First Branch Forecast

First Branch Forecast for June 5, 2023: A return to normalcy


The debt limit crisis mercifully is over, for now, without the Senate as much as cutting into its three-day weekend. The institutional conditions that enabled the drama, however, remain. For now, it’s back to business on the urgent matters of the day like messaging bills about appliances.

We’ll be waiting for the stalled appropriations process to restart soon. There’s already dissatisfaction in the Senate, however, with the deal’s level of defense spending and top lines generally that may mean for some interesting supplemental funding tug-of-war across the chambers.

This week the House is scheduled to be in session Monday through Thursday and the Senate Tuesday through Friday.


The climax of the debt limit drama last week obviously was a big sigh of relief considering the alternatives, but was an indication that a lot of what we were watching was simple posturing over decisions that nobody really wanted to make. The results, which at least by the vote tallies looked like previous divided-government debt ceiling lifts, have led to an all’s well that ends well spirit to break out amongst the punditry, or even cheers for responsible governance.

Once again, we’re the skunks at the garden party reminding everyone that a small faction of the House was able to wrest control of its agenda away for half this session and lead it out of bounds for democratic governance. A minoritarian faction may have fallen short of its maximalist demands in the end because too many colleagues were unwilling to go for broke.

Still, MAGA conservatives still got to take their shot, force the government to spend less on Democratic priorities, and further complicate the lives of some working-class Americans. These are some of the same crew that led the effort to overturn the last presidential election, and signs of their continuing commitment to democratic majoritarianism, nor that of their very online constituents, are not apparent. The structural dynamics of the House, meanwhile, will remain unchanged until January 2025, in time for this group to manufacture another crisis if they choose.

Ultimately, the extreme cost of following through on the default threat split even this faction. Many members had skin in the game in the case of a financial meltdown. Political scientists Christian Grose and Jordan Carr Peterson note that MAGA Republicans who voted for the deal owned significant stock, while opponents like Reps. Andy Biggs and Lauren Boebert did not, findings consistent with the previous debt limit crisis.

Personal portfolio exposure doesn’t explain everything, particularly given the political incentives that go along with supporting leadership’s agenda. For example, Speaker McCarthy has granted Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene access to January 6 security footage, which she will provide to fellow right-wing conspiracy theorists. No doubt this will help her ability to fundraise from small donors.

It’s difficult to tease out the extent to which political actions are driven by ideology, expedience, and avarice. That’s why reducing non-representative motivations, such as prohibiting members from owning individual stocks, is a good idea.

Other contingencies, as always, matter a great deal to this episode. They tell us that the MAGA forces had hit the wall in the Rules Committee vote when Rep. Thomas Massie stood down. His vote could have complicated the process that came perilously close to the x-date as is, while his presence on the committee was one of the aces the MAGA folks held from their McCarthy speakership strike. What happened there is intriguing. We’re also interested in the reported side-deal for bolstering Democratic earmarks that Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries may have wrangled for delivering his reserve of votes.

So this is probably it for big legislative accomplishments for this Congress. We will see an appropriations deal and likely an NDAA or two, but largely along the lines of this settlement. Bipartisan rumblings from the Senate indicate it might not be that sticky, as leadership immediately expressed concern about the House sequestration plan, especially for defense, but we suspect MAGA Republicans will be more careful to avoid getting the lower chamber rolled.

Related Resources

The House Administration Oversight Subcommittee has scheduled a hearing on the Office of Congressional Ethics on June 13th. OCE is the House’s independent ethics watchdog and one of the best innovations in Congress in the last quarter-century.


A different kind of institutional crisis is brewing across the street at the Supreme Court, which has decided to hear a case that could reverse the 40-year precedent of “Chevron deference” to the Executive branch on regulatory matters where congressional statute is “vague.” Doing so, as Maya Kornberg and Martha Kinsella of the Brennan Center remind us, would dump an enormous amount of policymaking work on Congress without remotely the capacity to execute it.

The Legislative branch, they note, “could no longer legislate with the expectation that agencies could successfully effectuate legislative goals and mandates based on their deep subject matter expertise,” and would have to overcome decades of erosion of internal expertise instantaneously.

We’re not much for opinion pieces in the New York Times, but Josh Chafetz’s piece on the highly political Supreme Court and its disrespect for the Legislative branch is worth a read. “Over roughly the past 15 years, the justices have seized for themselves more and more of the national governing agenda, overriding other decision makers with startling frequency. And they have done so in language that drips with contempt for other governing institutions and in a way that elevates the judicial role above all others.”

