First Branch Forecast for January 2, 2023: Hindsight is 2022

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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.

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Members of Congress on Mastodon

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.

Our spreadsheet listing elected officials on Mastodon is below and available at this link. We are working to verify congressional offices so that we can confirm it is an official account. We verify the account either by receiving an email from an official congressional address to my email account, [email protected], or if they’ve updated their Twitter bio to include their official Mastodon email address.

Recs on Making GovInfo More Transparent, Useful, & Accessible

In response to the White House’s announcement of an open government engagement session on increasing federal data access and utility, Demand Progress Education Fund submitted these recommendations for making government information more transparent, useful, and accessible.

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Recs to Update the House Democratic Caucus Rules for the 118th Congress

We are pleased to release our recommendations to House Democrats on modernizing their caucus rules. The House Democratic Caucus rules provide the framework for how Democrats in the House of Representatives organize their Caucus. They address how they choose their leaders and committee members, identify their priorities, and express their values.

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.

A hyperlink to Demand Progress Education Fund's Recommendations for House Democratic to Modernize their Caucus Rules

First Branch Forecast for September 26, 2022: Rules Power Play

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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.

This week the House and Senate observe Rosh Hashanah Monday. The House returns Wednesday night for votes the rest of the week, the most pressing being a stopgap funding bill to carry the Federal government beyond September. The body also may consider revisions to the STOCK Act and we spy a bill changing the GPO Director’s service to 10-year renewal terms. The Senate returns on Tuesday.

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.

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First Branch Forecast for September 19, 2022: Fixing Congress

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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 Call provided this excellent preview of what’s done and what’s yet to be done.

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First Branch Forecast for September 13, 2022: And We’re Back

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A pre-midterm cram session is emerging as 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 bill have 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.

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EveryCRSReport Adds Federation of American Scientists CRS Reports

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.

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Agencies Get Marching Orders on Congressional Budget Justification Transparency Act

The Congressional Budget Justification Transparency Act, which Demand Progress supported and became law last year, is coming into its own. The law requires (1) the publication of all agency Congressional Justifications on USASpending.org within two weeks of their submission to a house of Congress; (2) CJ publication at a vanity URL on the agency website; and (3) online tracking of when the reports were due to be submitted and whether they were published online on time.

OMB just released an update to Circular A-11 that, for the first time, contains updated guidance in section 22.6(c) that will put the law into effect. This has been a long time coming, as OMB had resisted requests from appropriators to ensure that the reports are published online in a central location, intended to address both linkrot (when a URL goes dead) and that there was no central place to find all the reports. They’ll also have to have their data published in a structured format.

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