Forecast for February 19, 2019. Never Waste an Emergency

THE HOUSE COMMITTEE TASKED WITH MODERNIZING CONGRESS 

has 12 newly appointed members, an initial $50,000 budget (through March), and less than one year to issue recommendations. There’s little doubt that Congress must invest in its own brain power and modernize its technology.

The select committee isn’t Congress’s only hope, as the oversight committees (House Admin + Senate Rules) and leg branch appropriations committees play a major role in modernizing Congress. So too does the House and Senate writ large, as exemplified by the House’s consideration of HR 1 (the voting & ethics reform bill) and HSGAC’s favorable reporting of the Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports Act. What remains to be seen is how Congress will react to Trump’s ’emergency’ power grab; on that topic, it appears Sen. McConnell has dropped his guise as a Senate institutionalist. (More on that.)

Office of Congressional Workplace Rights. During last week’s oversight hearing on the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights, Rep. Lowey, who chairs the Appropriations committee, expressed an interest in addressing the lack of a uniform standard for paid family medical leave among House offices. FWIW, we think it should be 3 months and paid out of a non-MRA account. Also of note: the Congressional Accountability Act’s provisions don’t go into effect into June 19, so staff complaining of harassment are stuck under the old system until then; the OCWR will go through a notice and comment rulemaking in April; and a 70 new harassment filings have been received by the OCWR in 2019, with half from the Library of Congress. Finally, the climate survey won’t go out until Q1 or Q2 of 2020.

The Republican-led Senate Rules committee voted to change procedural rules by a 10-9 vote to cut down the debate time on nominations for lower-level positions, i.e. district court judges. To enact the change the Senate may have to go nuclear. Continue reading “Forecast for February 19, 2019. Never Waste an Emergency”

Forecast for February 4, 2019. Executive time.

THE TOP LINE

H.R. 1, the pro-voting & ethics strengthening bill, is getting negative reviews from anti-anti-corruption politicians (Mitch McConnell), court-identified fabulists (Hans Spakovsky), and K street lobbyists. It’s also the subject of an Oversight hearing on Wednesday.

Why won’t House Dems release their caucus rules? Progressives & grassroots orgs are pushing for their publication while Democratic Caucus chair Hakeem Jeffries dodges press questions. Rep. Jeffries didn’t respond to my emails, either.

House Intel will break House rules should it hold its first organizational meeting in secret, as currently scheduled. House rules require the meeting be open and held where the press and public can attend — not in the SCIF — unless the committee first holds a roll call vote in public to close the proceedings. HPSCI is reconvening following Republican appointments.

— Clearances for HPSCI personal office staff may be on the agenda for the organizational meeting. At least, we hope so.

An American hero. Lawmakers introduced legislation to award Fred Korematsu the Congressional Gold Medal; he’s the Japanese-American civil rights activist who took his fight against Japanese internment during WWII all the way to the Supreme Court. Last week marked the hundred year anniversary of his birthday last week. A congressional gold medal requires at least 67 sponsors in the Senate to advance.

The Lincoln Network is hosting a panel today at 3 where experts discuss the challenges involved in modernizing Congress, its technology and digital services infrastructure, and how the Hill can get ahead of the curve. Please note the updated location: 201 D St, NE. ICYMI, GAO announced a new science and technology office last week, and Zach Graves has an analysis of what to expect.

Continue reading “Forecast for February 4, 2019. Executive time.”

Forecast for January 28, 2019. A Strange Game. The Only Winning Move Is Not To Play.

TOP LINE

The shutdown was shut downat least for three weeks, after (we suspect) Sen. McConnell made clear to the White House that he would no longer use his position as Senate Majority Leader to block a real vote in which the majority of his party would defect. McConnell signalled this by holding two votes during which six Republicans voted for the Democratic proposal.

— McConnell and Senate Republicans tried to shift blame to the White House when they leaked the contents of their conference meeting where a few members blew up and McConnell attempted to distance himself from the shutdown.

— This is also a change in McConnell’s position, stated in the New York Times where, in response to the question “if a hypothetical shutdown-ending compromise landed on his desk that would command a veto-proof majority in both his Senate and Pelosi’s House, ending the standoff over the protests of Trump but without need of his signature, [would] he would bring it up for a vote,” he said “what you need in order to make a law is the presidential signature.”

— The Senate leaders remained unchallenged in controlling the floor agenda, as the the two Senate votes illustrated how the rank and file were unwilling to legislatively push McConnell or Schumer to end the shutdown.

— 30 House Democrats grew nervous about the Democrats’ strategy, at least enough to send this letter.

Where do House committees get their money? A new Demand Progress report lays out House committee spending over the last quarter century. Most notable: spending on House committees is down 25% ($110m) from its peak, and the appropriations committee received 2.5x the funding of the next highest funded committee.

The Library of Congress launched a unified congressional calendar where you can see House and Senate hearings in one place. This was required in the legislative branch appropriations bill (per our request), and when complete (it’s not yet) it should include the name of the proceedings, links to the video, and perhaps the underlying data.

Rep. Walter Jones has entered hospice care. He is an iconoclast known for his tenacity and sense of right and wrong.

Interested in modernizing Congress? Come to a panel discussion on tech and Congress on Mon., Feb 4, in the CVC. RSVP here. Continue reading “Forecast for January 28, 2019. A Strange Game. The Only Winning Move Is Not To Play.”

Forecast for January 22, 2019. Champagne Wishes & Caviar Dreams.

TOP LINE

In a lengthy and insightful essay, noted Holocaust historian Christopher Browning drew ominous parallels between the destruction of the Weimar Republic by the “old right” and what’s happening today. The most gripping section is his analysis of the old Republic, but this section is striking as well:

“If the US has someone whom historians will look back on as the gravedigger of American democracy, it is Mitch McConnell. He stoked the hyperpolarization of American politics to make the Obama presidency as dysfunctional and paralyzed as he possibly could. As with parliamentary gridlock in Weimar, congressional gridlock in the US has diminished respect for democratic norms, allowing McConnell to trample them even more.”

H.R. 1. This week Sen. McConnell jibed at H.R. 1, the House Democrats’ legislation to protect voting rights, end gerrymandering, lessen the role of wealth in our political system, and improve ethical accountability for elected officials, as the “Democrat Politician Protection Act.” Long time reporter Eliza Newlin Carney explained McConnell’s position this way: “In making the case for Democrats’ bad motives… McConnell comes across as both remarkably out of touch with public sentiment and as incapable of debating the topic honestly.”

Shutdown. As Politico noted, Sen. McConnell “is standing firm in his resolve to not move a muscle on any government funding bill that would not have the president’s approval.” Democrats are advancing Republican negotiated appropriations bills, and some Senate Republicans are speaking out in favor of opening the government without preconditions, leading the Intercept to opine that McConnell is blocking progress to save his reelection.

Trump gave a nothing-burger speech this weekend on a warmed over plan intended to shift blame to Democrats instead of actually reopening government. Trump did not consult with Democrats; McConnell said he would hold a vote Tuesday. MSNBC wonders “whatever happened to Mitch McConnell’s principle of denying a vote on any measure that lacks bipartisan backing?” Continue reading “Forecast for January 22, 2019. Champagne Wishes & Caviar Dreams.”

Forecast for January 14, 2019. Snow Day.

THE TOP LINE

“Why is Congress so dumb?” Rep. Bill Pascrell’s op-ed does a masterful job of summarizing how the self-lobotomization of Congress caused a decline in congressional expertise and empowered special interests. It’s why the new House Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress is a big deal and represents an opportunity for Congress to stand up for itself. The last time the Congress looked systematically at its problems, in 1993, committee and party leaders thwarted much of the immediate progress to preserve their own power only to be thrown out at the next election. Perhaps that’s an object lesson for this go-round.

— The committee’s success depends in part on the skillfulness of its leader, Rep. Kilmer, the yet-to-be-named Republican co-chair, and remaining 10 members, all of whom must be savvy about Congress, reflect its various factions, and be able to work together and work with the gatekeepers. Another significant factor is its budget, which must support enough staff and resources for the committee to do its work and will be allocated in March by the House Admin Committee. Finally, leadership must be willing to share of some of its amassed power for the health of the institution.

— That’s not all, folks. While the select committee is one avenue for reform, it is not the only one. Last year’s House Leg Branch appropriations processput specific reforms in motion and could do so again. The House rules package contained significant process reforms and additional rules changes are just a House resolution away. And the House Admin Committee can be a force for good. Members of Congress would be wise to take advantage of all possible avenues for reform.

— On savvy staff: read this, a profile of Joe Donoghue, who spent 31 years in the Senate working for Sen. McCain. There’s shout-outs to a few other congressional institutions.

