Funding Bill Takes a Giant Leap to Rebuild Congressional Capacity

Today at noon the House Appropriations Committee’s Legislative Branch Subcommittee will mark up its funding bill for fiscal year 2022. This legislation constitutes a big leap towards addressing the devastating decline Members of Congress have inflicted upon the Legislative Branch over the past quarter century, including a nearly 40 percent staffing reduction at committees and legislative support agencies.

The bill includes a top line funding increase of 13.8 percent over fiscal year 2021; a 21 percent increase for personal, committee, and leadership offices; a 10.3 percent increase for the government’s watchdog, the Government Accountability Office; new funding for IT modernization initiatives; and many other important provisions. In recent historical terms, the legislation does not constitute an increase in funding to the Legislative Branch, but rather a restoration of funding levels from a decade ago. Moreover, the Legislative Branch has only grown at half the rate of the Executive Branch over the last few decades, and the lions’ share of those funds have gone towards security and infrastructure, not policymaking. This legislation begins to remediate those deficiencies.

These newly restored resources will be used to provide for better services for constituents, to support oversight work to root out waste, and to hire expert staff to help our elected representatives fulfill their Article I duty to lead in federal policymaking.

Building capacity in Congress is a sound investment. A stronger Congress can reduce opportunities for regulatory capture by lobbyists, mitigate the risk of unintended negative policy outcomes through stronger staffing, and increase accountability of the federal government through expanded and knowledgeable oversight. It also provides an opportunity to save taxpayers money: the Government Accountability Office consistently reports a savings of over $100 for each dollar of its budget and yet it has been consistently underfunded, leaving billions of dollars on the table.

This appropriations bill is a monumental break from decades of dysfunctional politicization of congressional funding, which undermined the legislative branch’s ability to fulfill its constitutional role under Article I. “Both Republicans and Democrats increasingly recognize that Congress has been unable to live up to the role envisioned for it by the Founders,” said Lincoln Network policy head Zach Graves. Adding that, “while there hasn’t always been agreement for how to fix Congress, we’ve seen a real shift in how both sides talk about Congress and a growing recognition that strengthening Congress should be an issue that everyone from across the political spectrum can agree upon.”

This new push for congressional capacity also comes after years of bipartisan coalition work by Lincoln Network, Demand Progress, the American Enterprise Institute, the Congressional Management Foundation, FreedomWorks, and other groups to reframe the conversation on Capitol Hill and educate stakeholders about this institutional challenge. “This important bill is the result of a decades’ hard work from a bipartisan cohort of reform-minded Members, working together with civil society, to strengthen Congress and create a new culture of institutionalism,” said Demand Progress policy director Daniel Schuman. Adding that, “while restored resources won’t fix all of Congress’s challenges, it will make it possible to gain traction on the remaining issues and move us closer to a healthier democracy.”

Lincoln Network and Demand Progress enthusiastically support these efforts to restore funding to Congress, congratulate members of the Legislative Branch Appropriations Committee for their leadership, and look forward to consideration and passage of the legislation.

Further reading:

Written by Daniel Schuman and Zach Graves

First Reactions to the Draft House Leg Branch Approps Subcommittee Bill

The House Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee today released its draft appropriations bill accompanied by a press release. The subcommittee markup is tomorrow, and we won’t know what it in the committee report until the full committee markup on Tuesday. We reviewed the legislation and compared the proposed funding to the enacted levels from last Congress. (If your interested in the documents from prior Congresses, we have compiled them here.)

At first glance, this looks like a very, very good proposal. Congratulations to Chair Ryan, members of the Leg Branch Approps subcommittee, Chair DeLauro, and all the members and staff from both sides of the aisle that have worked long and hard to restore the Legislative branch’s strength.

Appropriators have proposed $4.802 billion, which is a $589.1 million increase over FY 2021, or a 13.8 percentage increase. Roughly 40% of the increase will go to the Capitol Police and Architect. We note that this proposal does not include the costs for the Senate, and we will not know their numbers until they do their own markup later this year and then the chambers reconcile the numbers.

