Forecast for December 9, 2019.

ON CONGRESS’S RADAR

It’s going to be a big week on Capitol Hill, so grab a pen and mark your calendars:

Impeachment proceedings continue with House Intelligence and House Judiciary presenting their findings today at 9 in 1100 Longworth. The Judiciary Cmte report on the constitutional grounds for impeachment came out this weekend.

DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz will testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday at 10. He is expected to address his office’s investigation of FISA abuse, the report is expected today and AG Barr already is trying to discredit it.

The 2020 Senate Calendar was releasedwith all of January missing until the impeachment trial is scheduled. The House also changed its schedule and will meet the week of December 16th, most likely to accommodate a House impeachment proceedings and avoid a December 20th funding cutoff.

Watch for the appropriation bills, the articles of impeachment, the NDAA, and who knows what else. Expect things to seemingly accelerate out of control as recess gets closer.

The Senate is bored, at least according to a NYT article that explores whether McConnell has focused the chamber almost entirely on judicial confirmations (170 so far), steering it away from legislation. According to Senate Dems, “in 2019, there were 287 votes in the chamber related to nominations, compared with 98 regarding legislation.”
BEEP BEEP BEEP

Paid parental leave for federal employees may be included in the NDAA as part of a deal with Trump to create the spaaaaace fooooorce. It’s unclear whether leave would apply to the leg branch — but it should, including personal & committee offices. House Oversight is discussing paid leave tomorrow at 10. Also, watch to see if Dems cave in the NDAA on ending US support for the Yemen war.

Congress’s science and technology policy capacity (e.g., OTA) was the talk of the town, with a Science Committee hearing this past Wednesday, a Levin Center event on Friday, the release of a NAPA report, and our evaluation of the report. More below.

Good news for @approps & @budget techies: CBO added significant improvements to how it publishes data. Details below. (Kudos CBO!)

GPO Director Hugh Halpern. It’s official, he’s been confirmed. Congratulations, Hugh!

The House’s rules and procedures were the topic of a Fix Congress committee hearing on Wednesday, and the subject of one of our (in)famous letters. More below.

Congressional oversight of the intel community and its role as IC watchdog was the topic of a conversation at CATO’s Surveillance conference on Friday. Video will be here. Does this tie in to FISA? You betcha. Continue reading “Forecast for December 9, 2019.”

Forecast for December 2, 2019.

Welcome to this week’s abbreviated First Branch Forecast.

THIS WEEK

• Considering the Impeachment Report: H. Intel Cmte hearing Tuesday at 6.
• Grounds for Impeachment: H. Judiciary Cmte hearing Wednesday at 10.
• Science and Technology Advice for Congress: Science Cmte hearing Thursday at 10.
• Rules and Procedures in the House of Representatives: Fix Congress Cmte hearing Thursday at 2. We have some recs.

Continue reading “Forecast for December 2, 2019.”

Forecast for November 25, 2019.

TOP LINE

With hours to spare lawmakers passed a short-term funding agreement to keep the government running through December 20th, but in doing so unnecessarily violated regular order and rammed through an unrelated authorization provision. Also, word is out the House and Senate reached an agreement on the 302(b)s, but we don’t know what the agreement is. More below.

Does Congress have the science & technology chops it needs in 2019? No, said the National Academy of Public Administration, which studied the issue at Congress’s request. We discussed their findings and conclusions at the Bipartisan Policy Center last week. Watch the video. Every study we’ve seen so far says that there’s a gap in Congress’s tech capacity and that the leg branch should consider creating a new entity.

House Repairs: 15 Members submitted ideas for the Committee on House Administration’s Member Day hearing, with six testifying in person. See the overview below.

The House calendar for 2020 is out. Notable about the calendar: it doesn’t address member concerns about travel and keeps in the House in session for weeks on end. Continue reading “Forecast for November 25, 2019.”

Forecast for November 18, 2019.

Take a break from wall-to-wall impeachment coverage and read about what else is happening in today’s First Branch Forecast.

TOP LINE

What’s the best way for Congress to strengthen its tech policy chops? The National Academy of Public Administration issued their recommendations in a new report, “Science and Technology Policy Assessment: A Congressionally Directed Review.” Experts will discussthe report’s findings, as well as strategies for reinvigorating the Legislative Branch’s tech policy capacity, Wednesday from 10 to 12 at an off campus location. Can’t make it? Watch online.

• A HUGE thanks Leg Branch Approps — former Rep. Kevin Yoder, Rep. Tim Ryan, Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith, and Senator Chris Murphy — for putting the report in motion. Thanks also to Zach Graves at the Lincoln Network who called for this report back in 2017.

Fix Congress Committee, Season 2: Coming soon. The Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress issued 29 recommendations to fix Congress, but the committee was scheduled to sunset in December. We’re thrilled the House voted to let them continue their work in 2020 (rule vote details here).

House Admin is having a Member Day hearing Thursday morning. @House Staffers – this is your chance to get your boss on the record with ideas to improve Congress (and federal elections). Testimony is due by Tuesday at 8:30 a.m.

Last week the Senate Rules held a hearing on the nomination of Hugh Halpern to serve as the Director of GPO—the agency has been without a permanent director since 2017. He is a former House Rules Committee and floor staffer and is liked by everyone, including us. During his testimony Mr. Halpern emphasized updating the traditionally paper-first organization for an increasingly digital world. He also underscored the importance of an independent GPO watchdog. (This has been a problem in the past). A committee vote on his nomination is set for today at 5:45.

Continue reading “Forecast for November 18, 2019.”

