Barrett, Graham, Feinstein, and de Tocqueville

I watched a little of this past week’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings and can’t say I enjoyed — or was enlightened — by it very much. Alexis de Tocqueville observed 185 year ago that “there is hardly a political question in the United States which does not sooner or later turn into a judicial one.” While members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a certain Supreme Court nominee might publicly contend otherwise, there’s hardly a question about the fitness of a judicial nominee that isn’t actually a political question. That is what judicial confirmation hearings are all about: the judgment of the person nominated to become a Justice. 

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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.

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What’s the Difference? Senate Committee Quorum Rules and Procedures

Despite the longstanding warnings from the Capitol attending physician and D.C. health official extending the stay-at-home order from May 15 to June 8, the Senate chose to return to Washington DC on May 4 for regular business. This includes voting on voting on nominations on the Senate floor as well as holding various committee proceedings.

But a majority of the committee proceedings have been different since the Senate has returned, with senators often choosing to appear via video conference to adhere to social distancing guidelines. Earlier this year, the Senate HELP Committee hosted a proceeding that included the chairman, the ranking member, and all four witnesses all participating via video conference. 

Given the circumstances, these modified proceedings had us thinking: What are the quorum requirements of each committee and what could potentially need to be changed if virtual proceedings are fully implemented?

Senate Rule XXVI establishes specific requirements for certain Senate committee procedures. In addition, each Senate committee is required to adopt rules to govern its own proceedings. These rules may “not be inconsistent with the Rules of the Senate,” but committees are allowed some flexibility to establish rules tailored to how certain activities can be conducted, which can result in significant variation in the way each committee operates. 

Given the changing circumstances of committee proceedings, we read each Senate committee’s rules and procedures to find trends, gaps, and unusual practices. Our complete spreadsheet on the House and Senate committee rules breakdown can be found here and is embedded below. 

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116th Congress Update: How Senate Committees Get Their Money

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

UPDATED TRENDS IN SENATE COMMITTEE FUNDING

How do Senate committees get their funding and how has funding changed over the last 25 years? We crunched the numbers for you and here are the highlights:

  • Senate Committee spending saw a slight uptick in funding this session, but is still well short of its peak 2010 funding. 
  • Appropriations continues to reign; the committee gets the largest portion of the funding and doesn’t have to ask for money.
  • Every Senate Committee experienced an increase in spending between the 106th and 116th Congresses in inflation adjusted dollars, with each committee seeing at least a 50% increase in funding since 1999.
  • While Senate Committees are still struggling with scarce funding, they’re in much better shape than House committees, which have seen draconian cuts since 2010.
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What Leg. Branch Receives in the Third Supplemental

Last week Congress enacted its third Coronavirus supplemental bill in an effort to stabilize the country. The legislation limped out of Congress, requiring unusual voting procedures, a stifling of debate, and an almost unprecedented level of unanimity.

The Senate supplemental bill totals $2 trillion, the largest stimulus in our history. While the bill addresses somes issues critical to the preservation of life and functionality of the country —  while missing others — Congress failed to provide sufficient funding for the Legislative Branch to ensure it can continue to operate during the crisis. 

The appropriations division of the Senate’s bipartisan coronavirus aid and economic relief agreement contains $330 billion in new funding. Title IX of S. 3548 includes $93.1 million in funding for the Legislative Branch, a number that is far too low. It represents roughly 1/2000 of the expenditure.

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April Update: Legislative Branch Appropriations Items Due Dates

Back in December 2019 – which feels like ages ago – Congress passed the Legislative Branch Appropriations bill for FY 2020, starting the clock on dozens of Leg. Branch projects and reports. 

In January, our team reviewed requests from the Leg. Branch approps bill, broke them down by entity, and summarized the deadlines. For those interested in looking at the complete spreadsheet, you can access it here.

We will regularly post a list of items due from the Leg. Branch approps bill, broken down by entity. We also will include which items were due during the previous month at the end of the report. 

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March Update: Legislative Branch FY2020 Appropriations Items Due Dates

Back in December 2019, Congress passed the Legislative Branch Appropriations bill for FY 2020, starting the clock on dozens of Leg. Branch projects and reports. 

Last month, our team reviewed requests from the Leg. Branch approps bill, broke them down by entity, and summarized the deadlines. For those interested in looking at the complete spreadsheet, you can access it here.

We will regularly post a list of items due from the Leg. Branch approps bill, broken down by entity. We also will include which items were due during the previous month at the end of the report. 

Expected This Month

Below are the items that are expected in March 2020, broken down by entity:

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The Undermining of Congress

The Legislative branch plays a central role in our democracy, but for decades Congress has systematically underfunded congressional operations as compared to the rest of government.

The chart below shows discretionary non-defense discretionary spending from 1995-2020 (in constant dollars). During that quarter-century, non-defense discretionary spending increased by 58%, but spending for the legislative branch increased only by 27%.

Discretionary Appropriations Spending from 1995-2020
Percentage Change in Non-defense appropriations discretionary spending 1995-2020
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2020 Legislative Branch Wish List

The passage of the Legislative Branch Appropriations bill for FY 2020 back in December started the clock on a number of projects and reports inside the legislative branch. We took a look at the requests, broke them down by office, and summarized the deadlines, which are drawn from the House committee report, the Senate committee report, and the Joint Explanatory Statement.

2020 Leg Branch Item Check List (1)

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Coalition Letters Urge House and Senate Committees to Expand Access to CRS Reports.

Earlier today, letters signed by 25 organizations were sent to the Committee on House Administration and the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration urging them to address issues of congressional and public access to CRS reports. 

Previously, Congress directed the Library of Congress to public current and archived CRS reports, but many of these reports are not made available to the public are not made generally available to Congress unless specifically requested and are not available from either the Library’s internal website or from its public-facing website.

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