Forecast for July 13, 2020.

THE TOP LINE
Congress may finally have begun investing in itself — House appropriators favorably reported a 5% increase in funding for the Legislative Branch. That’s half of the 10% increase sought by good government types (like us), and while Congress is still significantly below its funding level from a decade again, we are starting to dig out of the hole. Read Zach Graves on the conservative case for increased policy capacity, and please thank your nearest appropriator, especially those on Leg. Branch.

Money isn’t everything (but it’s really important). Approps bills and reports set policy and direct agencies, and in the Leg. Branch approps bill, the House took a major step towards reclaiming its power of the purse by strengthening GAO and putting in place scores of improvements to congressional operations. More below.

The rules behind the power. Party rules and customs determine committee chairs, policy, and which legislation gets a vote. House Dems finally released their caucus rules (thanks! even if it took 500 days from our request). We’re going to keep digging into the caucus rules, who serves on the steering and policy committee, and the secret rules under which it operates.

Power switch. The House continues to use proxy voting, which some view as having the effect of consolidating power in the hands of leadership while avoiding the worse fate of a defunct Congress. This Friday, House Admin will hold a hearing on remote voting, which could be a step towards turning on the power of the House to deliberate fully in virtual session. Given what’s happening in the world, this is a wise course of action.

Continue reading “Forecast for July 13, 2020.”

Forecast for July 6, 2020.

Welcome back. This week will be busy in the House, so let’s go!

THE TOP LINE

The House Appropriations subcommittees are holding mark-ups all week, plus a Thursday vote on the 302(b) allocations and full committee markups on Thursday and Friday. The full schedule is at the bottom of this email.

• One notable change: for the first time, members of the media can obtain offered amendments by email; previously, you had to be there to get copies.

• We’ll be closely tracking the 302(b) allocations and Leg Branch, FSGG, and CJS markups; and for Leg Branch, we have a spreadsheet of 25 years of spending by line item, adjusted for inflation, which we expect to publish with the proposed spending numbers at firstbranchforecast.com.

• We’re starting to forget, but the bill text should be up 24-hours in advance of each markup (per House rule XI, clause 2(g)(4)) and any adopted amendments should be online no later than 24-hours after the meeting (Rule XI, clause 2(g)(6)). Subcommittee reports are expected online within 24-hours. Approps committee rules require roll call votes online within 48-hours. Keep an eye on the full approps committee page, the relevant subcommittee page, and docs.house.gov. Don’t forget our handy bot @AppropsTracker.

Proxy voting and virtual committee actions were extended by Speaker Pelosi through August 18. Will the House’s calendar now change with another COVID bill coming?

Intern Diversity. Pay Our Interns released an excellent report on House intern diversity: “Color of Congress.” We have a summary below.

Continue reading “Forecast for July 6, 2020.”

Forecast for June 29, 2020

THE TOP LINE

Musical chairs. The House of Representatives will have new committee chairs in the 117th Congress, but how will they be chosen? That’s a difficult enough question that we dig into it below.

NDAA. House Armed Services will markup the NDAA on Wednesday; on Monday, the Senate will resume consideration of the motion to proceed on its NDAA, with floor consideration expected the week of July 20th. Last year’s bill authorized ~$740 billion in spending.

Approps. House approps subcommittee markups are almost here, with the first markup on July 6. We summarized the schedule last week based on Chair Lowey’s Dear Colleague letter, but we couldn’t find a public notice. The Senate is still TBD, and rumors are there’s a CR in our future. The big question: what’s the top line numbers for the approps subcommittees? Meanwhile, we are gathering Leg Branch Approps docs here, including what happened in FY 2020, plus our wish list.

DC statehood. There’s a great story that someone should tell about how Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton got and won the House vote on DC statehood. I am personally fascinated by the 9 Democrats who voted in favor of the motion to recommit and the two RI senators who have yet to speak up.

Is it the fourth? It’s this Saturday, although Independence Day should really be July 2 because that’s the day the Continental Congress voted. Here’s the original roll call vote. In celebration, it finally is infrastructure week in the House, with a vote expected on H.R. 2.

Continue reading “Forecast for June 29, 2020”

Forecast for June 22, 2020

THE TOP LINE

Appropriations subcommittee markups are now two weeks away, but there’s no agreement or public statement on how much money will be available to the 12 appropriations subcommittees. Today we released a letter urging a $500 million increase (+10%) in funding available for the legislative branch appropriations subcommittee, co-drafted with the Lincoln Network and signed by 40+ organizations and 16 Congress experts. Why is it important?

• Spending on House and Senate committees has declined by 25% over the last decade, or $202 million each Congress; spending on personal offices is down 21% in the House and 10% in the Senate, or $224 million annually. 23% of all funding now goes towards security or buildings, or $1.16 billion annually, which reflects a 279% increase in funding for the Capitol Police and a 131% increase in funding for the Architect of the Capitol since 1995.

