First Branch Forecast for March 27, 2023: Jello Pudding


The House majority is approaching a crossroads. In order to fulfill its aspirations of a strong Congress with more member input, it needs to continue reinvestment in the capacity of Congress. Some deficit hawks, however, are pushing toward shrinking Congress in a way that undercuts these aspirations. The irony is that cutting the Legislative branch’s comparatively infinitesimal budget makes it impossible to counter the overpowerful Executive branch and run a legislature that’s capable of making smart spending (reduction) decisions.

This happened before, in 1995 and 2013, with disastrous results still felt today. But few are around to remember those lessons. All last week, Legislative branch agency directors cautioned House appropriators of the damage cuts would do to their ability to provide adequate service to congressional users. They explained how they were still digging out from sequestration a decade ago. The disappointing thing is that some House conservatives seem unaware of or unwilling to heed the lessons from the recent past: that slashing the capabilities of Congress left the institution in the state they find it in and to which they object.

This week both chambers are in session Monday through Thursday (with the Senate also in on Friday). House Leg Branch Appropriators will hear from House offices and the AOC on Tuesday and the Capitol Police on Wednesday. Senate Appropriators will hear from the Senate Sergeant at Arms and the Capitol Police on Wednesday.

The following two weeks are recess, with everyone back on April 17th. If you’re pondering what I’m pondering, our updated appropriations tracker has public and member testimony deadlines. Nearly all Senator appropriations requests are due in the next two weeks. The House data is more sketchy, but it appears all Representative appropriations requests are due by the end of the week.

Note to readers: we’re taking a hiatus for the next two weeks while Congress is in recess. The next newsletter will arrive April 17.

Appropriations Tracker

A handy list of deadlines for Members and the public for when testimony is due.


Funding priorities for the Legislative branch came more sharply into focus last week with a number of hearings, including a members’ testimony day in the House.

The Library of Congress did double-duty with Senate and House appropriators, requesting a 7.5% increase from FY 2023 to take its budget up to $940.8 million. Librarian of Congress Dr. Carla Hayden noted 70% of the additional money requested would go to mandatory pay and pricing increases.

The Librarian of Congress, Dr. Hayden, faced a fiscally skeptical audience in the House, and both hearings felt like a missed opportunity to dig into modernizing CRS and its longstanding problems of envisioning how its products can meet its congressional users. CRS Director Mary Mazanec is requesting a $146 million budget, an increase of 9.7%, which includes an additional $13 million to hire additional staff for current products with which the office is struggling. The hiring of a dozen new analysts is intended to help reduce a backlog of over 2,4000 legislative bill summaries. New staff also would be brought on to focus on the service’s contributions to

The trouble with this CRS request is that it limits itself to remedying a long-standing issue of the timeliness of one product line by throwing more people at the problem instead of demonstrating it is dedicating resources to where its services are most useful to congressional users while simultaneously figuring out how to use modern tools to address those needs more efficiently.

The House Administration Committee majority, in its oversight plan, describes its goals with respect to CRS as pushing the agency to “better meet the needs of a modern Congress, including shorter reports, more variety of products, thorough internal tracking of activities and product delivery rates, and greater efficiency in work product.”

The House minority also addresses CRS in its plan, pushing for “detailed oversight of CRS operations and consider[ation of] any need to modify management and organizational structure of the service.” Among the elements to consider are staff morale and attrition rates, work environment, and resource allocation.

Continue reading “First Branch Forecast for March 27, 2023: Jello Pudding”

First Branch Forecast for March 20, 2023: Keep the MRA Funded


The contrast of fast and slow continues to stand out to us in this new Congress. The House is prepping its appropriations work with breakneck speed, while the Senate will stretch its process out at a more leisurely pace.

With only themselves to respond to the baking crisis that emerged suddenly, Senators chose to respond with no response at all.

The failure of Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank were historically large, and indicate some broader structural issues within the financial sector. Default on the federal debt would blow through the sector and the economy like a volcanic eruption. Nevertheless, the House majority continues its phoney war with the White House on the issue despite the apparent systemic weaknesses. At some point, governance is going to have to start.

This week both chambers are in session Wednesday through Friday. The Senate also is in session Tuesday.

The House Administration Committee will hold a rare hearing on the Office of the Attending Physician on Thursday at 3 PM, and hold an organizational meeting on House Communication Standards on Friday at 9:30 AM.


Four significant House Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee hearings are set for this week. Thursday, GAO will present its budget request at 9:30 AM, the Capitol Police will present at 11 AM, and the Library of Congress at 1 PM. Friday, the panel will hold its members day at 9 AM.

Members can submit Legislative branch language until 6 PM on Friday (I apologize for combining the public testimony deadline with this deadline, which was the 17th – I was working off the majority’s website, but this dear colleague has the deadline as the 24th.)

