House Breaks Promise to Committee Staff On Pay Adjustment

Spreadsheet of spending on committees

Earlier today, the Committee on House Administration favorably reported a resolution to provide a 10% pay adjustment to most committee staff — which sounds like good news until you remember that the House had promised a 21% adjustment, in line with increases to personal office and leadership staff. I realized the discrepancy yesterday when crunching the numbers, which I’ve published below.

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What Items Are Due to Congress: August 2021

Congress regularly requests reports on strengthening Congress but there’s no central place to keep track of what they’ve requested.

To help keep track of things, we built a public spreadsheet that maintains a catalog of projects, broken down by item due, entity responsible, and due date.

The catalog covers reforms and requests ordered by the House and Senate Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittees, the Committee on House Rules, and the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress. At the moment, the catalog includes major resolutions and measures: H. Res. 8, the House Rules for the 117th Congress, Legislative Branch Appropriations FY 2021, and H.Res. 756 from the 116th Congress.

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We continue to update this list each month for what’s due and what’s outstanding. Here are the February, March, and April, May, June, and July editions.

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Who Steers the Ship in the 117th Congress? An Examination of House Steering and Policy Committee Membership

House Democrats and Republicans use internal party committees to control major aspects of the legislative process, including choosing who gets to serve on legislative committees. Who serves on these committees and how are they chosen? Read on. (If this seems familiar, we looked at internal party committee makeup for the 116th Congress here).

Under the House rules, each party decides committee assignments for its Members. As a result, the steering and policy committees are an integral piece to secure intraparty power. With a large number of Members competing for a relatively small number of key committee assignments and leadership roles, the parties’ respective steering committees act as a filter for who rise and fall, creating a sorting mechanism among the party’s internal factions. It is also a mechanism by which leadership taxes Members to provide financial contributions in support of the party. 

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November Update: What Items are Due in the Modernization Committee Resolution

In early March, the House passed H.Res 756, adopting modernization recommendations of the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress. The resolution included 29 recommendations that were unanimously reported by the Fix Congress Committee in 2019. The resolution called on legislative support offices to start a number of projects and report back on how to implement others. 

Last week, the Committee on House Administration released a series of congressional reports that were due in H.Res 756. We continue to catalogue the projects and their due dates into a public spreadsheet, and have them broken down by items. 

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A Brief Recent History of Unionization in Congress

Working conditions for Congressional staff have recently been prominent in the news. News stories recount staff shamed by their offices for wanting to wear masks in the face of COVID-19 or being unnecessarily forced into their offices. Congressional staff are also significantly underpaid compared to their Executive branch (or historical) counterparts; their health insurance has been used as a political football; and they have less recourse when they’re subject to harassment or other mistreatment in the workplace.

The traditional response by staff to difficult working conditions is to unionize. But can Congressional staff unionize like their Executive branch counterparts? Continue reading “A Brief Recent History of Unionization in Congress”

Select Recommendations for Updating the House Rules 117th Congress

Introduction

Demand Progress released 129 recommended updates to the Rules of the House of Representatives and separate orders the House should adopt for the 117th Congress as part of an August 20, 2020 report. The report is the culmination of months of work, reflects significant engagement with experts on Congress, and addresses ten major thematic areas. 

We recognize the volume of recommendations in the full report can be overwhelming, so the following document highlights 13 reforms that the House should consider. We chose these particular reform recommendations based on how feasible they are to implement, the extent to which they would strengthen the House of Representatives, their political viability, and their overall significance to Congressional operations.

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September Update: What Items are Due in the Modernization Committee Resolution

In early March, the House passed H.Res 756, adopting modernization recommendations of the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress. The resolution included 29 recommendations that were unanimously reported by the Fix Congress Committee last year. The resolution calls on legislative support offices to start a number of projects and report back on how to implement others. 

In July, the Committee on House Administration released a series of congressional reports that were due in H.Res 756. We continue to catalogue the projects and their due dates into a public spreadsheet, and have them broken down by items. 

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House Rules: How Committees Operate

Each House committee has rules that dictate how the committee will function. These rules govern how many members must be present to take an action (i.e., quorum requirements), subpoenas, and other actions. The committees are (theoretically) the workhorses of Congress — legislation, reports, budgets, appropriations, and oversight all originate in committees. 

Committee rules exist under the umbrella of the rules that govern the entire House of Representatives. House and committee rules change every two years as the “new” House takes office after elections. The Congressional Research Service notes: “One of the majority party’s prerogatives is writing House rules and using its numbers to effect the chamber’s rules on the day a new House convenes.” 

That CRS report provides an overview of House rule changes from 2007 to 2017. CRS also provides a survey of House and Senate subpoena requirements through 2018. Finally, a CRS report describes rule changes affecting committee procedures in the current 116th Congress. 

Current committee rules are compiled in this 400 page document. Here are some highlights:

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What’s the Difference? Senate Committee Quorum Rules and Procedures

Despite the longstanding warnings from the Capitol attending physician and D.C. health official extending the stay-at-home order from May 15 to June 8, the Senate chose to return to Washington DC on May 4 for regular business. This includes voting on voting on nominations on the Senate floor as well as holding various committee proceedings.

But a majority of the committee proceedings have been different since the Senate has returned, with senators often choosing to appear via video conference to adhere to social distancing guidelines. Earlier this year, the Senate HELP Committee hosted a proceeding that included the chairman, the ranking member, and all four witnesses all participating via video conference. 

Given the circumstances, these modified proceedings had us thinking: What are the quorum requirements of each committee and what could potentially need to be changed if virtual proceedings are fully implemented?

Senate Rule XXVI establishes specific requirements for certain Senate committee procedures. In addition, each Senate committee is required to adopt rules to govern its own proceedings. These rules may “not be inconsistent with the Rules of the Senate,” but committees are allowed some flexibility to establish rules tailored to how certain activities can be conducted, which can result in significant variation in the way each committee operates. 

Given the changing circumstances of committee proceedings, we read each Senate committee’s rules and procedures to find trends, gaps, and unusual practices. Our complete spreadsheet on the House and Senate committee rules breakdown can be found here and is embedded below. 

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House Advances Franking Modernization Bill

The House passed a bill last week designed to bring the Franking Commission into the 21st century. The Communications Outreach Media and Mail Standards Act, or COMMS Act (H.R.7512), extends the commission’s authority to regulate mass communications (i.e., to 500 people or more) by Members and Members-elect. The commission’s authority has historically been limited to mailings but the new language refers to a wider range of communications. 

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