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

TOP LINE

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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What’s Next? Recap of the Final House Modernization Committee Hearing

Written by Taylor J. Swift, senior policy advisor with Demand Progress Education Fund

There was a feeling of serendipity during this week’s final Select Committee on the  Modernization of Congress hearing, where Members, witnesses, and staff all gathered to discuss the work of the committee and what the future may look like for this work. The Committee — or ModCom — has been working for the past two Congresses to examine ways to make the institution more modern, efficient, and transparent. It favorably reported over 170 recommendations with more on the way. It also recently introduced its second resolution which contains 32 recommendations. The hearing felt like the culmination of everything the committee, its staff, and its stakeholder groups have been working towards. 

The question on the table was: where does this modernization work go from here?

Chief Administrative Officer Catherine Szpindor was the first committee witness. Her testimony focused how the CAO has implemented several of the ModCom recommendations to strengthen the House, its offices, and its workforce. Whether it’s the creation of the Human Resources Hub, the House Resume Bank, the House Digital Service; the adoption of Quill — an online e-signature platform; and investment in staff training through the CAO Coach program, Szpindor comprehensively outlined how her office has listened to the committee and followed through on its commitments to foster a more modern, transparent, an inclusive workplace. Szpindor mentioned during the discussion portion that the CAO has monthly status meetings with stakeholders and staff regarding implementation tracking. The CAO also uses an internal tracker called ClickUp to keep things organized. 

Diane Hill of the Partnership for Public Service was the committee witness representing the Fix Congress Cohort, a group of over four dozen civil society groups and academics that includes Demand Progress. Hill’s testimony centered around providing four different avenues for which the modernization work can continue, including providing a pathway for ModCom’s recommendations to be implemented past the 117th Congress. Hill’s testimony mirrors some of the recommendations that we made for the future of this work. The four options in Hill’s testimony included:

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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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Demand Progress Education Fund Releases Primer on Union Organizing Rights for Congressional Staff 

Report Authored by Kevin Mulshine, former Senior Advisor and Counsel on the first staff of the Office of Compliance/Office of Congressional Workplace Rights

Demand Progress Education Fund released today Union Organizing Rights on Capitol Hill to equip staff in the US House of Representatives with guidance on how they can implement newly won rights to collectively bargain. Written by former counsel from the Congressional office responsible for implementing House union rules, this primer covers topics including how House staffers can select a union representative, the value of collective bargaining in House offices, and what a contract might guarantee. Author Kevin Mulshine also discussed Congressional union rights at a Demand Progress virtual briefing the week the unionization rules went into effect.

“Now that staff in the House of Representatives have won the right to unionize, they need non-partisan, factual information that describes what they can negotiate for under a collective bargaining agreement in order to create a smoothly-functioning workplace,” said Daniel Schuman, policy director at Demand Progress Education Fund. “Along with recent reforms to improve the Congressional workplace and redress longstanding deficiencies, the ability for staff to negotiate for fair working conditions will allow the Legislative branch to continue to make course corrections to meet the needs of employers and employees, thereby sustaining Congress’s ability to recruit and retain diverse public servants dedicated to working on behalf of the American people for years to come.”

Daniel Schuman, policy director at Demand Progress Education Fund

The Union Organizing Rights on Capitol Hill report explains:

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Statement on House Staff Pay Floor Increase Going into Effect Sept. 1

“At long last, no Member of the House of Representatives is permitted to pay their staff poverty wages. As of September 1, every staff person in the House of Representatives must be paid at least $45,000 a year, which meets the living wage in high cost Washington, DC,” said Daniel Schuman, policy director at Demand Progress. “We applaud the House staff who have spoken out in support of a living wage for their colleagues, the Members of Congress who advocated for a pay floor, and Speaker Pelosi and House leadership for establishing this common-sense requirement that removes personal wealth as a precondition for public service. We urge the Senate to join the House and establish a $45,000 pay floor for all staff.”

Eras of Control of the House of Representatives

It is easy to imagine that the way the House of Representatives is run now is how it has been run in the past. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.

In the history of the House of Representatives, the Speaker has been all-powerful and virtually powerless; the president has run the House and has been run by the House; legislation enacted by the chamber has reflected the views of a majority of the House, reflected the views of the majority party, and reflected the views of just a handful; work was done by all the members in the committee of the whole and divvied up among the committees; power was centered in the floor leader, the speaker, the party caucus, the full chamber, the rules committee, and no one.

It is not too much to say that the rules of the chamber reflect efforts by its members to have and retain power and to address the problems that arise when members who desired power could not obtain and use it. Fights over the rules, and the leadership of the House itself, have at times consumed weeks of deliberations on the House floor — where the chamber is run under general parliamentary law until a package was drafted that could be adopted by the full chamber.

I’ve been looking at the history and development of the House by reading some of the leading experts and have started to put together a summary of the eras of control of the House of Representatives. This is a working document and likely contains inaccuracies, overstatements, and many other issues. But I thought it might be of interest to you so I’m publishing a live version of the working document below.

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House and Senate Security Manuals Now Publicly Available

The House and Senate Security Manuals have been the focus of litigation between journalist Shawn Musgrave and the House and the Senate. Musgrave is litigating whether a common law right of access exists for congressional documents, and he is ably represented by Kel McClanahan of National Security Counselors. He recently had a big win.

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Demand Progress Proposals Included in FY 2023 Senate Legislative Branch Appropriations Bills and Explanatory Statement

On Thursday, July 28, 2022, Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Patrick Leahy published 12 appropriations bills and accompanying explanatory statements, including the FY 2023 Senate Legislative Branch Appropriations bill and explanatory statement. These measures will not go through the traditional hearing and mark-up process. The bill and explanatory statement are packed with good government reforms and significant investments in Congressional operations. 

We and our civil society colleagues recommended dozens of items to include — see our FY 2023 Appropriations requests, FY 2023 appropriations testimony, and report on updating House Rules for the 117th Congress — a number of which made it into the bill and report. We are deeply appreciative of Chair Jack Reed, Ranking Member Mike Braun, and members of the committee for their consideration of our requests.

Read more:

There are a few provisions in the Senate Legislative Branch Subcommittee bill and explanatory statement to note as the Senate is now moving through its appropriations process. They include:

  • Strong investments in staff pay and benefits, including an increase in the SOPOEA to allow Senators to pay their full-time staff a $45,000 salary minimum, as well as the creation of a bipartisan diversity and inclusion working group.
  • More resources for improving legislative branch access to Executive branch information, including the creation of a new joint CBO, LOC, and GAO working group to examine the issues of legislative data access between the Legislative branch and Executive branch agencies.
  • Heightened funding for congressional operations, including creating a centralized repository for Senate documents where legislative information would be available prior to or contemporaneously with decisions; enhancing tracking of legislation on Congress.gov; improved floor scheduling information on Congress.gov; as well as improving reporting of lobbyists’ activities.
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Items Included In FY 2023 Senate Legislative Branch Appropriations Explanatory Statement

On Thursday, July 28, 2022, Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Patrick Leahy published 12 appropriations bills and accompanying explanatory statements, including the FY 2023 Senate Legislative Branch Appropriations bill and explanatory statement.

To help keep track of all explanatory statement items requested by the Senate Legislative Branch Subcommittee, we built a public spreadsheet that maintains a catalog of items, broken down by title, the entity responsible, the timeline for completion, and the due date. See the spreadsheet here and below: