The Strange Appearance of No Confidence Votes in Congress

Donald Wolfensberger writes at The Hill:

"If you can’t pull a rabbit out of your own hat, use someone else’s. On July 19, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) and 28 of his House Democratic colleagues introduced a resolution “objecting to the conduct of the President of the United States,” which they pitched as being a resolution of “no confidence.”  It was a dazzling display of magic as they yanked a baffled bunny from a hat that wasn’t theirs.  It was a Victorian top hat, no doubt borrowed from the cloakroom of the British House of Commons...."



Why Amending Obamacare Under Reconciliation Will Be Hard

James Wallner writes at the Examiner:

"Changing a reconciliation bill in the Senate is harder than you think. And the reason why has nothing to do with healthcare policy.
"While senators are correct to note they have a "virtually unlimited opportunity" to offer amendments to reconciliation bills, the special rules governing that process make it less likely that alternative proposals will receive serious consideration on the floor. Given this, senators should not be quick to assume that beginning debate on the healthcare bill this week will lead to a different outcome if their amendments are not allowed to be debated openly and do not receive up-or-down votes on the merits. Ensuring this requires senators to know exactly what it is that they are amending...."


Confused by Reconciliation? Read This.

Molly Reynolds writes at the FixGov blog:

"With Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) planning to try to begin debate on the Republican health care bill Tuesday, lots of eyes will be on the chamber—a place famous for its complicated rules and jargon. Want to understand what’s happening? Here are four things you might see—and why they matter...."


Rep. Darin LaHood On Creating a Congress of Tomorrow

Rep. Darin LaHood, D-Il, writes at the Ripon Forum:

"Simply put, the body “of the People,” voted in “by the People,” is not working “for the People.”
"So what do we do about a dysfunctional Congress? When the governing process fails to function, reform is necessary. It is time to return to performance-based governing, restore order and effectiveness, re-establish a balance of power and re-create an environment in which Congress is trusted by the People. Significant change in the legislative branch will require real actions and real work by those currently serving. Recognizing this, I have introduced with my democratic colleague, Congressman Dan Lipinski, the “Congress of Tomorrow Project.”
"Our legislation, H. Con. Res. 28, was introduced on February 16th earlier this year and...."


Short Video Series On How to Conduct Oversight

The Levin Center at Wayne State University's law school has released a series of short videos on how to conduct oversight. Many topics are included, such as "structuring a hearing," "designing an effective document request," and "handling a difficult lawyer." You may watch the videos at

ICYMI: Rep. Isakson Introduces Biennial Budgeting Bill

Rep. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga, writes at the Ripon Forum:

"Over the last 37 years, since 1980, Congress has passed all 12 annual appropriations bills on time only twice. Too often, the current appropriations process results in a chaotic spending spree each fall when both chambers wind up hastily passing a temporary funding measure up against an end-of-the-fiscal-year deadline to avoid a government shutdown. This is no way to run a business, and it is no way to run the government.

"To help achieve a more efficient and effective Washington that would also tackle the core drivers of our debt, we need to change the system by which Congress appropriates federal dollars because the current process is clearly not working. I have introduced legislation that would move the federal appropriations process to a system known as biennial budgeting.

"Biennial budgeting is a commonsense concept that has been endorsed by both Republican and Democratic presidents and by numerous federal budget experts. Its value is proven daily in the 19 states where it is currently in use.

"U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., has worked with me to advance the Biennial Budgeting and Appropriations Act, S.306, because she has seen the results firsthand as governor of a state where it has operated with great success...."


ICYMI: Coequal or Co-opted? How Congress Can Restore Its Rightful Role in Government

Former Rep. Mickey Edwards (R-OK) writes at the Ripon Forum:

"The problem is long-standing and difficult: it often appears that many members of Congress have no clue as to what the Constitution requires of them.  Perhaps some of these approaches might over time help redress the balance between the branches and return us to something closer to the constitutional model the Founders envisioned.   The Constitution did not make the Congress the principal repository of federal authority because its authors thought the Congress would be infallible.  Rather, in a hybrid governmental system, a republic in form but a democracy in the selection of leaders, the Founders believed that by giving Congress the power to tax, spend, and go to war, the ultimate authority would rest with the people themselves.  When members of Congress surrender this authority, it is not themselves they are betraying.  It is the American people.  That is why the balance of powers must be restored...."


James Wallner Joins R Street Institute as Senior Fellow

James Wallner.jpg

James Wallner has joined the R Street Institute as a senior fellow and member of R Street’s Governance Project team and Legislative Branch Capacity Working Group.

