House Advances Franking Modernization Bill

The House passed a bill last week designed to bring the Franking Commission into the 21st century. The Communications Outreach Media and Mail Standards Act, or COMMS Act (H.R.7512), extends the commission’s authority to regulate mass communications (i.e., to 500 people or more) by Members and Members-elect. The commission’s authority has historically been limited to mailings but the new language refers to a wider range of communications. 

Continue reading “House Advances Franking Modernization Bill”

Forecast for August 4, 2020.

THE TOP LINE

Safety first? Rep. Gohmert’s positive COVID-19 test sparked outrage across the Hill, prompting a belated mask mandate in the House, inaction (what else!?!) in the Senate, a possible member-to-member transmission, and countless staffers and aides telling reporters about a backlash from senior staff/Members for wearing masks in their offices or requesting to work remotely. We wrote a letter on March 12 to Congress that included a recommendation to prioritize the health and safety of the public, staff, press, and lawmakers. For now, chamber rules should require remote work unless you absolutely have to be there; chamber and committee proceedings should be remote; Congress should use tech to substitute for paper processes; limited occupancy + masks should be mandated; social distancing is a must; and expanded testing seems prudent. This can’t be a dead letter, either: there needs to be real enforcement.

Appropriation bills continue to move forward in the House, with 10 of 12 passing the lower chamber. Homeland Security was pulled from the mini-bus. Meanwhile, the Senate has yet to schedule its approps markups. (BGOV)

Supplemental funding for Legislative Branch operations was included in the Senate COVID response bill. But the Leg Branch Approps bill has yet to get a House vote.

The Fix Congress Committee released its fourth round of recommendations aimed at improving congressional operations. Several recommendations were created to address the challenges that Members and staff are facing while teleworking during the pandemic.

Frank no more. The COMMS Act, H.R.7512, championed by Rep. Susan Davis, which changes how the Franking Privilege works, passed the House on Thursday. It contains a number of significant reforms. Earlier this year, the House began publishing advisory opinions online and updated the communications standards manual.

Continue reading “Forecast for August 4, 2020.”

116th Congress Update: How House Committees Get Their Money

(This is an update of a 2019 article on how House Committees are funded. It has been updated for the 116th Congress.)

Committee funding in the House of Representatives is accomplished through a somewhat quirky process. Appropriators in the House Legislative Branch Appropriations Committee set a top dollar amount for the committees — they appropriate the funds — but it is the Committee on House Administration that provides (i.e. allots) the funds to each committee on a biennial basis.

At the beginning of each new Congress, each committee chair and ranking member jointly testifies before the House Administration Committee and requests funds for their committee. For the 116th Congress, the hearing took place on March 12, 2019. Here is the committee notice; the written statements requesting funds; and video.

On March 21, the House Administration Committee introduced a funding resolution in the House, and on March 25, the committee held a markup on House Resolution 245 that allotted funds to the committees. You can watch the very brief proceedings here. House Administration reported out the committee report on March 26th, and the House passed the resolution on March 27.

HOW FUNDING FOR COMMITTEES HAS CHANGED OVER THE LAST 25 YEARS

What does this look like in practice? Drawing upon the excellent data in this CRS report, plus a little additional research on spending on the appropriations committee, we looked at:

  1. Total committee spending from 1995 to present
  2. The change in spending per committee from 1999 to present
  3. Spending per committee in the last Congress

What did we find? Overall, committees have significantly fewer funds available than their recent historical counterparts, which undermines their ability to do their jobs.

(Want to check our math? You can see our data here: un-adjusted committee spending data from 1995-2020 and inflation-adjusted committee spending data from 1995-2020.)

TOTAL COMMITTEE SPENDING

Total spending on committees is down by more than $115 million from its peak, using inflation adjusted dollars. The House of Representatives put $322,333,439 towards its committees in the 116th Congress, down from $437,680,105 in the 111th Congress, which incidentally was when Democrats last controlled the House. This is a 25% cut in funding. As a point of comparison, spending on the Capitol Police for FY 2020 amounted to $464,341,000. 

What’s interesting is that committee spending is down from when Republicans last controlled both the House and the White House, in the 109th Congress. At that time, committees received $408,629,237 in inflation adjusted dollars, which is almost $90m more than the most recent Congress.

SPENDING PER COMMITTEE

In the 116th Congress, the appropriations committee received far and away the lion’s share of committee funding, more than double the next closest committee. The following two charts show how the last Congress prioritized its committee spending. As mentioned above, it is worth noting that the overall pie has shrunk considerably.

CHANGES IN SPENDING PER COMMITTEE

As the overall spending pie for committees has shrunk, who has come out ahead and who has lagged behind? Ethics, Intel, Financial Services, Veterans Affairs, House Administration, and Ways and Means are all up, but this can be deceiving. Ethics ($6.8m), Veterans Affairs ($8.3m), House Administration ($10.6), and Intel ($12.4m) have comparatively tiny budgets, as compared with quite well funded Financial Services ($17.1m) and Ways and Means ($18.3) committees.

