Forecast for August 4, 2020.

THE TOP LINE

Safety first? Rep. Gohmert’s positive COVID-19 test sparked outrage across the Hill, prompting a belated mask mandate in the House, inaction (what else!?!) in the Senate, a possible member-to-member transmission, and countless staffers and aides telling reporters about a backlash from senior staff/Members for wearing masks in their offices or requesting to work remotely. We wrote a letter on March 12 to Congress that included a recommendation to prioritize the health and safety of the public, staff, press, and lawmakers. For now, chamber rules should require remote work unless you absolutely have to be there; chamber and committee proceedings should be remote; Congress should use tech to substitute for paper processes; limited occupancy + masks should be mandated; social distancing is a must; and expanded testing seems prudent. This can’t be a dead letter, either: there needs to be real enforcement.

Appropriation bills continue to move forward in the House, with 10 of 12 passing the lower chamber. Homeland Security was pulled from the mini-bus. Meanwhile, the Senate has yet to schedule its approps markups. (BGOV)

Supplemental funding for Legislative Branch operations was included in the Senate COVID response bill. But the Leg Branch Approps bill has yet to get a House vote.

The Fix Congress Committee released its fourth round of recommendations aimed at improving congressional operations. Several recommendations were created to address the challenges that Members and staff are facing while teleworking during the pandemic.

Frank no more. The COMMS Act, H.R.7512, championed by Rep. Susan Davis, which changes how the Franking Privilege works, passed the House on Thursday. It contains a number of significant reforms. Earlier this year, the House began publishing advisory opinions online and updated the communications standards manual.

Continue reading “Forecast for August 4, 2020.”

Forecast for July 27, 2020

THE TOP LINE

CODA — Covid, Defense, and Approps — are the “must pass” summer blockbuster legislation (we miss movies) that lurched forward in both chambers. Sort of. But how does it end? We’re betting there will be sequels.

11 of the 12 appropriations bills passed or are scheduled for a vote in the House. The Senate has made no apparent progress: senate bills have yet to be considered in committee and the fiscal year ends September 30. A continuing resolution is pretty much inevitable, and CRs themselves incur significant costs to agencies.

Congress did not fund itself. The Legislative Branch approps bill was the only approps bill (so far) not set for House floor consideration

The NDAA passed the House and Senate (each chamber considered about 750 amendments), but those two versions now have to be reconciled. Plus the President indicated he may veto because of renaming bases.

The Senate failed to release its latest coronavirus relief package. House Dems are pushing to pass by July 31, i.e., this Friday, when the enhanced federal unemployment payments end, to which Leader McConnell laughed. As of this writing, 146,000 Americans have died.

Congressman John Lewis will lie in state at the Capitol. Details here.

Continue reading “Forecast for July 27, 2020”

Forecast for July 13, 2020.

THE TOP LINE
Congress may finally have begun investing in itself — House appropriators favorably reported a 5% increase in funding for the Legislative Branch. That’s half of the 10% increase sought by good government types (like us), and while Congress is still significantly below its funding level from a decade again, we are starting to dig out of the hole. Read Zach Graves on the conservative case for increased policy capacity, and please thank your nearest appropriator, especially those on Leg. Branch.

Money isn’t everything (but it’s really important). Approps bills and reports set policy and direct agencies, and in the Leg. Branch approps bill, the House took a major step towards reclaiming its power of the purse by strengthening GAO and putting in place scores of improvements to congressional operations. More below.

The rules behind the power. Party rules and customs determine committee chairs, policy, and which legislation gets a vote. House Dems finally released their caucus rules (thanks! even if it took 500 days from our request). We’re going to keep digging into the caucus rules, who serves on the steering and policy committee, and the secret rules under which it operates.

Power switch. The House continues to use proxy voting, which some view as having the effect of consolidating power in the hands of leadership while avoiding the worse fate of a defunct Congress. This Friday, House Admin will hold a hearing on remote voting, which could be a step towards turning on the power of the House to deliberate fully in virtual session. Given what’s happening in the world, this is a wise course of action.

Continue reading “Forecast for July 13, 2020.”

Forecast for July 6, 2020.

Welcome back. This week will be busy in the House, so let’s go!

THE TOP LINE

The House Appropriations subcommittees are holding mark-ups all week, plus a Thursday vote on the 302(b) allocations and full committee markups on Thursday and Friday. The full schedule is at the bottom of this email.

• One notable change: for the first time, members of the media can obtain offered amendments by email; previously, you had to be there to get copies.

• We’ll be closely tracking the 302(b) allocations and Leg Branch, FSGG, and CJS markups; and for Leg Branch, we have a spreadsheet of 25 years of spending by line item, adjusted for inflation, which we expect to publish with the proposed spending numbers at firstbranchforecast.com.