Dr. Wallner will research and write on Congress, especially the Senate; the separation of powers; legislative procedure; and the federal policy process. He is the author of two books, The Death of Deliberation: Partisanship and Polarization in the United States Senate, published in 2013 by Lexington Books, and the forthcoming On Parliamentary War: Partisan Conflict and Procedural Change in the United States Senate, which is scheduled to be published in November by the University of Michigan Press.

How Can Congress Make Policy More Evidence-Based?

Results 4 America writes:

"Over the last few years, Congress has passed bipartisan legislation that recognizes and advances the role of evidence, including the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), and the Evidence-Based Policymaking Commission Act. Members of Congress have also recently considered other results-driven legislation, including the Social Impact Partnerships to Pay for Results Act, Juvenile Justice Reform Act, Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act, and Families First Prevention Services Act.

"But what exactly makes legislation evidence-based? And how can Congress strengthen this 'What Works' approach when writing future legislation? This policy brief outlines 9 ways Congress can ensure federal laws are evidence-based...." 


Senate Extends Its Calendar. But Will It Achieve Much?

Source: Harper's Weekly, courtesy of the U.S. Senate.

Source: Harper's Weekly, courtesy of the U.S. Senate.

James Wallner writes in the Examiner:

"Senate Republicans should be applauded. They were right to delay the start of their August recess... But Senate Republicans would be wrong to think that pushing back the start of their summer vacation by two short weeks is all that's needed to overcome the challenges they face. Indeed, it is going to take a lot more than simply showing up for work to pull the Senate out of the rut it is currently in. It's going to take a different approach to lawmaking...."


Are Senators Struggling to Legislate?

Craig Volden and Alan Wiseman write at the Washington Post:

"Republican senators are struggling with how to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Is it just a tough issue — or does the Senate no longer have effective lawmakers?
Our new data analysis suggests that senators’ success in moving bills through the legislative process has declined markedly over the past several decades — undermining the Senate’s capacity to resolve public problems...."


ICYMI: House Votes to Time-Out the Authorization for Use of Military Force

P.L. 107-40, which delegated significant military authority to the executive.

P.L. 107-40, which delegated significant military authority to the executive.

At The Week, Anthony L. Fisher reports:

"Last week, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) submitted an amendment into the House Appropriations Committee's 2018 defense spending bill that would repeal the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force within 240 days of the bill's enactment. The one-page act 'applies with respect to each operation or other action that is being carried out pursuant to the Authorization for Use of Military Force initiated before such effective date."

"This means that authorization to continue the generation-long war in Afghanistan, the routine drone strikes in places like Pakistan and Yemen, and the global battlefield that includes anywhere al Qaeda or its offshoot ISIS have set up shop, would revert to Congress rather than the president.

"Lee — who has previously proposed legislation to repeal the 2001 AUMF five times dating back to 2010 — introduced the amendment with no preceding hype but won over other members of the committee in short order, including Republicans and military veterans, with Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) saying, 'This is something where Congress has collectively avoided taking responsibility for years.' According to BuzzFeed, the amendment was passed via a voice vote 'with a resounding chorus of ayes, and only one or two nays,' which seemed to shock even Lee....


Congressional Pay and Benefits at a Standstill, With a Cost

David Hawkings writes at Roll Call:

"This is the longest period without a congressional raise since the decade ending in 1965, and there’s little likelihood the salary will change until both private sector wages and the public’s view of Congress have increased substantially and stayed that way for a while. Adjusting for inflation, the buying power of a member’s salary is less than at any time since the late 1980s...."


ICYMI: Nominations Create a Crush of Work for the Senate



Despite the historically dilatory pace of nominee submission by the Trump administration, processing and considering new nominees really taxes the Senate. Sean McMinn reports, "There are presently 442 nominees sent by the White House and waiting for Senate consideration (who haven’t withdrawn their nominations)." So that is more than 400 persons who the Senate ha to decide for fitness and competence. And every minute spent handling a nomination is a minute not spent making policy, conducting oversight of existing governmental activities, etc.


What’s in the FY2018 House Legislative Branch Appropriation?

By Casey Burgat

On June 29, the House Appropriations Committee approved fiscal year 2018 appropriations via voice vote. The bill calls for $3.58 billion of funding for House and joint-chamber operations (Senate-specific items are not included), a full $100M more than the enacted FY2017 funding levels. It should, however, be noted that the FY2018 appropriation is much lower than the appropriation of FY2010.

