First Branch Forecast for June 21, 2022

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This week. The House is in today and so is the Senate. After this week, both chambers will take a break from floor legislative activities until July 11th — according to the House floor calendar and Senate floor calendar — although the House will hold a committee work week next week. Afterward, the House has scheduled only 3 weeks of floor activities, and the Senate has scheduled only 4 weeks of floor activities, before both chambers go into summer recess. Rapidly approaching elections suggest the September work period will be short and the interregnum work period in December will be chaotic. It also means that over the next few weeks even the most minor legislative issues will take on a political import that scrambles the likelihood of passage in unusual ways.

As you might expect, this week is terribly busy. In fact, today is the longest day. (Sorry.) We are watching (and participating in) Tuesday’s meeting of the Bulk Data Task Force, Wednesday’s House Appropriations Committee markup of the Legislative Branch Appropriations bill and the Senate’s Leg Branch Approps hearing on the GAO & GPO, and Thursday’s House Modernization Committee hearing on Congress and Technology. There will be several Jan 6th Committee hearings and all of the House Approps subcommittee markups will wrap up this week. (House full committee approps proceedings wrap up next week.) There’s also an interesting House Judiciary hearing on oversight of the DOJ’s National Security Division on Wednesday and a House Admin hearing on disinformation. For more info, see the combined committees schedule.

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First Branch Forecast for June 13, 2022: Everything at once

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As hearings into the Trump insurrection start, we join the #CapitolStrong community in recognizing that this can bring up strong feelings among the Members, staff, employees, journalists, and others who work on Capitol Hill or are close to those who do. Some mental health resources are available on the coalition website.

This week. The House is in on Monday and the Senate is in on Monday. The House begins subcommittee markup of its appropriations bills and will hold three hearings this week into the Trump insurrection. Senate Armed Services is holding subcommittee markups of the National Defense Authorization Act.

APPROPRIATIONS

House Appropriations subcommittee markups will take place June 15-22, with full committee markups June 22-30, per the official announcement. Our spreadsheet includes the updated schedule for both chambers in an easy-to-read format. (Schedules are subject to change). We note there is no agreement on top line numbers, so funding levels are still subject to negotiation, and Republicans are already suggesting a short-term CR.

Tracking appropriations markups can be challenging. How far in advance does a meeting have to be noticed? When are the draft bills and reports due to committee members? To the public? We answer all those questions, and more, in our perennial guide on how to track House approps markups.

What will we be tracking? We’ll be keeping a particular close eye on Leg Branch approps, scheduled for subcommittee markup on Wednesday, June 15th, with a full committee markup on the 22nd; FSGG, which is June 16th and 24th; CJS, on June 22nd and 29th; and Defense, June 15th and 22nd. Also, the subcommittee allocations will be adopted in the House on June 30th — this is what establishes the funding levels for the twelve appropriations subcommittees for the chamber… although presumably the bills considered up to that point will be a good indicator. We’ll be watching those top-line numbers and whether good government priorities make it into the bill + committee reports.

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First Branch Forecast for June 6, 2022: Congress heats up

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This week. We promised we’d take the week off from the newsletter, but we just can’t quit you. Please note that House subcommittee markups for the NDAA are happening this week and appropriations hearings are continuing. (See our appropriations tracker for the latest deadlines.) We understand the January 6th Committee will hold the first hearing in a series of eight at 8 PM EST on Thursday, June 9.

The Judiciary Committee at Work. The House Judiciary Committee held a markup on Thursday, June 2nd, focused on gun violence, entitled “Protecting our kids.” The proceedings were unusual in that they were scheduled when the House was in recess (although still holding pro forma sessions). Remote deliberations, whether hybrid or fully virtual, allow a committee to quickly respond to current events regardless of whether the chamber is in session. One big, and often unfair criticism, is that Congress is not “at work” when it is in recess, but the reality is remote deliberations allow members and committees to perform legislative work based upon exigent needs, not a travel schedule. Moreover, when Congress is able to act on time-sensitive matters, it prevents the erosion of its power to the Executive branch, which is a big issue for anyone who cares about the strength of our democracy.