• We’re starting to forget, but the bill text should be up 24-hours in advance of each markup (per House rule XI, clause 2(g)(4)) and any adopted amendments should be online no later than 24-hours after the meeting (Rule XI, clause 2(g)(6)). Subcommittee reports are expected online within 24-hours. Approps committee rules require roll call votes online within 48-hours. Keep an eye on the full approps committee page, the relevant subcommittee page, and docs.house.gov. Don’t forget our handy bot @AppropsTracker.

Proxy voting and virtual committee actions were extended by Speaker Pelosi through August 18. Will the House’s calendar now change with another COVID bill coming?

Intern Diversity. Pay Our Interns released an excellent report on House intern diversity: “Color of Congress.” We have a summary below.

Continue reading “Forecast for July 6, 2020.”

Forecast for June 29, 2020

THE TOP LINE

Musical chairs. The House of Representatives will have new committee chairs in the 117th Congress, but how will they be chosen? That’s a difficult enough question that we dig into it below.

NDAA. House Armed Services will markup the NDAA on Wednesday; on Monday, the Senate will resume consideration of the motion to proceed on its NDAA, with floor consideration expected the week of July 20th. Last year’s bill authorized ~$740 billion in spending.

Approps. House approps subcommittee markups are almost here, with the first markup on July 6. We summarized the schedule last week based on Chair Lowey’s Dear Colleague letter, but we couldn’t find a public notice. The Senate is still TBD, and rumors are there’s a CR in our future. The big question: what’s the top line numbers for the approps subcommittees? Meanwhile, we are gathering Leg Branch Approps docs here, including what happened in FY 2020, plus our wish list.

DC statehood. There’s a great story that someone should tell about how Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton got and won the House vote on DC statehood. I am personally fascinated by the 9 Democrats who voted in favor of the motion to recommit and the two RI senators who have yet to speak up.

Is it the fourth? It’s this Saturday, although Independence Day should really be July 2 because that’s the day the Continental Congress voted. Here’s the original roll call vote. In celebration, it finally is infrastructure week in the House, with a vote expected on H.R. 2.

Continue reading “Forecast for June 29, 2020”

Forecast for June 22, 2020

THE TOP LINE

Appropriations subcommittee markups are now two weeks away, but there’s no agreement or public statement on how much money will be available to the 12 appropriations subcommittees. Today we released a letter urging a $500 million increase (+10%) in funding available for the legislative branch appropriations subcommittee, co-drafted with the Lincoln Network and signed by 40+ organizations and 16 Congress experts. Why is it important?

• Spending on House and Senate committees has declined by 25% over the last decade, or $202 million each Congress; spending on personal offices is down 21% in the House and 10% in the Senate, or $224 million annually. 23% of all funding now goes towards security or buildings, or $1.16 billion annually, which reflects a 279% increase in funding for the Capitol Police and a 131% increase in funding for the Architect of the Capitol since 1995.

• Congress got shorted on federal discretionary spending. Annual discretionary defense spending has increased by 69% over the last quarter century; non-defense spending increased by 55%; and leg branch (which is part of non-defense) increased by 26%. Breaking down that 26% number: 10% is for the Architect of the Capitol; 9% is for the Capitol Police, and the remaining 8% is for everything else. Here’s those same numbers, but as nifty graphs.

• What’s that in real numbers? For FY 2021, non-defense discretionary spending is capped at $627 billion (plus another $8b for OCO); defense discretionary spending is capped at $672 billion (plus another $69 billion for OCO); outside of those caps are all the COVID-19 stimulus bills (which are more than $1 trillion). Spending on the leg branch is expected at around $5 billion, or less than 0.36% of discretionary spending (excluding the stimulus). More context here. (By the way, if anyone has a historic chart of the final 302(a) numbers, including the OCO, it would be incredibly helpful.)

Continue reading “Forecast for June 22, 2020”

Forecast for June 15, 2020

THE TOP LINE

The House schedule has changed againJune 25 and 26 are for police reform legislation; the week of June 29 is for health care and infrastructure (!!!!); and the last two weeks of July are for Appropriations and NDAA.

Apropos approps: Oddly, the Senate will start approps mark-ups first, and some subcommittee bills will go directly to the full committee. (How will skipping subcommittee markup affect the contents?) Did we miss when Senate appropriators held oversight hearings? For this week, we only see S. FSGG, an FCC oversight hearing set for Tues. By the way, our approps requests are here.

SASC cleared the FY21 NDAA, floor debate is expected next week. This year’s package totals roughly $740 billion and authorizes $636.4 billion for the Pentagon budget and another $69 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations. A reminder: OCO is basically a huge discretionary slush fund that is not subject to budget caps.

Open means online when it comes to committee proceedings. Last Monday a coalition called on the Sen. Foreign Relations committee to livestream its proceedings after it inappropriately refused to allow a video livestream; Roll Call put the request in context in this news story.