On the same day, the Committee released a full committee report explaining the appropriating rationale.

What is actually included in the bill? Who won and who lost the funding battle?

Big Winners

Security: In light of the recent shooting of Rep. Scalise, staffer Zachary Barth, and officers Griner and Bailey, the committee clearly saw a need to buck up various forms of security for members and the government. The Capitol Police received an increase of $29M, the House Sergeant at Arms budget was upped $5M to $20.5M, and $10M of that was itemized to enhance the cybersecurity program of the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO).

Architect of the Capitol (AOC): The stewards of the capitol complex, from building maintenance to landscaping, received a $48.4M increase in funds over FY2017 enacted levels. The committee instructed the AOC to spend the appropriated $577.8M on efforts that “promote the safety and health of workers and occupants, decrease the deferred maintenance backlog, and invest to achieve future energy savings.”

Library of Congress (LOC): For FY2018, the Library of Congress’s appropriations was increased $16.9M to $648M in an effort to modernize information technology and copyright efforts, as well as provide more funds ($3.5M) to Congress’s nonpartisan think-tank, the Congressional Research Service (CRS). Additionally, $29M of the AOC’s appropriation was itemized for improvement and maintenance of LOC buildings and grounds.

Transparency: After years of debating the issue, the appropriators directed CRS  “to make available to the public, all non-confidential reports.” The agency was given 90 days to submit an implementation plan, including cost estimates, to its oversight committees.

Big Losers

House Office Buildings: Despite the AOC receiving a sizeable bump in its appropriations, the amount allocated for the maintenance and care of the four House office buildings initially was chopped by $23.4M from FY2017 levels. Four million dollars was later amended by voice vote, leaving the cut at $19.4M.

Members Representational Allowance (MRA): The funding stream allowing members of the House to hire more, and better compensate current, congressional staffers, remained at FY2017 levels ($562.6M). “This level of funding will allow the MRAs to operate at authorized levels as approved by the Committee on House Administration,” declared the committee. What it will not do is reverse the long decline in congressional staff levels and salaries.

Government Accountability Office (GAO): Though not a decrease in funding levels, GAO was granted a bump in funds by only $450,000 despite a requested $46M increase over FY2017 enacted levels. The agency requested the substantial increase for FY2018 chiefly for increased staffing in order to reduce the amount of improper governmental payments, identify ways to close the gap between taxes owed and taxes paid, and assist Congress in determining “policy implications of increasingly complex and rapidly evolving development of science and technology.” Instead of comparably larger increases enjoyed by sister agencies CRS ($3.5M) and the Congressional Budget Office ($2M), GAO’s appropriation remained relatively flat at $568M.

Legislative Branch Appropriation Bill Specifics

Capitol Police: FY2018 funding levels increased $29M to $422.5M, including: an increase of $7.5M to “enhance Member protection, increased training, equipment and technology-related support items”; an increase of $13.2M for Capitol Police buildings and grounds; and half year funds to hire 48 additional sworn officers.

House Sergeant at Arms: increased $5M “intent of enhancing security for Members when they are away from the Capitol complex. The Committee is aware that a specific plan is still evolving and once fully developed a plan will be presented to the Committee.”

Member’s Representational Allowance (MRA): though the MRA remains at FY2017 levels ($562.6M), “the Committee has provided resources necessary to support the Committee on House Administration’s plan to increase Member’s Representational Allowance (MRA) by $25,000 per account this year for the purpose of providing Member security when away from the Capitol complex.”

Chief Administrative Officer (CAO): received an additional $10M for strengthened cybersecurity measures. Additionally, the Committee suggested that “with effective management of the program and continued support in appropriations, sufficient funding exists” to increase the number of two-year fellows partaking in CAO’s Wounded Warrior Program from 54 to 85.

House Leadership Offices: FY2018 funding levels remained constant at $22.3M.

House Committees: appropriations for the salaries and expenses of House committees was decreased by $45,004, from $150,324,377 in FY2017 to $150,279,373 for FY2018.

Joint Committees: the Joint Committee on Taxation received an increase of $360,000 to $10.46M, while the Joint Economic Committee’s funding remained at $4.2M.

Congressional Budget Office (CBO): funding levels increased $2M, from $46.5M in FY2017 to $48.5M for FY2018.

Architect of the Capitol (AOC): FY2018 funding levels increased $48M to $578M, including: a $12.7M increase for care and maintenance of the U.S. Capitol; $20M increase in funding for the Capitol Power Plant; a $29M increase for Library of Congress buildings and grounds; and a decrease of $27.4M for House Office Buildings maintenance.