War Powers Resolution. A war powers resolution that would end unauthorized U.S. military participation in the Saudi-led war in Yemen was introduced during the May 31st pro forma session, co-sponsored by dozens of members and enjoying broad support from civil society. Endorsing the proposition that Congress decides matters of war and peace is a BFD, as a former senator would say, and there’s great need to strengthen how Congress can exercise its rightful authority. If you want to know why this matters, look no further than Saturday’s blockbuster Washington Post report entitled, “Saudi-led airstrikes in Yemen have been called war crimes. Many relied on U.S. support.” Despite the so-called end to US support for “offensive operations,” “maintenance contracts fulfilled by both the U.S. military and U.S. companies to coalition squadrons carrying out offensive missions have continued,” with airstrikes responsible for the vast majority of civilian deaths.

Pathways to Congressional Service are the focus of a forthcoming House Modernization Committee hearing on Wednesday, June 8th.

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First Branch Forecast for May 31, 2022: Capture the Flag

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This week. Happy Memorial Day recess—both chambers are out this week, giving us (and hopefully you, too) a chance to take a break, or at least slow down.

Approps. We were expecting Senate Leg branch approps hearing with the USCP, GAO, and Library of Congress last week, but it was postponed. Stay tuned

Approps timeline. Here is our list of deadlines to submit appropriations requests and testimony. According to Bloomberg government ($): in the House expect June markups teeing up July floor votes; in the Senate expect markups in July and early August. The Senate timeline will depend heavily on whether senior Appropriators reach an agreement on the top line spending numbers for defense (wartime) and non-defense (peacetime) spending. Summer recess is currently scheduled to start July 29 (House) and August 5 (Senate). 

More appropriations. It’s possible there will be more supplemental appropriations bills, and of course there’s the upcoming markup of the (authorizing) National Defense Authorization Act, which means the calendar could go sideways.

Earmarks? Appropriations bills could contain significantly more earmark requests than last year’s, and more people are requesting earmarks, according to Roll Call, although the total amount is kept as a constant percentage of federal discretionary spending.

Unionization timeline clarified. OCWR published a statement that regulations allowing House staff to unionize will go into effect on July 18, 2022 (not July 15, as we wrote last week). The regulations were published on May 16, 2022. The OCWR has the authority to shorten that time period for “good cause,” an authority it thus far has declined to exercise.

Next week. We’re planning on taking a week off from the newsletter, unless of course something big happens. Send us your tips!

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First Branch Forecast for May 23, 2022: Member Days

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This week. The Senate is back Tuesday; the House has a committee work week. Approps hearings continue, with USCP, GAO, and the Library of Congress testifying re: their budget requests before the Senate Leg Branch SubCmte on Wednesday. Also on Wednesday, HSGAC will hold a markup for a slate of good government bills, some of which are worthy of our attention. (More on that below.)

Unionization timeline. The OCWR published its final regulations allowing for House staff to unionize on May 16th. This sets a 60-day clock for implementation on July 15, 2022. The OCWR declined to exercise its authority to shorten the waiting period “for good cause,” but maybe it can be persuaded.

Approps. When is your testimony due? Remember our list of appropriations deadlines.

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First Branch Forecast for May 16, 2022: A better Congress

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This week. The Senate is in today as is the House. Next week is a House committee-only work week, followed by the Memorial Day break in both chambers. On suspension on the House floor is a bill to strengthen the VA IG. The committee schedule is filled with appropriations hearings, but we also note that the House Judiciary Cmte has a hearing on potential reforms to emergency powers and the House Leg Branch SubCmte is holding a Member Day hearing.

Because this IS appropriations season, here is our list of appropriations deadlines for member testimony and public witness testimony in both chambers.

UNION

The big news. Many political and nonpolitical House staff will be able to unionize now that Rep. Levin’s resolution, H.Res.1096, passed the House last week. The OCWR must publish the regulations in the Congressional Record and (oddly) the OCWR has not (yet?) exercised its authority to shorten the 60 day waiting period, which starts upon publication in the Congressional Record, for the protections to go into effect. OCWR had testified to House Admin that the House could speed up implementation if it elucidated good cause to shorten the window, suggesting (at the time) that those views could be published in an accompanying committee report. Maybe there’s some other way they could be communicated?

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First Branch Forecast: April 18, 2022

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This week. The House and Senate are out until next week. When they’re back it is going to be pandemonium— the next three months everything accelerates and decelerates at the same time — so prep now and remember to spend some time outside.

