Forecast for October 21, 2019


Elijah Cummings has died. He rightly has been lauded for his many achievements and common decency; we remember him as a champion for open and accountable government and his tireless efforts to build a more perfect union. He will lie in state in the rotunda on Thursday; his funeral is Friday. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.


The House is in for the next 2 weeks, the Senate for the next 5.

• Hugh Halpern was nominated to be the new Director of the Government Publishing Office. He had served as Republican floor director and previously as staff director for the House Rules Committee. Mr. Halpern played a significant role in bringing transparency to the House Rules Committee and modernizing the House’s rules. I’ve had the pleasure of working with him over the years and found him smart, capable, engaged, curious, patient, and genuine.

• The hottest ticket in town last week was the 7th annual Legislative Data and Transparency Conference. We will be covering it more fully in an upcoming article, but we’ve hit the highlights below. We particularly enjoyed the quarterly update from the Bulk Data Task Force. This amazing working group (that welcome engagement from all quarters) brings together experts from across the legislative branch to improve how Congress works, focusing on technology and transparency. Continue reading “Forecast for October 21, 2019”

Forecast for October 14, 2019

Welcome back. The next recess is Nov. 4 for the House and Nov. 25 for the Senate. Buckle up.

Approps count-down
. The CR ends the week before Thanksgiving—maybe there will be another CR to Christmas, or a full year CR, or a shutdown. I suspect House Approps Chair Nita Lowey, who announced she won’t run in the 117th after 31 years in Congress, has had enough of this stuff. Are you ready to rumble? Expect an approps succession fight, with Reps. Rosa DeLauro and Marcy Kaptur jostling for the top spot—Lowey beat Kaptur in 2012—and everyone else  looking to move up.

The legislative and technology event of the season has arrived! This newsletter isn’t exactly a gold-embossed invitation, but you really should come to (or watch online) the 7th Annual House Legislative Data and Transparency Conference, set for this Thursday. RSVP here. We’ve been to ‘em all. Come say hi and get a First Branch Forecast sticker or magnet.

We’re still stuck on the FY 2019 approps bills, especially as that fiscal year just ended. We’ve kept track of whether the Leg Branch Approps bill (and accompanying House and Senate report language) have been implemented. Come on, click here, you know you want to see our nifty checklist of what’s done, what’s half-done, and what’s late. Here’s a summary of what we found.

leg-branch-checklist Continue reading “Forecast for October 14, 2019”

Forecast for October 7, 2019


The impeachment inquiry is underway — so why don’t members have a sufficiently-cleared staff to help them do their jobs? (They should.) By the way, this Ryan Grimm story on why the Democratic caucus moved towards impeachment is the best one out there.

RSVP for the Legislative Data & Transparency Conference, set for Thursday October 17th. Hosted by House Admin in the CVC, it brings members and staff from the House, Senate, support offices, and support agencies (and us) to talk about improving congressional tech and transparency. RSVP here. Wanna give a lightning talk?

Speaking of tech, join us on Tuesday for “Time for an Upgrade: Getting Better Tech for Congress” at 12 in 2075 Rayburn, hosted by

Continue reading “Forecast for October 7, 2019”

Forecast for September 23, 2019.

This week’s First Branch Forecast is a big one, so here’s your guide to what’s inside:

• Who’s the turkey now? The CR sets up a pre-Turkey-day approps showdown; meanwhile, the Fix Congress committee held a hearing on fixing the budget process.

• Congress’s power of the purse is its greatest weapon against executive overreach; more below on how the leg branch ceded power to the presidency and what lawmakers could do about it.

• OTA 2.0. A new bicameral, bipartisan bill from Reps. Takano and Foster and Sens. Hirono and Tillis would create a Congressional Office of Technology to provide science and technology policy support to lawmakers.

• Can whistleblowers talk to Congress? It’s long been obvious there are significant flaws with how intel community whistleblowers can reach out to Congress. This week it was compounded by an administration that apparently is blocking the ICIG from sharing a whistleblower complaint concerning an alleged presidential effort to induce a foreign country (Ukraine) into reopening an investigation into a political opponent (Biden’s son).

