced last week that he will offer amendments to the Justice package to defund the offices prosecuting former President Trump and to cut money to the Fulton County district attorney. This may preview the type of amendment process that awaits on the floor if rules, as promised, remain even limitedly open.

The MAGA and anti-statist Republicans continue to hold leverage in this process because House rules granted them more power in January and because, particularly for someone like Taylor Greene, the ability to play to the small-donor audience through partisan media allows her to compete with business-funded members. They have considerable negative agenda setting power and continue to extract more and more from Speaker McCarthy as he backpedals to hold onto his gavel. The populist conservative faction understands there are still opportunities for McCarthy and the Senate to squeeze them and are using the fiscal year deadline to squeeze back. It is legitimate for members to push to assert their prerogatives to set the agenda, just as leadership has done for decades, even if we do not welcome the outcome. Members of other factions must find a way to adapt without over-relying on leadership, but they’re still not there.

Simply put, the populist faction has no reason to stop because they’ll keep getting slices of what they want, which, terrifyingly for democracy, looks more and more aligned with a Trump Restoration. They’ve already pushed McCarthy into the impeachment camp. If he stiffens, they can replace him with someone more amenable.

As we’ve been saying since last fall, this faction has figured out how to change the game with House leadership with the tools available to anyone willing to stick together and try. They’ve bet on themselves in thinking that none of these fiscal gambits will harm them politically and that they can cut to the front of the line and govern alongside Trump in 2025. We might not like their odds, but it’s hardly a lottery ticket.

Continue reading “First Branch Forecast for September 5, 2023: Back to work”