First Branch Forecast for September 13, 2022: Fixing Congress

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TOP LINE

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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First Branch Forecast for September 6, 2022: Democracy

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This week: Congress is back. The committee calendar is looking quiet. The House has a committee work week; the Senate floor will start by addressing some nominations.

On tap for the month: a continuing resolution publishing Appropriations until December is likely. On Friday, the White House’s OMB published what it would like to see included in the measure beyond continuity of operations: support for Ukraine, COVID-19, monkeypox, and natural disaster recovery. Also, the National Defense Authorization Act likely will be brought to the floor in the Senate. We will see whether the House considers/passes legislation concerning congressional stock trading.

NEW! We just released Union Organizing Rights on Capitol Hill, a report authored by Kevin Mulshine, who served as Senior Advisor and Counsel on the first staff of the Office of Compliance and later served as IG for the Architect of the Capitol. The report is designed as a handy guide for congressional staff who want to understand —

• How House staffers can select a union representative
• The value of collective bargaining in House offices
• What a contract might guarantee

Follow the link to read the report.

Transparency Across the Federal Government is the focus of a panel discussion set for September 14th and hosted by the Congressional Transparency Caucus in the Rayburn Building. The event, hosted by Reps. Quigley and Walberg, will feature panelists including me, POGO’s Liz Hempowicz, Free Law Project’s Mike Lissner, with moderation by Politico’s Katherine Tully-McManus. Learn more or RSVP here.


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First Branch Forecast for August 29, 2022: Letter of Note

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This week, recess continues.

Last week saw two big announcements from the White House: (1) the partial student loan forgiveness program, which incidentally could help 2,000 staffers (or more!) on the hill, and (2) making federally-funded research free and publicly available, which will improve the availability of information for policymaking deliberations.

You didn’t ask us, but congressional student loan repayment assistance should be centrally administered, available to all regardless of the view of a particular member, and not subject to clawback if a staffer moves on.

Pay your interns. On the topic of centrally administered programs — did you like that segue? — check this opinion piece from my colleague Taylor Swift and Pay Our Intern’s Habiba Mohamed that calls for the creation of a House Intern Resource Office.

Mark your calendars. The Library of Congress announced its next virtual public forum on Congress.gov will be held this September 21 from 1:30 to 4:30 PM. To attend you must RSVP online. The Library also has an online feedback form for those who wish to submit comments individually. See you there.

They’re running. Reps. Jamie Raskin, Gerry Connolly, and Steven Lynch have all announced they’re running to succeed Rep. Carolyn Maloney as top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee. This committee, which grew out of the Committee on Expenditures in the Executive Departments, and itself was created from 11 separate House committees that oversaw government spending, is rooted in House committee efforts to oversee federal spending that go back at least to 1814.

Whistleblower powers. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton introduced legislation last week, the Congress Leads by Example Act of 2022 (H.R. 8743), to grant Legislative branch employees greater whistleblower and other antidiscrimination protections for occupational safety and health complaints. The bill would put into effect recommendations from the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights to:

  • Bring the Legislative branch in line with the legal requirements of private sector employers and the Executive branch;
  • Provide subpoena authority to OCWR to conduct inspections and investigations into OSHA violations;
  • Prohibit Legislative branch offices from making adverse employment decisions on the basis of an employee’s wage garnishment or involvement in bankruptcy proceedings; and
  • Bolster the CAA’s recordkeeping requirements.
Continue reading “First Branch Forecast for August 29, 2022: Letter of Note”

First Branch Forecast for August 22, 2022: The Executive Strikes Back

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It’s still recess, with two weeks until the Senate reconvenes and the House has a committee work week.

House and Senate Security Manuals are now publicly available thanks to litigation brought by journalist Shawn Musgrave. The House and Senate resisted the effort, brought under a common law right of access, and only ceded ground after it became apparent that their assertions to the court were incongruent with the facts.