The Senate Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee will hear budget requests of the Architect of the Capitol and Library of Congress Wednesday, March 22 at 3 PM.

Approps resources: We’ve posted a tracker for the appropriations process with testimony and hearing deadlines at this link. (n.b. six of them are Friday.) We’ve also compiled a spreadsheet of Appropriations Committee members by their subcommittee to make life a little easier. There are tabs for both the House and Senate but that may be hard to see on smaller screens.

We provided this exhaustive summary of last year’s bill, and we maintain a repository of reports and testimony over the last half-decade at this github site. Consult this guide for tracking House approps markups.

Demand Progress’ Legislative branch-related requests are available at this link.

Senate appropriators have released a hearings schedule for the rest of the FY24 hearings on the committee website with the caveat they are tentative until officially posted a week in advance. This schedule stretches into June.

Retaining MRA levels: Demand Progress and a coalition of other government reform groups and individuals are urging the House Appropriations Committee to retain funding for the MRA at its current FY2023 levels, warning that cuts would force staff from their positions and weaken institutional capacity. Before MRA increases in the last two fiscal years, staff turnover had reached its highest rate in over 20 years.

“Cutting MRAs is a horrible return on investment for the Legislative branch. For decades, Congress underpaid its own staff, self-inflicting a wound of diminished capacity, which undercut its ability to oversee and rein in the federal government’s sprawling administrative bureaucracy,” said Taylor J. Swift, senior policy advisor at Demand Progress.

Last year, the House raised staff pay closer to parity with the Executive branch and set a salary floor. According to a LegiStorm analysis, junior staffer pay rose the most, crossing a median salary of $50,000. Cuts would return these positions to unsustainable compensation rates for young people without deep-pocketed parents or additional employment. Senior staff, meanwhile, once again would fall well below parity with positions off the Hill, restarting a brain drain that impacts legislative and oversight capacity.

As the letter points out, most House committee chairs this month requested budget increases of between 5% and 10% for FY2024 specifically for staff pay in order to attract and retain talented people. Turning around and cutting personal staff pay would be counterproductive to committee function, not to mention the effectiveness of member offices.

Demand Progress-Led Coalition: Keep Funding for Staff Pay

Read the letter we sent today to the House Appropriations Committee to retain funding for the MRA at its current FY2023 levels.

Continue reading “First Branch Forecast for March 20, 2023: Keep the MRA Funded”

First Branch Forecast for March 13, 2023: House Unions Can Continue


We have to hand it to the Committee on House Administration for roaring out of the gate in the 118th Congress. Last week, it garnered reform ideas from members, held the first Modernization Subcommittee hearing, and allotted committee funds with significant increases nearly across the board. The Legislative Branch Subcommittee on Appropriations, meanwhile, has kicked off an approps season that will whiz by this month.

This week the Senate is in session from Tuesday to Thursday while the House is in recess until March 22.

The appropriations process is moving fast. Groups interested in offering written testimony to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch need to submit it by 5 PM Friday, March 17. The subcommittee has not scheduled a public hearing day, only one for members on the following Friday, March 24 at 9 AM.

As always, the Legislative branch package is just as useful in its report language as its funding. We provided this exhaustive summary of last year’s bill, and we maintain a repository of reports and testimony over the last half-decade at this github site. Consult this guide for tracking House approps markups.

Demand Progress has prepared its appropriations requests for FY2024.

Today, Demand Progress Education Fund releases a new reportUnions in the House of Representatives in the 118th Congress, authored by former OCWR Counsel and Demand Progress Education Fund Senior Advisor Kevin Mulshine, explaining how House staff can continue to unionize in the 118th Congress under the Congressional Accountability Act, despite a new House rule aimed at stymying such efforts.

The vaguely worded rule cannot nullify existing unions or prevent forming new ones in personal offices, Mulshine writes, because the House cannot unilaterally suspend OCWR regulations as an independent office. Because Congress waived sovereign immunity with passage of the Congressional Accountability Act in 1995, the House must revoke the rights granted to its employees in clear and unequivocal language. House rules would have to nullify other regulations to proceed with prohibiting staff unionization, which H.Res. 5 does not accomplish.

The Senate still needs to pass its own resolution to permit personal office unionization. In its absence, Senator Edward Markey’s office has begun the process of seeking voluntary recognition of their staff union. Demand Progress’s Taylor Swift applauds Markey’s approval in this blog post.

Continue reading “First Branch Forecast for March 13, 2023: House Unions Can Continue”

First Branch Forecast for March 6, 2023: Members Request Staff Funding


Money decisions figured prominently in a shortened work week for the House. Committee leaders followed suit with Senate counterparts in requesting more funds for their staff in the coming fiscal year, while appropriators established tighter controls over the earmarks process. CHA, meanwhile, has grabbed the spotlight early in this Congress.

