Who Steers the Ship in the 117th Congress? An Examination of House Steering and Policy Committee Membership

House Democrats and Republicans use internal party committees to control major aspects of the legislative process, including choosing who gets to serve on legislative committees. Who serves on these committees and how are they chosen? Read on. (If this seems familiar, we looked at internal party committee makeup for the 116th Congress here).

Under the House rules, each party decides committee assignments for its Members. As a result, the steering and policy committees are an integral piece to secure intraparty power. With a large number of Members competing for a relatively small number of key committee assignments and leadership roles, the parties’ respective steering committees act as a filter for who rise and fall, creating a sorting mechanism among the party’s internal factions. It is also a mechanism by which leadership taxes Members to provide financial contributions in support of the party. 

Continue reading “Who Steers the Ship in the 117th Congress? An Examination of House Steering and Policy Committee Membership”

The Digital File Cabinet: House and Senate File Ethics Disclosures

Members of Congress in the House and Senate, candidates for federal office, senior congressional staff, nominees for executive branch positions, Cabinet members, the president and vice president and Supreme Court justices are required by the Ethics in Government Act of 1978 to file annual reports disclosing their personal finances. Compliance and enforcement of this requirement is overseen by the congressional ethics committees, the ethics offices of government agencies and, in the case of executive branch officials, the U.S. Office of Government Ethics.

These disclosures include financial forms, gift and travel filings, post-employment lobbying restrictions, and more. It’s a lot of disclosure information, and oftentimes, some disclosures must be filed in person rather than online. 

The following outlines the major types of information that must be reported on personal ethics disclosures, as well as if the information is publicly available online, in person, or both.

Continue reading “The Digital File Cabinet: House and Senate File Ethics Disclosures”

Select Recommendations for Updating the House Rules 117th Congress

Introduction

Demand Progress released 129 recommended updates to the Rules of the House of Representatives and separate orders the House should adopt for the 117th Congress as part of an August 20, 2020 report. The report is the culmination of months of work, reflects significant engagement with experts on Congress, and addresses ten major thematic areas. 

We recognize the volume of recommendations in the full report can be overwhelming, so the following document highlights 13 reforms that the House should consider. We chose these particular reform recommendations based on how feasible they are to implement, the extent to which they would strengthen the House of Representatives, their political viability, and their overall significance to Congressional operations.

Continue reading “Select Recommendations for Updating the House Rules 117th Congress”

House Rules: How Committees Operate

Each House committee has rules that dictate how the committee will function. These rules govern how many members must be present to take an action (i.e., quorum requirements), subpoenas, and other actions. The committees are (theoretically) the workhorses of Congress — legislation, reports, budgets, appropriations, and oversight all originate in committees. 

Committee rules exist under the umbrella of the rules that govern the entire House of Representatives. House and committee rules change every two years as the “new” House takes office after elections. The Congressional Research Service notes: “One of the majority party’s prerogatives is writing House rules and using its numbers to effect the chamber’s rules on the day a new House convenes.” 

That CRS report provides an overview of House rule changes from 2007 to 2017. CRS also provides a survey of House and Senate subpoena requirements through 2018. Finally, a CRS report describes rule changes affecting committee procedures in the current 116th Congress. 

Current committee rules are compiled in this 400 page document. Here are some highlights:

Continue reading “House Rules: How Committees Operate”

House Advances Franking Modernization Bill

The House passed a bill last week designed to bring the Franking Commission into the 21st century. The Communications Outreach Media and Mail Standards Act, or COMMS Act (H.R.7512), extends the commission’s authority to regulate mass communications (i.e., to 500 people or more) by Members and Members-elect. The commission’s authority has historically been limited to mailings but the new language refers to a wider range of communications. 

Continue reading “House Advances Franking Modernization Bill”

August Update: What Items are Due in the Modernization Committee Resolution?

On March 10th, which seems like a lifetime ago, the House passed H.Res 756, adopting modernization recommendations of the Fix Congress Committee. The resolution included 29 recommendations that were unanimously reported by the Modernization Committee last year. The resolution calls on legislative support offices to start a number of projects and report back on how to implement others. 

On July 10th, the Committee on House Administration released a series of congressional reports that were due in H.Res 756. We continue to catalogue the projects and their due dates into a public spreadsheet, and have them broken down by items. 