Congressional Research Service (CRS): funding levels increased from $108M in FY2017 to $111.5M for FY2018, an increase of $3.5M.

Government Publishing Office (GPO): FY2018 funding levels remained constant at $117M.

Office of Compliance: FY2018 funding levels remained flat at $3.6M.


Two amendments to the FY2018 Legislative Branch appropriations bill were adopted by the Appropriations Committee.

Rep. Kevin Yoder’s (R, KS) manager’s amendment added $4M to House Office Buildings maintenance. Instead of decrease of $27.4M, amendment makes decrease $23.4M.

Rep. Barbara Lee (D, CA) amendment, directed CAO to submit a report to committee within 90 days “addressing the ways in which Members and staff who have hiring and management responsibilities can be given the tools to combat unconscious bias in hiring and promotion, and with education on the negative impact of bias.”

House Clerk to Unveil New, Improved Website

New House Clerk website 07-06-2017.png

The House's Clerk is soon to unveil a handsome new website with features including:

  • Live House floor video;
  • Daily legislative activity (floor summary, bills, votes, and committee meetings); and
  • House facts at a glance (days in session, number of votes, measures introduced and passed, party division, and vacancies).

You can peek at the new site at For a bit longer, the old site remains at, and then the new site will replace it.

Ditching the Filibuster Won’t Save the Senate

James Wallner writes at the Library of Law & Liberty:

"The Senate is broken, but eliminating the filibuster is only likely to exacerbate the underlying causes of the institution’s dysfunction. This is not the conventional wisdom, of course, which maintains that it’s excessive minority obstruction that makes the Senate unable to pass important legislation. Proponents of this view point to the gridlock that results from the filibuster. And behind it they see ideological and partisan polarization, geographic sorting of the electorate, and the prevalence of special interest money in campaigns. There is some truth in this diagnosis, for the Senate does suffer from an inability to overcome partisan conflict between its members and thus to clear legislation. In the name of ending gridlock, some would fix the Senate by empowering the majority to pass its agenda by ending the minority’s ability to filibuster. Yet while this might well improve the Senate’s legislative productivity, it would do so by undermining the institution’s ability to perform the other role for which it was created...."


The Number of Hearings Is Going Down

At Vox, Jonathan Lewallen, Sean Theriault, and Bryan Jones write: 

"We should not be surprised by the lack of Senate committee hearings on the AHCA. It is the culmination of a trend that stretches back to the 1970s. The three of us have studied congressional dysfunction, as evaluated by the changing nature of how Congress conducts its hearings. Compared to the 1970s, committees in both chambers today are spending markedly less time examining proposed solutions to the major policy problems confronting us. That means committees are spending less time learning about what bills are on the agenda, which then means both that members are less informed about what they vote on and that they have fewer colleagues who they can ask.... Republicans aren’t the only villains here. Despite the number of hearings that the Democrats held on the Affordable Care Act, the decline in solution-focused hearings is fairly linear, beginning in the early 1970s when Democrats held consistent majorities in both chambers. Congress and its committee system declined just as much under Clinton, Obama, and Democratic majorities as they have under Bush, Trump, and Republican majorities."


Next Meeting: Monday, July 17 at 12pm

P.L. 114-140, Evidence-Based Policymaking Commission Act of 2016.

P.L. 114-140, Evidence-Based Policymaking Commission Act of 2016.

In this Legislative Branch Capacity Working Group session we examine the use of data and analyses in policy-making. What are the challenges Congress faces in attempting to implement evidence-based policymaking? How can increasing congressional capacity lead to more (and better) evidenced-based lawmaking? 

Come join us as we discuss these questions. Lunch will be provided. RSVP at



Andrew Reamer, Research Professor, George Washington University
Timothy Shaw, Senior Analyst, Bipartisan Policy Center
Lucas Hitt, Deputy Executive Director, Commission on Evidence-Based Policy Making


This meeting is open to Capitol Hill staff (except interns); experts on Congress; and anyone else who cares about the well-being of America’s legislative branch. This meeting is open to media, and the group's co-directors, Kevin R. Kosar and Lee Drutman, are available for interviews and comment. They can be reached at and


New America and the R Street Institute launched the Legislative Branch Capacity Working Group in spring 2016. The group formed in response to widespread perception that Congress is dysfunctional. The Legislative Branch Capacity Working Group aims to assess Congress' capacity to perform its constitutional duties and to collaborate on ideas to improve the legislative branch’s performance in our separation-of-powers system.