First Branch Forecast for September 18, 2023: The Ladder of Chaos


Happy belated Constitution Day to those who celebrate.

This week both chambers are in session Monday through Thursday, with the Senate remaining so Friday. The House has scheduled some sort of continuing resolution vote for Wednesday or later that contains greater than 8% cuts below FY 2023 levels and authorization text on immigration and border-related stuff. It’s a nonstarter in the Senate and with the White House, the only question is whether it even passes the House.

The House Republican Steering Committeewill vote onMondayto fill the vacant seat on the Appropriations Committee.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will visit the Capitol. We see an all senator meeting is scheduled for Thursday.

Deeper in the newsletter we have a recap of the Congressional Hackathon 5.0 and the Library of Congress forum on

Personal safety of those on the Hill is top of mind this week. In light of the increased visibility of property and violent crime in the District, CHA is hosting a security briefing for members and staff at 10 AM Monday in 1310 Longworth. Email this link to reserve a spot.

CHA’s Oversight Subcommittee also will hold a hearing ostensibly to assess the security failures that allowed the January 6th insurrection to breach the Capitol on Tuesday. The witness will be Steven Sund, who was chief of the US Capitol Police during the insurrection. Sund has attempted to shift the blame for the successful sacking of the Capitol by arguing that Nancy Pelosi’s resistance to prestaging the National Guard in anticipation of the election certification on January 6 shaped the Capitol Police Board’s decision to deny his request for their deployment on January 3. As we all know, Sund didn’t deploy his own resources adequately in light of incoming intelligence.

Hopefully soon, House Admin will return to issues raised in July’s astonishing hearing when the department’s inspector general explained his lack of independence in releasing his department’s reports and the agency’s habit of marking recommendations related to January 6 as complete even when they are not actually complete. Rep. Barry Loudermilk asked IG Ron Russo to follow up on how the office defines “complete” during that hearing, and we look forward to the answer.

After that hearing, our colleague Taylor Swift authored a comprehensive look at US Capitol Police compliance with post-January 6 congressional directives and completion of GAO recommendations. On many of these directives, it’s not possible to determine the status of progress with the information that’s available to the public. Although the department has completed some directives focused on officer wellness and workplace climate, it has failed to begin work on others and most GAO recommendations.

Related Resources: In light of Tuesday’s CHA’s Oversight Subcmte hearing on January 6 security failures, revisit our report on US Capitol Police compliance with post-Jan 6 congressional directives and completion of GAO recommendations.

Continue reading “First Branch Forecast for September 18, 2023: The Ladder of Chaos”

First Branch Forecast for September 11, 2023: Hackathon and HH Thursday


Welcome back to the mess that is the appropriations process. We’re also considering this week how the Senate’s rules contribute to much of the action at the top of the news as Congress returns from recess.

This week, the Senate is in session Monday through Thursday. The House returns from its recess on Tuesday and remains in session through Friday.

The House is scheduled to start consideration of the Defense Appropriations bill on the floor on Wednesday. The Rules Committee will meet on Tuesday to consider that bill and we see 339 amendments on deck. We do not see the Homeland Security Appropriation bills lined up in the people’s chamber this week. Amendments to the Homeland Security package were due last week and Republican members made ample use of the Holman Rule, targeting 12 DHS officials.

The Senate, meanwhile, is moving forward separately, beginning floor consideration of a MilCon-VA, Agriculture, and Transportation-HUD minibus Monday.

Several important events are happening on the Hill this week, too: Monday, POPVOX Foundation will host its Internapalooza event for fall interns. A variety of folks from civil society groups, including our Taylor Swift, will participate. On Wednesday, the Library of Congress will host a public forum on improving Thursday marks the return of the Congressional Hackathon (with a happy hour afterward).

Speaking of a different kind of hack, don’t forget to update your iOS if you use an Apple device to close a security gap.


We’re pretty pessimistic at the moment about the House, Senate, and White House finding a way out of the appropriations muddle before the end of the fiscal year. The dynamics that nearly precipitated default on the national debt remain in place and the deal to break that crisis did not attempt to address them. The Senate is attempting to jam a group of House holdouts whose demands continually change.

Although it’s tempting to bemoan the unique dysfunction of this current Congress, the truth is the modern appropriations process has been a mess for our entire lifetimes. Since FY 1977, only four times has Congress enacted all appropriations bills before October 1 – the most recent being 27 years ago. It has enacted an average of a single bill on time since then.

It’s a signal that the current system in place provides too many incentives to break it and that the only current forcing mechanism — the fiscal year deadline — is insufficient to compel any adherence to the process as conceived. Perhaps no other activity that Congress regularly engages in reveals the state of institutional decay present.

