Welcome to the First Branch Forecast, your weekly look into the Legislative branch and government transparency. (Was this email forwarded to you? Subscribe here.)
THE TOP LINE
General Honoré will brief Congress today in three closed meetings on his “Capitol Security Review” that was conducted out of public view over the last six weeks. The NYT published a draft of his findings on Friday, the fact of which I find irrepressibly funny. I’ve read the assessment: it reads like a report written by a bunch of generals. It re-fights the last war, contains a request for significantly more manpower and spending, and is nebulous about how to address the source of the failures: Capitol Police leadership. Here are our recommendations.
• If Honoré’s recommendations are adopted, and we have every expectation Speaker Pelosi will do so, one major consequence will be the further defunding of congressional policy making. From what source will they draw funding to pay for 874 new employees, which would increase the USCP staff size from 2,450 to 3,300? Our back-of-the-envelop estimate is funding for USCP would increase from $515m to $693m — and we must note that funding for the Leg branch has increased at half the rate of other non-defense discretionary spending. Defunding Legislative branch policymaking has long been a problem. The Honoré report does not address the importance of growing the Leg branch pie or whether they are calling for paying for this outside the Leg branch budget.
• Putting the Capitol Police in context, the USCP is already funded significantly more than all Congressional committees put together. They also were already asking for a 20% increase, or $107 million funding bump, before this assessment came out. We sent Congress a letter back in February calling for a 10% increase in Leg branch funding, and this week the Levin Center, Lugar Center, and Culver Public Policy Center sent their own recommendation for a 10% increase. The assumption, however, was that this money should go towards policymaking.
• The draft report is not a dud. It makes obvious points about the importance of building up a capable intelligence team that tracks threats, shares information, and is connected with elements of the intelligence community. It also encourages better coordination with other entities, a faster response to emergencies (including requesting assistance), and buying necessary equipment. A handful of important matters are given only a brief mention, such as cybersecurity and the structure of the Capitol Police Board. As the failure in management came from the top, we would think this would be the priority — especially as many other problems could be addressed by better leadership and better coordination. We wonder about the value of having a permanent civil disturbance unit platoon and the use of body cameras. We agree that USCP overtime is a longstanding problem, but hiring more officers won’t address the incentives for overtime.The report also missed key problems such as the Congressional oversight mechanisms (above the Capitol Police Board).
Speaking of congressional funding, last week House appropriators held hearings into the Congressional Budget Office and the Library of Congress. Set for this week: GAO and House Officers testify on Wednesday at 10; and the AOC and GPO present their budgets on Thursday at 10. This time we have a welcome (but unusually) long list of House officers testifying: Office of Legislative Counsel (the people who draft the bills); Sergeant at Arms; Clerk; Office of Diversity and Inclusion; General Counsel (the people who represent the House as an institution); House Inspector General; Office of Law Revision Counsel (the people who write the US Code); and the Chief Administrative Officer. As you might expect, we’re excited.
The end of appropriations? Punchbowl reported Senate Republicans are threatening to “see [stop-gap spending bills] forever — maybe for Biden’s entire presidency” in response to Dems moving the COVID-19 relief bill through reconciliation without Republican support. Let’s be clear about what this means. Right now, appropriations and the NDAA are the big remaining “must-pass” legislative vehicles besides budget reconciliation (which is limited!), and they carry much of the work Congress would normally do through other mechanisms if it were healthy. Regular appropriations are also the major remaining mechanism by which Congress establishes its priorities and restrains the Executive branch. Moving to permanent Continuing Resolutions because you lost fair-and-square on the COVID-19 relief bill in a political landscape already over-protective of a political minority is legislative arson. With this threat on the table, and the ongoing efforts to undermine the right to vote, there’s no remaining reason for Democrats to avoid eliminating the filibuster. In fact, if they wish to move the reforms necessary to save our democracy, they really shouldn’t wait. Could there be change in the offing?
Appropriations requests. As usual, we’ll be publishing our appropriations requests, but in the meantime you can find historical info about Leg branch appropriations here and our Approps Twitter bot has been active. Don’t forget this Friday’s House Admin hearing on funding for (most) House Congressional committees.
Continue reading “Forecast for March 8, 2021”