Appropriations redux. Our calendar of upcoming testimony deadlines is here, with House member requests to committees dues between April 27-29. Public witness testimony deadlines are being announced, with CJS on May 13th. House approps subcommittee and full committee markups are tentatively set for June, with floor votes in July. The Senate likely will have an equally aggressive schedule, but all that depends on whether the two chambers (and two parties) can agree on top line budget numbers. If not, this could be the end of appropriations-not-by-CR for the foreseeable future. We are expecting minibuses and omnibuses unless, of course, everything gets railroaded.

In Case You Missed It. We know, faithful readers, that you endeavor to read each and every newsletter when its bits and bytes are newly minted. But we forgive you if last weeks’ was too much and you were too busy. So, ICYMI —

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First Branch Forecast for April 11, 2022: Fox on Stocks

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This week. The House and Senate are in recess for two weeks and not a moment too soon, with many Members of Congress reporting they’ve tested positive for COVID-19 and, we suspect, many others failing to make a public announcement. Mandatory mask wearing should return to the halls of Congress, positive tests should be recorded and published, and maximum telework should continue, but we expect symbolism will remain elevated over safety. Please be safe (and smart) out there.

Last week was so busy and we expect it will be even worse before the start of the next recess. When Congress returns in two weeks, approps season will be at full blast; we’ve compiled upcoming deadlines for approps testimony here.

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First Branch Forecast for April 4, 2022: 4/04 Resolution Not Found

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On the calendar. The Senate and House are in today. The week before recess is often a whirlwind of activity and this week is no exception. In the committees, we have four — four! — House Leg branch appropriations hearings, a ModCom hearing on Continuity of Congress, a House Admin STOCK Act hearing, and … the Congressional Hackathon (RSVP here).

We’re still waiting

⟶ Where is the House unionization resolution? House Admin held a unionization hearing a few weeks back, Rep. Levin introduced a resolution, leadership pledged their support along with 3/4s of House Dems, so what’s the holdup? Are we waiting for the House Admin Committee to report a resolution? Something else?

⟶ Where are the increased funds for committees? AFAICT, new funding for committees (to address staff pay) have yet to come through. As I understand the process, even after money is appropriated (when the president signed the omnibus on March 15th), the House Admin Committee still has to report out a resolution that allocates the funds to the committees, which must then be passed by the House. (Here’s how that process works at the start of a new Congress.) House Admin hasn’t held a business meeting since mid-March, postponed the STOCK Act hearing to this week, and there’s no indication of a committee poll on this issue, so the Committee has yet to report out a resolution for consideration on the floor and thus the new funds haven’t gone to the committees for them to disburse to staff. Maybe there are other ways for a resolution to come to the floor, but I haven’t seen anything that looks like a funding resolution on Congress.gov.

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First Branch Forecast for March 28, 2022: Statler and Waldorf

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This week. The Senate is in today; the House is in tomorrow. We’ll be watching Tuesday’s much-anticipated Senate Judiciary Cmte FOIA hearing, which we hope covers strengthening the law and asking whether AG Garland’s long overdue FOIA memorandum goes far enough? (No.) The Capitol Police’s budget will be the focus of a first-of-the-season House Leg Branch Approps hearing on Wednesday; you know our views about their management and oversight problems as well as their persistent failures to implement Congress’s transparency directives. Also on Wednesday is a HSGAC business meeting to consider the PLUM Act, which is civil society approvedHouse floor proxy voting is also set to expire (unless it doesn’t). Expect a Senate vote on the Hon. Ketanji Brown Jackson’s nomination to SCOTUS by next Friday; while we’re talking SCOTUS, maybe the Senate will finally move the Supreme Court Ethics Act?

House staff turnover is at a 20-year high, we learned from a LegiStorm analysis released last week that underscores all the reports of staff burnout over the past year. With the insurrection, pandemic, and Congress’s abysmal response to and ill preparation for both crises, House staff left Congress at a 55% greater rate in 2021 than in 2020. The 21% increase in funding levels for personal and committee offices in the FY 2022 approps bill should help the situation… if Members use it to restore pay levels for the more junior staff who need it most. The MRA increase (and the equivalent for House committees — have those funds been allocated yet?) still is insufficient to reach pay parity with Executive branch salaries, a key recommendation from a recent House IG report. The House’s quarterly expenditure reports will reveal whether Members address pay levels for staff.

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