Eras of Control of the House of Representatives

It is easy to imagine that the way the House of Representatives is run now is how it has been run in the past. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.

In the history of the House of Representatives, the Speaker has been all-powerful and virtually powerless; the president has run the House and has been run by the House; legislation enacted by the chamber has reflected the views of a majority of the House, reflected the views of the majority party, and reflected the views of just a handful; work was done by all the members in the committee of the whole and divvied up among the committees; power was centered in the floor leader, the speaker, the party caucus, the full chamber, the rules committee, and no one.

It is not too much to say that the rules of the chamber reflect efforts by its members to have and retain power and to address the problems that arise when members who desired power could not obtain and use it. Fights over the rules, and the leadership of the House itself, have at times consumed weeks of deliberations on the House floor — where the chamber is run under general parliamentary law until a package was drafted that could be adopted by the full chamber.

I’ve been looking at the history and development of the House by reading some of the leading experts and have started to put together a summary of the eras of control of the House of Representatives. This is a working document and likely contains inaccuracies, overstatements, and many other issues. But I thought it might be of interest to you so I’m publishing a live version of the working document below.

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First Branch Forecast for August 29, 2022: Letter of Note

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This week, recess continues.

Last week saw two big announcements from the White House: (1) the partial student loan forgiveness program, which incidentally could help 2,000 staffers (or more!) on the hill, and (2) making federally-funded research free and publicly available, which will improve the availability of information for policymaking deliberations.

You didn’t ask us, but congressional student loan repayment assistance should be centrally administered, available to all regardless of the view of a particular member, and not subject to clawback if a staffer moves on.

Pay your interns. On the topic of centrally administered programs — did you like that segue? — check this opinion piece from my colleague Taylor Swift and Pay Our Intern’s Habiba Mohamed that calls for the creation of a House Intern Resource Office.

Mark your calendars. The Library of Congress announced its next virtual public forum on Congress.gov will be held this September 21 from 1:30 to 4:30 PM. To attend you must RSVP online. The Library also has an online feedback form for those who wish to submit comments individually. See you there.

They’re running. Reps. Jamie Raskin, Gerry Connolly, and Steven Lynch have all announced they’re running to succeed Rep. Carolyn Maloney as top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee. This committee, which grew out of the Committee on Expenditures in the Executive Departments, and itself was created from 11 separate House committees that oversaw government spending, is rooted in House committee efforts to oversee federal spending that go back at least to 1814.

Whistleblower powers. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton introduced legislation last week, the Congress Leads by Example Act of 2022 (H.R. 8743), to grant Legislative branch employees greater whistleblower and other antidiscrimination protections for occupational safety and health complaints. The bill would put into effect recommendations from the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights to:

  • Bring the Legislative branch in line with the legal requirements of private sector employers and the Executive branch;
  • Provide subpoena authority to OCWR to conduct inspections and investigations into OSHA violations;
  • Prohibit Legislative branch offices from making adverse employment decisions on the basis of an employee’s wage garnishment or involvement in bankruptcy proceedings; and
  • Bolster the CAA’s recordkeeping requirements.
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First Branch Forecast for August 22, 2022: The Executive Strikes Back

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It’s still recess, with two weeks until the Senate reconvenes and the House has a committee work week.

House and Senate Security Manuals are now publicly available thanks to litigation brought by journalist Shawn Musgrave. The House and Senate resisted the effort, brought under a common law right of access, and only ceded ground after it became apparent that their assertions to the court were incongruent with the facts.

WHAT’S INSIDE

↣ White House pushing back against Congress’s oversight authority
↣ Clearances, classified information, and the Espionage Act
↣ Updating the ADA regs that apply to Congress

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House and Senate Security Manuals Now Publicly Available

The House and Senate Security Manuals have been the focus of litigation between journalist Shawn Musgrave and the House and the Senate. Musgrave is litigating whether a common law right of access exists for congressional documents, and he is ably represented by Kel McClanahan of National Security Counselors. He recently had a big win.

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First Branch Forecast for August 15, 2022: A call to arms

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Recess. Barring emergencies, Congress is out until September. On Friday, the House passed the reconciliation package — the Inflation Reduction Act — which now goes to Pres. Biden for signature. The process by which this legislation was considered and enacted underscores the importance of allowing a bare majority to work its will and the structural problems that hamper majoritarian rule and force legislation to the political right.

Should congressional staff have a $45,000 minimum wage? If you poll voters, majorities of Democrats, Independents, and Republicans agree that there should be a minimum salary floor for all congressional staffers according to a new Data for Progress poll. In fact, of likely voters, 56 percent support a pay floor while only 30 percent oppose. While the House has put in place a pay order setting the minimum wage at $45k, the Senate has increased funding available to offices but has not instantiated a minimum pay requirement.

What’s inside?
↣ Rising incidents of political violence, part of America’s long history of violence
↣ Securing member communications
↣ Congress’s oversight powers work in theory, but not in practice

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First Branch Forecast for August 8, 2022: It’s recess?

