At the end of last week, the House Appropriations Committee published all earmark requests for FY 2024 on the committee’s website, including publishing them as a spreadsheet. This is great and welcome news. For the first time, the appropriations spreadsheet separated member names into different columns and included state, district, party, and recipient address. This makes the information significantly more usable. Thank you.
In fact, it’s so usable, we spent a little time over the weekend making it even more robust. We enhanced their spreadsheet by adding bioguide IDs for each member, appropriations subcommittee codes, a standardized recipient address (with help from ChatGPT), and extracted the recipient state and zip code. We have been playing around with using the AI to categorize whether the recipient entity is a non-profit or a governmental entity. We can imagine a lot of use cases for this cleaned-up data.
Unfortunately, the Appropriators’ spreadsheet does not include the request summaries published on the committees website nor a direct link to the request letter. We would also love to see the EINs for the non-profit requesting entities, because then we could tie that request to their 990 tax form and maybe to their lobbying disclosure records as well.
Regardless, all in all, this is a significant step forward in improving the transparency of the requests and we hope it will continue to improve.
The earmarks dataset was also a great opportunity for us to play with marrying the new ChatGPT technology with Google Sheets. I think this technology has the possibility of fundamentally transforming how appropriators gather requests from the public — which is the subject of a current Senate request for comments — and how the committee gathers requests from members. The ability to clean up requests (i.e. moving information from unstructured to structured formats), categorize them, summarize them, and do due diligence on the requesters should be a game changer.
The 117th Congress was astonishingly productive by any reasonable measure. It had everything arrayed against its success, including an attempted coup even before it began by the outgoing administration that nearly resulted in the murder of the constitutional line of succession. After it gaveled in, it contended with determination by the ex-president’s co-partisans to thwart impeachment proceedings and accountability for the Trump insurrectionists. Mitch McConnell took the Senate hostage, preventing committees from forming for weeks and prompting commitments from Sens. Manchin and Sinema to keep the anti-majoritarian filibuster. Meanwhile, a global pandemic continued to make convening in person difficult and dangerous.
Fourteen years ago, an organization I was involved with pushed to change congressional rules to allow members of Congress onto Twitter. Like many of the starry-eyed democracy and technology efforts of that era, we saw the potential upside — closing the gaps between elected officials and the people they represent, allowing movements to push their governments to liberalize their policies — but we did not anticipate the potential downside, especially how Twitter would weaponize its algorithms to elevate the worst in people in pursuit of “engagement” and money.
Twitter became, in part, the crossroads between politicians, journalists, civil society, and notable individuals in our society. But it has become a toxic cesspool that aided the rise of authoritarianism.
For many years social entrepreneurs have sought to elevate the virtues of micro-blogging platforms while ameliorating the downside. The Fediverse, and Mastodon most notable, is one such example.
A forthcoming blogpost will address some of the many lessons we’ve learned since the early days of “let our Congress tweet,” especially how the Congress — and the federal government writ large — should support engagement on those platforms.
For now, we’re tracking as Members of Congress, congressional committees, leadership offices, and non-partisan legislative branch offices make the plunge onto Mastodon.
With the transition in leadership of the House Democratic Caucus, there are significant opportunities for the rules to further communicate Democratic values and shape the Caucus’s operations. In our view, Caucus rules should reflect the values of the members and the voters who elected them.
Demand Progress Education Fund has compiled a set of “low-hanging fruit” recommendations, broken into five sections, focused on making the Caucus more equitable, transparent, and democratic. A sixth section, entitled “empowering all members of the caucus,” addresses improved power sharing among leadership, committees, and the rank-and-file.
Where will power reside in the next Congress? And what systems of control will delegate and manage that power? These are core questions to understanding the legislative branch at any time, of course. But the answers to those questions may be shifting, perhaps faster than anticipated and in ways that fundamentally change our current politics.
In committee, the Senate Rules and Administration Committee will markup the Electoral Count Act (S.4573) on Tuesday. Senate HSGAC will meet on Wednesday to vote on the nomination of Colleen Shogan to be Archivist of the United States and a bill amending the Lobbying Disclosure Act regarding exemptions under FARA.
The House January 6th Committee will hold a public hearing on Wednesday at 1:00 PM.
Down the line, the Senate is still on track to be in session the first two weeks of October, with authorizing the NDAA looming.
The Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress held its final hearing last Wednesday, aptly on how Congress should continue its work.
The Committee has issued 177 recommendations over its three-and-a-half year tenure and likely will surpass the 200 mark before its work concludes at the end of this Congress. By its own count, only 37 of those recommendations have been fully implemented. In advance of the hearing, Roll Callprovided this excellent preview of what’s done and what’s yet to be done.
Did you know that GAO publishes some of its reports in other languages in addition to English? I did not realize they did so until I saw a tweet from the agency about a new report concerning Yemen that was published in English and Arabic.
A pre-midterm cram session is emergingas the Senate tries to squeeze in votes on same-sex marrige protections, reforms to the Electoral Count Act, insulin pricing, energy permitting reform, FDA user fees…oh, and avoiding a government shutdown Oct. 1. So here we are, less than two months before a very consequential midterm election with the prospect of a variety of major legislation heading to the President’s desk – and with significant bipartisan support. Weird, huh?
Finalizing the government spending package sounds much more like a when than an if, as both parties were seeking a continuing resolution that carried well past the midterms. The Biden Administration’s request of an additional $13.7 billion in military aid for Ukraine and more COVID spending may slow that down. Democratic leadership also has several tactical decisions to make on what measures to attach to the CR.
Sens. Tammy Baldwin and Susan Collins are continuing to seek out Republican co-sponsors of their marriage bill to get it over the filibuster threshold. On the ECA (S. 4573), Senator Charles Grassley’s office confirmed he will sign on to be the 10th Republican co-sponsor, joining Mitt Romney, Lisa Murkowski, and others critical of President Trump’s role in the January 6 insurrection.
The shifting political environment is providing a spark for reviving the ECA before the lame duck session. After President Biden’s speech in Philadelphia denouncing the “MAGA” faction of the GOP as a direct threat to democracy, 58% of poll respondents agreed with his assessment. Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed by CBS News at the end of August predicted an uptick in political violence in the coming years, up from 51% in Jan. 2021. On the question of democratic decline, 54% agreed that the country would be less democratic a generation from now.
A ban on stock trading by sitting Members of Congress also may sneak in under the election wire. Progressive and moderate sponsors of a bipartisan House billhave asked for a vote by Sept. 30. Reps. Jayapal, Rosendale and Senators Warren, Blackburn, Daines, and Stabenow have introduced their own bill. The House Administration Committee was expected to release a stock ban framework in early August, but if they have, we must have missed it.
This week on the floor. The House begins three weeks of votes starting Tuesday. Don’t miss Wednesday’s ModCom hearing on a roadmap to the future and the Transparency Caucus’ panel discussion on what’s next in transparency across the government.
We are pleased to announce that EveryCRSReport now includes all CRS reports published online by the Federation of American Scientists. Steven Aftergood, who led FAS’s efforts on CRS reports for decades, has retired from that role, although he still is active on a number of projects. He gave us permission to add those reports to our collection. Dr. Josh Tauberer, who runs govtrack.us and manages our website, incorporated the new reports this past week.