First Branch Forecast for August 21, 2023: The ides of August


Yes, friends, we’re headed for a continuing resolution in September. What’s left to be worked out is how long it will be for, at what levels, and the measures that will ride along on the bill. (Disaster relief? A pet project? It will be a fun surprise.) But wait, there’s more: a possible government shutdown. Will the CR be designed to jam members into voting for the appropriations bills? You betcha.

Trump’s indictment in Fulton County, Georgia, is notable because a president of the United States is being treated like any other citizen. (Read the annotated indictment here.) Fulton County’s behavior is a vast improvement over the deferential attitude shown by the Department of Justice.

Anyhoo, we also saw the indictment of former Rep. Mark Meadows, a co-founder of the Freedom Caucus that gained power and influence because of its understanding of the House rules and willingness to use them to exercise power. While we much prefer Rep. Justin Amash, another co-founder, the FC showed the way for members to use their procedural power to ensure they have a say in the Congress, a vital lesson other caucuses should learn.

For your calendar: The Library of Congress will hold its annual meeting on public-facing legislation information services, including, on Sept. 13. More info below.


Sen. McConnell is a cold warrior. That’s the gist, anyway, of a lengthy profile of the “declining” Senate Minority Leader in POLITICO. There’s not much of a discussion of how he’s shaped and led the Republican party and changed America — that’s apparently left for others.

Chinese spies hacked the campaign and personal email accounts of Rep. Don Bacon through the forging of Microsoft customer identities. While this was a sophisticated effort, it’s a reminder for everyone reading this newsletter — that means you — that your personal accounts are a gateway to your official information. Consider using two-factor authentication (like Authy, Google Authenticator, or a YubiKey, and not just text messages), a password manager to track all your passwords and make them more robust (we like 1Password), and Signal for your text messages. It won’t address a hack like this, but it will narrow the vulnerability window.

Should GAO have spelled out the ROI if agencies were to implement each of the GAO’s recommendations? The FAI’s Dan Lips argues yes, and points to legislation passed as part of the NDAA with such a requirement. Lips suggests the GAO missed an opportunity “to provide Congress with a detailed roadmap for cost-savings reforms” and urges the watchdog to “be open to making clear recommendations about areas to cut government programs.”

Don’t sleep on the Law Library of Congress, which just published a report on the safety and security of artificial intelligence systems. While the Congressional Research Service’s reports focus on domestic matters, the Law Library of Congress’s focus on international matters: in this instance, a survey of the safety and security of AI systems in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the Uk, and the EU.

Which federal agencies are using AI? Marci Harris is keeping a list.

CBO scored S. 2073, Eliminate Useless Reports Act of 2023, at $0, which is good news for those who believe that federal agencies should identify outdated or duplicative reports in their congressional justifications.

Continue reading “First Branch Forecast for August 21, 2023: The ides of August”

First Branch Forecast for August 14, 2023: House HR help


Welcome to an abbreviated First Branch Forecast. We hope you’re on vacation and we’re looking forward to your creative OOO messages.


  • Congress shouldn’t create a new Pentagon slush fund, a commentary by William Hartung arguing that “using war spending to fund unrelated items was a bad idea during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it is a terrible idea now.”
  • Planning for the Next Emergencies, a white paper from the R Street Institute’s Jonathan Bydlak that discusses “the expansion of emergency powers and emergency spending” as flip sides of the same overspending coin Congress must address.
  • What does the GAO do? A podcast with Comptroller General Gene Dodaro, hosted by AEI’s Kevin Kosar.
  • Federal agencies often overlook federal territories, but new legislation aims to fix that


The House CAO’s Human Resources Hub announced the launch of new Member Office Career Paths, a career development resource for staff.

“Designed exclusively for House Member offices, this new resource provides career information for 16 Member office positions, organized within four primary career paths (Administrative, Communications, District, and Legislative).

House staff can use this resource as a guide to learn more about common Member office roles, responsibilities, and skills. Additionally, each career path contains helpful links to associated training opportunities and a host of potential career options.

The Office of the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) is dedicated to providing and expanding innovative resources to address all the unique aspects of House staffers’ jobs as we help shape the future development of House staff.

House staff who are connected to the House network may visit the Member Office Career Paths page at to learn more. Questions and comments may be submitted to the HR Hub Team” at

Continue reading “First Branch Forecast for August 14, 2023: House HR help”

First Branch Forecast for August 7, 2023: Debt, Trump, and the Capitol Police


It’s still recessThis week, we cover:

  • The credit rating downgrade and how to get out of that hole
  • Lessons from the federal Trump insurrection prosecution
  • The bicameral hearing into problems at the Capitol Police
  • And a smattering of other issues.


