Forecast for March 30, 2020.

TOP LINE

In case you need a reminder…it’s Monday again; we hope everyone is feeling well and hanging in there. This week’s First Branch Forecast focuses on continuity of Congress and the emergency Coronavirus bill, which are inextricably linked. We also have some important reads in our Oversight & Transparency + Odds & Ends sections as well as a discussion of presidential signing statements.

Continue reading “Forecast for March 30, 2020.”

Forecast for March 23, 2020

The Pope banned public masses, closed Holy Week services, and is encouraging “spiritual communion” when it is unsafe to receive it in person; the New York Stock Exchange has rushed a rule into effect to facilitate electronic auctions in light of the temporary closure of the trading floor; and yet the Speaker of the House and Majority Leader of the Senate are forestalling rules changes to allow the temporary invocation of remote deliberations in either chamber during the pandemic.

At the same time, we’re seeing legislatures disband, from every member of the Georgia legislature in self-quarantine to the Parliament in Victoria, Australia, and many regions in the US are going on lockdown. The trendline is clear.

Addendum: Late Sunday evening, Sen. Rand Paul tested positive for Coronavirus and a number of Republicans began a self-quarantine. This has dropped the operational Republican majority in the Senate to +1R (at the time of this writing). In addition, Donald Trump endorsed remote voting for Congress. This pandemic could shift power in both chambers, the threat of which may finally impel their respective leaders to take another look at remote voting.

Welcome to a very somber First Branch Forecast. We hope that you are staying home and staying safe.

Continue reading “Forecast for March 23, 2020”

Forecast for March 16, 2020.

TOP LINE

Congress is open for business, but for how long? The Capitol Complex and Library of Congress are not allowing visitors through April 1st, although there are some loopholes for business visitors. The House put out telework guidance for offices — but no uniform telework requirement — and went into its district work period; the Senate cancelled its district work period to consider the emergency Coronavirus funding bill passed by the House, which it will take up only after a surveillance bill. Meanwhile, we urged both chambers to allow remote voting (editorialletter); so did Norm Ornstein; so did Rep. Katie Porter; and we put out a statement on remote voting in federal and state legislatures.

The House passed a resolution implementing recommendations from the Fix Congress committee. This is the first time in recent history a modernization committee has issued recommendations at all, let alone had the bipartisan recommendations be adopted.

A warrantless surveillance program is on deck for Senate consideration, after being rammed through the House by leadership and circumventing the committee process. It’s fate (like its policies) are murky at best.

Continuity of Congress Briefing. We have tentatively scheduled an online briefing for tomorrow, Tuesday, March 17, at 11:30 AM ET on Continuity of Congress, which will focus on remote voting and the issues at play. RSVP here so we can send you a link to the online briefing.

Continue reading “Forecast for March 16, 2020.”

Special Thursday Forecast

The coronavirus poses a deadly threat to our democracy, so we have a special issue of the First Branch Forecast focused on what the House and Senate should do right now to maintain the continuity of Congress.

Read the letter below containing civil society recommendations that must be implemented before the start of the district work period. We published a popularization of our recommendations in the Fulcrum (with PopVox’s Marci Harris).

Please stay safe and keep healthy.

March 12, 2020

Dear [Members]:

As you work to respond to the coronavirus threat on Capitol Hill, we urge you to consider the following:

Prioritize the health and safety of the public, staff, press, and lawmakers: We recognize that there are contradictory pressures to project calm while also modeling appropriate responses, such as the “social distancing” recommended by the Centers for Disease Control. In this vein, we encourage Congress to adopt a “putting on your own mask before assisting others” approach, to take rational steps to limit exposure on the Capitol Campus and within district offices. By temporarily postponing school tours, industry fly-ins, and in-person advocacy meetings, Congress will wisely decrease the risk of contagion to the public and staff.

Continue reading “Special Thursday Forecast”

Forecast for March 9, 2020.

TOP LINE

There’s more news than can fit in our little newsletter.

The House Rules Committee did its part to encourage the Article I Renaissance (to steal a phrase from Lorelei Kelly) with a nearly four-hour hearing spiced with thoughtful expert testimony examining how Congress’ role has been diminished over decades and how to reassert congressional authority. (How, you ask?)

Members and outside experts testified before the House Leg. Branch Approps Subcommittee, covering greatest hits like Congress needs more resources to do its jobhow to restore Congressional capacity, and the fan-favorite let’s rebuild in-house science and tech expertise. We cover the entire album, or you can watch the live-to-tape Member testimony and Public Witness testimony. If you tune in to nothing else, check out Rodney Davis’ written statement.

House Officers — the Clerk, the SAA, the CAO, and others — had their day before leg branch approps. We cannot help but highlight questions raised by Rep. Ruppersberger on providing sufficient clearances for congressional staff. We note that the CAO’s funding request contains a notional $10m to fulfill Modernization Committee recs, but the Clerk’s funding request would need a plus-up. Rep. Clark asked excellent questions on the value of increasing the student loan repayment cap to $80k, and whether Leg Counsel can provide draft legislation as Word files in addition to PDFs (so offices can make their own edits). I couldn’t make heads or tails of the testimony by Congress’s Attending Physician, but I think he said the question of whether to close Congress would be made by leadership.

