First Branch Forecast for 6/26/23 – Teeing Up a Busy July


This week Congress starts its two-week Independence Day holiday. We’re hoping to take next week off from writing our little newsletter, but we’ll be back.

Among the highlights from this past week:

  • Senate Appropriators adopted 302(b) allocations that are very different from the House’s untenable numbers, but with many Republican defections
  • the National Defense Authorization Act got a full committee markup in the House
  • the Leg Branch Approps bill was reported by the full Appropriations Committee with a few culture-war amendments
  • a resolution to allow for unions in the Senate was introduced by Sen. Brown
  • the Congressional Data Task Force discussed significant efforts to modernize congressional technology
  • the PRESS Act was introduced in both chambers
  • OMB released guidance for the Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports Act.
Continue reading “First Branch Forecast for 6/26/23 – Teeing Up a Busy July”

Bipartisan Coalition of 35 Organizations and Individuals Urge House to Protect and Strengthen the Office of Congressional Ethics

Logo for the Office of Congressional Ethics

In advance of tomorrow’s House Administration Oversight Subcommittee hearing on the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), 35 organizations and individuals across the political spectrum sent a letter today to leaders of the House Administration Oversight Subcommittee urging them to protect and further strengthen the OCE in its mission. Notably, the coalition asks for the removal of a new hiring provision instituted by the House Rules for the 118th Congress that could effectively prevent OCE from having staff and functioning. 

The House Rules adopted by the 118th Congress imposed a two-term limit for Board members and required the Board to appoint OCE staff and set their compensation within 30 calendar days of adoption of the Rules resolution. The confluence of these two provisions might inadvertently result in a Board unable to appoint staff within the required timeframe.

This Rules change is the latest in a succession of moves to weaken the independent watchdog or zero out its funding

The coalition led by Demand Progress and Public Citizen recommends the removal of the 30-calendar-day hiring provision. Board members are appointed by the Speaker and Minority Leader respectively, and should the Board lack a quorum and those appointments be delayed, the effect could be the constructive dismissal of all OCE staff with no ability to hire them. 

The letter is below and also available here.

Continue reading “Bipartisan Coalition of 35 Organizations and Individuals Urge House to Protect and Strengthen the Office of Congressional Ethics”

First Branch Forecast for May 8, 2023: Food and Housing


Lawmakers assumed that income tax revenue coming in during April would give them a few more months to posture before the debt default roiled the markets. The time to implement a solution to the debt limit, however, was back in the lame duck session of the last Congress. Unfortunately, Senator Joe Manchin, along with Senate Republicans, chose cheap political calories over a healthy economy. Now the nation’s finances are about to undergo an enormous stress test.

The discharge petition loop-de-loop is technically still alive, the political chances of it working are near zero. Meanwhile, talks that are not “negotiations” will occur on Tuesday even as the underlying issue is, or at least should be, non-negotiable. Our political structures have incentivized this myopic leap into the darkness while the necessary reforms remain largely ignored by the punditocracy and vetocracy alike. Sometimes it takes a crisis, but at what cost?

Meanwhile, the parallel universe of regular committee workin the 118th Congress continues this week and next. HASC will take up work on the NDAA Thursday while Senate Appropriations Committee hearings continue. Appropriators in both chambers are expected to start holding subcommittee markups on May 17th and 18th. SASC, however, is pumping the brakes on its NDAA markup until mid-June because of the change in the Treasury’s X-date for the debt ceiling.

It may be that the NDAA is the only major legislative vehicle that becomes law this Congress. This week both chambers are in session Tuesday through Friday during the first of consecutive overlapping working weeks. On Wednesday, the Senate Rules Committee holds a full oversight hearing of the Library of Congress with Librarian Carla Hayden. Given the strong criticism last week of CRS’s management at a House hearing, maybe members of the Senate Rules Committee will inquire with Librarian of Congress Hayden about the performance of her subordinate, Dr. Mazanec.

Continue reading “First Branch Forecast for May 8, 2023: Food and Housing”

The Digital File Cabinet: House and Senate File Ethics Disclosures

Members of Congress in the House and Senate, candidates for federal office, senior congressional staff, nominees for executive branch positions, Cabinet members, the president and vice president and Supreme Court justices are required by the Ethics in Government Act of 1978 to file annual reports disclosing their personal finances. Compliance and enforcement of this requirement is overseen by the congressional ethics committees, the ethics offices of government agencies and, in the case of executive branch officials, the U.S. Office of Government Ethics.

