Recommendations for the FY 2022 Security Supplemental (including on the U.S. Capitol Police)

Congress is expected to enact a “security supplemental” appropriations bill to address the aftermath of the Trump insurrection on January 6. In advance of that legislation, we compiled recommendations for items to include in the supplemental. They are informed by our experiences studying Legislative branch operations over the last decade, including several years of research into the U.S. Capitol Police (USCP). 

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Forecast for December 28, 2020

You shouldn’t be at work and neither should I. But since we’re here, this is the latest on the decline and fall of the American republic. Happy holidays!

THE TOP LINE
The COVID/Omnibus bill has been hung up by Pres. Trump and the circumstances could mean a government shutdown lasting two weeks or more… and there’s little Congress can do. Update: As of 8pm Sunday, Pres. Trump has now signed the bill, apparently flipping his position, albeit with the result of undermining a week’s work of unemployment benefits for millions of people.

New Congress? The House of Representatives will convene on Sunday, January 3rd, when it will adopt rules and vote on the Speaker. The Senate will also meet, but absent the results of the Georgia elections — set for January 5th, although it may take time to certify the results — it will likely do little.

Who is going to object to the electoral college vote? The counting of that vote is set for January 6th. Here’s a letter from 18 House Republicans suggesting they will object. CRS has a report on counting electoral votes by Congress.

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Forecast for November 23, 2020.

TOP LINE

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Congress left town as negotiations continue (we hope) on a plethora of should-pass bills. Meanwhile, Pres. Trump is working to undermine the election certification process, thereby increasing the likelihood of a fight in Congress over recognizing President-elect Biden’s victory and further de-legitimizing our political system. Pres.-elect Biden’s unpragmatic genuflection at the altar of bipartisanship and unity in the face of an astonishing unwillingness by leading congressional Republicans to acknowledge his victory for fear of Trump’s wrath suggests the ex-Veep will be unable to avert the further slide into an illiberal democracy.

The next four years will be short on legislation, long on executive actions, and marked by tribalistic strife aimed at tagging Biden with culpability for accomplishing little. The only open question (besides the Georgia elections) is whether Biden chooses the senior governmental staff he wants, which will highlight Congress’s anti-majoritarian dysfunction, or grants his political opponents a veto, which undermines any possibility of reform.

Continue reading “Forecast for November 23, 2020.”

Barrett, Graham, Feinstein, and de Tocqueville

I watched a little of this past week’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings and can’t say I enjoyed — or was enlightened — by it very much. Alexis de Tocqueville observed 185 year ago that “there is hardly a political question in the United States which does not sooner or later turn into a judicial one.” While members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a certain Supreme Court nominee might publicly contend otherwise, there’s hardly a question about the fitness of a judicial nominee that isn’t actually a political question. That is what judicial confirmation hearings are all about: the judgment of the person nominated to become a Justice. 

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How will the House adopt rules for the 117th Congress?

We hosted a webinar on October 14th, 2020, on the process by which the House of Representatives will consider its rules for the 117th Congress and some of the big ideas that have been proposed to modernize those rules. We are pleased to make the video available online as well as publish our slides from the presentation.

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What Happened at the House Rules Committee Member Day Hearing

At the start of the new Congress, the House of Representatives will adopt new procedural rules that govern nearly every aspect of how it conducts business. In preparation, the House Rules Committee held a Members’ Day hearing on October 1, 2020, where it heard testimony from 16 Members in person over more than 3 hours, and received written comments from another 5 members.

The following is a high level summary of the requests from each Member. Demand Progress has its own recommendations on what rules should be updated, which are available here.

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Forecast for October 5, 2020.

THE TOP LINE

This weekend has been insane. I hope you’re staying safe. Here’s some of what’s inside:

• Coronavirus and the Supreme Court: what a 47-47 Senate means for the Barrett nomination.

• How to protect Congress, its staff, the press, and everyone else.

• The House Rules Committee heard ideas on how to fix Congress — what are they?


Of course — you know us — there’s a lot more on transparency, ethics, power of the purse, and oversight.

Interested in learning more about Senate rules and procedure? We’re hosting an online Q&A, with noted Senate rules experts Sarah Binder and Matt Glassman (other guests TBA), this Thursday at 3:30 pm ET. RSVP here.

Interested in learning more about modernizing the House rules? We’re planning a briefing for House staff, but open to everyone, that focuses on how House rules are changed, some of the top recommendations made so far for reform, and an opportunity to answer your questions (in a format where your identity is protected). RSVP here for the presentation made by yours truly on Wednesday, Oct. 14, set for 4:00 pm ET.

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Forecast for September 29, 2020.

Good morning, Congress. This week’s First Branch Forecast is shorter than usual because there’s so much going on that we’re overwhelmed. We’ll catch up on a backlog next week. Here’s the top six things you need to know.