Our political leaders have managed to talk the markets into downgrading the US credit rating because of the inane debt ceiling.

“The rating downgrade of the United States reflects the expected fiscal deterioration over the next three years, a high and growing general government debt burden, and the erosion of governance relative to ‘AA’ and ‘AAA’ rated peers over the last two decades that has manifested in repeated debt limit standoffs and last-minute resolutions.”

The proximate cause, we suspect, is the far right’s control over McCarthy and the flailing appropriations process. The Speaker is hostage to their whims and they’re using the debt ceiling for a variety of purposes. Some, it appears, may actually welcome the chaos of going over the cliff. Because negotiation with people who keep moving the goalposts is virtually impossible to successfully conclude, the result is a cycle of crisis and self-inflicted injury.

We also note that congressional Democrats, when they had the chance, did not push legislation to eliminate the debt ceiling, despite a range of options. Certainly those who wanted to do more had no help from Sen. McConnell, nor from Pres. Biden. Some of the fault can be laid at the feet of Manchin and Sinema — who did waive it once. There’s also a host of Democrats who are either afraid of the politics because of the public’s misunderstanding of what the debt ceiling is or foolishly welcome it as an austerity measure.

For an example of an austerity framework, look no further than Bezos’s Washington Post editorial board, which proposes that the way forward is to sacrifice the poor and elderly. There’s nary a mention of ending the Trump tax cuts, or the Bush tax cuts, reducing the trillions in tax expenditures, or the nearly a trillion in defense spending.

If you’ve been around for any time at all, you know that funding cuts that happen under a Democratic president are followed by tax cuts under a Republican president. No one is actually serious about cutting the debt, assuming that’s even a policy goal we would want to pursue. One result of this bait and switch dynamic: “19 of America’s biggest companies paid little — or zero — income tax.’” The fight, as far as I can tell, is about who bears the tax burden and what exactly is funded.

Rep. Brendan Boyle has one right answer to addressing the creditworthiness downgrade and the debt ceiling standoff: allow the Treasury to continue paying the debt unless the Congress passes a resolution of disapproval. This is a workable approach, although it still puts too much trust in the president. The best answer, for which Rep. Boyle also has introduced legislation, is eliminate the debt ceiling entirely. Instead of doing that, congressional leaders decided not to force the issue in the 117th, and now, in addition to a ticking time bomb, we have a series of future debt rating downgrades and higher costs to look forward to.

Continue reading “First Branch Forecast for August 7, 2023: Debt, Trump, and the Capitol Police”

First Branch Forecast for July 31, 2023: What’s done and what’s left to do


Recess is here, but it’s not an opportunity to breathe easier.

All 12 appropriations bills have been reported by the Senate Appropriations Committee, a first for the Senate in five years. Meanwhile, only 10 have made it out of the House Appropriations Committee gauntlet and there’s talk they won’t take up the other two. With the House wildly diverging downward from the debt agreement as the Freedom Caucus and friends push House leadership for un-enactable spending levels and poisonous policy riders, some members are predicting a government shutdown is coming. Even Republican appropriators are publicly disclosing their discomfort.

The FC was given a spreadsheet and asked to point to where they want to see cuts, and reached a $1.4T top line agreement. (McCarthy denies the existence of an agreement as he also denied a side agreement with the FC when taking power.) Meanwhile, the Senate top-line funding level is much higher and pushing for a multi-billion dollar plus-up that, entertainingly, is drawing complaints from the RSC as violating the debt deal.

Even if an agreement is reached among the factions in the House, is there time for the House to pass all of its appropriations bills before the end of September? There wasn’t time for Agriculture, which was postponed to September after being set for a floor vote this past week, leaving only one bill to have passed the House so far. The Senate surely won’t agree to the funding levels or the policy riders for the various bills, but are there enough Senate Republicans who will join with Democrats to move an appropriations bill forward in that chamber? The ability for a minority to block movement in that chamber could mean stagnation, even as Appropriators in that chamber have locked arms in favorably reporting their bills. We will be fascinated to see whether a Senate-led supplemental can work its way to the finish line. Its viability will be linked to parity.

The House has reneged on the idea of an open process around Appropriations but there will be the opportunity to offer amendments for the select few. We imagine August recess will be the time that folks go to legislative counsel to get everything drafted because appropriations bills will have to go quickly in September… assuming they go at all.

The National Defense Authorization Act is in similarly tough shape, with its text studded with far right culture war language. Mike Rogers, the Chair of the House Armed Services Committee, pooh poohed the likelihood of the Senate accepting the House’s NDAA amendments. The amendment process in both chambers, but especially the Senate, has been opaque.