We hold these truths— Speaker Pelosi called for removing confederate statues in the U.S. Capitol and requested the Joint Committee on the Library “immediately take steps to remove these 11 statues from display.” Among the statues: the president and vice president of the confederacy. We and the R Street Institute applauded the request. According to Politico, Sen. Blunt, who chairs the JCL, said Congress has no power to move the statues out of the Capitol short of passing a law, sidestepping the question of JCL’s power to relocate them — which we described last week and in this 2017 op-ed w/ the R Street Institute. I’d consider placing them underneath the crypt or in a sub-basement hallway; Speaker Pelosi had moved the statue of Robert E. Lee during her first term as Speaker. Regardless, the House could pass a concurrent resolution to force the location issue with the Senate; it could include language in the approps or NDAA bills; and committee members could force the JCL to hold a hearing. Also, the JCL chair rotates between the House and Senate, so this could come up next year — Vice Chair Lofgren has long supported their removal.

Who’s hiring on the Hill? We’ve built a new Twitter bot that consolidates job postings on Capitol Hill from nearly 20 sources, from member offices to the Architect to CBO. It’s a work in progress; send us feedback.

A lot is happening with Congress in the coming weeks, we will help you keep uptell your colleagues to subscribe.

Continue reading “Forecast for June 15, 2020”

Forecast for May 26, 2020

THE TOP LINE

The Senate is out for Memorial Day recess; the House will be in for votes tomorrow and Thursday. (Yes, today is Tuesday. Welcome back.)

Speaker Pelosi triggered a 45-day emergency period for remote committee and floor deliberations on May 20th; we calculate the end-date as July 4th, unless it is extended. Members can opt to vote by proxy or in person; proxy designations are here. Hopefully the House will quickly move to remote floor voting; we’re tracking everything here. Cheers to retiring Rep. Rooney for endorsing remote deliberations.

The House will vote on the domestic-surveillance bill known as the USA Freedom Reauthorization Act, with leadership reportedly agreeing late on Friday to allow consideration of an amendment to require the FBI obtain a warrant prior to searching an American’s Internet search and browser histories. This is an interesting instance where rank-and-file pressure re-opened a bill that leadership had previously jammed through without a markup or amendments.

Senator McConnell is attacking the House for proxy voting, suggesting (at least in POLITICO’s summary) that he wouldn’t take up House bills enacted this way. Given that the Senate wasn’t taking up House bills anyway; that the Senate is in recess while the House is at work; that some senators stand accused of violating the STOCK Act; that appropriations bills originate in the House; and the pace of Senate public-facing activity has slowed to a crawl; this seems more like an effort at distraction than a serious charge; perhaps he should focus on the Senate.

House Dems intro’d a bill to protect Inspectors General from arbitrary removal, with some prominent Democratic sponsors. The Project on Government Oversight’s Executive Dir. explained why protecting IGs is important (and what else should be done) in this op-ed. WaPo takes a look at Sen. Grassley, who historically has defended IGs, and POLITICO describes how unitary executive theory — the extreme political view that the president controls everyone in the executive branch — is being used to undermine IG independence.

We’ve added new international resources to our twitterbot @OpenAtAGlance, which tweets primary sources on legislative operations + actions.

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Continue reading “Forecast for May 26, 2020”

Forecast for May 18, 2020

What a week. On Friday, the House adopted a remote voting resolution (H. Res. 965) that provides for proxy voting on the floor, remote committee hearings, and creates a pathway for remote voting on the floor and remote mark-ups in committees. In other words, the House can function for the foreseeable future despite the COVID-19 pandemic, creating the possibility of a legislative check on the executive branch. The Senate, meanwhile, continues to play Russian roulette with its members, staff, and the ability of that chamber to function.

Just a few months ago, Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader McConnell spoke out in opposition to remote deliberations, and Minority Leader McCarthy denounced it from the House floor. It is unusual, to say the least, for a rules change to pass over the opposition of the leaders of both parties in the House, but intense political pressure and the political reality prompted Speaker Pelosi to do a 180, and she put her own stamp on the rule to protect (and possibly aggrandize) her power vis-a-vis the rank-and-file. (Full disclosure: we support remote voting.) The final vote was partisan, but I suspect many House Republicans welcome the move to keep the House functioning even if they wish it had come about differently.

When the House comes back on May 27th, it will vote on a surveillance reauthorization bill, which will be the first major legislation voted by proxy in the House. What’s notable about the Orwellian-named “USA Freedom Reauthorization Act” is (1) the underlying law stayed lapsed in part because of no remote deliberations; (2) the bill was recently amended in the Senate to allow outside experts to weigh in on FBI surveillance requests, and (3) that an amendment failed 59-37 to prohibit the government from warrantlessly-surveilling your website browsing information and search history, but two of the absent Senators would have voted for it had, say, remote voting been in place. Will Speaker Pelosi — who is a hard-liner for national security issues trumping civil liberties — allow the House to consider a pro civil-liberties amendment that has 60+ votes in the Senate? If she does not, what mechanisms are available to House members in a proxy-voting environment to force a vote on that amendment? How do the new processes affect their leverage?

Continue reading “Forecast for May 18, 2020”