GPO’s new director testified before House Admin this past week (written testimonyvideo), and we were impressed with the agency’s desire to fundamentally rethink Congressional documents so they are user-friendly, easy to generate, and designed for a modern legislative process. We also were interested in the new GAO IG’s efforts to transform that office after recent lapses.

Pay staff better. That’s the simple message of a bipartisan letter, organized by the R Street Institute, and sent to appropriators.

Lots of reports about Congressional operations are due, and we’ve got this month’s list. If anyone has the unclassified report on how long it takes staffers to receive their clearances in the House, which was due on March 1, send it my way. 🙂

If you’re looking for a little light reading, check out our 65-page list of approps requests, plus our House Leg. Branch testimony on congressionally-mandated reportscongressional clearances, and Capitol Police arrest data.

Continue reading “Forecast for March 9, 2020.”

Forecast for March 2, 2020.

ON YOUR RADAR

Approps season is firing on all cylinders, with many Members schedules double- or triple-booked. It’s running us ragged, too. (At least we can help you keep track of testimony deadlines.) Maybe Congress should take a real look at fixing its hearing schedule? Anyway—

Leg Branch heard testimony from LOC and GAO this past week, and there’s news in a CBO QFR response. (More on that below.) Hearings this week include House Officers (Tuesday at 1), Members (Wednesday at 1), the public (Wednesday at 2), the AOC (Thursday at 10), and GPO (Thursday at 11). If you’re looking for good ideas to strengthen Congress, watch the public witness testimony on Wednesday and check out our detailed list of approps requests. It looks like Tuesday is going to be super.

This week is jam-packed with other notable hearings, including on—

• Reasserting Congressional Authority, H. Rules on Tuesday at 10

• GPO Oversight, H. Admin on Tuesday at 10

• Member Day testimony, H. FSGG Approps on Tuesday at 10

• Markup of the Congressional Budget Justification Transparency Act (H.R. 4894) + more good government bills, H. Oversight on Wednesday at 10:30

• Making Federal IT a Priority, H. Oversight on Wednesday at 2

The Coronavirus supplemental is expected to top $7 billion. Considering how little trust there is on the administration’s handling of this issue, I wonder if it will prompt a reinvestment in Congress’s Science and Technology Policy capacity — whether in the STAA, a new OTA, or something else. As you know, we have recommendations. Also, how will the virus affect Congressional operations? What’s the plan for continuity of Congress?

The renewal of (bad) surveillance provisions under FISA hit a speedbump when Intel Committee Chair Adam Schiff threatened to torpedo a secretly-negotiated H Judiciary bill — which was published two days before the markup — when it became apparent that bipartisan amendments to strengthen civil liberties protections would be offered (and likely succeed) in a Judiciary Committee markup. The proceedings were indefinitely postponed. {{BOOM}} This dynamic — of Intel working to limit popular reforms likely to be adopted by the primary committee of jurisdiction, i.e. the Judiciary committee — has been going on for years and suggests structural problems with how the committee referral system provides undue veto power. (It also points to problems with how HPSCI is organized and run).

• The Senate is pushing a straight reauthorization of the failed CDR program, which is evidence of Congress’s unwillingness to legislate and conduct oversight over national security matters. After significant pushback, House Dems are now saying they’re unwilling to use the Coronavirus supplemental as a vehicle. Speaker Pelosi expects a vote on surveillance before March 12; the underlying legislation expires on March 15, after an extension was jammed through in a must-pass bill in December. (We have primers on section 215 here.) Notably, this issue separates Democratic leadership (which is pro-surveillance and had joined with the Republicans previously on an extension) from the vast majority of Democratic party members (who support civil liberties protections) and a few dozen Republicans.

Sunshine week, which focuses on open government and is centered around Madison’s birthday, is coming up quickly. We will be co-hosting an event on March 12 in the Capitol Visitor Center (info here); additional events are listed here and in the calendar section below.

Continue reading “Forecast for March 2, 2020.”

Forecast for February 25, 2020.

We’ve been busy writing reports and appropriations requests, so welcome to an abbreviated and belated First Branch Forecast.

IN BRIEF

House Rules are a way for lawmakers to set priorities & implement reforms. We tracked the status of reforms in the House Rules package: see the results.

Approps season is in full swing. Roll Call has a draft House markup schedule, and check out our approps tracker.

This week, the Library of Congress and GAO are testifying before H. Leg Branch Approps on Thursday; next week House Officers, Members, the public, the AOC, and GPO are all testifying. Mismanagement and discrimination at CRS was the topic of a House Admin hearing last year.

Remember that panel discussion on DOJ’s OLC opinions that we teased you about last week? Video is now available! (And here’s a 1-pager on a legislative fix.)

It appears the Acting DNI was removed for sharing information with Congress; the latest in a series of steps to turn off the information faucet from the Exec. Branch to Leg. Branch overseers.

GAO launched a new line of productsscience and tech spotlights.

ICYMI: Congress has systematically underfunded its own operations for decades. We have the charts to prove it.

VA Reporting Transparency Act, a bill requiring reports the VA must provide to Congress to be available on a central website, will get a House floor vote on Thursday.

Continue reading “Forecast for February 25, 2020.”