Both Appropriations and the NDAA are the major opportunities to move unrelated legislation that otherwise would be caught in the Senate mire, but this year’s process may not have done so to the same extent as in prior Congresses. (You can find some of those unrelated amendments in SA 1087, which amends SA 935, which amends the NDAA. This includes a foreign lobby reform bill, classification reform, and the entirety of the Intelligence Authorization Act. Good luck). This has implications for the amount of legislative proposals to become law.

The Architect of the Capitol was the subject of one Congress-related measure that did move through the Senate NDAA process, and it can be found buried in section 10,001 of the Reed substitute amendment, SA 935. It contains the text of the Architect of the Capitol Appointment Act of 2023, a bipartisan bicameral bill described in this press release and separately introduced as H.R. 3196. The amendment establishes a commission to appoint the AOC, authorizes the commission by majority vote to re-appoint or remove the Architect, requires the Architect to appoint a Deputy Architect within 120 days and allows for the commission to do so if the Architect does not, and allows the commission to designate an Acting Architect.

The measure is necessary because the previous Architect had lost the confidence of Congress through a series of major missteps, necessitating Pres. Biden to step in and remove the AOC. As there was no deputy AOC available, the Chief Engineer, Chere Rexroat, had to step in as the acting Architect of the Capitol. As we discuss in this blogpost, many senior Legislative branch agency heads are oddly appointed by or removable only by the president, or enjoy unlimited terms of office, and this is a first step to begin to rationalize the process.

Meanwhile, the House Administration Committee and Senate Rules Committee held a joint hearing into the Capitol Police Board, the first time all the Board members have testified together in eight decades. Naturally, we released a report into USCP/Board compliance with congressional and GAO recommendations. Surprise, surprise, it didn’t look good.

We found the Capitol Police and its Board have only closed two out of 11 GAO recommendations issued over the last few years. In addition, out of nine directives from Congress, we found non-compliance and or unclear compliance with four directives, full but belated compliance with two directives, and full and timely compliance with three directives.

We are working on a detailed write-up of the hearing and we will have it for you next week.

Continue reading “First Branch Forecast for July 31, 2023: What’s done and what’s left to do”

US Capitol Police Fails to Comply with Pre- and Post-January 6 Congressional Directives to Reform and GAO Recommendations on Security Preparedness and Training

Demand Progress Education Fund Releases New Report Card and Recommendations

A new report by Demand Progress Education Fund found that the US Capitol Police (USCP) has either failed to comply with or has slow-walked implementing several reform directives from Congress and recommendations by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), all aimed at improving the agency’s accountability. Demand Progress Education Fund published its analysis, Capitol Alert: Assessing the US Capitol Police’s Compliance with Congressional Calls for Accountability as the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration and the House Committee on House Administration are preparing for the first joint hearing examining the US Capitol Police Board since the 1940s. 

“The January 6 attack on the US Capitol tragically demonstrated the urgent need to modernize the US Capitol Police and improve its emergency preparedness, information sharing, and oversight,” said Taylor J. Swift, senior policy advisor at Demand Progress and author of the report. “Capitol Police leadership has kept us in the dark on how they plan to comply with numerous accountability directives from Congress and recommendations from the Government Accountability Office. Given the Capitol Police’s critical role to protect the US Capitol and all who work and visit there, we identified areas where it has made progress and where it has fallen short to help the USCP improve itself and adapt to new threats.”

The Capitol Alert report examines the US Capitol Police and its Board’s structure and disclosure practices, and also assesses whether the USCP has complied with nine congressional directives to the Capitol Police to reform its practices issued between FY 2019-2023 and 11 reform recommendations issued by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) during that same period of time.

Click to download report
Continue reading “US Capitol Police Fails to Comply with Pre- and Post-January 6 Congressional Directives to Reform and GAO Recommendations on Security Preparedness and Training”

First Branch Forecast for July 24, 2023: The Unbearable Difficulty of Tracking NDAA Amendments


The last business week before recess arrives with little sense of how the two chambers will come eye to eye on appropriations when they reconvene in September.

For your reading pleasure, we describe below the good news concerning civil liberties coming out of Congress as two important provisions cleared markups last week.

Also, the poor state of the US Capitol Police force’s transparency and accountability came into sharp focus last week when CHA held an oversight hearing with the department’s inspector general. Next up: an incredibly rare joint House-Senate oversight hearing with all members of the Capitol Police Board, the first since before the end of WWII.

