Forecast for May 5, 2020.

You may have noticed that you didn’t receive this week’s First Branch Forecast on Monday. This newsletter takes a team to write, and with so much happening last week and over the weekend, I ran out of time to finalize it on Sunday. Here is an abbreviated version.


Wednesday at 2 join our roundtable on Lessons learned from Remote Committee Proceedings. Speakers include the congressional staff who held the committee roundtables, former members of congress, and experts from civil society and academia. Also, we spoke to Civic Hall last week on continuity of Congress.

Congress needs tech help fast; think you’re up to the challenge? TechCongress launched a Congressional Digital Service fellowship to help get Congress functioning amid pandemic; the deadline to apply is Sunday.

We’re keeping an eye on the Senate Rules Committee, which is meeting on Thursday. Maybe they’ll say something about moving the Senate towards working remotely? (Maybe they should call the Supreme Court, who actually broadcast audio of oral arguments yesterday.)

Continue reading “Forecast for May 5, 2020.”

Can Online Presence Count Towards A Quorum?

The Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations released a fantastic report last week analyzing the constitutional rules governing quorum requirements to coincide with last week’s virtual hearing on Continuity of Senate Operations and Remote Voting in Times of Crisis.

If you’re not a policy wonk who finds quorum requirements inherently interesting, consider this: Determinations around remote quorum partially dictate whether Congress can hold official proceedings and votes remotely. In other words, this analysis impacts how Congress may or may not work remotely.

So where did the committee fall on the issue? The short answer is, it’s complicated.

Continue reading “Can Online Presence Count Towards A Quorum?”

New Bill Reclaiming the Congressional Power of the Purse

Chair Yarmuth of the House Budget Committee partnered with House and Senate chairs (Chair Lowey of House Appropriations, Chair Maloney of House Oversight and Reform and Senate Appropriations Vice Chair Leahy) to introduce the bicameral (but not bipartisan) Congressional Power of the Purse Act (H.R.6628).  

Continue reading “New Bill Reclaiming the Congressional Power of the Purse”

Continuity of Congress Play-By-Play For The Week Ending May 2, 2020.

CONTINUITY OF CONGRESS: House of Representatives

Activity on remote proceedings for the past week fills two pages on our ongoing timeline.  Sunday was not a day of rest, as the New Dems Coalition sent a second letter to House Leadership, urging them to bring a remote voting resolution to the floor no later than May 4 (today).  

Continue reading “Continuity of Congress Play-By-Play For The Week Ending May 2, 2020.”

Pay Study Data: Relationship of Cost of Living Adjustments & Staff Longevity

Last year the House released a valuable report on staff pay, benefits, and diversity. We took a look at the data to answer the question, are better pay and benefits really correlated with staff staying on board? The short answer is yes.

We’ll be releasing a series of short articles focusing on different variables and their impact on staff longevity. This article, the first in that series, focuses on the impact of cost of living adjustments (COLAs) on staff retention.

Continue reading “Pay Study Data: Relationship of Cost of Living Adjustments & Staff Longevity”

Forecast for April 27, 2020.

Good morning. The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in 200,000 dead worldwide, including 50,000 deaths in the U.S. and 165 dead in Washington, D.C., with the number of metropolitan cases continuing to increase. Despite the rising toll, the House and Senate held in-person votes this past week, several members of Congress want to reopen the Capitol, and some members ignored safety measures. We believe Congress must get back to work — safely. But efforts in both chambers to permit remote deliberations did not reach fruition.

There continues to be a pollyannish approach to this pandemic, especially on the part of federal lawmakers. People hold unsupported beliefs: COVID-19 is just like the flu, you don’t need masks, it will burn itself out by summer, it doesn’t strike children, having COVID-19 confers immunity, there will be a vaccine next year, and so on. Some of these beliefs we know are wrong, others are optimistic assumptions.

We won’t know when COVID-19 will end and we have major gaps in our understanding of the disease. Contingency planning includes preparing for a range of possible outcomes, including less optimistic scenarios: what if it causes permanent disability? What if a vaccine takes a long time? Proper planning should also address confounding problems: what if there’s a hurricane? What if a Supreme Court justice dies? What if air travel stops?

Continue reading “Forecast for April 27, 2020.”

New Data on House Staff Pay and Retention

Congressional staff are generally overworked and underpaid. Talented employees with vast institutional knowledge are eventually forced to choose between Congress and a sustainable lifestyle; the result is a Legislative Branch brain drain with employees leaving for better paying jobs in the Executive Branch or private sector. On top of that, Congress has a diversity problem: staff don’t reflect the constituency their bosses represent.

Continue reading “New Data on House Staff Pay and Retention”

Forecast for April 13, 2020.

It has been another tough week just about everywhere. We hope you and yours are staying safe. This newsletter is becoming harder and harder to write, but we hope it is helpful as we work together to keep our democracy.


We launched a website that gathers all the major resources and developments on continuity of Congress. Cleverly enough, it’s at Did we miss something? Drop us an email at

Read this: the Washington Post’s Mike Debonis and Paul Kane have a superb article that you really should read: “Sidelined by coronavirus pandemic, Congress cedes stage and authority to Trump.” They don’t have everything — we worked awfully hard on our report addressing the issues raised by House Rules Dems — but they expertly illustrate how power is shifting to the Executive branch as Congress has made itself unable to act.

• Speaker Pelosi is continuing to dig in on remote deliberations during the COVID-19 pandemic, and dismissed calls from the rank and file: “We’re not there yet, and we’re not going to be there no matter how many letters somebody sends in.”

• Perhaps the letters she referenced were those from the House New Dems and Problem Solvers Caucuses. New Dems urged that “Committees should … utiliz[e] the technology solutions identified by the House Committee on Administration to hold virtual legislative hearings and meetings as soon as possible.” The Problem Solvers called for “alternative ways” for the House to function that boil down to different versions of remote deliberations.

• According to our latest count111 members of the House have publicly articulated support for remote voting. (Majority Leader McConnell has entirely disappeared from this debate.)

 A new poll said “80% of Americans support Members of Congress being able to vote ‘remotely’ during the coronavirus pandemic,” and only 10% oppose. Members of Congress must be feeling the pressure to get back to work.

Continue reading “Forecast for April 13, 2020.”

How Has the Congressional Research Service’s Work Changed Over Thirty Years?

How has the Congressional Research Service’s work changed over the last 30 years? We gathered almost five decades of the agency’s annual reports and built a spreadsheet of its self-reported activities. We found interesting patterns, the absence of expected patterns, and lots of missing data. Our key findings:

First, CRS is decreasing its consultations with clients and shifting its resources to providing written products.

Second, CRS is creating more “new” written products and providing fewer “updated” written products, which suggests a shift away from creating and maintaining in-depth analytical products to comparatively superficial, fast-response pieces. 

Third, there’s no apparent connection between the products CRS creates and public access to general distribution CRS reports.

Continue reading “How Has the Congressional Research Service’s Work Changed Over Thirty Years?”