Among the major funding features of this legislation:

  • A 21% increase in funding to personal, committee, and leadership offices, which will go a long way to help restore staff funding levels to where they were in 2010. This should make significant inroads in addressing Congress’s brain drain and making it possible for staff to afford staying on the hill instead of decamping to lobbying shops.
  • A 20% increase in internship funding, including funding for committee interns, which should help broaden pathways for students (and veterans) from all walks of life to experience working for Congress. Also the doubling of funding for the Office of Diversity and Inclusion means that this newly widened pathway will make it possible for more people to get their foot on the first rung of the Congressional ladder.
  • Real increases in funding for the support offices, like the Clerk (+14%), Sergeant at Arms (+19%), and Whistleblower Ombuds (+25%). The Clerk needed the funds to support its technology modernization, and the SAA has significant security components. We also note real increases for the important but often over-looked Office of General Counsel (+5.3%), Legislative Counsel (+5.8%), and Law Revision Counsel (+3.8%). The General Counsel is often busy protecting the prerogatives of the House; Leg Counsel drafts the bills and is overwhelmed; and Law Revision Counsel codifies the law. There’s also another $2 million for technology modernization under the CAO, which is very nice.
  • Increases for the legislative support agencies, like CRS (+5%), CBO (+6.4%), OCWR (+6.7%), GAO (+10%), and GPO (the actual amount is unclear because of how the revolving door fund works).
  • The Capitol Police will receive an additional 15%, or $88 million, which will pay for hundreds of new sworn officers and “civilians,” not counting the additional +35% of $16 million for USCP buildings, grounds, and security. There’s also language that would have the costs of basic training be paid for out of Homeland Security funding for use of the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center; I don’t know if this is new, but we know that training is a major cost for the USCP and could provide significant additional value to Congress.
  • Without the Senate side we cannot see how much the Architect will increase. The press statement suggests a $152.8 million over FY 2021, to $603.9 million, which looks like a +34% increase. This doesn’t include whatever comes in the security supplemental.

There are also some policy changes in the bill.

  • We are glad to see that confederate statues would be removed from public view and put into storage within 45 days. (This was in last years’ bill as well, but had been blocked by the Senate).
  • DACA recipients would become eligible to work for Congress.
  • It looks like the Capitol Police Chief and the Architect or Deputy Architect of the Capitol would have their pay raised beyond that available to congressional staffers or Members of Congress, somewhere in the SES level. The Capitol Police Chief, for example, would be paid at an SES level II, which looks to be around $199,300.
  • There are new provisions on how the Library of Congress takes gifts, particularly gifts of securities.
  • The Open World Leadership Center will become the Congressional Office of International Leadership.

I would expect that we will see many more policy changes in the committee report language, which won’t become available until 24 hours before the full committee markup.

What’s next?

  • Subcommittee markup tomorrow Thursday, July 24th
  • Full Committee markup scheduled for Tuesday, June 29th.

Here is our spreadsheet comparing FY 2021 and FY 2022. It’s a working document and subject to change. Here are the Leg branch line items over the last quarter century.

How to Track House Approps Markups

Tracking House appropriations markups can be more art than science. We’ve compiled this timeline to help everyone follow along.

Meeting notice

Public access to the proceedings

Subcommittee markups

  • Draft bill text, resolutions, and reports must be available to committee members (but not the public) at least 3 calendar days in advance of the date it is expected to be considered (although this language can be waived) — Committee Rule 6(j).
  • Draft bill text must be publicly available at least 24 hours in advance of the proceedings — House Rule XI(g)(4), Committee Rule 4(d)(4). (In practice, this is a literal 24 hours, so bill text may become available online on the Sunday before a Monday markup.)
  • Amendment text, if adopted, must be made available within 24 hours of adoption; if withdrawn or otherwise not adopted, must be made available within 48 hours — House Rule XI(e)(6), Committee Rule 4(e)(1).
  • Record votes at the markup must be publicly available in electronic form within 48 hours of the vote — House Rule XI(e)(1)(B). This includes a description of the amendment/motion/etc. and how members voted.
  • The draft committee report is not required to be made publicly available prior to its adoption by the full committee. However, as a matter of practice, the draft committee report is made publicly available 24 hours prior to the full committee markup.