WHAT’S INSIDE

↣ White House pushing back against Congress’s oversight authority
↣ Clearances, classified information, and the Espionage Act
↣ Updating the ADA regs that apply to Congress

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First Branch Forecast for August 15, 2022: A call to arms

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Recess. Barring emergencies, Congress is out until September. On Friday, the House passed the reconciliation package — the Inflation Reduction Act — which now goes to Pres. Biden for signature. The process by which this legislation was considered and enacted underscores the importance of allowing a bare majority to work its will and the structural problems that hamper majoritarian rule and force legislation to the political right.

Should congressional staff have a $45,000 minimum wage? If you poll voters, majorities of Democrats, Independents, and Republicans agree that there should be a minimum salary floor for all congressional staffers according to a new Data for Progress poll. In fact, of likely voters, 56 percent support a pay floor while only 30 percent oppose. While the House has put in place a pay order setting the minimum wage at $45k, the Senate has increased funding available to offices but has not instantiated a minimum pay requirement.

What’s inside?
↣ Rising incidents of political violence, part of America’s long history of violence
↣ Securing member communications
↣ Congress’s oversight powers work in theory, but not in practice

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First Branch Forecast for August 8, 2022: It’s recess?

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This week. It’s recess-ish. The Senate passed the Inflation Reduction Act reconciliation package over the weekend and the House is expected to briefly reconvene on Friday, August 12 to pass that legislation and perhaps a few other bills.

The events of the past week highlight that normal spending processes rarely go by the book; that ethics and accountability issues still plague Congress and the Executive branch; and that Congress plays a role in foreign diplomacy. More below.

We did the legwork on Leg branch approps. Please see our list of every notable policy provision in the Senate Leg Branch Approps bill that relates to congressional capacity, transparency, and accountability, and also a list of select civil society recommendations incorporated into the draft bill and accompanying report.

The Congressional Workers’ Union announced its interim board last week. Congrats to all Board members: Philip Bennett, Emma Preston, Courtney Rose Laudick, Kyle Decant, Taylor Doggett, Saul Levin, Mason Pesek, Courtney Koelbel, Alexander Gristina, Jessica Schieder, Janae Washington, and Leigh Whittaker.

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First Branch Forecast for August 1, 2022: Reconciliation

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This week. The House floor is closed until Sept.13 (with committee work starting on Sept. 6); the Senate is in for its last scheduled week until Sept. 6. The Senate will stick around until it passes the “Inflation Reduction Act,” AKA mini-reconciliation, timing depending on Democratic Members not testing positive for COVID; and the House is expected to return to pass that bill during August recess.

In Senate committee news this week: the Judiciary Cmte will hold a hearing on antitrust remedies (but Sen. Schumer still hasn’t scheduled antitrust bills for a floor vote). HSGAC will hold a markup of a few good-government bills. And Senate Rules Cmte will hold a hearing on the Electoral Count Act, following up on the bipartisan proposal to reform the ECA. We note some Members are voicing dissatisfaction with the proposal — as Rep. Raskin told Politico, the effort is “fine and necessary, but not remotely sufficient to meet the magnitude of the threat against democracy now.” (The Jan. 6 panel reportedly plans to release its own slate of recommendations for stopping the stealing of elections this fall, a time when there is the least amount of legislative runway.)

Last weekSenate Democrats published their FY 2023 approps bills. We’ve added the bill text, explanatory statements, and summaries to our tracker (toggle to the Senate tab) and will be working through the bills in the weeks to come. It seems obvious to us that there won’t be a markup process in the Senate, just like last year, and everything will get worked out — if anything gets worked out — behind the scenes. Sen. Leahy says he hopes the release of draft bills encourages good-faith Republican negotiation and emphasized the high stakes of repeating last year’s delays. Senate Republicans published a list of demands for items they consider “non-starters” and threatened a long term CR. It’s clear we’re heading for a short term CR, probably until after the heat of the election. We likely will hear a lot of carping about budget reconciliation as well.