This week … The Senate is in session from Monday to Thursday while the House does the Tuesday-Friday work week.

There are seven — yes, seven — hearings this week that relate to the Legislative branch, many of which are happening inside Legislative branch approps. Here’s what was directed by that committee last year; a guide on how to track House approps markups; and a repository of reports and testimony from the last half-decade. If you want to participate in the member day hearings, the deadlines are coming up FAST. See the calendar below for dates. 

CHA will hold a member day hearing on Wednesday, March 8. Such hearings allow members to surface long-standing impediments to better work or new ideas to boost office productivity. The Modernization Committee used them quite successfully during its run in the 116th and 117th Congresses to inform its recommendations. The committee also will hold a meeting on the resolution allocating committee funds for this Congress.

Speaking of, the new Modernization Subcommittee of CHA holds its first hearing Thursday, March 9, and will hear an update from CAO Catherine Szpindor.


Committee chairs and ranking members emphasized the need for higher operational budgets to attract and retain quality staff in CHA’s allotment hearings last week. Most committees requested increases between five and 10% of FY2024 budgets specifically for staffing needs.

The $45,000 floor House leadership established (and the Senate followed) last Congress created upward pressure for committees to keep up, Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chair Frank Lucas told CHA. He requested a 23.5% budget increase for staff. “For us to be competitive in hiring and recruiting staff necessary to enact our agenda, we have to follow suit,” he told the panel.

Congress actually appropriated funds to keep committees in line with personal staff pay increases for FY2022, which amounted to a 21% increase from the previous fiscal year. This increase sounds great, but it would have returned funding to where they were in FY2010. But in the convoluted way the House funds committees, it’s CHA that decides how to divide up the appropriated funds. It decided to make an across the board 10% pay increase for committee staff and reserve the rest of the funds for the January 6 Committee to use.

We highlighted this decision last April, but Congress did not correct giving House committee staff short shrift by finding more money for the Jan. 6 Committee in supplementals. The exact picture of where the $32 million increase went isn’t clear yet because the Jan. 6 Committee is nine months overdue with reports.

Lincoln Network and AEI support Lucas’ view that the 118th Congress needs to continue to invest in Legislative branch capacity, even as it looks for spending reductions elsewhere. The organizations and two other right-of-center groups sent a letter to Speaker Kevin McCarthy and the House Republican Conference last week urging continued reinvestment in congressional staff capacity along with oversight-supporting appropriations to offices like GAO.

Money for more field hearings also emerged as a common reason committees requested increased allotments. If committees really want to tap into the experiences and knowledge of people outside of Washington, allowing remote testimony as the 117th Congress did would be a much more cost-effective and practical method to do so.

Continue reading “First Branch Forecast for March 6, 2023: Members Request Staff Funding”

First Branch Forecast for February 27, 2023: Videodome


Speaker Kevin McCarthy interjected himself into the debate over US Capitol Police openness and transparency in a major way by releasing the entirety of video recorded by its cameras on January 6, 2021 to Tucker Carlson at Fox News. The how and why of this decision are going to distract from the what of the larger problem, which is a lack of a system to allow for proper public access to information that can hold USCP accountable as a policing agency that eats up a ton of Legislative branch funding.

Speaking of funding, the new Congress is starting to dole out money to support its own legislative and oversight capacity.

This week, the House will hold votes Monday through Wednesday. The Senate will reconvene Monday for a reading of President Washington’s Farewell Address by Sen. James Lankford, an annual tradition since 1896. The current Senate calendar has the chamber remaining in session until March 10.

CHA will hold hearings Tuesday and Wednesday at which committee leaders will make their allotment requests for the 118th Congress.


The US Capitol Police have long argued that even the most basic information about their operations should be shielded from public view because of the unique security concerns of the people they protect. They have refused to release detailed arrest reports or summary arrest data in machine-readable format or to release the reports of their IG to the public. They’ve gone to court to prevent the release of security video to the public, including of the January 6 insurrection. USCP even required CHA staff to use a dedicated terminal at the Capitol to view footage when it granted the same access to the committee that the January 6 Committee had.

Certainly, some operational information and campus recordings should be shielded from the public. Potential criminals should not know every nook and cranny of the Capitol nor how members access different parts of the building. The speech and debate clause protects members from having their every utterance recorded and released.

Although the Legislative branch is exempt from FOIA, Congress should establish a FOIA-like process to satisfy the public’s right to know while weighing these real concerns. In 2021, based on extensive research into the agency, Demand Progress Education Fund proposed a set of public records regulations for USCP.

Without as much as alerting the Capitol Police (or Senate Sergeant at Arms), Speaker Kevin McCarthy handed over all 41,000 hours of January 6 video surveillance footage to Tucker Carlson at Fox News last week. So much for having a process.

