Forecast for March 18, 2019. The seven-per-cent solution.

SEVEN PERCENT OF THE HOUSE, or 32 Members, spoke at a Member’s Day hearing of the Fix Congress Committee, held on Tuesday, with 35 members submitting written testimony. (VideoWitness statements). The 3 hour hearing, which followed the committee’s organizational meeting that adopting committee rules, is too complex to recap, but we summarized the subject matter in this spreadsheet. FWIW, I was generally impressed by the testimony.

Of the 22 Democrats and 10 Republicans who testified, the most popular issues were staff pay and benefits (8 members), modernizing technology (6 members), and investing in the institution (6 members). Of the three, modernizing technology had bipartisan speakers. In addition, other popular items, such as addressing committee jurisdictions (e.g, fixing the budget process), cyber security, and improving the House calendar, had bipartisan speakers. Roll Call and Issue One have a summary of the proceedings. Follow the committee’s new twitter account here.

Paid interns was one of the topics at the hearing, which is fortuitous because later that very day the House Administration Committee adopted a resolution containing interim guidance, giving the go-ahead for House personal offices to draw upon a $20 special fund to hire paid interns in DC. The mid-March adoption was late enough in the hiring cycle that it was adversely affecting intern hires for the summer. Part of the conversation at the meeting concerned increasing funds available to hire interns and expanding the kinds of offices that would be able to tap into the funds. More info, including the payroll authorization form, is here.

What about committee staff? A new report from the R Street Institute analyzed committee staffing trends on the Hill with fascinating results. It’s a mistake to lump committees together. For example, average staff tenure on House Appropriations is 8.1 years, compared to 3.6 years for House Energy. The average staffer salary varies from $135k for House Financial Services to $82k for the House Oversight Committee. Service on some committees can be highly gendered, too.

The House Administration Committee heard allotment requests during its meeting — these are requests from committees to provide funds for their operations. We wrote about how House committees get their money, and their historic funding levels, back in January. Notable this go-around was that House Admin waived requiring that the Chairs/RMs testify, so long as they made a joint request. Apparently everyone asked for more money, which makes sense as the House is spending $110m less (in inflation adjusted dollars) on committees than it did in the 111th Congress, which is a 25% cut. The committee funding resolution will be considered on March 26th and voted on by the House on March 28.

The lone point of contention was Rep. Jim Jordan, who opposed any request by House Oversight Committee Chair Elijah Cumming to increase the Committee’s allotment. Cummings requested a 4% increase this year and 10% for the following year. The Oversight Committee would need a 22.3% increase to put it at its funding level from a decade ago, and it has 25 unfilled personnel slots, 15 Democratic and 10 Republican. Rep. Jordan appeared to object on the grounds that Congress should cut its funds to save taxpayer dollars, although it became clear that some of the concern was rooted in opposition to hearings like that where Michael Cohen testified. The discussion was contentious.

Also on Tuesday was a double-header before the House Leg Branch Approps Subcommittee, where both the House of Representatives and Capitol Police budget requests were considered. The hearings didn’t surface any information that was not contained in the written testimony, although the Capitol Police were the subject of a Roll Call story that highlighted how arrests of protests and traffic violations “dominate” their recent arrests, at least to the extent they disclose who they arrest. Roll Call tells the story of how the 2,200 member $450m budgeted USCP had its jurisdiction expanded beyond Capitol grounds in the 1990s, and cited Demand Progress’s report for the arrest data. One notable fact: the USCP has an IG that doesn’t make any reports publicly available, and USCP said that’s because they aren’t required to by federal law. Hmmm.

The USCP can’t stay out of the news as they arrested an artist for projecting the phrase “Discrimination is Wrong” onto the Rayburn House Office Building last week. The artist, who believed the projection was lawful and has done this all around town, had his equipment confiscated and won’t get it back for at least a month, prompting a go-fund-me to pay for legal fees and replace the equipment. USCP was recently in the news for leaving a gun in a bathroom and apparently roughing up some journalists. Incidentally — no pun intended — Capitol Police reported 10 arrests during the week ending March 13th. Continue reading “Forecast for March 18, 2019. The seven-per-cent solution.”

