What to expect from Congress this week? The House is holding a committee work week before joining the Senate, which is already out on recess. They will return the week of July 11th. We are writing this newsletter before 5pm on Friday, so you’ll have to check the House committee calendar for upcoming hearings, but we know the upcoming week is filled with Approps bills markups. By the end of the week, the appropriations committee process will be complete on the House side — phew — at least until there’s an agreement on the top line numbers, and we can expect the bills to move on the floor soon. The Senate approps timeline is more difficult to divine, but given that the deadlines for public witness testimony wrap up July 1, we could start seeing subcommittee markup notices in July. Or Senate Dems will simply release their draft bills prior to summer recess while leaders negotiate over the top line numbers. Stay tuned.
We’re not going to address the big news out of the Supreme Court on abortion and guns, or what’s happening with the NDAA, or the gun control law, the January 6th stuff, and most of the items that came out of the appropriations process. It’s simply too much for us to manage, but you can expect some of these items — to the extent they fit within this newsletter’s mission — coming up in the upcoming weeks.
Last week saw several big wins for strengthening the Leg branch. On Tuesday, a host of excellent congressional data modernization improvements were announced at the quarterly meeting of the entity formerly known as the Bulk Data Task Force; significant improvements in funding and operations for the Legislative branch were favorably reported by the full House Appropriations committee; and a significant increase in the wage available to interns was promulgated by the House Admin Committee. The House Defense Approps bill contains language to sunset the two AUMFs from 2001 and 2002 that have been abused ever since. We’ve got more below, along with summaries of two hearings that helped define what still needs to be done to modernize Congress: a House ModCom hearing on Congress and Technology and the Senate’s Leg Branch Approps hearing on the GAO & GPO.
This week. The House is in today and so is the Senate. After this week, both chambers will take a break from floor legislative activities until July 11th — according to the House floor calendar and Senate floor calendar — although the House will hold a committee work week next week. Afterward, the House has scheduled only 3 weeks of floor activities, and the Senate has scheduled only 4 weeks of floor activities, before both chambers go into summer recess. Rapidly approaching elections suggest the September work period will be short and the interregnum work period in December will be chaotic. It also means that over the next few weeks even the most minor legislative issues will take on a political import that scrambles the likelihood of passage in unusual ways.
As you might expect, this week is terribly busy. In fact, today is the longest day. (Sorry.) We are watching (and participating in) Tuesday’s meeting of the Bulk Data Task Force, Wednesday’s House Appropriations Committee markup of the Legislative Branch Appropriations bill and the Senate’s Leg Branch Approps hearing on the GAO & GPO, and Thursday’s House Modernization Committee hearing on Congress and Technology. There will be several Jan 6th Committee hearings and all of the House Approps subcommittee markups will wrap up this week. (House full committee approps proceedings wrap up next week.) There’s also an interesting House Judiciary hearing on oversight of the DOJ’s National Security Division on Wednesday and a House Admin hearing on disinformation. For more info, see the combined committees schedule.
It can be, at times, somewhat difficult to track appropriations bill text, report language, and press releases and the legislation goes through its paces. Congress.gov maintains a thorough appropriations page, but as of the time of this writing it still has not been updated for FY2023. It’s UI could also be improved.
So we are trying an experiment and will see if we can track the bills as they go through their paces — at least the initial paces. Accordingly, find below our FY 2023 appropriations bill text, report, and press release tracking spreadsheet. Let us know what you think.
The big news. Many political and nonpolitical House staff will be able to unionize now that Rep. Levin’s resolution, H.Res.1096, passed the House last week. The OCWR must publish the regulations in the Congressional Record and (oddly) the OCWR has not (yet?) exercised its authority to shorten the 60 day waiting period, which starts upon publication in the Congressional Record, for the protections to go into effect. OCWR had testified to House Admin that the House could speed up implementation if it elucidated good cause to shorten the window, suggesting (at the time) that those views could be published in an accompanying committee report. Maybe there’s some other way they could be communicated?
“Today’s vote to allow House staff to unionize portends a significant advance in the working conditions for congressional staff and is a high point in efforts to restore Congress’s strength as a robust institution capable of working on behalf of the American people,” said Daniel Schuman, policy director, Demand Progress.