Even though some Democratic leaders have spun the decision to suggest any video release was wrong, it’s likely necessary at this point (as Rep. Jamie Raskin suggests) that the public be granted the video as well because we know from the Dominion lawsuit that Fox News will broadcast lies even when on-air talent knows better. Carlson himself has spread conspiracy theories about the insurrection before.

Unfortunately, the inevitable deployment of the footage for partisan purposes, which McCarthy already has started fundraising on, has created this binary choice when a rigorous process that considers ongoing security requirements and reserves some material is more appropriate.

The January 6 footage, as significant as it is for the country, is part of a broader issue with USCP secrecy and their ability to shield the agency from accountability on the grounds of security concerns for members of Congress. This mindset, as we saw from now-departed AOC Brett Blanton, was seeping deeper into the Legislative branch. We don’t know how the department’s behavior will change toward the public’s right to know given the Speaker’s actions, nor do we know how Fox News’s purposeful use of the footage may shape or limit congressional action to reform the department. Understanding how effective the Capitol Police are in utilizing resources and managing their considerable policing assets, however, is in the interests of all members.

CHA can play an essential role here. The committee will hold its oversight planning meeting Tuesday. Members on both sides of the aisle have expressed interest in digging into USCP “culture, funding and training as well as to review member security amid increasing violent threats,” according to Politico, as they should. Chair Bryan Steil, who’s been encouragingly energetic about his plans for the committee, can build upon Rep. Zoe Lofgren’s inquiries after the attack on the Pelosi home about how the department is categorizing and responding to threats against members and why such cases have been prosecuted.

The public’s most frequent encounter with video from the Capitol, of course, comes from C-SPAN coverage of floor action. If he’s interested in video as a transparency tool, Speaker McCarthy could grant C-SPAN editorial freedom to control its House floor cameras that it enjoyed during his Speakership election, which Demand Progress Education Fund, Freedom of Press Foundation, and a host of other organizations think should be standard operating procedure going forward.


In two hearings this week, committee leaders will make their allotment request to the Committee on House Administration for their budgets for this Congress. Like the Senate process, which the Rules Committee tackled last week, the process for funding House committees is a two-step dance between CHA and the Legislative Branch Subcommittee of House Appropriations.

CHA will take the requests made in two hearings Tuesday and Wednesday and draft a House resolution dividing up the funds. Later, Appropriations authorizes the annual spending within the resolution.

It’s worth reminding at the start of each Congress that committee funding in both chambers has stagnated for more than a generation, costing the institution in missing professional expertise. As this CRS report details, House committees receive only slightly more funding in constant dollars than they did in the aftermath of the 1995 Republican takeover: AKA, the big lobotomy.

With the exception of unified party government in 2009, both Republican and Democratic majorities can share the blame of keeping committees locked in austerity budgets that undermine their capacity to legislate and conduct oversight, particularly over the last decade. As we explored previously, within the overall budget pie that has shrunk significantly since the 111th Congress, the pieces for many committees have gotten smaller in constant dollars.

The Senate Rules Committee approved a resolution two weeks ago that added roughly $53 million to its committee funding, about a 19% increase from last Congress. Maybe the House will surprise us.

Senators’ congressionally directed spending requests are on fairly tight deadlines this year. The Appropriations Committee has requested senators to submit their CDS requests and advocate for specific programs between late-March and mid-April based on the subcommittee of authority. Rules for Senate CDS requests are the same as the 117th Congress: Funds still have to go to nonprofits that do not employ a senator’s immediate family members.

House appropriators, as we noted last issue, still are finalizing their (don’t call them) earmarks rules. Caseworkers in both chambers can consult this video resource by the POPVOX Foundation featuring Bipartisan Policy Center’s Franz Wuerfmannsdobler about the post-117th Congress earmark process.

CBO has requested $7.5 million more for FY24 than it received last year to account for inflation and a lower-than-requested authorization the last go-around. The increase would raise the CBO budget slightly over the $70 million mark, 89% of which goes to staff pay and benefits.

We noticed one interesting legislative request CBO made in its request to House Appropriations: the repeal of superfluous language in the Budget Act that has slowed gaining access to some federal data sources (see page 7 of the request document).

Model USCP Public Records Regs

Nugget from the DPEF archives: our 2021 FOIA-like regulations for the US Capitol Police.


The last time the Senate Ethics Committee issued a “disciplinary sanction” against a fellow senator, Sen. Jon Ossoff was in college. It’s not that senators have been paragons of virtue since 2007: Dave Levinthal and Matt Laslo of Raw Story uncovered more than 1,500 ethics complaints referred to the committee over that time. Only 204 cases even launched a preliminary inquiry by the bipartisan committee. The committee took no action on 92 cases referred last year, and frequently ignores complaints related to senators trading stocks in questionable circumstances.