Full committee markup

  • Draft bill text, resolutions, and reports must be available to committee members (but not the public) at least 3 calendar days in advance of the date it is expected to be considered (although this language can be waived) — Committee Rule 6(j).
  • Draft bill text must be publicly available at least 24 hours in advance of the proceedings — House Rule XI(g)(4), Committee Rule 4(d)(4). Note that if the subcommittee bill text was not amended, it will be the draft full committee text. (Although it can still be amended by the full committee.)
  • The draft committee report, as mentioned above, is not required to be made publicly available prior to its adoption by the full committee. However, as a matter of practice, the draft committee report is made publicly available prior to the full committee markup, usually at the same time as the draft bill text.
  • Amendment text, if adopted, must be made available within 24 hours of adoption; if withdrawn or otherwise not adopted, must be made available within 48 hours — House Rule XI(e)(6), Committee Rule 4(f). For the last two years, largely driven by the COVID pandemic, House Appropriators have distributed amendments to press as they are offered.
  • Record votes at the markup must be publicly available in electronic form within 48 hours of the vote — House Rule XI(e)(1)(B), Committee Rule 4(e)(1). This includes a description of the amendment/motion/etc. and how members voted.

Final bill text

  • There is no deadline by which the final bill text and committee report must be made publicly available after adoption by the committee. Rather, it is the duty of the Chair to file the bill and report “promptly.” Committee Rule (6)(a)(1). They become available after they are filed with the House of Representatives (being filed in the House (which occurs after the submission of minority, dissenting, additional, and supplemental views). Members who give notice they wish to file dissenting, additional, or supplemental views are entitled to two additional calendar days to file those views. Rule XI(2)(l), Committee Rule 6(i)(1).

Tracking Appropriations Testimony Deadlines for FY 2022

For the last few years Demand Progress has been tracking appropriations testimony deadlines in the House and in the Senate. Specifically, we have kept track of:

  • Public witness testimony deadlines and guidance
  • Member witness testimony deadlines and guidance
  • Member request deadlines and guidance
  • Subcommittee/ full committee markups.

Here is that information, in spreadsheet form, for FY 2022 (updated once a week), FY 2021, and FY 2020.

You can find the spreadsheet for FY 2022 below, or just click on the link above.

The Congressional Budget Office and Disclosure of Conflicts of Interest

The Congressional Budget Office is a Legislative branch agency that supports the Congressional budget process by providing analyses of budgetary and economic issues. CBO makes use of an outside panel of advisers to help inform its work products. Because outside experts can have conflicts of interest, CBO requires the advisers to annually submit forms to disclose “substantial political activity and significant financial interests.” 

Continue reading “The Congressional Budget Office and Disclosure of Conflicts of Interest”

What to do about Congressional Earmarks

We’ve known, at least since December, that congressional earmarks are coming back, and the latest news reiterates that they will return in some fashion. Earmarks are congressionally directed spending — legislative language in an appropriations bill that directs spending for a particular purpose, such as building a bridge or pushing funding to a specific corporation or non-profit. Here’s how we think Congress should address their return.

Continue reading “What to do about Congressional Earmarks”

Recommendations for the FY 2022 Security Supplemental (including on the U.S. Capitol Police)

Congress is expected to enact a “security supplemental” appropriations bill to address the aftermath of the Trump insurrection on January 6. In advance of that legislation, we compiled recommendations for items to include in the supplemental. They are informed by our experiences studying Legislative branch operations over the last decade, including several years of research into the U.S. Capitol Police (USCP). 

Continue reading “Recommendations for the FY 2022 Security Supplemental (including on the U.S. Capitol Police)”

What is Wrong with Congress? A New Report from Demand Progress Education Fund and Public Citizen

What is the proper role of the Legislative branch in our system of government? How exactly has Congress been undermined and how might it restore its strength? Demand Progress Education Fund and Public Citizen are proud to announce our new report, “Article One: Rebuilding Our Congress,” which expands upon these questions and outlines what has happened, and why. 

Our purpose is to tell the story—using numbers and data—about the dysfunction of our Legislative branch and the dangers that dysfunction poses to our democracy. We focus on four major areas that relate to the diminishment of Congressional power: (1) Congressional Capacity and Modernization, (2) Executive Branch Oversight, (3) Foreign Policy and National Security, and (4) The Power of the Purse. 