• Congress got shorted on federal discretionary spending. Annual discretionary defense spending has increased by 69% over the last quarter century; non-defense spending increased by 55%; and leg branch (which is part of non-defense) increased by 26%. Breaking down that 26% number: 10% is for the Architect of the Capitol; 9% is for the Capitol Police, and the remaining 8% is for everything else. Here’s those same numbers, but as nifty graphs.

• What’s that in real numbers? For FY 2021, non-defense discretionary spending is capped at $627 billion (plus another $8b for OCO); defense discretionary spending is capped at $672 billion (plus another $69 billion for OCO); outside of those caps are all the COVID-19 stimulus bills (which are more than $1 trillion). Spending on the leg branch is expected at around $5 billion, or less than 0.36% of discretionary spending (excluding the stimulus). More context here. (By the way, if anyone has a historic chart of the final 302(a) numbers, including the OCO, it would be incredibly helpful.)

Continue reading “Forecast for June 22, 2020”

The Complete Guide to What We Know (And Don’t Know) About the U.S. Capitol Police

The U.S. Capitol Police (USCP) has a critical mission of protecting Congress — Members, employees, and visitors — so constitutionally mandated business can be carried out in a safe and open environment. USCP has a massive $464 million budget for FY 2020 and 2,514 employees, of whom 2,060 are sworn personnel. By comparison, the Washington D.C. Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) is funded at $556 million and has 3,851 sworn officers.

Unlike the vast majority of local police forces, the USCP provides little public information about its activities. The Capitol Police is part of the Legislative Branch, which means it’s under no obligation to answer records requests and is not subject to Freedom of Information of law. Additionally, the department does not publish annual reports on its activities; does not publish reports from its oversight body, the Capitol Police Board, nor the USCP Inspector General; does not proactively publish its annual statistical summary of complaints drawn from Office of Professional Responsibility records; and only began in December 2018 publishing sparse information concerning its weekly arrests.

To help illuminate the operations and disclosures from the agency, our team has spent significant time over the past several years gathering information, including statements of disbursements, jurisdiction and responsibilities, and arrest report data. We also have written letters to the department requesting further information disclosures and submitted testimony to the Leg. Branch Subcommittee requesting heightened transparency regarding USCP arrest information, press releases, and announcements. 

Continue reading “The Complete Guide to What We Know (And Don’t Know) About the U.S. Capitol Police”

Appropriations Cheat Sheet: Reforms To Include In 2021 Spending Bills

The 2021 appropriations process is ramping up with markups scheduled over next month and just a few months left before the end of the fiscal year. Appropriations bills can be a vehicle for institutional reform; we would like to elevate a few modernization ideas from a number of civil society organizations that lawmakers may wish to consider. (All of our recommendations are available online.)

Continue reading “Appropriations Cheat Sheet: Reforms To Include In 2021 Spending Bills”

Forecast for June 15, 2020

THE TOP LINE

The House schedule has changed againJune 25 and 26 are for police reform legislation; the week of June 29 is for health care and infrastructure (!!!!); and the last two weeks of July are for Appropriations and NDAA.

Apropos approps: Oddly, the Senate will start approps mark-ups first, and some subcommittee bills will go directly to the full committee. (How will skipping subcommittee markup affect the contents?) Did we miss when Senate appropriators held oversight hearings? For this week, we only see S. FSGG, an FCC oversight hearing set for Tues. By the way, our approps requests are here.

SASC cleared the FY21 NDAA, floor debate is expected next week. This year’s package totals roughly $740 billion and authorizes $636.4 billion for the Pentagon budget and another $69 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations. A reminder: OCO is basically a huge discretionary slush fund that is not subject to budget caps.

Open means online when it comes to committee proceedings. Last Monday a coalition called on the Sen. Foreign Relations committee to livestream its proceedings after it inappropriately refused to allow a video livestream; Roll Call put the request in context in this news story.

We hold these truths— Speaker Pelosi called for removing confederate statues in the U.S. Capitol and requested the Joint Committee on the Library “immediately take steps to remove these 11 statues from display.” Among the statues: the president and vice president of the confederacy. We and the R Street Institute applauded the request. According to Politico, Sen. Blunt, who chairs the JCL, said Congress has no power to move the statues out of the Capitol short of passing a law, sidestepping the question of JCL’s power to relocate them — which we described last week and in this 2017 op-ed w/ the R Street Institute. I’d consider placing them underneath the crypt or in a sub-basement hallway; Speaker Pelosi had moved the statue of Robert E. Lee during her first term as Speaker. Regardless, the House could pass a concurrent resolution to force the location issue with the Senate; it could include language in the approps or NDAA bills; and committee members could force the JCL to hold a hearing. Also, the JCL chair rotates between the House and Senate, so this could come up next year — Vice Chair Lofgren has long supported their removal.

Who’s hiring on the Hill? We’ve built a new Twitter bot that consolidates job postings on Capitol Hill from nearly 20 sources, from member offices to the Architect to CBO. It’s a work in progress; send us feedback.

A lot is happening with Congress in the coming weeks, we will help you keep uptell your colleagues to subscribe.

Continue reading “Forecast for June 15, 2020”