“In the wake of a series of revelations about mistreatment of congressional staff and in the aftermath of decades of neglect, House political and non-political staff will finally be able to organize and negotiate for better working conditions without fear of retaliation.
We applaud all the congressional staffers and particularly the Congressional Workers Union for their ceaseless advocacy in support of improving staff working conditions; we commend Representative Andy Levin for his championing of the congressional unionization resolution, co-sponsored by a wide array of Members of Congress; Representative Zoe Lofgren for conducting thorough oversight through the Committee on House Administration; and Speaker Pelosi and senior leadership for bringing the measure to the House floor.
In combination with adjusting office funding levels by 21%, providing significant investments in Congress’s oversight capabilities, ensuring that no staffer earns below a living wage, and strengthening workplace protections, this House of Representatives has done more to strengthen the Legislative Branch than any Congress in the last 30 years.”
Overview. This week had a ton of good news for Congressional staff. A vote is set to adopt Rep. Levin’s resolution that would afford many House political and non-political staff the opportunity to organize into a union. Speaker Pelosi issued a pay order that will require, by September 1, that all House staff be paid no less than $45,000 annually. And Speaker Pelosi increased the maximum pay a staffer can earn to $203,700, from $199,300, an amount identical to the top rate for Senate staff. The minimum pay levels and pay order enjoys strong bipartisan support, and rightly so. Last week Reps. Hoyer and Jeffries sent an excellent letter calling for COLAs for political offices and a wide range of improved staff benefits. And, lest we forget, the House Modernization Committee has advanced scores of recommendations to improve legislative operations. This House is on track to improve the working conditions for its staff in the 117th Congress more than Congress has over the last three decades combined.
This week. The Senate is in; the House is out until May 10. We are sending an abbreviated First Branch Forecast because we are tired. Don’t worry, we’ll have the highlights from the gazillion hearings this past week, including 3 Leg Branch, 2 CJS, and House Judiciary and ModCom hearings.
TREATING STAFF LIKE PEOPLE
No one noticed, but the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights published a notice of proposed rulemaking on updating outdated overtime regulations for the Legislative branch. This is a BFD if you think that staff who work more than 40 hours a week should receive overtime pay. And we do. OCWR said this rulemaking would “modify this substantially lower salary test set by the 1996 FLSA Substantive Regulations that are financially outdated and yet remain in effect.” How out of date? The current requirements make staff eligible for overtime only if they earn under $13,000 per year, way below poverty level. If you think it should be higher, public comments are due by May 26 to [email protected].
Compensating Leg branch staff on par with Exec branch staff remains a priority for Demand Progress and other civil society organizations, Chris Cioffi noted in Roll Call last week. The House should implement the House IG’s 2021 recommendations to ensure pay parity and provide an annual cost-of-living adjustment for Leg branch employees.
This week. The Senate is in today; the House is in tomorrow. This week, we’ll be glued to another round of Leg branch approps hearings on the Library of Congress, GPO, & the AOC; a CJS approps double-header with the Justice Department, a ModCom hearing on modernizing the legislative process; and a House Judiciary hearing on judicial ethics. Oh, and on suspension is the Courthouse Ethics and Transparency Act, which passed the Senate already and, if enacted, would create a stock trading and online financial disclosure system for the judiciary.
This week. The House and Senate are out until next week. When they’re back it is going to be pandemonium— the next three months everything accelerates and decelerates at the same time — so prep now and remember to spend some time outside.
Appropriations redux. Our calendar of upcoming testimony deadlines is here, with House member requests to committees dues between April 27-29. Public witness testimony deadlines are being announced, with CJS on May 13th. House approps subcommittee and full committee markups are tentatively set for June, with floor votes in July. The Senate likely will have an equally aggressive schedule, but all that depends on whether the two chambers (and two parties) can agree on top line budget numbers. If not, this could be the end of appropriations-not-by-CR for the foreseeable future. We are expecting minibuses and omnibuses unless, of course, everything gets railroaded.
In Case You Missed It. We know, faithful readers, that you endeavor to read each and every newsletter when its bits and bytes are newly minted. But we forgive you if last weeks’ was too much and you were too busy. So, ICYMI —