Congress continues to take its sweet time getting organized and down to business, which would include preventing a global financial meltdown via US debt default. The Senate still is working out ratios for committee assignments, while six new Republican senators are jockeying for their preferred assignments. Maybe all of this will be completed by the first month anniversary of the 118th Congress, in time to grind the Senate to a halt again over objections to the Biden Administration’s resistance to sharing classified information.
The House, meanwhile, finally rostered its committees, with Republican leadership following through on the pledge to seat three Freedom Caucus-ish members on the Rules Committee. The House will spend its first few weeks of legislative work granting backbenchers floor votes on messaging bills and tinkering (positively, we admit) with structured open rules. Some members can feel good about gaining precious floor time for things like incredibly regressive and politically comical consumption taxes and condemning 100 years of Marxist dictatorships via spurious Jefferson quotes to play gotcha with Democrats about “socialism.” Nevermind there is still no plan to avoid default.
Ok, there’s this: Republican leadership in the House is considering a clean short-term extension of the federal debt limit to sync it with the end of the fiscal year on September 30 and create even more leverage by having that many more things to hold hostage.
This week the House is in session for votes Monday through Thursday. Now that they have been rostered by both parties, committees will start to hold organizational meetings, starting with a House Rules double-header on Monday. The Senate will try to finalize committee organization. Here’s the committee schedule. Personally speaking, I’m fascinated by committee rules, which in the House have to be adopted at the start of the new Congress, and I wonder whether any members will take the opportunity to protect their rights on the committees in which they serve by pushing for more favorable rules. I’m not holding my breath.
CLASSIFICATION. CLEARANCES. CONGRESS.
As there’s little legislative work to be done, members of the Senate Intelligence Committee wanted to look into what classified documents Presidents Trump and Biden and Vice President Pence had mishandled at their homes to assess potential risks, only to be stonewalled by National Intelligence Director Avril Haines. Senators from both parties were not happy, and Sen. Tom Cotton threatened to block all Administration nominations until the committee was granted access to the same documents available to two special counsels.
Classification has been a recurring issue so far this term. You’ll recall incumbent members of intel-centric committees complained about being kicked out of the SCIF by the House Sergeant at Arms because, in the view of the SAA, they were merely members-elect and thus were not in office and couldn’t be granted access. (We think unsworn members prior to the passage of House rules don’t need clearances and the SAA goofed.) The newly-formed Select Subcommittee on The Weaponization of the Federal Government, meanwhile, will have access to the same classified information as HPSCI and an incredibly broad investigative mandate compared to previous investigatory select committees, allowing it in theory to see the same documents the Department of Justice is accessing in ongoing criminal investigations. We expect the Executive branch will once again play games and try to dictate whether and which committees are allowed to have access to documents, which makes little sense to us.
Three related issues define Congress’s position in the broader classification system. The first is that while Congress can legislate a system of classification, it has chosen not to except concerning nuclear issues, leaving the Executive branch to create a bespoke system by Executive Order. Second, overclassification and up-classification is rampant, a circumstance acknowledged by Director Haines, and the classification system is driven by a combination of CYA, prestige, no incentives to properly classify or declassify, and a desire to block out congressional staff and other possible oversight.Continue reading “First Branch Forecast for January 30, 2023: What’s the clearance?”