First Branch Forecast

First Branch Forecast for April 3, 2023: No Foolin’


Friends, in the last issue we promised that we’re taking a break until April 17th, which we are, we swear. But because there’s been a lot of news this past week, we’re going to point you in the right direction for a few items and leave it at that. As you know, Congress is in recess this week and next, and you can always look to our handy appropriations tracker for upcoming deadlines.

Arrested developments. To get it out of the way, the brouhaha around the indictment of Donald Trump is why prior presidents who committed crimes, such as Richard Milhous Nixon, should have been indicted and prosecuted. No one is above the law and impeachment is not the same as a criminal prosecution. Let me say that again for our friends at the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel, who have a pernicious memo arguing the arrest, trial, and conviction of a criminal president would undermine the functioning of the Executive branch.  Yikes, right? Who knows what other legal opinions they have that subvert the rule of law. Maybe we should find out.

The deadline to address the debt ceiling is rapidly approaching while the press seem to have grown bored with the financial apocalypse its approach will bring. From our perspective, the debt ceiling should be eliminated or permanently suspended, which should have been accomplished last Congress, but alas. (Point your fingers where you may.) Some Republicans want to use it as a bludgeon for fiscal austerity, others to sow chaos or win political points. Are there enough House Republicans that on their own can pass legislation palatable to the Senate and White House? Are there enough House Republicans willing to join with Democrats to pass something palatable?

Meanwhile, House Republicans still have not put forth top line spending numbers, which is a big deal as they should already have given guidance to the appropriations subcommittees so they can write their bills. They should be writing them this recess, in fact. Good luck!

Appropriations Tracker

A handy list of deadlines for members and the public for when testimony is due.

Legislative Branch Appropriations

Appropriators let each chamber determine their own internal funding priorities, which means the House could be in big financial trouble. If the House passes a messaging number for its support offices, that messaging number will be the final number because the Senate will not negotiate over those numbers. If it’s a 20% cut, that means big problems for the Clerk, Sergeant at Arms, Chief Administrative Officer, Office of Legal Counsel, Committee funding, the Member Representational Account, and more. These cuts would stick even if the Senate manages to moderate funding levels for other legislative agencies, like the Library, GAO, GPO, CBO, and the Capitol Police. We’ve seen this story before: it’s how leadership centralizes power.

Some House officers came under scrutiny this past week in what was a fascinating look at House operations. Summarizing the proceedings would turn this into a long newsletter, but we strongly recommend that everyone read the written testimony of the Clerk and the CAO, who continue to do great work. The written testimony of the Sergeant at Arms largely lacked useful details to evaluate their operations — details that had been included in prior years. We note the SAA is requesting a 13% decrease in funding to $33 million because of all the supplemental funding provided last year; the Clerk is requesting a 9% increase to $44 million, and the CAO is requesting a 7% increase to $228 million. (Yes, the CAO is significantly larger than the other two.)

The Architect of the Capitol’testimony in the House was a nothingburger, just like in the Senate, as she is too new in her role to be able to answer any questions. The AOC requested $1,128 billion — yes, more than a billion dollars. As you’ll recall from last week, the AOC came under heavy fire for project mismanagement and the previous permanent architect was fired in February.

The Capitol Police were scheduled to testify in the House and in the Senate, along with the Senate Sergeant at Arms, but only the House hearing went forward. The hearing was short and neither it nor Chief Manger’s testimony meaningfully grappled with the USCP’s problems. The USCP requested an eye-popping $115 million increase over last year’s appropriations, and they didn’t even say their funding level last year in the written testimony. (We’ve been keeping track of official reports on USCP’s many, many failings.)

This year’s request would put them at $850 million, if we are doing our math right ($734.6 million in FY 2023 + $106 million increase). These numbers are bananas. The Capitol Police’s enacted level in FY22 was $602.5 million; in FY21 it was $515.5 million. So this year alone that’s a 15.8% increase, on top of a 22% increase last year, on top of 17% the prior year. If you go back further in time, you can see the Capitol Police growing year-over-year at a significant clip.

Let’s put it a different way. CBO’s FY23 funding was about $63 million. So the Capitol Police’s proposed growth for FY24 is the equivalent of 1.7 CBOs, the USCP’s actual growth for FY23 it was 2.1 CBOs, and a mere 1.4 CBOs in FY22. This doesn’t include any supplemental spending or spending on USCP facilities covered in the AOC’s budget.

One more way of looking at it. The Legislative branch’s funding for FY23 was about $6,900 million. If you assume a 20% cut, to $5,520 million, and you accept USCP and AOC at a combined $1,967 million, that means 36% of all Legislative branch spending will be for police and buildings. This is a very high percentage. No matter how you do the math, everyone else — GAO, the Library, House and Senate Committee and personal office funding — are going to be demolished. You’ll have well protected good looking buildings with no one in them.


A man was arrested, and then released, for recording a Senate Republican lunch meeting. Perhaps this is why the Senate Leg branch oversight hearing of the SAA and Capitol Police was canceled? Regardless, didn’t anyone see this coming?

Members of Congress can update their official portraitsee?

VP Pence apparently enjoys speech or debate clause immunity, according to a federal judge. It may make sense when he’s presiding over the Senate, although he’s just reading script, but given the VP’s role as a factotum for the president, I wonder.

Rep. Gaetz’s LA is a convicted war criminal. “Derrick Miller, a former U.S. Army National Guard sergeant who spent eight years in prison for murdering an Afghan civilian in 2010, now serves as a legislative assistant covering military policy for Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz.”

The Senate repealed the 1991 and 2002 AUMF, which is good if belated news for Congress reasserting its war powers. However, those provisions are largely nullities — except when abused by the Executive branch. The House hasn’t acted and may be foot dragging. We will cheer when they are repealed and when the House puts in a sunset for all existing AUMFs so that it must affirmatively act to keep them going.

No questions. Is it weird for a committee to call witnesses and then prevent them from being questioned? The argument goes to whether you should take the statements of witnesses literally or politically.

The CAO’s testimony, which we mentioned above, also addressed whether the House might be able to increase the pay cycle for staff.

The Supreme Court, in theory, now must provide a “fuller public accounting of free trips, meals and other gifts they accept from corporations or other organizations.” How will it be enforced?

Russia arrested a US journalist for espionage. There’s no reason to believe Russian claims and crimes against journalists are on the rise. One thing endangering journalists are when governments use them as spies. Would the US government use journalists as spies? Would they fail to inform the intel committees when they did so? Do the intel agencies refuse to answer questions about whether they’re following their own rules? Sigh. Maybe someone in Congress should start asking questions or drafting a bill on this practice.

Health news. We are glad to see that Sen. Fetterman is home. And send Rep. Kildee good wishes for a speedy recovery.


Congressional Committee Calendar

~ Down the Line ~

The Office of Congressional Workplace Rights will host a training session on the Congressional Accountability Act on April 18More details and links to registration.

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