Something structurally needs to change. Unfortunately, reform ideas being bandied about at the moment don’t rise to that level. Rep. Donald Beyer and Sen. Tim Kaine last week introduced a bill similar to one introduced in January in the Senate that would generate an automatic continuing resolution if Congress failed to enact spending bills by October 1. GAO actually looked at this idea back in 1986 and concluded that it would disincentivize Congress to take concrete action, forcing agencies to operate under temporary funding over long periods of time. It also may lock in funding levels that were not based on real-world spending needs and provide a preference for the status quo. Changing members’ incentives to encourage more inaction is not what Congress needs more of at the moment.

Another proposal to shift to biennial budgeting doesn’t make sense in a world that has expensive contingencies like armed conflict and natural disasters. Nor does it solve the underlying problem. It also would scramble the agenda-setting power of the presidency during a four-year term, which Congress does enough of already.

More comprehensive appropriations reform deserves discussion on Capitol Hill, particularly to iron out veto points, make it more solidly majoritarian, and align with proper oversight and evaluation of federal programs.

Continue reading “First Branch Forecast for September 11, 2023: Hackathon and HH Thursday”

First Branch Forecast for September 5, 2023: Back to work


The political and institutional dynamics that have defined the 118th Congress are building to a crescendo as recess comes to an end and the new fiscal year looms. This week we consider:

  • How the far-right faction of the House GOP continues to maneuver successfully because of the procedural landscape it shaped at the start.
  • The continuing challenge of managing members’ health in the absence of contingency plans and impediments to elderly members’ retirements.
  • The full legacy of a retiring CRS legend.
  • Some wacky stuff going on with bill engrossment and redactions.

This week the Senate returns. Although the House is still in recess until September 12, the Rules Committee is gearing up to move the Homeland Security Appropriations Bill (H.R. 4367) to the floor and has set a deadline for the submission of amendments at noon Wednesday of this week. The Rules Committee is also getting ready for a possible meeting the week of September 18th to consider the State-Foreign Ops Approps bill and set this Friday as the deadline to submit amendments.

Leg branch data for the last 30 years. We have gone through all of the Legislative Branch spending bills for the last thirty years and lined up the spending items in a downloadable spreadsheet. The line item spreadsheet has sections for the House, Senate, and agencies, as well as tabs that adjust funding for inflation, allowing readers to see how spending on each line item has changed since 1994 in both constant and real dollars.


The House returns next week with leadership and some members divided on the desirability of a federal government shutdown with a dozen working days to go. Speaker Kevin McCarthy tried out a new argument with the holdouts during recess, claiming that a shutdown would impinge the House’s ability to begin impeachment proceedings against President Biden – which nobody seems to have bought.

The decision to resurrect the Holman Rule at the start of the 118th Congress has given those whose political interests align with the shutdown additional bandwidth to garner attention and slow the works. Three members – Reps. Paul Gosar, Majorie Taylor Greene, and Anna Paulina Luna – have proposed invoking it to cut the pay of Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, and Air Force Major General Troy Dunn, respectively, to $1. Taylor Greene also wants to make a Price is Right bid (RIP, Bob Barker) on Special Counsel Jack Smith’s salary as he prosecutes former President Donald Trump.

The first skirmish of this intraparty funding battle may come if/when the Appropriations Committee considers one of the two bills it has remaining, the Commerce-Justice-Science package. Committee member Andrew Clyde announced last week that he will offer amendments to the Justice package to defund the offices prosecuting former President Trump and to cut money to the Fulton County district attorney. This may preview the type of amendment process that awaits on the floor if rules, as promised, remain even limitedly open.

The MAGA and anti-statist Republicans continue to hold leverage in this process because House rules granted them more power in January and because, particularly for someone like Taylor Greene, the ability to play to the small-donor audience through partisan media allows her to compete with business-funded members. They have considerable negative agenda setting power and continue to extract more and more from Speaker McCarthy as he backpedals to hold onto his gavel. The populist conservative faction understands there are still opportunities for McCarthy and the Senate to squeeze them and are using the fiscal year deadline to squeeze back. It is legitimate for members to push to assert their prerogatives to set the agenda, just as leadership has done for decades, even if we do not welcome the outcome. Members of other factions must find a way to adapt without over-relying on leadership, but they’re still not there.

Simply put, the populist faction has no reason to stop because they’ll keep getting slices of what they want, which, terrifyingly for democracy, looks more and more aligned with a Trump Restoration. They’ve already pushed McCarthy into the impeachment camp. If he stiffens, they can replace him with someone more amenable.

As we’ve been saying since last fall, this faction has figured out how to change the game with House leadership with the tools available to anyone willing to stick together and try. They’ve bet on themselves in thinking that none of these fiscal gambits will harm them politically and that they can cut to the front of the line and govern alongside Trump in 2025. We might not like their odds, but it’s hardly a lottery ticket.

