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.”

What Items are Due in the Modernization Committee Resolution?

Last Tuesday, the House took a great step towards making the people’s chamber more efficient and responsive with the passage of a resolution (H.Res 756) adopting modernization recommendations of the Fix Congress Committee. 

The resolution contains five titles: (1) streamlining and reorganizing human resources; (2) improving orientation for members-elect and providing improved continuing education opportunities for members; (3) modernizing and revitalizing technology; (4) making the House accessible to all; and (5) improving access to documents and publications. Note, it includes a request that, whenever practical, the House Administration Committee will publish any report required under this resolution online. (Nicely done!)

The resolution calls on legislative support offices to start a number of projects and report back on how to implement others. We cataloged the projects and their due dates into a public spreadsheet, and broke down the items due by entity below.

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House Budget Committee: Protect Congress’ Power of the Purse & the Rule of Law

The Article I Renaissance continued at the House Budget Committee’s hearing on Protecting Congress’ Power of the Purse.  Ranking Member Womack noted budgeting is fundamental to government and that the process doesn’t work. (He noted the recommendations of the recent Joint Committee on Budget Reform failed to pass).  Members and witnesses engaged in a multi-hour discussion that featured serious discussion and concrete proposals for reform.

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Capitol Police Round Up: Week Ending March 12, 2020

For the week ending March 12, 2020, there were 9 Capitol Police incidents reported; 10 individuals arrested. There were 5 traffic related incidents, including 2 invalid permit arrests. On Wednesday, March 4th, the Capitol Police arrested 2 individuals actively demonstrating in room 2358-C of the Rayburn House Office Building and also arrested an individual for throwing a piece of paper at a Member of Congress during a committee hearing in room 342 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building. 

Here’s how this week’s activity was distributed:

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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.

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House Passes Modernization Committee Resolution

Yesterday, the House overwhelmingly passed H.Res 756, the bipartisan resolution voted unanimously out of the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress (SCOMC). The resolution includes 29 recommendations that aim to make Congress more effective, efficient and transparent. Some of these recommendations include taking critical steps to improve staff retention and diversity, updating House technology and security, and increasing public access to congressional offices and information.

SCOMC, by definition, does not have any legislative authority. The passage of this resolution marks the first time that legislative action has resulted from a select committee. SCOMC has held 16 hearings and numerous Member and staff-level briefings and listening sessions to solicit ideas and recommendations for reforming the legislative branch since March 2019.

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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.”