The team behind the First Branch Forecast is proud to announce a new destination for our work and this newsletter: We’re joining forces with our friends at POPVOX Foundation.
After a brief hiatus, the First Branch Forecast will return to your inbox, but from a new address, so please check your promotions and spam folders — or better yet, would you please proactively add [email protected] to your contacts so you don’t miss an edition?
Our new alliance is a natural progression from coalitions and work we’ve collaborated on dating back nearly 15 years. Daniel and Gab from Demand Progress Education Fund first found common cause with POPVOX Foundation CEO Marci Harris when she was a congressional staffer with a plan to revamp constituent engagement systems and Daniel and Gab helped usher in a new era of civic tech and open data while at the Sunlight Foundation.
Since then, we’ve worked together to bring members and their staff up to speed on AI and emerging technology, to inform and promote smart legislative reforms that have improved congressional capacity and made Congress a more fair and diverse workplace, and to cultivate the next generation of congressional leadership through initiatives like Internapalooza.
Fast forward to today, and we’re thrilled to continue and expand upon our collaboration and to share our fact-based and nonpartisan policy recommendations to build a more effective government.
The First Branch team departs Demand Progress Education Fund/Demand Progress Action with gratitude and pride for our work together. We will miss our colleagues and have deep respect for their work and dedication to protecting our democracy, keeping the internet free, and combating unwarranted surveillance. We look forward to working in coalition as partners for years to come.
The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. We know our efforts will be more powerful and impactful, together with you — our dedicated readers, allies, and partners.
Thank you for your continued support. If you enjoy the First Branch Forecast, we’d be honored if you shared it with colleagues and encourage them to subscribe.
Each year, Congress allocates funding for the Legislative Branch entities through the Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee. The Legislative Branch Appropriations bills direct congressional spending, line item by line item — but the instructions are not published as data and can run for dozens of pages, making it very difficult to see how appropriations spending has changed over the decades.
We have gone through all of the Legislative Branch spending bills for the last thirty years and lined up the spending items in a downloadable spreadsheet. The line item spreadsheet has sections for the House, Senate, and agencies, as well as tabs that adjust funding for inflation, allowing readers to see how spending on each line item has changed since 1994 in both constant and real dollars.
Demand Progress Education Fund Releases New Report Card and Recommendations
A new report by Demand Progress Education Fund found that the US Capitol Police (USCP) has either failed to comply with or has slow-walked implementing several reform directives from Congress and recommendations by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), all aimed at improving the agency’s accountability. Demand Progress Education Fund published its analysis, Capitol Alert: Assessing the US Capitol Police’s Compliance with Congressional Calls for Accountabilityas the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration and the House Committee on House Administration are preparing for the first joint hearing examining the US Capitol Police Board since the 1940s.
“The January 6 attack on the US Capitol tragically demonstrated the urgent need to modernize the US Capitol Police and improve its emergency preparedness, information sharing, and oversight,” said Taylor J. Swift, senior policy advisor at Demand Progress and author of the report. “Capitol Police leadership has kept us in the dark on how they plan to comply with numerous accountability directives from Congress and recommendations from the Government Accountability Office. Given the Capitol Police’s critical role to protect the US Capitol and all who work and visit there, we identified areas where it has made progress and where it has fallen short to help the USCP improve itself and adapt to new threats.”
The Capitol Alert report examines the US Capitol Police and its Board’s structure and disclosure practices, and also assesses whether the USCP has complied with nine congressional directives to the Capitol Police to reform its practices issued between FY 2019-2023 and 11 reform recommendations issued by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) during that same period of time.
Today, a broad coalition of more than 50 media guilds, press freedom, civil liberties, and government transparency organizations joined Demand Progress and Freedom of the Press Foundation in a letter to the Senate urging the blocking of a dangerous new amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would censor the online publication of information about members of Congress and those connected to them.
“Senators Klobuchar and Cruz’s internet censorship amendment will have a heavy toll on journalists, non-profits, and members of the public who seek to use their First Amendment rights to identify corruption at the highest levels, all while failing to provide members of Congress the security they need,” said Daniel Schuman, policy director at Demand Progress. “We must know whether our representatives are honest, and Senate Amendment 218 to the NDAA would empower them to remove true facts from the internet and databases, an invitation to the grossest abuses of power where political figures and their staff can pick and choose what speech they like and censor the rest.”
