Put Senate Bills and Amendments Online Before Votes

The public does not have real time access to bills and amendments as they are considered on the Senate floor. This week, Demand Progress, Lincoln Network, and a coalition of 41 other organizations and 15 experts sent a letter to Senate leadership requesting the Senate publish bills and amendments online while they are still under consideration.

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First Reactions to Senate Democrats’ Commerce, Justice, Science FY 2022 Appropriations Subcommittee Bill

On October 18, 2021, the Senate Appropriations Committee Democrats released draft bill text, an explanatory statement, and a subcommittee summary for the Commerce, Justice, and Science appropriations bill. We reviewed the contents and compared the proposed funding to the enacted levels from the last Congress.

Senate Democrats’ CJS appropriations bill includes a discretionary funding level of $79.7 billion, an increase of $8.55 billion over the FY 2021 enacted levels, a 12% increase. By comparison, the House version was favorably reported by committee but has not passed the chamber; it provided for a funding level of $81.3 billion

We were disappointed to see that language requiring transparency for Office of Legal Counsel opinions was not included in the Senate version. This language, which would have encouraged the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel to proactively release final OLC legal opinions, had been included in the House CJS Appropriations Committee Report (thanks, in large part, to the leadership of Rep. Cartwright). Here’s why final OLC opinions should be available to Congress and the public. However, so long as the explanatory language is not modified or negated in the version adopted by the Senate or agreed to by the chambers, the House’s pro-disclosure language will become operative.

The Senate CJS Committee Explanatory Statement included several notable provisions that caught our eye:

The Foreign Agents Registration Act is the focus of a request that directs the Attorney General to evaluate the feasibility of requiring all filings be submitted in an electronic, structured data format and published in a searchable, sortable, downloadable format. (p. 89) Demand Progress had requested language on FARA be included.

Whistleblower protection at the Justice Department is the focus of two directives within the explanatory statement. The first raises concerns that contractors are not being protected despite a mandate, and the committee directs the DOJ to explain how the agency will implement unresolved recommendations. (p. 75) In addition, the FBI must report on how it will implement unresolved GAO recommendations from 2015. (p. 94)

Serious misconduct identified by the OIG is not being prosecuted by the DOJ, and the committee directs the Attorney General to publish the number of cases referred for prosecution, the number of cases the DOJ declines to prosecute, and the reasons why. (p. 77)

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First Reactions to Senate Democrats’ Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee Bill

On Monday, the Senate Appropriations Committee Democrats released draft text, explanatory statements, and summaries for nine appropriations bills, including the Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee. We reviewed the bill text, explanatory report, and subcommittee bill summary and compared the proposed funding to the enacted levels from the last Congress. 

Senate Democratic Appropriators proposed a discretionary funding level of $29.4 billion, a $4.8 billion increase compared to FY 2021 enacted levels, or 16.3 percentage increase. This proposal represents $154 million less than the president’s request. For reference, the House-version — which passed the House in July as part of a minibus (here’s the committee report) — proposed $29.1 billion. Senate Republicans disapproved of Democrats publication of these bills and are calling for an agreement on top line spending levels; Democrats have been calling for negotiations for months.

Prior to this appropriations cycle, we compiled a list of ideas to include in the FY 2022 FSGG Appropriations bill. They include creating virtual visitor logs, providing centralized access to agency congressional budget justifications, public access to OMB apportionment decisions, listing unpublished IG reports on oversight.gov, improving congressional and public access to IG reports, and a COVID-19 spending tracker.

We note two notable provisions in the Senate’s explanatory statement

1. Apportionment Transparency

Providing $1 million to OMB to create a system to make apportionment of appropriations publicly available in a timely manner. Once the system is complete, OMB will be required to place each apportionment document on the public website within two days. (p. 45 of bill text and p. 28 of explanatory statement).

2. Federal Government Internships

Directing OPM to develop a strategy — which includes working with federal agencies and nonprofits — to increase the number of interns in the federal government over a three-year period. The strategy must include recruitment practices, onboarding, professional development, and offboarding (p. 83 of the explanatory statement).

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Senate Must Address Its Continuity in an Emergency

Bipartisan Coalition Supports Efforts To Keep the Senate Operational in an Emergency

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

June 14, 2021

CONTACT: Daniel Schuman, policy director, Demand Progress, daniel@demandprogress.org, 240-237-3930

Washington, DC — The Senate must act to ensure its continuity in a national crisis, according to a bipartisan coalition of 18 organizations and six congressional experts in two letters sent today to Senate leadership and the Senate Rules and Administration Committee. The signatories commended Sens. Portman and Durbin for their bipartisan efforts as embodied in S.Res. 201, a resolution to amend the Senate Standing Rules and enable the participation of absent senators during a national crisis. The letters were organized by the progressive organization Demand Progress and the moderate organization the Niskanen Center.

“The Senate is operating without a safety net and must act now to ensure it can function in a future emergency,” said Daniel Schuman, policy director for Demand Progress. “We are encouraged by the bipartisan efforts of Sens. Portman and Durbin to plan for the future and we commend their bipartisan efforts to ensure our democracy endures,” Schuman added.

“It’s high time to implement policies that reflect the realities of our lawmaking bodies and the incredible capabilities of America’s technological and security advancements, ” said Kristie De Peña, Niskanen’s vice president of policy. “We are proud that so many prominent organizations joined us in this effort to encourage pragmatic changes at this critical juncture,” De Peña added. 

The COVID-19 pandemic and attack on the Capitol are two recent illustrations of the importance of the Senate being ready to implement new ways to conduct its business, as were 9/11 and the Anthrax attacks 20 years ago. We can never know when the next danger will come out of the clear blue sky and we must get ready in advance. S.Res. 201 is an important bipartisan measure that sets aside partisanship to ensure that our republican can continue its legislative and oversight responsibilities even in a time of crisis. 

You can read the full letter from Demand Progress, the Niskanen Center, endorsed by XX bipartisan organizations, here and here and below:

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Increase Congress’s Funding by 10% Says Bipartisan Coalition of Good Government Organizations

For decades, Congress has undercut its ability to meet its Constitution obligations by providing itself inadequate resources to meet its legislative, constitutional, and oversight responsibilities. Discretionary Executive branch resources, and power, on the other hand, have grown at more than double the rate of the Legislative branch. In addition, Congress has been driven to rely on lobbyists for expertise because it lacks the in-house expertise.

Today a coalition of nearly 70 individuals, good government advocates, and businesses have sent a message for appropriators: it’s time to reinvest in Congress. The letter was organized by Demand Progress and the Lincoln Network.

Less than 1% of all discretionary federal funds go to Congress and its support agencies, and while non-defense discretionary spending has increased 55% over the last 25 years, the Legislative branch budget has grown just 30% in that same period. And the vast majority of those funds have gone for non-legislative purposes, such as the Capitol Police and the Architect of the Capitol.

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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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