Continue reading “What is Wrong with Congress? A New Report from Demand Progress Education Fund and Public Citizen”

Video: The House Rules in the 117th Congress

The new House rules for the 117th Congress were the subject of a panel discussion this past Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-PA) gave opening remarks. The discussion included presentations by Matt Hayward of the Congressional Progressive Caucus Center, Craig Holman of Public Citizen, and me, with the conversation moderated by Sanaa Abrar of United

The panel was co-sponsored by the Congressional Progressive Caucus Center, the Demand Progress Education Fund, and Public Citizen. Looking for more House rules reform ideas? Check out our complete list of recommendations for the 117th Congress.

First Branch Forecast: January 18, 2021

THE TOP LINE
The insurrection is not over. The likelihood of violence at federal and state capitals across the country and ongoing organizing by white nationalists means the danger of immediate political violence has not passed even as the national guard and local police forces are on high alert. Meanwhile, the Twitter pundits who tittered that the sacking of the Capitol Building was a mere beer hall putsch have come to acknowledge the attackers were better armed, better organized, and more dangerous than they had ever guessed — and came within moments of decapitating the legislature and murdering the presidential line of succession.

Too many officials in the Republican party, meanwhile, are still giving aid and comfort to the enemies of democracy. Only ten House Republicans voted (232-197) to remove Donald Trump from power. Outgoing Sen. Majority Leader McConnell rebuffed Sen. Schumer’s request to immediately reconvene the Senate, ensuring a removal vote cannot happen while Trump is in office. Sen. McConnell, a political Von Hindenburg who used Trump’s popularity with the base to move his ultra-conservative political agenda, has found his party’s beholdenness to the feckless aspiring autocrat is now imperiling corporate support for his party and slightly slowing the revolving door. Consequently, Sen. McConnell belatedly hinted his openness to Trump’s removal in order to restore corporate support, which is (also belatedly) being cut off to the party and major conservative groups as donors realize the danger to their brands. There’s talk that some Republicans voted against removing Trump out of fear for their physical safety, although many likely were focused on their political well-being; meanwhile Sen. McConnell is using the Trump removal effort to hinder the incoming Biden administration.

The big lie, “stop the steal,” nurtured by many Republicans, is an inversion of reality: the real fraud is the decades-long voter suppression efforts that arise from gerrymandering and efforts to disenfranchise minority, younger, and less wealthy voters. We know this, in part, because we have the secret files of the guy who led this effort. Voter purges, witness intimidation, ID requirements, and gerrymandering are rooted in Jim Crow practices and a long history of American violence aimed at subverting our political institutions. Those who wish to argue #bothsides on this matter need only to consider the 138 House Republicans and 7 Senate Republicans who voted — in the midst of the sacking of the Capitol — to exclude votes by the state of Pennsylvania in determining the presidential winner. The 8 Senate Republicans who voted to ignore the election — Sens. Cruz, Hawley, Hyde-Smith, Kennedy, Lummis, Marshall, Scott, and Tuberville — surely have fellow travelers among their colleagues, such as Sen. Lindsey Graham, who is actively working to undermine Trump’s removal. In the House, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s former boss and mentor, Rep. Bill Thomas, went on TV to excoriate Rep. McCarthy, calling him a “hypocrite” for supporting “the phony lies the president perpetuated.”

There is a direct line between Charlottesville and #bothsides to “stop the steal” and sedition. Members of the mob had maps, weapons, two-way radios, military and police training, and some say they had inside help… including, potentially, from Members of Congress. We can see they were encouraged — some would say incited — to violence: the unhinged rantings of a handful of particularly vocal Qanon-friendly House and Senate Republicans were buttressed and often echoed by leadership. The willingness to physically contest even the most simple rules, such as mask requirements and gun prohibitions on the chamber floor, suggest some members inside Congress are engaged in agitprop, looking to the mob to elevate their political fortunes.

The city on the hill. And so on Wednesday, Pres.-elect Biden will take the oath of office, surrounded by 1,000 supporters, ringed by 20,000+ security personnel, and that morning Trump will flee the crime scene. Various Inspectors General and congressional committees are spinning up investigations of what happened — we joined a panel discussion on this topic on Friday — and the work to repair our democracy will begin even as 7 in 10 Republicans believe his election was fraudulent and those out of power plot for 2022, 2024, and beyond. For our part, we will continue to focus on improving Congress’s ability to do its job, government accountability, and rebuilding our democracy.

Continue reading “First Branch Forecast: January 18, 2021”