Members in either chamber simply can’t be relied upon to police their own. The Senate’s 0-for-1,523 batting average reinforces the importance of preserving the only independent ethics watchdog in Congress right now, the House’s Office of Congressional Ethics, and shows why the Senate should create a similar office.


Virginia State Senator Jennifer McClellan won a special election to become Representative of the Commonwealth’s 4th congressional district last Tuesday. She will be the first female African American to serve in Congress from Virginia when she is sworn in to replace Rep. Donald McEachin, who died Nov. 28. She’ll also be female member number 150 of Congress (including the delegates).

The House only will be at full strength until the end of May as Rep. David Cicilline will resign on June 1 to become the President and CEO of the Rhode Island Foundation.


Daniel has published his recap of December’s Congressional Data Task Force meeting (hey, it’s been a busy winter). Part of the meeting covered the process of executing various “change of Congress” tasks, including updating bioguides. Task Force member offices also provided updates on long-awaited projects, including a working demo of the comparative print project, better access to Senate video, and the digitization of House statements of disbursement. As usual, everything from the meeting is available on the Legislative Branch Innovation Hub.

The next meeting of the Congressional Data Task Force will be March 14 from 2 to 4PM ET. Register for the meeting at this link.


It looks like Politwoops, the repository of politicians’ deleted tweets started at the Sunlight Foundation based on the Open State Foundation‘s project and code — and now hosted by ProPublica — is falling victim to API changes at Twitter.

Chuck Kieffer, a long-time Senate Appropriations staffer, gets a well-deserved profile as he retires.

One nugget from a recent interview with retired Sen. James Inhofe caught our eye: He retired because of effects of long COVID, and says “five or six” other senators have it but haven’t said so publicly. We know of only Sen. Tim Kaine who has revealed his long COVID symptoms. Many of the medical impacts of long COVID are neurological, so Inhofe’s statement would be significant for the institution.

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Congressional Committee Calendar– Monday, February 27

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries keynotes a program organized by the The House Office of Diversity and Inclusion entitled “Black History on the Hill” from 4-6 PM ET at the CVC. This event is limited to congressional staff. RSVP here.

The National Taxpayers Union and Arnold Ventures will host a discussion on budget reform Monday Feb. 27 from 4-7 PM ET. (You had to RSVP by February 17 to attend.)

– Tuesday, February 28

The House Administration Committee holds its first meeting for House committee budget allotment requests at 10:10 AM ET in 1310 Longworth.

House Ethics holds an organizational meeting at 2:30 PM ET in 1015 Longworth.

The Senate Judiciary Committee holds a hearing on “How Congress Can Recognize Ratification and Enshrine Equality in Our Constitution” at 10 AM ET in Dirksen 106.

– Wednesday, March 1

The House Administration Committee holds its second meeting for House committee budget allotment requests at 9 AM ET in 1310 Longworth.

The Brennan Center’s Dr. Maya Kornberg will discuss her new book about congressional committees’ role in the legislative process at Bistro Bis from 5:30-7:30 PM ET. RSVP here. If you can’t make the event, AEI’s Kevin Kosar interviewed Kornberg for his “Understanding Congress” podcast earlier this month.

Down the line

Open Data Day (or Days) will be organized March 4-10 by local groups around the world.

The next meeting of the Congressional Data Task Force will be March 14 from 2-4 PM ET. Register for the meeting at this link.

The Office of Congressional Workplace Rights will host two training sessions on the Congressional Accountability Act on March 21 and April 18, and one session on resilience on March 14More details and links to registration.

A new note to our readers

As we mentioned last week, Daniel is currently on medical leave. His absence from the team that produces this newsletter is an unfortunate circumstance to use in clarifying its recent authorship. Chris Nehls has taken over as the primary writer of the First Branch Forecast, with Daniel serving as contributing editor. This arrangement, which was in place before Daniel went on leave, will continue after his return.

(Switching awkwardly out of writing about myself in the third person) I take on this role as I wind down my responsibilities at Democracy Fund, where I have been a strategy lead and a program officer on its congressional capacity-strengthening work.

For those wondering where I’ve been, I started working remotely from Japan in early 2020. I also have worked at the company formerly known as CQ Roll Call, where I wrote a blog on digital advocacy, was part of the members research desk, and contributed to CQ Weekly. Before that, I was in academia: I have a PhD in US History from the University of Virginia and specialized in 20th century political culture.


First Branch Forecast for February 21, 2023: Help Wanted: AOC


The lights are off and no one is home as Congress takes an extended break for the Presidents’ Day holiday (which the newsletter also observed). When they return, the Senate committees have a clear path to staff up now that the Rules Committee has allocated budget allotments for each as it does at the start of each Congress.