Forecast for March 11, 2019. The Not at SXSW Edition.

IT’S SUNSHINE WEEK, devoted to all things transparency, and there are a ton of Congress tie-ins.

On the House floorset for a vote this week, are: the Access to Congressionally Mandated Report Act (which requires all agency reports sent to Congress to be online on a central website); the Federal Advisory Committee Act Amendments of 2019 (to improve transparency of the 1,000 federal advisory committees); the Federal Register Modernization Act (which would require the Federal Register to be published electronically, and changes how agencies file); the Electronic Message Preservation Act (which requires the Archivist to promulgate regulations on managing electronic records); and a resolution (H. Con. Res. 24) that Mueller’s report should be publicly available; and more.

The House Oversight and Reform Committee will examine transparency under the Trump administration on Wednesday, with a focus on FOIA. Apparently, the Senate Judiciary Committee has decided to take a pass this Sunshine Week on its annual oversight hearing, which was a consistent feature when Sens. Grassley and Leahy previously ran the committee.

Federal agencies and civil society are hosting a number of events, including a half-day extravaganza on Monday hosted by the National Archives featuring the Archivist, congressional staff, OGIS, and several federal judges. Go herefor the full calendar of events. Continue reading “Forecast for March 11, 2019. The Not at SXSW Edition.”

Forecast for March 4, 2019. This House Is Falling Apart.

IT WILL COST BILLIONS to keep the Congress from literally (physically) falling apart, the acting Architect of the Capitol explained at an appropriations hearing last week. Read this round-up (with a nifty chart!) of the four legislative branch appropriations hearings on GAO, GPO, AOC, and CBO. One big take-away: if the House is going to modernize — or even keep things barely scraping along — appropriators must significantly increase the size of the appropriations pie going to Leg Branch. The original AOC is asking for a $100m bump this year. (There’s more in the blog, such as on IC oversight.)

The next budget fight is all cued up, as the Treasury is already taking extraordinary measures to pay the bills, with the tick-tick-tick-boom set to explode in September, just in time for the new fiscal year. Does anyone wanna talk about spending caps?

The House Budget Committee is starting to put together the FY 2020 budget resolution, although news coverage right now is about intramural skirmishes. As you know, the resolution will make a pot of money available to appropriators, and then they decide how to divy it up among the subcommittees. Just for fun, I looked at discretionary approps spending over the last decade. The results are not encouraging.

The amount of money spent by appropriators is up 10 percent over the last decade (adjusted for inflation), with State & Foreign Ops (+23.7%), Defense (+16%), and Homeland Security (+15.8%) taking the biggest percentage of plus-ups and the lion’s share of funding. By lion’s share, I mean 60 percent of the funding, or $786B of the $1.329T. Who were the biggest losers? Financial Services & General Government (-10.3%), CJS (-7.8%), and — you guessed it — Leg Branch (-7%).

No earmarks for you. Approps chair Lowey released a letter on Friday that rules out the return of earmarks unless there is a bipartisan, bicameral agreement to bring them back. Earmarks never really went away, of course, but became nearmarks, lettermarks, fauxmarks, and the like. Lowey is signaling that Dems would bring back earmarks if Republicans promise not to attack them.

The Library of Congress will have its time in the spotlight this Thursday at 9:15. Who’s excited? I’ll be listening very closely about whether the Library feels it is meeting the needs of Congress, whether it will fix the implementation of the new committee schedule website (which doesn’t let you see at a glance all the hearings for the week, including the name of the hearing and the witnesses), how it will finish the delayed implementation of the new CRS reports website, and whether the Library will talk with civil society about improving access to information. Looks like only the Librarian is testifying; past years have seen the CRS Director and others.

