Demand Progress and Lincoln Network Issue Bipartisan House Rules Recommendations Calling for Rebalancing Power in the 118th Congress

The progressive grassroots policy advocacy organization Demand Progress and the right-leaning technology nonprofit Lincoln Network have joined forces to urge the House of Representatives to adopt modern rules that improve congressional transparency, oversight, technology, and more. The bipartisan recommendations issued today by the two groups emphasize changes to House Rules that give more power to the rank-and-file members to shape legislation. 

The recommendations are timely, as the House Rules Committee hears today from members concerning the Rules they want adopted at the start of the 118th Congress in January. 

“There’s too much concentrated power in congressional leadership, which distorts the legislative process and stifles collaboration by members who share common interests,” said Daniel Schuman, policy director at Demand Progress. “These common-sense recommendations restore balance in the House so that all members can meaningfully engage in policymaking.”

“The Rules the House enacts will shape how Congress will function and who will have power,” said Zach Graves, executive director of Lincoln Network. “It’s important to democratize the House so more rank-and-file members have a say in the legislation that gets considered and so that committees don’t have their roles usurped by leadership. All members are elected to Congress and each one has a duty and obligation to represent their constituents.”

The package of bipartisan Rules recommendations identifies improvements the House should adopt to improve transparency of legislative information, internal operations and scheduling, congressional efficiency and oversight, congressional security, congressional capacity and staff, and ethics, as well as which Rules to retain from the previous two Congresses. 

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The 118th House Rules Package Should Retain Fixes From the 116th and 117th Congresses

Written by Taylor J. Swift

The conservative House Freedom Caucus issued a 52-page guide to new GOP candidates last month on what they’ll face as freshman members, with recommendations for updating the rules for the chamber and for the party, and the conservative Lincoln Network just published their own recommendations for the rules and procedures the House should adopt at the start of the 118th Congress.

The Freedom Caucus’ guide is an excellent outline of what new members will expect and accurately summarizes the chamber’s power dynamics. It contains thoughtful recommendations for rule modernization, which is an opportunity for the incoming majority to control its flow of operations and distribute power. The Lincoln Network’s recommendations highlight a number of reforms to strengthen the people’s chamber. However, one Freedom Caucus proposal, to wipe clean the rules enacted by Democrats over the last four years, is misguided. 

The following is a partial list of the House rules and standing orders, enacted over the last four years, that we believe a Republican majority should retain should they gain power. These nonpartisan rules improve the House’s operations and support a more transparent, efficient, ethical, and accountable legislative body. For a summary of the rules adopted over the last four years, see these resources for the 116th and 117th Congresses. 

Committee Operations

Member Hearing Days: Each standing committee is required to hold a Member Day Hearing during the first session of Congress to hear testimony from any Member of the House on proposed legislation within its jurisdiction. The House Rules Committee was empowered to hold its Member day in the second session to receive testimony on proposed standing rules changes.

Amendment Availability: The 117th House Rules made amendments adopted by their committees publicly available within 24 hours by requiring all other amendments – which includes failed or withdrawn amendments – to be posted within 48 hours of their disposition or withdrawal. This requirement does not apply to amendments not offered.

Electronic Vote Availability: The 117th House Rules modernized the requirement for committees to make the results of record votes publicly available by removing the requirement that they be made available to the public for in-person inspection in committee offices. Committees will still be required to make the results of record votes publicly available electronically within 48 hours of the vote.

Electronic Filing of Reports and Electronic Signatures: 117th House Rules Subsection (l) authorizes electronic filing of committee reports, which was temporarily allowed by House Resolution 965 of the 116th, and allows electronic signatures to be used for signed views in committee reports and for select forms received by the Committee on Ethics. Reports received electronically will be processed as otherwise provided in rule XIII, and committees filing electronic reports should continue to consult with the Clerk regarding proper format and other administrative requirements.

Truth-In-Testimony Reform: The 117th House Rules amended the disclosure requirements for witnesses appearing in nongovernmental capacities by: (1) adding grants to the reporting requirement for foreign payments; (2) expanding the lookback period for reporting to 36 months; (3) requiring witnesses to disclose whether they are the fiduciary of any organization or entity with an interest in the subject matter of the hearing; and (4) requiring, to the extent practicable, the disclosures be made publicly available 24-hours prior to the witness’s appearance at a hearing. The subsection also updates the text of clause 2(g)(5) of rule XI for clarity. The House is also working to modernize its Truth-in-Testimony documents and to make the information they contain available online in a central database.

Remote Deliberations for Committees: House Committees are allowed to hold hearings and markups where some or all members participate remotely by videoconference. This allows for witnesses from all around the world to testify and for members who are not physically present to participate in the proceedings. This allows for the scheduling of proceedings when the House otherwise would not be in session; expands the times when less popular committees can hold their meetings so that members are more able to attend; and creates significantly more flexibility should an emergency arise.