Fortunately, committees can hire directly and not navigate the convoluted and interminably long process of installing a new Architect of the Capitol, which Congress now will have to do.

This week, both chambers are out of session. The Senate may hold votes on nominations. The House Judiciary Committee will hold a field hearing Thursday in Yuma, AZ about the US-Mexican border.


Senate committees will have significantly more money to hire staff and conduct oversight in the 118th Congress thanks to across-the-board increases. Last Monday, the Senate Rules Committee approved a resolution allocating an additional $53.2 million for committees for this Congress, excluding the Appropriations Committee (which sets its own funding in the Legislative branch appropriations bill.)

The total package for 18 standing and select committees is $291.4 million. (To put this in context, that’s ~41% of the funding level for the Capitol Police.)

All committees received increases of at least 15% over the 117th Congress in constant dollars, likely in response to inflation, unified party control, and the general underfunding of committees in Congress across the board.

The Agriculture Committee received the biggest bump, nearly a 25% increase to $14.4 million, perhaps because it has some responsibility for overseeing the cryptocurrency market. The Banking Committee, which may get a piece of that action as well, received a 20% increase.

Continue reading “First Branch Forecast for February 21, 2023: Help Wanted: AOC”

First Branch Forecast for February 13, 2023: Eagle eye


It’s hard not to have 21st-century risks facing Congress at top of mind some weeks. We uncovered a serious breach of privacy and independence affecting individual members of Congress involving the FBI that requires immediate action to shield members and staff from unlawful warrantless surveillance. With the help of some sharp colleagues, we also considered how AI-enabled technologies can fundamentally change how Congress operates.

This week the House starts a two-week recess while the Senate is in this week and out the next. The Senate Rules Committee will hold a business meeting Monday evening about funding for Senate committees; look ahead to similar House Admin hearings at the end of the month.

As we discuss here, funding Senate committees is a convoluted two-step process. All committees except appropriations submit funding requests to the Rules Committee, which then allocates funding for committees for the entire congressional term. Meanwhile, the Senate Appropriations Legislative Branch Subcommittee designates funds for all committees but one as a lump sum for a single fiscal year. Appropriators get their own line item, naturally. This week’s business meeting is when the pie is divided for committees, in other words, with significant impact on their oversight, investigatory, and oversight capacity. In the House, the committee chairs have the opportunity to testify, which is happening at the end of the month.

Specifically, House Admin has scheduled two hearings for individual committee funding on February 28 and March 1. Each chair and ranking member request funds for the operations of their committee during these hearings, which determines their level of staffing and investigatory capacity. Generally speaking, you only see testimony when the chair and ranking member disagree on the requested level or when a committee is pushing for more funds. The process is complicated — House Admin provides funding (i.e., allocates funds) for the entire 118th Congress, but those funds are only appropriated on an annual basis on an entirely different calendar that runs from October 1st to September 30th. Check out our explainer for the House.


The FBI warrantlessly and unlawfully spied on a member of Congress, according to research by us (Demand Progress Education Fund). Wired’s Dell Cameron has the story.

The FBI looked through millions of communications gathered under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act. The newly discovered violations include unlawfully searching FISA information “using only the name of a U.S. Congressman,” “using the names of a local political party,” and based on racial profiling. Section 702 is supposed to be used for surveillance of foreign persons overseas, but in practice it sweeps in untold Americans.

Continue reading “First Branch Forecast for February 13, 2023: Eagle eye”

First Branch Forecast for February 6, 2023: Balloon payments


At last, we have a mostly-operational Congress as the Senate finally adopted its organizing resolutions appointing members to committees. (Wouldn’t it be nice if the Senate made its resolutions available to the public online before it adopted them?) So far, the House has oscillated between self-congratulation over tweaks to legislative process, grave pronouncements on the debt limit crisis, and playing in the funhouse mirrors of identity politics like the 8:00 hour of certain cable TV news channels.

All of that is coming out at once on the debt limit issue. Both House Leadership and President Biden struck statesmen-like postures, sitting down to discuss the issue and initiate a dialogue that can be acknowledged by the political press, even as the underlying issue shouldn’t be subject to negotiation. Speaker McCarthy emerged speaking of a “good faith” conversation and confidence in finding common ground. Blue Dog Democrats declared their eagerness to help in the negotiations. Meanwhile, the Republican Study Committee reminded themselves that Democrats were “gaslighting” the public for not swallowing Mises Institute economics whole and daring to pass spending packages by majority rule. Apparently oil and natural gas drilling permits are worth crashing the global economy and Congress should repeal the infrastructure bill many Republicans voted against but repeatedly take credit for back home.

So here we are, with new members of the Oversight Committee insisting a single elementary school in Illinois spent more than the equivalent of three space shuttle launches on diversity training. Everything for public consumption seems like messaging. But what is the message?