This week both chambers are in session Tuesday through Friday. The Senate is scheduled to return from summer recess September 5, while the House is slated to return September 12. Unsurprisingly, the week ahead will be hectic.

Floor approval of the NDAA is the main focus for the Senate this week. How many amendments will be adopted among the hundreds offered? Any guesses?

The House will vote to approve two of the 12 appropriations bills — Agriculture-FDA and Military Construction-VA — this week, leaving it with 10 bills to complete in the 12 working days scheduled before the end of the fiscal year. Will leadership smush some bills into mini packages? Will a promised open floor amendment process melt away? Will far-right members’ in the House make things interesting? In the words of one member, FAFO.

In the committeesSenate Appropriations reminded the House that two chambers can play Calvinball. Senators Patty Murray and Susan Collins tacked on an additional $14 billion in supplemental funding in areas they concluded the House had “underfunded,” including aid to Ukraine. (It wasn’t an even split between defense and non-defense.)

After completing three markups last Thursday, the committee is shooting to complete its slate ahead of recess and wait for the House to come back to the toplines it’s agreed to.

In a measure of how that will go, the House Budget Committee may markup its FY 2024 resolution this week, setting toplines that are congruent with appropriators’ lower spending targets.

Reminder: We’re tracking the progress of appropriations bills in both chambers with this database. We also have a comprehensive listing of the items included in the Senate’s FY 2024 Leg Branch report language.

Continue reading “First Branch Forecast for July 24, 2023: The Unbearable Difficulty of Tracking NDAA Amendments”

Items Included In FY 2024 Senate Legislative Branch Appropriations Bill Report

On Thursday, July 13, 2023, the Full Senate Appropriations Committee reported out the FY 2024 Legislative Branch Appropriations bill 30-0. The bill text and report weren’t published online until Friday morning but can be found here.

To help keep track of all items requested in the Senate Legislative Branch bill report, 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:

50+ Orgs Join Demand Progress and Freedom of Press Foundation to Fight Internet Censorship Provision in NDAA

Today, a broad coalition of more than 50 media guilds, press freedom, civil liberties, and government transparency organizations joined Demand Progress and Freedom of the Press Foundation in a letter to the Senate urging the blocking of a dangerous new amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would censor the online publication of information about members of Congress and those connected to them. 

“Senators Klobuchar and Cruz’s internet censorship amendment will have a heavy toll on journalists, non-profits, and members of the public who seek to use their First Amendment rights to identify corruption at the highest levels, all while failing to provide members of Congress the security they need,” said Daniel Schuman, policy director at Demand Progress. “We must know whether our representatives are honest, and Senate Amendment 218 to the NDAA would empower them to remove true facts from the internet and databases, an invitation to the grossest abuses of power where political figures and their staff can pick and choose what speech they like and censor the rest.” 

The internet censorship amendment, Senate Amendment 218, offered by Sens. Klobuchar and Cruz to the must-pass Senate NDAA, is largely identical to the Judicial Security and Privacy Act that was slipped in at the last minute to last year’s NDAA, but this amendment is focused on Congress, not federal judges. It has serious First Amendment problems because it lets members of Congress forcefully coerce the removal of certain information about them or their families from the internet. It is very broad as it can apply to their parents, adult kids, siblings, roommates, and staff, and can cause the removal of basic information such as properties that they own, where they are located, and their email addresses.

Continue reading “50+ Orgs Join Demand Progress and Freedom of Press Foundation to Fight Internet Censorship Provision in NDAA”

PRESS Act Passes Out of House Judiciary Committee, 23-0

The House Judiciary Committee favorably reported the Protecting Reporters from Exploitative State Spying Act (PRESS) Act, 23-0. This is positive news that we welcome, as the PRESS Act is critical legislation that would protect reporters and their technology providers from revealing their confidential sources and underscores the importance of protecting a free press from federal abuse of subpoena power.

“Journalists must be able to freely report on government actions without fear the government will compel them to reveal their sources,” said Daniel Schuman, policy director at Demand Progress. “We commend the House Judiciary Committee for its bipartisan support of the PRESS Act, legislation to protect First Amendment freedoms and shield journalists from being compelled to disclose their sources. The Senate must act now to advance this important legislation.”

The PRESS Act would protect reporters and their technology providers from revealing their confidential sources and from federal abuse of subpoena power, a legal protection already available in 49 states. The bill provides some exceptions to these prohibitions such as in cases involving risk of imminent personal bodily harm or death, terrorism, the commission of crimes unrelated to journalism, and slander, libel, and defamation.