1. MEMBER-DAY HEARING ON THE HOUSE RULES (RSVP TUES)

You know you’ve been waiting for it for two years. The House Rules Committee is holding its Member Day Hearing this Thursday at 1pm to listen to your boss’s ideas to improve the House’s rules, and any Member wishing to testify must submit a request by 5pm today (Tuesday) by filling out this form. If your boss can’t make the virtual hearing, you still can reach out to Rules Committee staff. Looking for ideas? Check out our voluminous recommendations (including our top 13).


2. RUSH TO JUDGMENT

The Judiciary Committee is expected to start four days of hearings on Pres. Trump’s SCOTUS nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, on Oct. 12, with a floor vote anticipated the week of Oct. 26th. The Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Lindsey Graham, had pledged he would vote for the nominee without even knowing who it is. Rubber meet stamp. The untimely nomination is moving forward with unprecedented haste. In the meantime, the Intercept published a memo on options available to Sen. Schumer and Senate Democrats should they seek to bring a more stately pace to the proceedings — i.e., let the next President choose, as most Americans prefer, while Senate Republicans are prepping for Dem tactics that would require at least 51 Republican senators to stay in town to bat down any and all concerns. But, as BGov noted, Sen. Schumer hasn’t done much to delay things … so far. A question: some tactics rely on the House staying in town, so are they still planning on closing up shop at the end of the week?


3. PEACEFUL TRANSITION TO POWER

President Trump once again expressed an unwillingness to commit to a peaceful transition of power and is using additional tactics (like undermining vote by mail and vocal support for vigilantes) that are at odds with a free-and-fair election — and a democracy. The Senate passed a non-binding resolution in support of a peaceful transition of power, and a House resolution is on tap for this week, but even with the ongoing (and likely escalating) efforts to undermine the election results, it’s unlikely that the upper chamber would stand up to President Trump now, especially as it hasn’t done so previously. Meanwhile, the Atlantic is gaming out what happens if Trump refuses to be fired, and Politico describes what happens if the election is kicked to the House. The last time this happened, the political deal killed Reconstruction and led to the widespread enactment of segregation and other Jim Crow laws, whose effects are still felt today.


4. KEEPING THE NEXT PRESIDENT IN LINE?

House Democrats have put forth a partial democracy reform package, the Protecting Our Democracy Act, aimed at fixing a few loopholes in the system that allow for presidential bad behavior. The bill contains measures with wide bipartisan support, like making sure the Executive branch follows Congress’s spending decisions, bolstering IG independence, and requiring Congressional approval for presidentially-declared emergencies that last longer than 30 days. It also strengthens Congress’s ability to enforce subpoenas. Is it enough? No, we think it misses some crucial issues, but it’s a good start.


5. SPENDING?

If everything goes right — I cannot believe I wrote that — the Senate will vote Wednesday, the last day of the fiscal year, to adopt a short term CR through December 11th. We think that is too short-term, as it punts hard questions to the same time-frame that Congress may be looking at a very messy election, but what do we know? House Members voting on the CR had only 30 minutes to review the 115 page bill, which is astonishing. The underlying approps bills will be negotiated now even though the Senate has not passed their bills (to avoid taking hard votes before the election). We haven’t followed the minutia around the next COVID relief bill, although our guess is it will either contain too many concessions or serve as a messaging bill.

6. FIXING CONGRESS

The House Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress unanimously reported another 40 recommendations this past week, bringing the total to 97. This package of recs includes ideas updating the MRA formula, (voluntary) staff pay bands (to address weaknesses in staff pay), restoring OTA, upgrading the Bulk Data Task Force, examining creating a Congressional Digital Service, fixing the House calendar, and more (including congressionally-directed grants). The SCOMC has officially turned into a pumpkin, with only the text of its final report pending, although we hope the House and Senate will find an official way to extend these modernization efforts.

Continue reading “Forecast for September 29, 2020.”

Congress’ Power of the Purse

Congress holds the power of the purse. That is, they decide where to spend federal money. The Constitution expressly provides that “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law.” The process is convoluted, opaque, and subject to exceptions and personalities. The purpose of this article is to provide the big picture, show the immense importance of these decisions, and the impact on the Legislative Branch.

Congress controls a massive amount of money. For Fiscal Year 2020 (October 1, 2019 to September 30, 2020), the budget is about $4.7 Trillion. $2.8 Trillion is mandatory spending (legally required, like Social Security payments). $1.4 Trillion is discretionary spending (Congress can spend the money on anything). About $500 Billion is interest on the national debt. And, of course, there’s emergency spending, like the recently enacted Coronavirus legislation totaling trillions of dollars (with more to come). 

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