This week President Biden will deliver the State of the Union Address on Tuesday at 9 PM EST. The Senate will hold one vote on a judicial nomination Tuesday as well. The House is in session for votes and hearings Monday through Thursday. The House Appropriations Committee will organize on Wednesday and HSGAC will organize on Thursday.

Architect of the Capitol J. Brett Blanton will testify before the Committee on House Administration on Thursday at 9 AM EST. Although Blanton will discuss the AOC’s strategic plan for the 118th Congress, which includes physical security for the campus, it’s an opportunity for committee members to question him about the myriad ethics violations that the AOC inspector general detailed last fall. Don’t forget that Democrats have called for the Architect to resign and bipartisan legislation was introduced to empower Congress to push him out. As we discussed recently, statute does not create a clear path for removing Blanton other than impeachment. The appointment and removal process for senior legislative branch leadership is a much broader and poorly understood issue that our colleague Taylor Swift explored in this report.

Remember that AOC also serves on the US Capitol Police Board, which oversees the most untransparent police force in the US. Yes, I’m a bit surly when it comes to this topic. Would the Architect support giving the USCP IG full independence and jurisdiction over the Board? What about making its reports publicly available, like all other IGs? Does the USCP Board now have more than 1 FTE staffer available to support its oversight work? Is the Board routinely taking minutes and providing them to all members of the oversight committees? Does the Architect believe, as did his predecessor, that the Capitol Police Board is needlessly deeming information as sensitive or classified so as to prevent congressional oversight? How many GAO and IG recommendations are still not fully addressed?

Continue reading “First Branch Forecast for February 6, 2023: Balloon payments”

First Branch Forecast for January 30, 2023: What’s the clearance?

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Congress continues to take its sweet time getting organized and down to business, which would include preventing a global financial meltdown via US debt default. The Senate still is working out ratios for committee assignments, while six new Republican senators are jockeying for their preferred assignments. Maybe all of this will be completed by the first month anniversary of the 118th Congress, in time to grind the Senate to a halt again over objections to the Biden Administration’s resistance to sharing classified information.

The House, meanwhile, finally rostered its committees, with Republican leadership following through on the pledge to seat three Freedom Caucus-ish members on the Rules Committee. The House will spend its first few weeks of legislative work granting backbenchers floor votes on messaging bills and tinkering (positively, we admit) with structured open rules. Some members can feel good about gaining precious floor time for things like incredibly regressive and politically comical consumption taxes and condemning 100 years of Marxist dictatorships via spurious Jefferson quotes to play gotcha with Democrats about “socialism.” Nevermind there is still no plan to avoid default.

Ok, there’s this: Republican leadership in the House is considering a clean short-term extension of the federal debt limit to sync it with the end of the fiscal year on September 30 and create even more leverage by having that many more things to hold hostage.

This week the House is in session for votes Monday through Thursday. Now that they have been rostered by both parties, committees will start to hold organizational meetings, starting with a House Rules double-header on Monday. The Senate will try to finalize committee organization. Here’s the committee schedule. Personally speaking, I’m fascinated by committee rules, which in the House have to be adopted at the start of the new Congress, and I wonder whether any members will take the opportunity to protect their rights on the committees in which they serve by pushing for more favorable rules. I’m not holding my breath.


As there’s little legislative work to be done, members of the Senate Intelligence Committee wanted to look into what classified documents Presidents Trump and Biden and Vice President Pence had mishandled at their homes to assess potential risks, only to be stonewalled by National Intelligence Director Avril Haines. Senators from both parties were not happy, and Sen. Tom Cotton threatened to block all Administration nominations until the committee was granted access to the same documents available to two special counsels.

Classification has been a recurring issue so far this term. You’ll recall incumbent members of intel-centric committees complained about being kicked out of the SCIF by the House Sergeant at Arms because, in the view of the SAA, they were merely members-elect and thus were not in office and couldn’t be granted access. (We think unsworn members prior to the passage of House rules don’t need clearances and the SAA goofed.) The newly-formed Select Subcommittee on The Weaponization of the Federal Government, meanwhile, will have access to the same classified information as HPSCI and an incredibly broad investigative mandate compared to previous investigatory select committees, allowing it in theory to see the same documents the Department of Justice is accessing in ongoing criminal investigations. We expect the Executive branch will once again play games and try to dictate whether and which committees are allowed to have access to documents, which makes little sense to us.

Three related issues define Congress’s position in the broader classification system. The first is that while Congress can legislate a system of classification, it has chosen not to except concerning nuclear issues, leaving the Executive branch to create a bespoke system by Executive Order. Second, overclassification and up-classification is rampant, a circumstance acknowledged by Director Haines, and the classification system is driven by a combination of CYA, prestige, no incentives to properly classify or declassify, and a desire to block out congressional staff and other possible oversight.

