Forecast for September 23, 2019.

This week’s First Branch Forecast is a big one, so here’s your guide to what’s inside:

• Who’s the turkey now? The CR sets up a pre-Turkey-day approps showdown; meanwhile, the Fix Congress committee held a hearing on fixing the budget process.

• Congress’s power of the purse is its greatest weapon against executive overreach; more below on how the leg branch ceded power to the presidency and what lawmakers could do about it.

• OTA 2.0. A new bicameral, bipartisan bill from Reps. Takano and Foster and Sens. Hirono and Tillis would create a Congressional Office of Technology to provide science and technology policy support to lawmakers.

• Can whistleblowers talk to Congress? It’s long been obvious there are significant flaws with how intel community whistleblowers can reach out to Congress. This week it was compounded by an administration that apparently is blocking the ICIG from sharing a whistleblower complaint concerning an alleged presidential effort to induce a foreign country (Ukraine) into reopening an investigation into a political opponent (Biden’s son).

• Should sitting presidents be indictable? Speaker Pelosi called for a new law — possibly to relieve pressure from calls to start impeachment proceedings — but given DOJ’s role as an arm of the president and OLC’s often self-serving guidance, it’s tough to see how this is workable or whether it’s just a distraction.

• Hear, hear. Kevin Kosar suggested the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress should be made permanent. There is no doubt that someone inside Congress must be responsible for taking the big picture perspective on how Congress should grow and modernize. Continue reading “Forecast for September 23, 2019.”

Forecast for September 16, 2019.

IN BRIEF
We’re in for another busy week and this week’s First Branch Forecast is more wonky than usual.

Here are the highlights:

• Senate appropriators allocated less money for leg branch than their House counterparts, setting up the need to reconcile funding levels. The process in the Senate was unusually partisan.

• Constitution Day is Tuesday, and Sens. Portman and King are trying to make CRS’s legal treatise on the Constitution more easily available to everyone.

• Ambiguity over impeachment may be harming congressional oversight.

• Among the interesting hearings this week are ones on fixing Congress’s spending process, celebrating CIGIE, and making DC a state.

Continue reading “Forecast for September 16, 2019.”

Forecast for September 9, 2019

Recess is over, class is back in session. Let’s get caught up.

CONGRESS IN BRIEF

• Lawmakers have 3 weeks until the start of FY 2020, and both chambers must pass 12 spending bills by October 1. House Majority Leader Hoyer says the House will vote on short-term spending agreements (CRs) next week to keep the lights on. Expect the usual squeeze play at the end, probably around Thanksgiving.

• It’s likely the Senate has similar plans, and the chamber has started scheduling markups for 2020 spending bills. Defense and Labor subcommittee markups are Tuesday, the State subcommittee markup is Wednesday, and full committee markups of Defense, Energy, Labor, and State are happening Thursday.

• On Thursday, Senators are also having a full committee vote on 302(b) allocations. This is a big deal— at least, we think so. These numbers have significant consequences for a capable Congress, and leg branch keeps getting the axe.

• Speaking of spending, DoD is spending unallocated $$ on a border wall and Democratic Senators are not happy about it. The Senators say the project ignores congressional intent and have asked DoD why the project is circumventing standard funding channels. Dems have said they will not “backfill” funds for projects that will be delayed to fund the wall. Will Congress stand up for its prerogatives? Continue reading “Forecast for September 9, 2019”

Forecast for September 3, 2019.

It’s been a quiet week in Woebegone, D.C., our fair city. Uh, nope. It was a dark and stormy night. Nooooooooo. It was a bright cold day in September, and the clocks were striking thirteen. Ah, that feels right. Welcome to the First Branch Forecast.

CONGRESS IN BRIEF

More members announced their retirements, including Sen. Isakson and Rep. Duffy. In the House, departures include 13 Rs and 3 Ds; in the Senate, it’s 4 Rs and 1 D. Keep track here.

Cyber Day on Capitol Hill is this ThursdaySeptember 5th. The focus: training staff to protect themselves. RSVP.