Similarly, Rules, Appropriations, Budget, and Oversight appear down, but this too can be misleading. Rules ($6.6m) and Budget ($10.4m) are comparatively small, whereas Oversight ($18.9m) is the third largest committee, and Appropriations ($47.4m) is the largest.

WHAT DOES ALL THIS MEAN?

House Democrats could increase funding for committees by 20-25 percent and still be within historical norms for committee spending. Indeed, what the data shows is that the House’s committees have been hollowed out in recent years.

The biggest likely constraints on returning to normal allotment levels are that the legislative branch budget is comparatively smaller than historical norms, and it will be hard to find the money. Spending on other items consume a comparatively larger share of legislative branch funds.

This suggests that when Democrats start the Budget process, in which they will decide how much money to make available to the 12 appropriations subcommittees, they should look to increase funds to the legislative branch.

A FEW FINAL NOTES

First, and not to make things too complicated, but the allotment process (the divvying up of funds among the committees) happens only once, at the start of each Congress, and the allotment resolution covers a two year period. By contrast, the legislative branch appropriations process, which is what okays the spending of money, happens every year. You can imagine the appropriation as Congress spending money to buy a pie, and the allotment process as cutting up pieces for each committee. The appropriation and allotment process run on different calendars, which can make things confusing.

Second, generally speaking, funds for a committee are further subdivided, with 2/3s available to be spent by the majority and 1/3 by the minority. This isn’t always true, such as for the Ethics committee, and there can be other considerations, but that’s generally how it works. One notable exception is the Modernization Committee, which has a bipartisan staff. In addition, the funds are generally allotted in two segments, for each year of the Congress.

Third, in some Congresses there is a separate reserve fund, just in case a committee overspends.

Fourth, while most committees are allotted funding, Appropriators appropriate funding specifically for the Appropriations Committee in a separate line item.

Finally, the last time there was a select environmental committee, back in the 111th Congress (2009-2010), the committee was allotted $4,968,243 (in inflation-adjusted dollars); by comparison the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis created during the 116th Congress was allotted $3,781,500.
This report is an update to our January 15, 2019 report “How House Committees Get Their Money,” which analyzed House committee allotments up to and including the 115th Congress.

Forecast for July 6, 2020.

Welcome back. This week will be busy in the House, so let’s go!

THE TOP LINE

The House Appropriations subcommittees are holding mark-ups all week, plus a Thursday vote on the 302(b) allocations and full committee markups on Thursday and Friday. The full schedule is at the bottom of this email.

• One notable change: for the first time, members of the media can obtain offered amendments by email; previously, you had to be there to get copies.

• We’ll be closely tracking the 302(b) allocations and Leg Branch, FSGG, and CJS markups; and for Leg Branch, we have a spreadsheet of 25 years of spending by line item, adjusted for inflation, which we expect to publish with the proposed spending numbers at firstbranchforecast.com.

• We’re starting to forget, but the bill text should be up 24-hours in advance of each markup (per House rule XI, clause 2(g)(4)) and any adopted amendments should be online no later than 24-hours after the meeting (Rule XI, clause 2(g)(6)). Subcommittee reports are expected online within 24-hours. Approps committee rules require roll call votes online within 48-hours. Keep an eye on the full approps committee page, the relevant subcommittee page, and docs.house.gov. Don’t forget our handy bot @AppropsTracker.

Proxy voting and virtual committee actions were extended by Speaker Pelosi through August 18. Will the House’s calendar now change with another COVID bill coming?

Intern Diversity. Pay Our Interns released an excellent report on House intern diversity: “Color of Congress.” We have a summary below.

Continue reading “Forecast for July 6, 2020.”

Forecast for June 29, 2020

THE TOP LINE

Musical chairs. The House of Representatives will have new committee chairs in the 117th Congress, but how will they be chosen? That’s a difficult enough question that we dig into it below.

NDAA. House Armed Services will markup the NDAA on Wednesday; on Monday, the Senate will resume consideration of the motion to proceed on its NDAA, with floor consideration expected the week of July 20th. Last year’s bill authorized ~$740 billion in spending.

Approps. House approps subcommittee markups are almost here, with the first markup on July 6. We summarized the schedule last week based on Chair Lowey’s Dear Colleague letter, but we couldn’t find a public notice. The Senate is still TBD, and rumors are there’s a CR in our future. The big question: what’s the top line numbers for the approps subcommittees? Meanwhile, we are gathering Leg Branch Approps docs here, including what happened in FY 2020, plus our wish list.

DC statehood. There’s a great story that someone should tell about how Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton got and won the House vote on DC statehood. I am personally fascinated by the 9 Democrats who voted in favor of the motion to recommit and the two RI senators who have yet to speak up.