The internet censorship amendment, Senate Amendment 218, offered by Sens. Klobuchar and Cruz to the must-pass Senate NDAA, is largely identical to the Judicial Security and Privacy Act that was slipped in at the last minute to last year’s NDAA, but this amendment is focused on Congress, not federal judges. It has serious First Amendment problems because it lets members of Congress forcefully coerce the removal of certain information about them or their families from the internet. It is very broad as it can apply to their parents, adult kids, siblings, roommates, and staff, and can cause the removal of basic information such as properties that they own, where they are located, and their email addresses.
The House Judiciary Committee favorably reported the Protecting Reporters from Exploitative State Spying Act (PRESS) Act, 23-0. This is positive news that we welcome, as the PRESS Act is critical legislation that would protect reporters and their technology providers from revealing their confidential sources and underscores the importance of protecting a free press from federal abuse of subpoena power.
“Journalists must be able to freely report on government actions without fear the government will compel them to reveal their sources,” said Daniel Schuman, policy director at Demand Progress. “We commend the House Judiciary Committee for its bipartisan support of the PRESS Act, legislation to protect First Amendment freedoms and shield journalists from being compelled to disclose their sources. The Senate must act now to advance this important legislation.”
The PRESS Act would protect reporters and their technology providers from revealing their confidential sources and from federal abuse of subpoena power, a legal protection already available in 49 states. The bill provides some exceptions to these prohibitions such as in cases involving risk of imminent personal bodily harm or death, terrorism, the commission of crimes unrelated to journalism, and slander, libel, and defamation.
Administrations of both parties have often gone after journalists who have exposed the truth about waste, fraud, abuse, and malfeasance to intimidate them. Although the Department of Justice last year adopted a new policy restricting subpoenas and seizures from journalists, it could just as easily be suspended, ignored, or secretly altered. Importantly, the PRESS Act would codify into law this prohibition, making it real and permanent.
On Thursday, July 13, the full Senate Appropriations Committee reported out the Legislative Branch Appropriations bill and report 30-0. Unfortunately, the bill text, manager’s amendment, and committee report didn’t come out until Friday morning, the day after the markup.
The Senate proposed to appropriate $6.761 billion towards the Legislative branch, a 2% reduction from $6.899 FY23 enacted level. This number aligns with the Senate Appropriations Committee initial 302(b) suballocations, which were approved on June 22. By comparison, the inflation rate for the 12 months ending in June was 3.0%, so this represents a cut in real terms in funding for the Legislative branch. Additionally, the House Appropriations full committee favorably reported out its FY24 Legislative Branch bill in May, which appropriated $6.746 billion, a difference of $15 millon from the Senate version. You can read more about the House bill’s funding numbers here.
We reviewed the bill text released on Friday morning and compared each line item against historical norms. Our findings on that line by line review are below. In a future blogpost, we will review the policy requests included in the accompanying FY24 Senate Legislative Branch Appropriation bill report.
In summary, the Senate looked to bolster congressional security, operations, and staff resources with this bill. Given the ongoing back-and-forth with the House, the Senate made it clear they want Congress to retain much of its current capabilities to legislate, conduct oversight, and serve constituents.
This week, as part of a coalition led by Pay Our Interns, we sent a letter to leadership of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch asking them to include at least $7 million in dedicated funding to compensate Senate committee interns.
Ensuring Senate committee interns can get paid removes personal wealth as a precondition for public service. That’s important for Senate committees to foster a more inclusive and diverse internship program that attracts individuals from different socioeconomic backgrounds, not just those of means who can afford to live in one of the most expensive US cities while not getting paid. Ultimately, this will improve the Senate’s ability to recruit interns into the congressional staff pipeline who better reflect the diversity of America.
Besides that, while the House currently has such a policy, the disparity between the two chambers can cause confusion to prospective interns. Imagine you were choosing an internship on the Hill — would you aim for the one you know has dedicated funding in the House or take your chances on a Senate committee that may or may not have a budget to pay you?
Dedicated funding enables Senate committees to set clear objectives, establish structured programs separate from the personal office funding, and provide necessary resources and support for interns. Read the letter here.
“The introduction of a resolution to grant Senate staff unionization rights long available to workers across this country is an important step toward strengthening Congress,” said Taylor J. Swift, senior policy advisor at Demand Progress. “We commend Senator Sherrod Brown and all senators supporting this important resolution to improve congressional workforce rights. A year of successful unionization efforts in the House has demonstrated that when congressional staff have a seat at the bargaining table, it results in higher wages, better benefits, and a healthier workplace. All staff — including those in Senate and Joint offices — must be afforded these same protections.”
The reintroduction of this strong journalist shield legislation in both chambers demonstrates a commendable and bipartisan commitment by its sponsors to ensure First Amendment freedoms and accountability journalism can thrive.