Bring on the out-of-office responses and welcome to this recess edition of the First Branch Forecast, where we look into the Legislative branch and government transparency. Now, you’ll have time enough at last to encourage your colleagues to subscribe here.
The forgotten art of congressional oversight is the topic of a fantastic, extensive article by the American Prospect’s David Dayen. It explores — with smart examples — how congressional oversight has held the powerful to account, the ingredients to make it work, what has changed in Congress over time, and who is making it work even in our current political environment. This is the best kind of long read: it’s one you can use.
Transparency around the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel opinions is a key element of government accountability, which is why Demand Progress coordinated a letter with a bipartisan group of 20 organizations calling on Biden’s nominee to run that office to endorse proactive disclosure for the opinions (with minimal exceptions) and to release an index of all OLC opinions. The often secret opinions constitute a body of law that hides from Congress and the American people how the Executive branch is applying the law. Notably, nominee Christopher Schroeder himself endorsed transparency for the opinions in 2004, and a 2020 statement drafted with substantial assistance from former OLC attorneys described the office as being in “crisis” and endorsed proactive disclosure. Schroeder’s nomination will come before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Demand Progress continues to support appropriations language that directs the OLC to release the opinions, included in the House bills in FY 2021 and FY 2020.
Congressional Republicans killed the January 6th Commission even after Democrats gave them every possible point of leverage to protect their political interests. Luke Broadwater details the many questions that will be left unanswered in the absence of a coordinated and wide-ranging investigation. Meanwhile, many Republicans in state legislatures are stepping up their unrelenting efforts to undermine democracy through attacks on the ability to vote and how those votes are counted and reported, which is part and parcel of the Trump insurrection and will accomplish the same purpose. For those who still believe in bipartisanship as a value, I refer you to this excellent opinion piece by Jack Shafer, that not only declares it long dead, but explains why bipartisanship was neither real nor a political good. (I’d love to have a discussion of how each political party in itself is a multiparty coalition, but that’s a topic for a different time.)
Appropriations Timeline. President Biden’s budget came out Friday — order a copy from GPO — and it provides a starting point for congressional negotiations over top line numbers. If I’m reading it right (I’m looking at table S-7 on page 56): Biden is proposing the Defense Allocation increase from $740.7B in FY 2021 to $752.9B in FY 2022, an increase of $12.2B (or 1.6%); the Non-Defense Allocation would increase from $660.7B in FY 2021 to $769.6B in FY 2022, an increase of $108.9B (or 16.5%). The FY 2021 number does not include $191.0B in off-budget discretionary spending, so apparently total discretionary budget authority would actually decrease from $1,592.3B in FY 2021 to $1,521.0B in FY 2022.
What’s due in June? Congress often requires Legislative branch support office and agencies to submit reports to Congress and we track what’s due when. See our June update, which includes a U.S. Capitol Police report on the cost for creating an arrest summary data system (Demand Progress testified on this issue last year), a CAO report on House-wide leave policy, a report from the Clerk on automated committee roll call voting systems, and more.
House Democrats have upgraded DemCom, the incredibly cool internal website that provides context for legislative information. (More below)Continue reading “Forecast for June 1, 2021.”