By the way, if a member wants to testify on Leg Branch, the instructions are now up, with a deadline of March 28. Similarly, written testimony for FSGG is due today. We note with favor that at least 3 House approps subcommittees so far will or have held public witness days (Energy & Water, State & Foreign Ops, and Interior). And 2 members of the Supreme Court will testify on Wednesdayconcerning the Court’s budget.

We built an approps twitter bot. It’s in beta, and you can check it out here and tell us what you think.
Continue reading “Forecast for March 4, 2019. This House Is Falling Apart.”

Forecast for February 25, 2019. Your Salad Days.

WORKING IN CONGRESS again is in the news, starting with Sen. Klobuchar receiving a drubbing for her ongoing mistreatment of staff. The New York Times tells a gross story of Sen. Klobuchar and a comb, but less salaciously describes her throwing objects and requesting staff return money earned during parental leave if they leave the office.

The Huffington Post, which has been at the forefront of reporting on Klobuchar, pushed back against Team Klobuchar’s painting of these news reports as sexist, quoting one staffer as saying “She is a terrible manager and abusive to her staff.” It’s obvious that Sen. Klobuchar’s office has a huge problem. She should come clean, and it’s not just admitting that she’s a “tough boss,” because there’s obviously more to it than that. (FWIW, Sen. Klobuchar is not the only senator who is more than a “tough boss.”)

As the ranking member of the Senate Rules Committee, Sen. Klobuchar is in a perfect position to push for Senate-wide protections for staff that makes sure that issues like paid parental leave is out of the hands of any individual senator. We note that Sen. Klobuchar played a major role in advocating for the passage of the Congressional Accountability Act.

$52,000 annually is the minimum starting wage in Rep. Ocasio-Cortez’s office, as compared to nearly all congressional offices that pay their entry-level staff substantially less. It comes at a cost, however, as senior staff are comparatively underpaid, topping out at $80k. Roll Call smartly points out that the pot of money from which staff pay comes, the Member Representational Account, is almost $86 million below its FY 2010 levels.

Interns are paid in AOC’s office, but Speaker Pelosi put up, and quickly removed, an ad for unpaid interns. The House had approved $8.8 million for House interns, or $20k per office, which is still woefully inadequate. The group Pay Our Interns noted that the House Admin Committee has yet to issue guidelines that would allow that money to be disbursed. While we’re talking about interns, Roll Call described their formative experiencesanswering the phones.

Continue reading “Forecast for February 25, 2019. Your Salad Days.”

Forecast for February 19, 2019. Never Waste an Emergency

THE HOUSE COMMITTEE TASKED WITH MODERNIZING CONGRESS 

has 12 newly appointed members, an initial $50,000 budget (through March), and less than one year to issue recommendations. There’s little doubt that Congress must invest in its own brain power and modernize its technology.

The select committee isn’t Congress’s only hope, as the oversight committees (House Admin + Senate Rules) and leg branch appropriations committees play a major role in modernizing Congress. So too does the House and Senate writ large, as exemplified by the House’s consideration of HR 1 (the voting & ethics reform bill) and HSGAC’s favorable reporting of the Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports Act. What remains to be seen is how Congress will react to Trump’s ’emergency’ power grab; on that topic, it appears Sen. McConnell has dropped his guise as a Senate institutionalist. (More on that.)

Office of Congressional Workplace Rights. During last week’s oversight hearing on the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights, Rep. Lowey, who chairs the Appropriations committee, expressed an interest in addressing the lack of a uniform standard for paid family medical leave among House offices. FWIW, we think it should be 3 months and paid out of a non-MRA account. Also of note: the Congressional Accountability Act’s provisions don’t go into effect into June 19, so staff complaining of harassment are stuck under the old system until then; the OCWR will go through a notice and comment rulemaking in April; and a 70 new harassment filings have been received by the OCWR in 2019, with half from the Library of Congress. Finally, the climate survey won’t go out until Q1 or Q2 of 2020.