These disclosures include financial forms, gift and travel filings, post-employment lobbying restrictions, and more. It’s a lot of disclosure information, and oftentimes, some disclosures must be filed in person rather than online. 

The following outlines the major types of information that must be reported on personal ethics disclosures, as well as if the information is publicly available online, in person, or both.

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Reforms Included in the House Rules for the 116th Congress

At the beginning of each Congress, House lawmakers adopt rules that will govern the state of play for both sessions of that Congress. The rules of the House of Representatives are a chance for the majority to set priorities as well as implement operational and institutional reforms. 

We made a number of reform recommendations — see our report and draft legislative language — several of our favorites made it into the package. 

As we are well into the second session of the 116th Congress, we took inventory of standout reforms that made it into the rules package. Scroll down for a summary of where items stand this Congress.

Find the complete House Rules (with explanations) here, and the resolution that ratified the rules (H. Res. 6) here.

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CBO’s Conflicts of Interest Disclosure Forms

You may have heard of the Congressional Budget Office, the legislative branch agency tasked with advising Congress on the potential economic impact of legislation. In formulating these analyses, CBO may rely on outside experts. The agency has three panels of advisers (Economic, Health, and Health Insurance) composed of experts from academia, the private sector, and elsewhere that provide input on CBO analyses, and CBO also consults with other outside experts. 

These outside advisers have the potential to influence CBO’s perspective, which is why the advisers are required to disclose their significant financial interests as a way of surfacing potential conflicts. Until recently, CBO did not publish on its website information about how to review the forms

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GPO Watchdog Testimony Raises Concerns About the Agency

The Government Publishing Office’s (GPO) lack of permanent leadership was just one of the major issues raised at this week’s oversight hearing of the GPO Office of the Inspector General.

Senate Rules Committee Chairman Roy Blunt kicked off the hearing by voicing concerns over shaky leadership: the agency hasn’t had a permanent director since October 2017 and has been under the leadership of Acting Deputy Director John Crawford for the last 12 months. On top of that, five of the ten GPO executive leadership team positions are vacant with employees serving in an acting capacity, according to Chairman Blunt’s remarks. 

The Chairman also noted that it’s not just the agency leadership that’s in flux; GPO Inspector General (IG) Michael Leary is the third person to hold the position in the last 16 months. Continue reading “GPO Watchdog Testimony Raises Concerns About the Agency”

What Does Rep. Collins’ Exit Say About the Speaker’s Power to Police Member Behavior?

Rep. Collins was arrested for insider trading every news outlet on earth reported, but that’s not the most interesting part. Immediately after his arrest, Speaker Ryan released a statement that said, in passive voice, “Until this matter is settled, Rep. Collins will not be serving on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.” Multiple news outlets described what happened as Ryan stripping Collins of his committee membership. At least in a technical sense, that’s not possible. Continue reading “What Does Rep. Collins’ Exit Say About the Speaker’s Power to Police Member Behavior?”

Recs on the House’s Harassment Bill

In early December, we shared our recommendations on how Congress should address harassment. Since then, the Committee on House Administration has published a draft reform bill — the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 Reform Act — and today we are publishing our recommendations on how that bill should be further strengthened. We expect the underlying legislation will be shortly enacted into law.

Members of Congress and their staff are making a serious effort to grapple with the immediate issue of reforming how these claims are handled. Perhaps future legislation will address some of the problems in the House Ethics Committee itself, and also look at how Congress can proactively prevent these problems from arising instead of dealing with them one-at-a-time or after-the-fact.

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Thoughts on Harassment in Congress and Reform of the Congressional Accountability Act

Today the House of Representatives held its second hearing on the issue of sexual harassment in Congress, focusing on the 1995 Congressional Accountability Act, the law that created the framework through which harassment and other congressional workplace issues are addressed.

The House and Senate recently passed resolutions requiring sexual harassment training, and the House is exploring whether it should do more. Rep. Speier has introduced legislation to reform the CAA, H.R. 4396, although she has said it does not go far enough.

I have some thoughts on how Congress can deal with the sexual harassment issue and other forms of discrimination as well. Continue reading “Thoughts on Harassment in Congress and Reform of the Congressional Accountability Act”