Continue reading “First Branch Forecast for January 30, 2023: What’s the clearance?”

First Branch Forecast for January 23, 2023: In your debt


The 118th Congress is currently a consequences-free zone. Members kicked off committees for various antisemitic/conspiratorial/white supremacist statements are back on, while perhaps the most spectacular fabricator in modern congressional history got assignments like it was no big deal. As the Treasury tap dances to postpone default on the national debt, the instigators of the crisis skate via the “both sides“ news coverage that remains inexplicable and inescapable a decade after the last time this happened.

This week the Senate returns to Washington on Monday and the House is back in session starting Tuesday. The House floor calendar is bo-ring. If you ask me, they should publish each week’s schedule at a permanent URL and include that link in their newsletter (just like Hoyer did). Who knows about the Senate floor schedule, as the website is currently down for maintenance.

Swifties will get their day in the Senate Tuesday when the Judiciary Committee holds a hearing into the ticket sales monopoly. There’s no committee proceedings in the House because they’re not organized yet, and we only see announced Senate hearings in the Judiciary committee. The steering committees in both chambers still have more appointments to recommend to fill out the committees.


Rep. Don Bacon captured the current Beltway dynamics of the debt limit perfectly last week when he told Politico that the Biden Administration’s “initial comment of zero negotiations is a non-starter.” This little turn of doublespeak implies there are two legitimate sides to this crisis and that bipartisan negotiation is the solution. In reality, one side is currently refusing to legitimize what amounts to a hostage taking. In reality, the end of law last Congress had Republicans refusing to lift a single solitary finger to fix this — presumably that’s the counterparty? — but the “both sides” reflex of political reporting ensures that logic won’t get in the way of lazy political tropes beloved by editors.

Hearing his music all the way from Davos, Sen. Joe Manchin suggested that Congress should revive the bipartisan “supercommittee” of 2011 to examine trust fund solvency for several federal programs. Pardon me while I look for the airsickness bag. That effort, which predated the creation of the House Freedom Caucus by four years, surfaced an array of ideas for raising revenue and cutting spending but produced bubkis. Gornisht. Zilch.

Well, even worse than nothing: the supercommittee and subsequent sequester highlights a road that no sane person would ever go down again. Moreover, using the debt ceiling to play thermonuclear hot potato is a level of irresponsible that I lack the words to describe. Sen. Manchin proclaiming that the White House ultimately will have to negotiate its way out of this mess is oil magnate rich given how he and his Davos high-five partner kept us in it — and, given Sen. Sinema’s newly declared independent status, would have constituted a bipartisan agreement that met Sen. Manchin’s previous precondition for a deal.

Being locked into a bipolar narrative of political conflict subsumes the real damage being done to the institution of Congress and American democracy, to say nothing of the damage looming for the economy now that the default clock has started ticking. (When we talk about the economy, it should be understood to mean that nearly all of us are going to get squished when things go south.) The faction forcing the debt crisis is not calling for negotiation like Rep. Bacon: it’s making demands in a tripartite conflict between itself, Democrats, and Republicans. Both political parties are hostages, although one has Stockholm syndrome, and we just watched a few weeks ago as the Freedom Caucus-faction extracted concession after concession in a similar situation. Whatever the Biden Administration could offer would never be enough. But the Republican conference has to keep up the ruse that this is a legitimate and serious policy discussion that can be addressed through negotiation (i.e. one-sided concessions) because it’s what the null faction demands.

As economic foreshocks begin, those who realize that negotiations are actually rope-a-dope will pressure President Biden to take some kind of executive action. Some may call for him to declare unilaterally the illegitimacy of the debt limit. Arguing that two conflicting laws gives the president the option to choose which one to follow is a pathway to unfettered executive power. (That’s bad.) A more legally sound if fanciful-sounding idea would be to mint the trillion-dollar coin, which has the virtue of both solving the problem and being lawful. That approach makes the debt hawks scream because they don’t get to extract their pound of flesh — and also because it’s outside the normal discourse about how to resolve these problems. But, and I’m wincing as I write this, it likely will be the coin of the realm, or in this case, the coin that saves the realm.

So long as Congress is gridlocked — which is a metonym for the fact that it is the Freedom Caucus faction and their conservative Republican allies who view the debt ceiling as an opportunity to mug the Congress — public calls for Biden to act unilaterally (and in some instances extralegally) will grow. Such actions likely would save the global economy, but they reinforce the “Green Lantern” theory of executive power where only a president’s imagination and willpower prevents progress on governing priorities. In a Congress where a political minority holds what is, in effect, an insurmountable veto, people will look for a savior on a white horse, er, in a White House. This is understandable, but it’s a very dangerous game to play with executive branch power and it’s, in part, how we got here in the first place.

Continue reading “First Branch Forecast for January 23, 2023: In your debt”