Forecast for November 11, 2019.

PRE-RAMBLE

With impeachment and the election season heating up, I want to talk directly about this newsletter. We focus on building a strong, modern, resilient Congress and stay away from items that are merely partisan or about political advantage.

But questions arising from the operation of the legislative branch have become closely intertwined with the debate over impeachment and presidential electoral politics. I won’t pretend we don’t have an opinion about all that. But, in this space, we will work very hard to stay focused on strengthening Congress, even as some of what we recommend has definite political winners and losers.

If you think we cross a line, or there are items we have missed, let us know. Don’t forget to tell your friends to subscribe.

TOP LINE

The first public impeachment hearings are set for Wednesday and Friday in 1100 Longworth before the House Intel Committee. Some closed-door proceeding transcripts have been releasedJust Security is compiled the public docs here. Rep. Jim Jordan has joined the committee, replacing Rep. Crawford, and brings along his Oversight Committee investigative counsel Steve Castor, who is now a shared employee and likely will be prominently featured as an interlocutor. It still appears Dems leadership wants to rush the proceedings and be done in the House by the end of the year.

Government funding runs out next week and senior appropriators will meet Tuesday at 5. It looks like there will be a short term CR through December, perhaps expiring just in time for the holiday season. 🙂 They also must reach agreement on the 302(b) allocations—we hope the House will accede to the Senate’s slightly higher Leg Branch number.

Continue reading “Forecast for November 11, 2019.”

Forecast for November 4, 2019.

THE TOP LINE

It’s a little off topic, but there is legislation to allow states to elect to observe daylight savings time for the duration of the year. It’s HR 1601 and has 13 co-sponsors (from both parties). Just saying.

APPROPRIATIONS

Another continuing resolution seems almost inevitable to keep the government open beyond Thanksgiving, when the current CR runs out, and it will be interesting to see whether it is “clean.” Appropriators & Leadership don’t see eye-to-eye on how long the CR should last. Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader McConnell want a short term CR that expires at the end of the year; Senate Appropriations Chairman Shelby says a February or March deadline is more realistic; and House Approps Chair Lowey says sometime in between. For added spice, last minute brinkmanship might ruin everyone’s Turkey-day plans.

The Senate approved a package of spending bills (CJS, Ag., Interior, and T-HUD)last week, but the House and Senate still have not agreed on allocations for the 12 appropriations subcommittees.

A CR makes us nervous, especially as conflict over impeachment could trigger a government shutdown. Not to put too fine a point on it, but there’s a great incentive for Trump to distract our attention, and a shutdown would do it for weeks (or months) on end. FWIW, Speaker Pelosi thinks an impeachment-triggered shutdown is unlikelyTrump won’t rule it out. If we can’t avoid a shutdown it will cost taxpayers big time—the last 3 cost taxpayers $4 billion.

Running Congress takes money. If you want meaningful oversight, smarter laws, protected whistleblowers, a warm welcome to visitors, and a safe capitol campus, there has to be enough money in the piggy bank to pay for it. To make up for decades-long funding shortfalls, we believe Congress should provide the leg branch a 10% bump to help get closer to parity for FY2020. Senate Appropriators proposed a 5.3% increase (to $5.092 B) and House Appropriators proposed a meager 3.6% increase (to $5.010 B). With a $27 Billion increase on the table for non-defense discretionary spending, the total increase over FY 2019 spending levels under our proposal is $0.48 Billion, or 1.78% of the anticipated new spending. But since it’s not up to us, given the choice, we’d urge the House to give way to the Senate’s numbers, and plan a bigger increase for FY 2021 — assuming we’re not stuck in permanent CR, which is why getting it right now matters so much.

Continue reading “Forecast for November 4, 2019.”

Forecast for October 28, 2019.

CONGRESS IN BRIEF

Government funding runs out by Thanksgiving and lawmakers still haven’t agreed on 302(b) allocations. The Senate will take up a package of four “non-controversial” spending bills this week (Ag, CJS, Interior & Transportation), but there’s no consensus on top line numbers. And now there’s talk about another CR until March — which keeps everyone frozen in place; Congress did agreed upon a $22 billion increase for defense spending and a $24.5 billion increase for non-defense discretionary spending. (We think they should agree to increase the allocation for leg branch, too.)

The Fix Congress committee will hold a hearing on “Congress and the Frank: Bringing Congressional Mailing Standards into the 21st Century”; House Veterans Affairs will look at protecting whistleblowers in the VA; and House Oversight will delve into the White House’s dysfunctional clearance system. On the Fix Congress committee front, we are keeping an eye on whether leadership will extend its term, which ends at year’s end — they should.

Sixty Seven Inspectors General called out the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel for a dangerous OLC opinion that undermines whistleblowers and the role played by Inspectors General. The letter from the Council of the Inspectors General expressed their “concern that the OLC opinion, if not withdrawn or modified, could seriously undermine the critical role whistleblowers play in coming forward to report waste, fraud, abuse, and misconduct across the federal government…. OLC’s interpretation regarding the [Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act] procedure in question…. has the potential to undermine IG independence across the federal government.” They’re right, and OLC is undermining the trust whistleblowers put in Inspectors General; OLC needs greater transparency concerning its opinions and also significant reform in its operations.

Technology Assessment Study. The National Academy of Public Administration’s report on resources currently available to Congress on science and technology policy and the “potential need … to create a separate entity charged with the mission of providing nonpartisan advice” is due to CRS by October 31, and expected to be available to congressional staff and perhaps the public soon thereafter.

Continue reading “Forecast for October 28, 2019.”