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The Office of Congressional Workplace Rights Updates its Overtime Regulations, but Congress Must Approve the Changes

On September 28, 2022, the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights (OCWR) announced its Board of Directors voted to update regulations implementing the overtime provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The OCWR Board of Directors also called on Congress to approve the proposed changes in the Congressional Record

The current FLSA regulations that apply to Congress were issued by the Office of Compliance (the previous name of the OCWR) back in 1996. In its recent press release, the OCWR said the 1996 regulations are “woefully outdated” and the new regulations will modernize the overtime provisions to bring Legislative branch employees’ overtime pay to parity with the Executive branch and the private sector. 

The updated proposed regulations are here, and the current regulations are available here.

In March 2021, the OCWR Board of Directors issued its Section 102(b) report for the 117th Congress. The reports provides several recommendations that have not been implemented within the Legislative branch, as well as additional recommendations to amend the CAA to increase transparency and workforce protections. Some of the recommendations include:

  • Providing general whistleblower protections and anti-retaliation measures and making additional OSHA retaliation provisions applicable to the Legislative branch.
  • Providing subpoena authority to OCWR to conduct inspections and investigations into OSHA violations.
  • Prohibiting Legislative branch offices from making adverse employment decisions on the basis of an employee’s wage garnishment or involvement in bankruptcy proceedings.
  • Bolstering the CAA’s recordkeeping requirements.

In August 2022, Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton introduced legislation, the Congress Leads by Example Act of 2022 (H.R. 8743), that would put into effect recommendations from the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights. Del. Norton has introduced a version of this bill every Congress since 2011.

Congress should look to pass H.R. 8742 and the updated OCWR regulations during the lame duck period. 

United States Capitol in Washington DC

What’s Next? Recap of the Final House Modernization Committee Hearing

Written by Taylor J. Swift, senior policy advisor with Demand Progress Education Fund

There was a feeling of serendipity during this week’s final Select Committee on the  Modernization of Congress hearing, where Members, witnesses, and staff all gathered to discuss the work of the committee and what the future may look like for this work. The Committee — or ModCom — has been working for the past two Congresses to examine ways to make the institution more modern, efficient, and transparent. It favorably reported over 170 recommendations with more on the way. It also recently introduced its second resolution which contains 32 recommendations. The hearing felt like the culmination of everything the committee, its staff, and its stakeholder groups have been working towards. 

The question on the table was: where does this modernization work go from here?

Chief Administrative Officer Catherine Szpindor was the first committee witness. Her testimony focused how the CAO has implemented several of the ModCom recommendations to strengthen the House, its offices, and its workforce. Whether it’s the creation of the Human Resources Hub, the House Resume Bank, the House Digital Service; the adoption of Quill — an online e-signature platform; and investment in staff training through the CAO Coach program, Szpindor comprehensively outlined how her office has listened to the committee and followed through on its commitments to foster a more modern, transparent, an inclusive workplace. Szpindor mentioned during the discussion portion that the CAO has monthly status meetings with stakeholders and staff regarding implementation tracking. The CAO also uses an internal tracker called ClickUp to keep things organized. 

Diane Hill of the Partnership for Public Service was the committee witness representing the Fix Congress Cohort, a group of over four dozen civil society groups and academics that includes Demand Progress. Hill’s testimony centered around providing four different avenues for which the modernization work can continue, including providing a pathway for ModCom’s recommendations to be implemented past the 117th Congress. Hill’s testimony mirrors some of the recommendations that we made for the future of this work. The four options in Hill’s testimony included:

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Statement on House Staff Pay Floor Increase Going into Effect Sept. 1

“At long last, no Member of the House of Representatives is permitted to pay their staff poverty wages. As of September 1, every staff person in the House of Representatives must be paid at least $45,000 a year, which meets the living wage in high cost Washington, DC,” said Daniel Schuman, policy director at Demand Progress. “We applaud the House staff who have spoken out in support of a living wage for their colleagues, the Members of Congress who advocated for a pay floor, and Speaker Pelosi and House leadership for establishing this common-sense requirement that removes personal wealth as a precondition for public service. We urge the Senate to join the House and establish a $45,000 pay floor for all staff.”

Statement on House Union Rules Taking Effect

Today, the House is marking a major milestone that will forever change the rights of staff as recently-approved Office of Workplace Rights regulations permitting unionization go into effect.

“Staff in the House of Representatives work long hours at low pay to meet the needs of the American people and we are pleased they will finally be able to enjoy a crucial right long available to workers across the country: the right to collectively organize to improve their working conditions,” said Daniel Schuman, policy director at Demand Progress. “Providing House political and non-political staff the ability to join a labor union, an effort a quarter-century in the making, illustrates one avenue to transform the institution from within, as Congress’s ability to function well depends on a well-trained, expert staff devoted to making our democracy work for all. Additional work remains, including extending these labor rights to Senate political staff and some support agency staff currently excluded from collective bargaining laws.”

Video – The Power of Unions in Congress: Know Your Rights

Demand Progress Education Fund hosted a virtual event on Wednesday, July 13, 2022, titled “The Power in Unions in Congress: Know Your Rights.” The event featured recorded remarks from Representative Andy Levin, lead sponsor of the House congressional unionization resolution.