How does Congress handle the increasing workload that will land on its lap as the Supreme Court plays Calvinball with the Constitution? Maybe that is something the new Fix Congress Caucus can start discussing as it forms. Reps. Derek Kilmer and William Timmons launched the new caucus last week to build on their work on the Modernization Committee and support the new subcommittee of CHA on the issue. Institutional infrastructure to continue reform conversations are critical and this is a great idea.


The House has 434 members as Rep. David Cicilline has left office. It soon will be down another as Rep. Reps. Chris Stewart plans to resign.

SCIF lift: Three authors at Just Security offer guidance on how Congress can improve how it handles classified information through the course of its work, including the physical infrastructure needed at the Capitol. We would add that making TS/SCI clearances available to one staffer in each House personal office, just like the Senate does, is a key component of such reform.

The Office of the Whistleblower Ombuds has developed a new template for case management procedures, which can be downloaded here.

Rep. Gerry Connolly’s office had done a security assessment of its Fairfax district office in January, but retained an open-door policy. That’s all changed in the wake of the violent attack on two staffers by a mentally ill man.

The founding of the Congressional Workers Union fits into a larger trend of white collar unionization in several fields over the last decade.

There’s a pipeline between donations and becoming an ambassador. The Campaign Legal Center makes the connection.

A running vote tally was available on Senate Republicans’ video feed this week, which blew Senate nerds’ minds and would be cool if the public could see, too.

Rep. Paul Gosar would prefer not to be called a white supremacist or a Nazi.

We’ll give you one guess for how to get a job in Rep. George Santos’ office.

What are you reading this summer?

We’re putting together a list of smart, interesting, Congress-related books and want to know what you recommend. (Right now we’re reading The Last Honest Man, about former Sen. Frank Church and the eponymous committee inquiry into intelligence abuses.) Just hit reply and let us know what you recommend, and why. Don’t worry, we will keep our sourcing anonymous.


Congressional Committee Calendar

~ Monday ~

The Advisory Committee on the Records of Congress will hold its biannual meeting from 10 AM to noon in room SVC-209 at the US Capitol. To attend the open meeting, you had to RSVP by June 2.

The House Office of Diversity and Inclusion will hold a town hall for Black men on career advancement at 1 PM in SVC-215.

The DC Legal Hackers will host Max Ghenis, Co-founder and CEO of Policy Engine, to talk about the tools they provide at 6 PM. RSVP.

~ Tuesday ~

The POPVOX Foundation will hold a conversation between former Obama deputy chief technology officer and Code for America founder Jen Pahlka and former congressional leadership staffer Matt Lira about Pahlka’s new book Recoding America at 6:30 PM in the Great Hall of the Library of Congress.

~ Thursday ~

The FOIA Advisory Committee will meet (virtually) from 10 AM to 12:30 PM. More information and a link for registration is available here.

The POPVOX Foundation will hold its annual Internpalooza event along with members of the First Branch Intern Project from 3-6 PM in the Capitol Visitors Center Auditorium. Register for the event here. The event is at its registration cap, but there will be a waitlist.

Why Congress! The new book from noted AEI scholar Philip Wallach will be the topic of a book talk and panel discussion with two former members of Congress, moderated by Kevin Kosar, from 4-5:15 PM at the AEI Auditorium. Register for the event here. It tells the story of “why our increasingly divided politics demand a legislature capable of pitting factions against each other and forcing them to work out accommodations.”

~ Down the road ~

The Office of Congressional Ethics will be subject to a House Administration Oversight Subcommittee hearing on June 13 from 2:30-4 PM.

The Office of Government Information Services will hold its annual open meeting on June 13 starting at 10 AMFollow this link to register – deadline is June 11.

The International Conference on Legislation and Law Reform and The University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School will offer a webinar on AI and legislation on June 15 from 11 AM to 12:30 PMRegister here.

The next meeting of the Congressional Data Task Force will be on June 22 from 2 to 4 PM in B-248/B-249 Longworth. Attendees must register here in advance.

OCWR will hold a webinar on its role under the Congressional Accountability Act and the rights and responsibilities of covered Legislative branch employees on June 27 at 1 PMRegister here.

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