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This week. It’s recess-ish. The Senate passed the Inflation Reduction Act reconciliation package over the weekend and the House is expected to briefly reconvene on Friday, August 12 to pass that legislation and perhaps a few other bills.

The events of the past week highlight that normal spending processes rarely go by the book; that ethics and accountability issues still plague Congress and the Executive branch; and that Congress plays a role in foreign diplomacy. More below.

We did the legwork on Leg branch approps. Please see our list of every notable policy provision in the Senate Leg Branch Approps bill that relates to congressional capacity, transparency, and accountability, and also a list of select civil society recommendations incorporated into the draft bill and accompanying report.

The Congressional Workers’ Union announced its interim board last week. Congrats to all Board members: Philip Bennett, Emma Preston, Courtney Rose Laudick, Kyle Decant, Taylor Doggett, Saul Levin, Mason Pesek, Courtney Koelbel, Alexander Gristina, Jessica Schieder, Janae Washington, and Leigh Whittaker.

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Demand Progress Proposals Included in FY 2023 Senate Legislative Branch Appropriations Bills and Explanatory Statement

On Thursday, July 28, 2022, Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Patrick Leahy published 12 appropriations bills and accompanying explanatory statements, including the FY 2023 Senate Legislative Branch Appropriations bill and explanatory statement. These measures will not go through the traditional hearing and mark-up process. The bill and explanatory statement are packed with good government reforms and significant investments in Congressional operations. 

We and our civil society colleagues recommended dozens of items to include — see our FY 2023 Appropriations requests, FY 2023 appropriations testimony, and report on updating House Rules for the 117th Congress — a number of which made it into the bill and report. We are deeply appreciative of Chair Jack Reed, Ranking Member Mike Braun, and members of the committee for their consideration of our requests.

Read more:

There are a few provisions in the Senate Legislative Branch Subcommittee bill and explanatory statement to note as the Senate is now moving through its appropriations process. They include:

  • Strong investments in staff pay and benefits, including an increase in the SOPOEA to allow Senators to pay their full-time staff a $45,000 salary minimum, as well as the creation of a bipartisan diversity and inclusion working group.
  • More resources for improving legislative branch access to Executive branch information, including the creation of a new joint CBO, LOC, and GAO working group to examine the issues of legislative data access between the Legislative branch and Executive branch agencies.
  • Heightened funding for congressional operations, including creating a centralized repository for Senate documents where legislative information would be available prior to or contemporaneously with decisions; enhancing tracking of legislation on Congress.gov; improved floor scheduling information on Congress.gov; as well as improving reporting of lobbyists’ activities.
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Items Included In FY 2023 Senate Legislative Branch Appropriations Explanatory Statement

On Thursday, July 28, 2022, Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Patrick Leahy published 12 appropriations bills and accompanying explanatory statements, including the FY 2023 Senate Legislative Branch Appropriations bill and explanatory statement.

To help keep track of all explanatory statement items requested by the Senate Legislative Branch Subcommittee, we built a public spreadsheet that maintains a catalog of items, broken down by title, the entity responsible, the timeline for completion, and the due date. See the spreadsheet here and below:

First Branch Forecast for August 1, 2022: Reconciliation

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This week. The House floor is closed until Sept.13 (with committee work starting on Sept. 6); the Senate is in for its last scheduled week until Sept. 6. The Senate will stick around until it passes the “Inflation Reduction Act,” AKA mini-reconciliation, timing depending on Democratic Members not testing positive for COVID; and the House is expected to return to pass that bill during August recess.

In Senate committee news this week: the Judiciary Cmte will hold a hearing on antitrust remedies (but Sen. Schumer still hasn’t scheduled antitrust bills for a floor vote). HSGAC will hold a markup of a few good-government bills. And Senate Rules Cmte will hold a hearing on the Electoral Count Act, following up on the bipartisan proposal to reform the ECA. We note some Members are voicing dissatisfaction with the proposal — as Rep. Raskin told Politico, the effort is “fine and necessary, but not remotely sufficient to meet the magnitude of the threat against democracy now.” (The Jan. 6 panel reportedly plans to release its own slate of recommendations for stopping the stealing of elections this fall, a time when there is the least amount of legislative runway.)

Last weekSenate Democrats published their FY 2023 approps bills. We’ve added the bill text, explanatory statements, and summaries to our tracker (toggle to the Senate tab) and will be working through the bills in the weeks to come. It seems obvious to us that there won’t be a markup process in the Senate, just like last year, and everything will get worked out — if anything gets worked out — behind the scenes. Sen. Leahy says he hopes the release of draft bills encourages good-faith Republican negotiation and emphasized the high stakes of repeating last year’s delays. Senate Republicans published a list of demands for items they consider “non-starters” and threatened a long term CR. It’s clear we’re heading for a short term CR, probably until after the heat of the election. We likely will hear a lot of carping about budget reconciliation as well.

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