Panelists helped clarify what rights and protections will be granted to congressional staffers, what will happen when staffers officially unionize their offices, and also discussed the history of the unionization movement in Congress.

The distinguished panel included:

Katherine Tully-McManus, Politico Huddle (moderator)

Rep. Andy Levin, lead sponsor of the House unionization resolution (opening remarks)

Jeff Friday, general counsel at the National Federation of Federal Employees

Kevin Mulshine, former counsel at the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights

Yvette Piacsek, deputy general counsel at National Federation of Federal Employees, IAMAW, AFL-CIO

Taylor J. Swift, policy advisor at Demand Progress (event host)

Watch the full discussion below.

Event Announcement – The Power of Unions in Congress: Know Your Rights

How does unionization work in Congress? What’s the history behind this congressional unionization movement? What rights will be granted to me as a congressional employee? 

There’s a lot of information — and misinformation — out there. With the July 18 deadline for the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights to implement the resolution that grants House staff the right to organize quickly approaching, Demand Progress Education Fund is convening several government labor experts to discuss various rights and protections offered to staff to empower congressional staff with the knowledge they need to successfully implement unions in the House of Representatives. 

Join Demand Progress Education Fund for a virtual briefing that will include remarks from Representative Andy Levin and top government labor experts on making unions work in Congress. Panelists will clarify what rights and protections will be granted to congressional staffers, what will happen when staffers officially unionize their offices, and will also discuss the history of the unionization movement in Congress. 

RSVP here

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Demand Progress Proposals Included in FY 2023 Legislative Branch Appropriations Bills and Report

On Wednesday, June 22, 2022, the full House Appropriations Committee favorably (32-26) reported the FY 2023 Legislative Branch Subcommittee Bill (with amendments) and committee report. They are packed with good government reforms and significant investments in Congress’s capacity to legislate, conduct oversight, serve constituents, and more.

We and our civil society colleagues made recommendations of dozens of items to include — see our FY 2023 Appropriations requests, FY 2023 appropriations testimony, and report on updating House Rules for the 117th Congress — a number of which made it into the bill and report. We are deeply appreciative of Chair Ryan, Ranking Member Herrera Beutler, and members of the committee for their consideration of our requests. For resources on prior Legislative Branch Appropriations bills, go here.

We already have published summaries of what the House included in its FY 2023 Leg Branch Approps bill text, and you can see the changes in the appropriations line items here

As the Senate considers what to include in its Legislative Branch Subcommittee bill and report, we highlight a few provisions in the House bill that the Senate should consider for itself. They include:

  • Creation of new offices to enhance diversity and inclusion, specifically the creation of the House Intern Resource Office and the Office of Translation Services.
  • Strong investments in staff benefits and care, specifically child care, emergency care (which now include custodial and contract workers), and student loan repayments.
  • Heightened funding for technology and modernization projects, specifically the congressional staff directory, collaborative legislative drafting tools, standardization of legislative documents, and separate technology modernization fund. 

Although we were unable to include everything below, you can find a complete list of FY 2023 Legislative Branch Appropriations report items in a comprehensive spreadsheet. The following are some of the highlights. 

Appropriations Spreadsheet

To help keep track of all items requested by the Legislative Branch Subcommittee, we built a public spreadsheet that maintains a catalog of items, broken down by title, the entity responsible, the timeline for completion, and the due date. See the spreadsheet here and below:

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First Reactions to the Draft FY 2023 House Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee Bill

The House Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee today released its draft FY 2023 appropriations bill accompanied by a press release. The subcommittee markup is tomorrow at 11 am ET — the full committee vote is next Wednesday — and we won’t know what is in the committee report until the day before the full committee markup. We reviewed the legislation and compared the proposed funding to the enacted levels from prior years. (If you’re interested in the documents from prior Congresses, we have compiled them here.)

At first glance, this bill is packed with many smart funding decisions that will help strengthen Congress. In particular, we noticed significant adjustments to personal, committee, and leadership staff funding; improving the intern pipeline by providing a living wage and the creation of a new intern resource office; a significant investment in modernizing the House’s technology and implementing the recommendations of the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress, and providing adequate funding to support the House unionization process. There are also significant changes in funding levels for offices and policy agencies, including the GAO. We also note tremendous amounts of new money for the Capitol Police and the Architect. 

We applaud the hard work of Chair Ryan, Ranking Member Herrera Buetler, and all members of the House Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee who have demonstrated good stewardship of the Legislative branch. We look forward to seeing the many provisions that will be contained in the committee report and reflect more granular decisions concerning improving Legislative branch operations. 

Appropriators have proposed a $5.7 billion funding level, which is a $954.4 million increase over FY 2022, or a 20.1 percent increase. Please note that this does not include funding for the Senate, which will add approximately $1 billion dollars. A whopping 71.4% of the increase will go to the Capitol Police and Architect. This raises significant concerns with us, most notably because historically funding for the USCP and the Architect has resulted in significant decreases in funding for Congress’s policy apparatus, which will become more of a problem in subsequent years.

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