Continue reading “August Update: What Items are Due in the Modernization Committee Resolution?”

House CJS Appropriations Report Calls for Greater Transparency of Office of Legal Counsel Opinions

The Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) serves as legal advisor to the president and executive branch agencies. OLC issues legal opinions and often acts as the final authority on how laws are to be interpreted. 

However, these legal opinions and how they are analyzed are often withheld from Congress and the public. In fact, the few OLC opinions that have become publicly available often reveal that they undermine federal legislation and reinterpret the Constitution to expand executive branch power. 

When opinions are kept secret, there is no way to know what opinions exist and Congress is unable to determine how the executive branch is interpreting the law, creating an imbalance of power between the branches. In sum, there’s no space for secret law, and OLC opinions can be a gateway to lawlessness.

Congress has struggled to access OLC opinions, and for years civil society has been pushing to make these reports available. However, there are avenues that Congress can take to bring much needed transparency and accountability to OLC opinions. 

Continue reading “House CJS Appropriations Report Calls for Greater Transparency of Office of Legal Counsel Opinions”

116th Congress Update: How House Committees Get Their Money

(This is an update of a 2019 article on how House Committees are funded. It has been updated for the 116th Congress.)

Committee funding in the House of Representatives is accomplished through a somewhat quirky process. Appropriators in the House Legislative Branch Appropriations Committee set a top dollar amount for the committees — they appropriate the funds — but it is the Committee on House Administration that provides (i.e. allots) the funds to each committee on a biennial basis.

At the beginning of each new Congress, each committee chair and ranking member jointly testifies before the House Administration Committee and requests funds for their committee. For the 116th Congress, the hearing took place on March 12, 2019. Here is the committee notice; the written statements requesting funds; and video.

On March 21, the House Administration Committee introduced a funding resolution in the House, and on March 25, the committee held a markup on House Resolution 245 that allotted funds to the committees. You can watch the very brief proceedings here. House Administration reported out the committee report on March 26th, and the House passed the resolution on March 27.

Continue reading “116th Congress Update: How House Committees Get Their Money”

Who Steers the Ship? An Examination of House Steering and Policy Committee Membership

House Democrats and Republicans use internal party committees to control major aspects of the legislative process, including choosing who gets to serve on legislative committees. As we all know, personnel is policy.

Under the House rules, each party decides committee assignments for its members. As a result, the steering and policy committees are the scene of intraparty jockeying for power. With a large number of members competing for a relatively small number of key committee assignments and leadership roles, the parties’ respective steering committees act as a filter for who will rise and a sorting mechanism among the party’s internal factions. It is also a mechanism by which leadership taxes members to provide financial contributions in support of the party.

Continue reading “Who Steers the Ship? An Examination of House Steering and Policy Committee Membership”

Update: What Items are Due in the Modernization Committee Resolution?

On March 10th, the House passed H.Res 756, adopting modernization recommendations of the Fix Congress Committee. The resolution included 29 recommendations that were unanimously reported by the Modernization Committee last year. The resolution calls on legislative support offices to start a number of projects and report back on how to implement others. 

The resolution contains five titles: (1) streamlining and reorganizing human resources; (2) improving orientation for members-elect and providing improved continuing education opportunities for members; (3) modernizing and revitalizing technology; (4) making the House accessible to all; and (5) improving access to documents and publications. It also states that, whenever practical, the House Administration Committee will publish any report required under this resolution online. 

Accordingly, on July 10th, the Committee on House Administration released a series of congressional reports that were due in H.Res 756. Those reports include:

CAO

Feasibility of Establishing a Congressional Staff Academy Needs Assessment

Clerk of the House

Adopting Standardized Format for Legislative Documents

Legislative Comparison Project

Assignment of Unique Identifiers for Reports Filed by Legislative Lobbyists

Database of information on the expiration dates of all Federal programs

Database of votes taken in committees

Office of Diversity and Inclusion

Operations Plan as Submitted

Committee on House Administration Committee Resolution 116-21

We applaud the release of these reports to the public to help give a better understanding of the implementation of various recommendations from the Modernization Committee resolution. We continue to catalogue the projects and their due dates into a public spreadsheet, and have them broken down by items due below.

Continue reading “Update: What Items are Due in the Modernization Committee Resolution?”