All about Mitch. When it comes to the shutdown, Sen. McConnell can lead the Senate or follow Trump, but he can no longer do both. Republicans in both chambers are starting to support proposals to reopen the government without the wall and Dems are increasingly aiming fire at Sen. McConnell for thwarting Senate votes. As the defections grow, McConnell’s room to maneuver shrinks.

— Senate Dems are starting to increase the pressure by moving to block all votes in the Senate. They may move (as Matt Glassman explains) to increase the pain for the GOP by forcing them to affirmatively (and individually) vote to keep the government closed. This gets a little tricky, as making a motion to proceed undermines McConnell and Schumer’s power as leaders and empowers the rank-and-file, which is probably the one thing both party leaders want less than a deal to end the shut-down.

— McConnell is in a real bind as he is the most unpopular current senatoras measured by his constituents, “with 38 percent of Kentucky voters approving of his job performance and 47 percent disapproving.” He, like Trump, is up for re-election in 2020, and is likely afraid of de-motivating his base or having Trump take aim at him.

— Meanwhile, Trump may declare a national emergency for border wall funding. The move is unwise and a fundamental challenge to the separation-of-powers arrangement set out in the Constitution Continue reading “Forecast for January 14, 2019. Snow Day.”

Forecast for January 7, 2019. All that’s old is new again.

THE TOP LINE

The House adopted the most transparent and open rules in my lifetime and by a huge bipartisan majority created a Select Committee on Modernizing Congress. There was a little kerfuffle over Pay-Go and a few surprise votes. More below.

The shutdown continues even as the House passed two approps bills that Sen. McConnell refused to bring to the floor. (It’s notable that the bills were available online for 72 hours!) Eight Repubs in the House voted for it and two Senate Repubs said that they would if given the chance. Dems will try again this week with stand alone bills, and accuse McConnell of being complicit in the Trump shutdown. McConnell is trying to prevent his conference from splitting, but he is creating a crisis by doing so. Senate Dems might slow things down in the Senate to increase the pressure.

House Dems introduced HR 1, a major ethics, voting rights, and campaign finance reform bill. It’s not up on Congress.gov, but you can read it here. The Dems had a major press event that you can watch here, and Vox has a decent summary. Continue reading “Forecast for January 7, 2019. All that’s old is new again.”

Forecast for December 17, 2018. #MeToo Legislation Sent to the President, Sen. Kyl resigning, and Nancy Pelosi Secures Support for Speaker.

TOP LINE

A government shutdown is looming on Friday and it’s all Trump’s fault, just ask him. With 7 approps bills outstanding, and Congress having done it’s homework, will Congress enact 6 bills as written and turn the 7th into a long term CR, kick the can to the next Congress, or something else? Here’s what happens in a shutdown. If the CR goes down, it’s going to take a lot of riders with it.

Nancy Pelosi will be Speaker, obtaining that position in return for term limits for leadership positions — and undermining Hoyer and Clyburn as a bonus.More below.

Compromise harassment legislation was sent to the president after congressional negotiators reached a compromise that watered down the House bill. The House Administration Committee, for example, said they would continue to push for a future bill that “holds Members personally liable for discrimination, reauthoriz[es] the Employee Advocate, and strengthen[s] our workplace rights and responsibilities education program,” and Dems may include stopgap fixes in the House rules package. Rep. Speier said her work on this isn’t done. Here’s where we think the House bill should have gone further.

Get familiar with HR 1 and H. Res 5HR 1 is House Democrats lead legislative proposal for the 116th Congress, containing reform packages on ethics, voting rights, and money in politics. H. Res 5 is the House’s rules package, which will be enacted on Jan. 3 and will contain significant House reforms. (I have no idea when we get to see the legislative text, but probably the day before it’s voted on.) Also watch for the Democratic caucus rules, likely to be adopted on Jan. 2. What else are House Dems planning?

Sen. Jon Kyl is resigning, so Arizona’s governor will have to appoint a replacement. During his time back in the Senate, Kyl was a great advocate for the companies that had previously paid him as a lobbyist, with some speculating that “Kyl was in the Senate mostly to benefit his lobbying career.”

What’s this week’s schedule? That’s a good question.

Who and what. Senate Dems released their committee member lists and leadership list, and Roll Call published the combined congressional calendar for 2019. The House Clerk published the bioguide data for members of the 116 Congress — this is the Rosetta stone that provides a unique identifier (akin to a social security number) for every member of Congress. The Clerk published phone and room numbers for House members, too. Continue reading “Forecast for December 17, 2018. #MeToo Legislation Sent to the President, Sen. Kyl resigning, and Nancy Pelosi Secures Support for Speaker.”