The Republican-led Senate Rules committee voted to change procedural rules by a 10-9 vote to cut down the debate time on nominations for lower-level positions, i.e. district court judges. To enact the change the Senate may have to go nuclear. Continue reading “Forecast for February 19, 2019. Never Waste an Emergency”

Forecast for February 4, 2019. Executive Time.

THE TOP LINE

H.R. 1, the pro-voting & ethics strengthening bill, is getting negative reviews from anti-anti-corruption politicians (Mitch McConnell), court-identified fabulists (Hans Spakovsky), and K street lobbyists. It’s also the subject of an Oversight hearing on Wednesday.

Why won’t House Dems release their caucus rules? Progressives & grassroots orgs are pushing for their publication while Democratic Caucus chair Hakeem Jeffries dodges press questions. Rep. Jeffries didn’t respond to my emails, either.

House Intel will break House rules should it hold its first organizational meeting in secret, as currently scheduled. House rules require the meeting be open and held where the press and public can attend — not in the SCIF — unless the committee first holds a roll call vote in public to close the proceedings. HPSCI is reconvening following Republican appointments.

— Clearances for HPSCI personal office staff may be on the agenda for the organizational meeting. At least, we hope so.

An American hero. Lawmakers introduced legislation to award Fred Korematsu the Congressional Gold Medal; he’s the Japanese-American civil rights activist who took his fight against Japanese internment during WWII all the way to the Supreme Court. Last week marked the hundred year anniversary of his birthday last week. A congressional gold medal requires at least 67 sponsors in the Senate to advance.

The Lincoln Network is hosting a panel today at 3 where experts discuss the challenges involved in modernizing Congress, its technology and digital services infrastructure, and how the Hill can get ahead of the curve. Please note the updated location: 201 D St, NE. ICYMI, GAO announced a new science and technology office last week, and Zach Graves has an analysis of what to expect.

Continue reading “Forecast for February 4, 2019. Executive Time.”

Forecast for January 22, 2019. Champagne Wishes & Caviar Dreams.

TOP LINE

In a lengthy and insightful essay, noted Holocaust historian Christopher Browning drew ominous parallels between the destruction of the Weimar Republic by the “old right” and what’s happening today. The most gripping section is his analysis of the old Republic, but this section is striking as well:

“If the US has someone whom historians will look back on as the gravedigger of American democracy, it is Mitch McConnell. He stoked the hyperpolarization of American politics to make the Obama presidency as dysfunctional and paralyzed as he possibly could. As with parliamentary gridlock in Weimar, congressional gridlock in the US has diminished respect for democratic norms, allowing McConnell to trample them even more.”

H.R. 1. This week Sen. McConnell jibed at H.R. 1, the House Democrats’ legislation to protect voting rights, end gerrymandering, lessen the role of wealth in our political system, and improve ethical accountability for elected officials, as the “Democrat Politician Protection Act.” Long time reporter Eliza Newlin Carney explained McConnell’s position this way: “In making the case for Democrats’ bad motives… McConnell comes across as both remarkably out of touch with public sentiment and as incapable of debating the topic honestly.”

Shutdown. As Politico noted, Sen. McConnell “is standing firm in his resolve to not move a muscle on any government funding bill that would not have the president’s approval.” Democrats are advancing Republican negotiated appropriations bills, and some Senate Republicans are speaking out in favor of opening the government without preconditions, leading the Intercept to opine that McConnell is blocking progress to save his reelection.

Trump gave a nothing-burger speech this weekend on a warmed over plan intended to shift blame to Democrats instead of actually reopening government. Trump did not consult with Democrats; McConnell said he would hold a vote Tuesday. MSNBC wonders “whatever happened to Mitch McConnell’s principle of denying a vote on any measure that lacks bipartisan backing?” Continue reading “Forecast for January 22, 2019. Champagne Wishes & Caviar Dreams.”