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.”
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.”
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”
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 Thursday, September 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.”
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.”
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.”
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 monitoring— Continue reading “Forecast for July 22, 2019.”
CONGRESS IN BRIEF
• Only 36 (working) days are left for Congress to pass all 12 spending bills, so why is McConnell pressing pause on the approps process? More below.
• 90% of House offices either don’t pay their interns or — more likely — failed to announce they have paid internships in job postings on their websites.
• The Bulk Data Task Force, where congressional technologists and civil society work to improve legislative data, will meet on Tuesday, July 9th at 11. Location TBA.
• The Supreme Court poked a hole in the Freedom of Information Act. A federal agency can withhold commercial and financial information from a requester merely by determining that the records fit within an expansive definition of ‘confidential’, instead of having to show as well that disclosure would cause harm to the private-sector submitter, as lower courts had held.
• PACER yourself. Sens. Portman, Wyden, Cruz, and Hirono and Reps. Quigley and Collins are trying to enable free access to court records on PACER via the Electronic Court Records Reform Act. Is it coincidence the Courts are forming an advisory committee on PACER?
• A House Ethics Committee working group wants to hear from you: submit comments by July 11th on how the rules should address conflicts of interest that arise from members of Congress and staff who sit on outside entities. Continue reading “Forecast for July 1, 2019.”
CONGRESS IN BRIEF
• Apparent mismanagement at CRS has created a 19% annual turnover rate in its law division and a lack of diversity in the agency’s senior leadership, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Last week’s House Admin hearing on CRS — the first in more than a decade — shed welcome light on problems facing Congress’s think tank. More below.
• Did you know the House doesn’t have a point person for HR? That point was made by Rep. Kilmer at the Fix Congress Committee’s hearing on congressional staff retention and diversity (video here), which featured experts on building strong, diverse workforces.
• Spending bills: the Financial Services and General Government bill will go to the House floor this week and, potentially, so will the leg branch spending bill (sans member pay raises). Plus, a minibus spending bill (Labor-HHS-Edu, Defense, State, and Energy) passed the House last week, amendments here. The second minibus bill (CJS, Ag, Interior, MilCon, and T-HUD) has been held up.
• The US almost went to war with Iran last week. Dems want to make that harder.
• Recess starts at the end of this week. Continue reading “Forecast for June 24, 2019.”
CONGRESS IN BRIEF
• Congress’s staff retention and diversity issues will be the subject of a Fix Congress committee hearing on Thursday.
• The Congressional Research Service will be subject to a rare (and much needed) oversight hearing before the House Administration Committee on Thursday. It’s time to re-read Kevin Kosar’s “Why I Quit the Congressional Research Service.”
• Approps on the floor. The House is expected to finish consideration of its first approps minibus (Labor, HHS, Ed, Defense, State, Foreign Ops, Energy & Water — i.e. H.R. 2740) sans Leg Branch Approps on Tuesday, and start consideration of its second approps minibus (CJS, Ag, FDA, Interior, Environment, MilCon, Veterans, T-HUD — i.e. H.R. 3055) the same day. You can probably expect a lot of Roll Call votes. What’s going to happen to Leg Branch? Um.
• House amendments approved by bipartisan majorities were at 4% last Congress; now they’re at 40%.
• ICYMI: The House announced its Whistleblower Ombudsman job vacancy; a new-ish app uses facial recognition to identify members of Congress (Unmask); Leg Branch Industry Day at the Capitol is set for June 27; the Senate post office facilities are upgrading their CCTV surveillance system of 37 cameras: anyone know what “intelligent video analytics” means? Continue reading “Forecast for June 17, 2019.”