Continue reading “First Branch Forecast for September 5, 2023: Back to work”

First Branch Forecast for August 28, 2023: One more week


With only 12 working days after recess to avert a federal government shutdown, the interfactional dynamics of the House remain unchanged. Last week, the House Freedom Caucus once again saber-rattled about a government shutdown and declared their objection to being jammed in December.

The Senate also has conceded that this year’s farm bill will be late, too, pushing another significant legislative lift into the end-of-year scramble.

Meanwhile, House leadership is talking about the top priority when work resumes: impeachment.

Interested in offering an amendment to the House NDAA? Surprise: the deadline is August 30th.

What’s below:

  • The intersection of committee appointments and political power
  • A week focused on congressional technology
  • Ethics in Congress and the courts
  • The legacies of J6


Appropriations race. A bunch of Republican freshmen are chasing the soon-to-be-vacant appropriations seat of Rep. Chris Stewart, who is retiring from Congress on September 15. Also affected are Stewart’s seats on the Intel Committee and Judiciary Committees. Putting aside the Intel Committee spot, which is chosen by the Speaker but IMHO should not be, the process of how members get chosen to serve on committees is an incredibly important, fascinating, and hidden lever of power.

House Republicans are slightly more transparent than Democrats on this issue, publishing their list of Steering Committee members and the rules of their conference. House Democrats, by comparison, are publishing the rules of their caucus but have not publicly published their Steering and Policy Committee members. (We’ve previously looked at the question of who serves on the steering committee.) Incidentally, according to the House Democratic Caucus rules, there’s a separate set of rules for their steering and policy committee that are supposed to be in writing (see Caucus Rules 10(b)), but no one we’ve spoken with has ever seen those rules. We have begun to wonder whether they exist or are adhered to.

In the Senate, Democrats have published their conference rules here and listed the steering and outreach committee members here. Republicans, who historically have been on top of this, have apparently not re-upped publication of their conference rules — here’s what they had for the 117th — and I don’t know where to find a list of members of their Committee on Committees.

At least in the House, and especially for the Democrats, the steering committees are weighted towards leadership control, who get extra votes and name many members of the steering committee itself. It wasn’t always this way, in fact, at times leadership was largely locked out of the selection process. In the modern era, the Democratic Leader has obtained major control over this process. The Republican Leader, too, has significant control.

Political power in Congress rests on three legs: appointment to committees, control of the floor, and political fundraising. The story of how party leadership emerged and took control of these tools to aggregate and retain power is a fascinating one. (If you’re interested, Galloway’s History of the House of Representatives is a good, book-length place to start.) We have significant concerns that the over-centralization of power in the hands of a few people in the House is making it more unstable and less productive, which is why our sister organization Demand Progress released reports that recommend how to modernize those rules.

Both the chamber and the caucus/conference rules put limitations on who can serve on the various committees. The chamber rules have a light touch, but will say, for example, that committee membership must include someone who sits on another committee. The House routinely waives these requirements. The caucus/conference rules have additional restrictions and lay out a process by which people can self-nominate. The party will balance various factors, such as geographic diversity, seniority, and so on.

The caucus/conference rules are often waived and modified to serve the needs of leadership. They’re used as a discipline tool through which leadership punishes members who don’t toe the line. That’s often couched in terms of a member being in violation of some rule, but the rules in our time reflect the prerogatives of leadership to an extent that is unhealthy.

Naming Stewart’s replacement may rekindle Republicans’ discussion about the conference’s current term limit rules. The Huddle reported that the group may revisit the current rule of three terms as either chair or ranking member when naming Stewart’s successor because a number of current committee chairs would hit the limit after this Congress and would require a waiver to remain. This issue emerged when Rep. Virginia Foxx requested a waiver in January to remain Chair of the HELP committee. Holding firm on the current rules, of course, would benefit less senior members.

At times, what’s really happening with appointments is a fight between the different political factions within the party over whose allies get to serve in powerful positions. This is not necessarily an ideological fight, but rather that members of senior leadership have their own networks and seek to install their friends. Interestingly, the folks who hold senior leadership positions inside the party are often political rivals, although that’s papered over for public consumption. These networks are revealed to the extent you can figure out which members voted for which candidates for a committee, whether in the steering committee or a vote of the entire caucus/conference.

It’s notable that more junior members of the Republican caucus have been the most willing to organize to push back on leadership dominance, meaning reconsideration of chair/ranking term rules would create ripples within the broader dynamics of the caucus. Anyway, it’s interesting to see this process play out with respect to filling the vacant spot on appropriations, which is one of the few places a member can actually move any legislative ideas.

Continue reading “First Branch Forecast for August 28, 2023: One more week”

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 [email protected].

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”

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”

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”