Is it the fourth? It’s this Saturday, although Independence Day should really be July 2 because that’s the day the Continental Congress voted. Here’s the original roll call vote. In celebration, it finally is infrastructure week in the House, with a vote expected on H.R. 2.

Continue reading “Forecast for June 29, 2020”

Forecast for June 22, 2020

THE TOP LINE

Appropriations subcommittee markups are now two weeks away, but there’s no agreement or public statement on how much money will be available to the 12 appropriations subcommittees. Today we released a letter urging a $500 million increase (+10%) in funding available for the legislative branch appropriations subcommittee, co-drafted with the Lincoln Network and signed by 40+ organizations and 16 Congress experts. Why is it important?

• Spending on House and Senate committees has declined by 25% over the last decade, or $202 million each Congress; spending on personal offices is down 21% in the House and 10% in the Senate, or $224 million annually. 23% of all funding now goes towards security or buildings, or $1.16 billion annually, which reflects a 279% increase in funding for the Capitol Police and a 131% increase in funding for the Architect of the Capitol since 1995.

• Congress got shorted on federal discretionary spending. Annual discretionary defense spending has increased by 69% over the last quarter century; non-defense spending increased by 55%; and leg branch (which is part of non-defense) increased by 26%. Breaking down that 26% number: 10% is for the Architect of the Capitol; 9% is for the Capitol Police, and the remaining 8% is for everything else. Here’s those same numbers, but as nifty graphs.

• What’s that in real numbers? For FY 2021, non-defense discretionary spending is capped at $627 billion (plus another $8b for OCO); defense discretionary spending is capped at $672 billion (plus another $69 billion for OCO); outside of those caps are all the COVID-19 stimulus bills (which are more than $1 trillion). Spending on the leg branch is expected at around $5 billion, or less than 0.36% of discretionary spending (excluding the stimulus). More context here. (By the way, if anyone has a historic chart of the final 302(a) numbers, including the OCO, it would be incredibly helpful.)

Continue reading “Forecast for June 22, 2020”

Appropriations Cheat Sheet: Reforms To Include In 2021 Spending Bills

The 2021 appropriations process is ramping up with markups scheduled over next month and just a few months left before the end of the fiscal year. Appropriations bills can be a vehicle for institutional reform; we would like to elevate a few modernization ideas from a number of civil society organizations that lawmakers may wish to consider. (All of our recommendations are available online.)

Continue reading “Appropriations Cheat Sheet: Reforms To Include In 2021 Spending Bills”

Forecast for June 15, 2020

THE TOP LINE

The House schedule has changed againJune 25 and 26 are for police reform legislation; the week of June 29 is for health care and infrastructure (!!!!); and the last two weeks of July are for Appropriations and NDAA.

Apropos approps: Oddly, the Senate will start approps mark-ups first, and some subcommittee bills will go directly to the full committee. (How will skipping subcommittee markup affect the contents?) Did we miss when Senate appropriators held oversight hearings? For this week, we only see S. FSGG, an FCC oversight hearing set for Tues. By the way, our approps requests are here.

SASC cleared the FY21 NDAA, floor debate is expected next week. This year’s package totals roughly $740 billion and authorizes $636.4 billion for the Pentagon budget and another $69 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations. A reminder: OCO is basically a huge discretionary slush fund that is not subject to budget caps.

Open means online when it comes to committee proceedings. Last Monday a coalition called on the Sen. Foreign Relations committee to livestream its proceedings after it inappropriately refused to allow a video livestream; Roll Call put the request in context in this news story.

We hold these truths— Speaker Pelosi called for removing confederate statues in the U.S. Capitol and requested the Joint Committee on the Library “immediately take steps to remove these 11 statues from display.” Among the statues: the president and vice president of the confederacy. We and the R Street Institute applauded the request. According to Politico, Sen. Blunt, who chairs the JCL, said Congress has no power to move the statues out of the Capitol short of passing a law, sidestepping the question of JCL’s power to relocate them — which we described last week and in this 2017 op-ed w/ the R Street Institute. I’d consider placing them underneath the crypt or in a sub-basement hallway; Speaker Pelosi had moved the statue of Robert E. Lee during her first term as Speaker. Regardless, the House could pass a concurrent resolution to force the location issue with the Senate; it could include language in the approps or NDAA bills; and committee members could force the JCL to hold a hearing. Also, the JCL chair rotates between the House and Senate, so this could come up next year — Vice Chair Lofgren has long supported their removal.

Who’s hiring on the Hill? We’ve built a new Twitter bot that consolidates job postings on Capitol Hill from nearly 20 sources, from member offices to the Architect to CBO. It’s a work in progress; send us feedback.

A lot is happening with Congress in the coming weeks, we will help you keep uptell your colleagues to subscribe.

Continue reading “Forecast for June 15, 2020”