Administrations of both parties have often gone after journalists who have exposed the truth about waste, fraud, abuse, and malfeasance to intimidate them. Although the Department of Justice last year adopted a new policy restricting subpoenas and seizures from journalists, it could just as easily be suspended, ignored, or secretly altered. Importantly, the PRESS Act would codify into law this prohibition, making it real and permanent.

First Branch Forecast for July 17, 2023: Summer of Minoritarian Legislating


The NDAA is about to burst into flames like an unwatered Christmas tree, having passed the House by a bare 219-210. The appropriations bills have become a Barbenheimer of toplines and messaging amendments. Welcome to the summer of minoritarian legislating.

The Senate Appropriations Committee reported out the Legislative branch appropriations bill 30-0 mid-week, but the bill text and report unhelpfully didn’t come out until Friday morning as is par for the course in the world’s greatest deliberative body. We also discovered a Senate amendment to the NDAA that, if enacted, would allow members of Congress to censor information about themselves that’s published on the internet and would gag those who would publish it.

The demographic composition of Senate staff came into sharper focus through the release of data by Senate Democrats as part of their annual diversity study.

Outside organizations continue to support House progress on implementing Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress recommendations, with particular focus on casework data aggregation that would be exciting.

This week the House is in session Monday through Thursday and the Senate is in session Tuesday through Friday. The Senate may begin its NDAA authorization votes on Tuesday.

There’s quite a lot going on in committees as we dream about August recess:

USCP IG. On Wednesday, the Oversight Subcommittee of House Administration will call US Capitol Police Inspector General Ron Russo to testify. He’s been on the job only since the end of January. He was chosen by the Capitol Police Board, which under the agency’s leadership structure includes its chief of police and two Leg branch leaders in acting roles. Having the chief on the Board that hires the person charged with department oversight creates an obvious conflict of interest.

The IG is of particular interest because it has a new boss, it can provide an update on the series of “flash reports” it issued concerning failures at the Capitol Police, it still has not published its IG reports online as directed by appropriators (except for two), and there are important questions about whether it should have jurisdiction over the Capitol Police Board and independence from USCP Board members. We are continuing to track reports on the failures of the USCP and its Board and to monitor whether the USCP will implement FOIA-like provisions Congress has requested.

The Senate Judiciary Committee intends to vote Thursday on the Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal, and Transparency Act, which would require the Supreme Court to adopt a code of conduct, allow for investigations for violations of the adopted code, and improve disclosure and transparency about Justices’ connections to parties before the court.

Senator Chris Van Hollen considered offering an amendment to the Senate FSGG appropriations bill to require a code of ethics as well, but withdrew it during the markup. Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin said he would prefer the Judiciary Committee move the issue. What we suspect happened was appropriators wanted to keep their bill bipartisan, and as Senate Republicans are denying the obvious scent of corruption, this was a face-saving way to do that and keep it in the news.

The House Appropriations Committee will hold its T-HUD markup Tuesday. Senate Appropriations will hold markups of Energy and Water, State and Foreign Operations, and T-HUD on Thursday, pushing its work to the three-quarters mark of bills. As a reminder, we are tracking all appropriations bills here.

If you thought the House Appropriations committee bills were going to be considered under an open rule of the House floor, well, that looks like that promise is “not operative.” What they meant by regular order was they regularly include a structured rule to provide order.


The Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously (30-0) reported out the Legislative branch appropriations bill textmanager’s amendment, and committee report last Thursday. It appropriates $6.761 billion towards the Legislative branch, a 2% reduction from the $6.899 billion FY23 enacted level. This is slightly higher than the House’s topline number of $6.746 billion. We have a comprehensive examination of the Senate funding numbers, including a side-by-side comparing the House against the Senate, by our colleague Taylor Swift.

Some of the funding highlights include:

  • Senators’ Official Personnel and Office Expense Account (SOPOEA) — the account that pays staff salaries and operations — saw a 4.4% increase from FY23 to $534.5 million. This number is calculated in part based on a formula.
  • The Government Accountability Office saw a slight increase in funding, a $23.6 million increase to $813.9 million (+2.9%), although it is significantly below its historical funding levels when adjusted for inflation.
  • The Capitol Police combined salaries and expenses will receive an additional $57.9 million, or an 7.3% increase, from $734.6 million in FY23 to $792.5 million in FY24.
  • The Library of Congress saw salaries and expenses saw a 2.3% increase to $596.1 million.
  • The Congressional Research Service was also slightly increased to $136 million (+1.8%).
  • The Congressional Budget Office saw a decently large increase to $70.1 million (+10.9%).
Continue reading “First Branch Forecast for July 17, 2023: Summer of Minoritarian Legislating”