• Should sitting presidents be indictable? Speaker Pelosi called for a new law — possibly to relieve pressure from calls to start impeachment proceedings — but given DOJ’s role as an arm of the president and OLC’s often self-serving guidance, it’s tough to see how this is workable or whether it’s just a distraction.

• Hear, hear. Kevin Kosar suggested the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress should be made permanent. There is no doubt that someone inside Congress must be responsible for taking the big picture perspective on how Congress should grow and modernize. Continue reading “Forecast for September 23, 2019.”

Forecast for September 16, 2019.

We’re in for another busy week and this week’s First Branch Forecast is more wonky than usual.

Here are the highlights:

• Senate appropriators allocated less money for leg branch than their House counterparts, setting up the need to reconcile funding levels. The process in the Senate was unusually partisan.

• Constitution Day is Tuesday, and Sens. Portman and King are trying to make CRS’s legal treatise on the Constitution more easily available to everyone.

• Ambiguity over impeachment may be harming congressional oversight.

• Among the interesting hearings this week are ones on fixing Congress’s spending process, celebrating CIGIE, and making DC a state.

Continue reading “Forecast for September 16, 2019.”

Forecast for September 9, 2019

Recess is over, class is back in session. Let’s get caught up.


• Lawmakers have 3 weeks until the start of FY 2020, and both chambers must pass 12 spending bills by October 1. House Majority Leader Hoyer says the House will vote on short-term spending agreements (CRs) next week to keep the lights on. Expect the usual squeeze play at the end, probably around Thanksgiving.

• It’s likely the Senate has similar plans, and the chamber has started scheduling markups for 2020 spending bills. Defense and Labor subcommittee markups are Tuesday, the State subcommittee markup is Wednesday, and full committee markups of Defense, Energy, Labor, and State are happening Thursday.

• On Thursday, Senators are also having a full committee vote on 302(b) allocations. This is a big deal— at least, we think so. These numbers have significant consequences for a capable Congress, and leg branch keeps getting the axe.

• Speaking of spending, DoD is spending unallocated $$ on a border wall and Democratic Senators are not happy about it. The Senators say the project ignores congressional intent and have asked DoD why the project is circumventing standard funding channels. Dems have said they will not “backfill” funds for projects that will be delayed to fund the wall. Will Congress stand up for its prerogatives? Continue reading “Forecast for September 9, 2019”

Forecast for September 3, 2019.

It’s been a quiet week in Woebegone, D.C., our fair city. Uh, nope. It was a dark and stormy night. Nooooooooo. It was a bright cold day in September, and the clocks were striking thirteen. Ah, that feels right. Welcome to the First Branch Forecast.


More members announced their retirements, including Sen. Isakson and Rep. Duffy. In the House, departures include 13 Rs and 3 Ds; in the Senate, it’s 4 Rs and 1 D. Keep track here.

Cyber Day on Capitol Hill is this ThursdaySeptember 5th. The focus: training staff to protect themselves. RSVP.

The number of trade reporters covering capitol hill are up and daily newspaper staff are down. The Post cites this 2015 Pew study that specialty reporters outnumber those working at broadsheets. Digging deeper, much Congressional coverage is now done by niche reporters who charge a high premium for their specialty focus. So far unexamined: how does this information flow back to capitol hill, does it reach regular constituents, and what’s the result of inequities in access to in-depth information on the advocacy landscape? (BTW, our little newsletter is intended to fill one of the gaps.)

Russia denied Sens. Johnson and Murphy a visa to visit that country as part of a delegation, claiming Johnson had acted in a “russophobic manner.” Just recently Israel denied Reps. Omar and Tlaib a visa at the prompting of Pres. Trump.

Wow. Data scientist Will Geary made two amazing visualizations of the federal budget. Take a minute and watch these two videos: US discretionary spending from 1963 to present; and federal spending from 1963 to present. Doesn’t this really bring all that data to life? Imagine if the Budget Committee or CBO or even CRS presented material this way. All it takes is structured data and a clever person to analyze and visualize it. There’s more cool stuff on his website. Continue reading “Forecast for September 3, 2019.”