The number of trade reporters covering capitol hill are up and daily newspaper staff are down. The Post cites this 2015 Pew study that specialty reporters outnumber those working at broadsheets. Digging deeper, much Congressional coverage is now done by niche reporters who charge a high premium for their specialty focus. So far unexamined: how does this information flow back to capitol hill, does it reach regular constituents, and what’s the result of inequities in access to in-depth information on the advocacy landscape? (BTW, our little newsletter is intended to fill one of the gaps.)

Russia denied Sens. Johnson and Murphy a visa to visit that country as part of a delegation, claiming Johnson had acted in a “russophobic manner.” Just recently Israel denied Reps. Omar and Tlaib a visa at the prompting of Pres. Trump.

Wow. Data scientist Will Geary made two amazing visualizations of the federal budget. Take a minute and watch these two videos: US discretionary spending from 1963 to present; and federal spending from 1963 to present. Doesn’t this really bring all that data to life? Imagine if the Budget Committee or CBO or even CRS presented material this way. All it takes is structured data and a clever person to analyze and visualize it. There’s more cool stuff on his website. Continue reading “Forecast for September 3, 2019.”

Forecast for August 26, 2019.

FirstBranchForecast

THE TOP LINE

Are you pondering what I’m pondering? In this case, how would a new OTA decide what to study?

How do Senate committees get their funding and where does it go? The take-aways: Senate committee funding is at an 18-year low; it’s really good to be an appropriator; and Senate committees are in better shape than House committees. Inside: the raw data from 1994-present.

Speaking of approps, use our twitter Approps tracker and CRS’s Approps status tables to stay on top of the next 6 weeks. It’s gonna go fast.

Finding federal budget docs can be tricky. After a lot of needling, USASpending is now centrally posting (some) congressional budget justifications; FedScoop has the lowdown, including how it could be improved. Want more? We took a deep dive on budget justifications in March. Continue reading “Forecast for August 26, 2019.”

Forecast for August 12, 2019.

THE TOP LINE
The House and Senate return on September 9th, which is 3 full weeks before the start of the next fiscal year
. Both chambers must pass and reconcile all 12 spending bills by October 1 to avoid a government shutdown.

So far the Senate hasn’t given notice of any approps markups. The House passed 10 of 12 bills earlier this year; new top line spending numbers mean there may be some adjustments to sync with the Senate.

USASpending (quietly) posted a page listing links to (some) federal agencies’ congressional budget justifications in one place, which we’ve been asking them to do and built a rough prototype of earlier this year. Their implementation is far from perfect, but it’s a welcome first step.

Curious where Capitol Police’s authority ends and DC Metro PD’s begins?We are, too. We built an interactive map of their jurisdiction and where they are reporting arrests. The USCP wouldn’t substantively answer questions about their jurisdiction, but it turns out the information was already up on their public site, buried 200+ pages into the traffic code. Don’t forget to check out related reads on the increasing Capitol Police employee complaints and analyzing six months of Capitol Police arrest data.

If you’re reading this newsletter you probably care about Congress; care about Congress professionally with Demand Progress — we’re hiring! Join us as a policy manager or policy analyst. Continue reading “Forecast for August 12, 2019.”

Forecast for July 22, 2019.

The last week before recess is always crazy and this week will be no exception. We apologize for skipping the Forecast over the last two weeks, but we were literally and figuratively underwater.

ON THE RADAR

Negotiations over appropriations levels and the debt ceiling must result in a long-term agreement, a short term agreement, Congress returning during the recess, or a government shutdown. Expect to see members forced to vote on a deal they don’t like. For our purposes, the big question is whether Pelosi fights to restore funding for leg branch, and, uh, whether the government shuts down.

Mueller’s testimony will dominate the news most of the week, alongside the Jeffrey Epstein scandal and Trump’s ongoing racist attacks on the squad. (Note I did not mention the refugee concentration camps, which have fallen out of the news, but are subtext to the appropriations fight and a BFD.) Trump impeachment on one hand and racist attacks may motivate base voters and it wouldn’t surprise me if two dozen more dems come out for impeachment.

Hearings worth monitoringContinue reading “Forecast for July 22, 2019.”