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First Branch Forecast for July 25, 2022: Après moi, le déluge

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This week. In the House, it’s the last week before summer recess. It’s also the Senate’s penultimate week before recess — though we’re seeing calls for both chambers to stay in session. The House will consider a huge semiconductor R&D bill and perhaps public safety legislation concerning firearms. Senate Democratic Appropriators may publish their approps bills. Expect scores of UC and suspension bills.

In committee this week, House Admin will hold two relevant hearings: one on foreign and domestic sources of disinformation and another on the so-called independent state legislature theory. On Thursday, the ModCom will hold a hearing on innovative approaches to fixing Congress. There are also a bunch of red meat hearings.

Last week. The House passed the minibus package of six appropriations bills, but Majority Leader Hoyer told BGov it’s unlikely the other three (CJS, Labor-HHS-Education, and State and Foreign Operations) originally slated to go before recess will be brought to a vote, and of course there’s three more not yet on the docket. Steve Bannon was found guilty of contempt of Congress, but how we got here highlights problems with how the contempt process works. And ICYMI the ModCom favorably reported 29 new recommendations. More on contempt and ModCom below.

Building digital capacity in Congress. The recently-launched House Digital Service pilot presents an excellent opportunity to streamline and institutionalize congressional tech improvements. The Lincoln Network has a new report out with recommendations for strengthening the HDS. The authors advocate securing strong funding for the program; ensuring oversight over HDS; creating pathways for interacting with civil society; broadening HDS’s mandate; and more.

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First Branch Forecast for July 18, 2022: Accumulation of Facts

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Happy House Union Day to all those who celebrate! Today is the day House staff can join a labor union under protection of law. It’s a historic occasion a quarter-century in the making. And yet, some Senate staff cannot collectively bargain until the Senate approves regulations adopted by the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights and some joint staff cannot collectively bargain until both chambers approve OCWR regs.

→ If you missed our Power of Unions in Congress panel last week, catch up on the video here. We covered all you need to know and the fight yet to come. Also, don’t miss Pablo Manríquez’s New Republic piece covering much of the unionization road up to this point, including Manríquez’s own pivotal role in making sure the right questions got asked.

→ We’ll be tracking which offices are unionizing and we anticipate some announcements on Monday. If you’ve got news for us, reach out to [email protected].

This week on the floor. Both the House and Senate are in. House Democrats have unveiled their strategy to pass as many approps bills as possible before recess: bringing a package of six less-controversial bills to the floor this week (H.R. 8294), then trying to move at least three more — likely saving Defense, Homeland Security for later and Leg branch as well. On the Senate side, without Republican negotiation on topline numbers, Senate Dems will forgo markups and publish their draft bills by August. There’s a bunch of messaging bills moving, and the black hole that was Biden’s Build Back Better could show up any day now. “Trust me.” Ironically, apparently the deconstruction of reconciliation after the Manchin slow-roll — looks like progressives were right to try to tie infrastructure to BBB — makes it more likely appropriations bill become law this congress.

This Tuesday in the committees:

• House Intel will mark up the Intelligence Authorization Act (H.R.5412) at 10 AM

• House Judiciary will discuss the government’s unconstitutional access to our personal data purchased via data brokers at 10 AM. (For a fix, see the Fourth Amendment is Not for Sale Act, S.1265 and H.R. 2738).

• House ModCom will mark up its modernization recs at 10 AM

• Senate Rules will hold a hearing on the DISCLOSE Act (S.443) at 3 PM

• More in the calendar section

Don’t miss: the House passed the NDAA last week, which we haven’t had a chance to assess. We were alerted, by a House Oversight Committee press release, to the welcome inclusion of the PLUM Act — a bill we’ve long supported to increase transparency of political appointees — and many elements of the IG Independence and Empowerment Act. Also, the House passed the Improving Government for America’s Taxpayers Act, which Dan Lips at the Lincoln Network lauds as rightly requiring GAO to annually tell Congress what taxpayers could save if federal agencies enacted all of its open priority recommendations.

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Continue reading “First Branch Forecast for July 18, 2022: Accumulation of Facts”