ICYMI: Top reads on Congress

 Source:  CFRB

Source: CFRB

By Marian Currinder

Damian Paletta and Erica Werner, “Looming shutdown raises fundamental question: Can the GOP govern?Washington Post:

“But the impasse raised deeper questions about the GOP’s capacity — one year into the Trump administration — to govern. Never before has the government experienced a furlough of federal employees when a single party controls both the White House and Congress, but that’s what will happen after midnight Friday if a spending bill fails to pass Congress.”

More on shutdown battle

James Wallner, “In the midst of a shutdown battle, Republicans should embrace conflict,” Washington Examiner:

“Avoiding similar scenarios in the future requires members to change how they think about conflict. Doing so will make them less likely to develop legislative workarounds to sideline controversy in important public policy debates. And it will reduce surprises by making it less likely that contentious issues are left until the last minute to be resolved. This will make government shutdowns less likely in the future.”

Jonathan Bernstein, "Republicans are Barely Trying to Avoid a Shutdown," Bloomberg:

“A better strategy for Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would focus on completing legislative work that previous leaders of Congress tended to accept as their responsibility. They can start by accepting that they'll have to make some concessions to Democrats and then try to cut the best deal they can to avoid shutting down the government.”

Mark Strand, “End Government Shutdowns,” Congressional Institute:

“Senator Rob Portman of Ohio and Representative Rodney Davis of Illinois have introduced legislation that would remove the incentive to use a government shutdown as a policy bludgeon. Aptly enough, the bill is the “End Government Shutdowns Act” (H.R. 2162 and S. 918). The legislation would provide appropriations at the previous year’s levels for 120 days after the end of the fiscal year on October 1 by triggering an automatic continuing resolution. After that, if the Congress and President still had not passed the appropriation bills, the appropriations would be cut by 1 percent every 120 days.”

A lot on earmarks this week

Jennifer Shutt, “House Lawmakers Ready to Carve Some Pork,” Roll Call:

“The U.S. House of Representatives appears ready to welcome back earmarks with open, bipartisan arms. During a Rules subcommittee hearing Wednesday, lawmakers sounded optimistic that Congress will wrestle back a portion of its spending authority from the executive branch — though there was some discord over when and how earmarks should return.”

Jonathan Rauch, "Earmarks: The one thing Trump gets right about Congress," Brookings

“When the House Rules Committee scheduled hearings for this week on bringing back the congressional practice of earmarking, it probably did not expect an assist from President Trump. The always-unpredictable president surprised congressional leaders last week by recommending they reinstate earmarks.”

Michael Steel, “Yes, Congress is broken. But earmarks will only make it worse,” Washington Post:

“As lawmakers on Capitol Hill continue to negotiate a tough spending bill this week, many commenters are lamenting the earmark ban put in place by then-House Speaker John A. Boehner in 2010. This has become a popular position for both Democrats and Republicans in Washington. Even President Trump has suggested ending the ban. But eliminating this reform would be a costly and counterproductive mistake.”

Mike DeBonis and Elise Viebeck, “Trump’s embrace of earmarks spurs push for congressional revival,” Washington Post:

“The frustration from Republican lawmakers such as (Rep. Steve) Womack, who want to exert power over federal spending on pet projects in their districts, is fueling a major push to restore earmarks seven years after they were abolished in the House after a series of scandals. The effort got a significant boost last week from President Trump, who suggested during a televised White House meeting with lawmakers that earmarks could help restore comity to Washington.”

Jonathan S. Tobin, “Return of the ultimate swamp creature,” National Review:

“Trump’s idea to revive earmarks might eliminate gridlock — but only at the cost of the routine corruption that drowned a previous generation of Republicans."
 

Kevin Bogardus, “Lobbyists and watchdog groups form coalition to push for earmark reform,” The Hill:

“A coalition of lobbyists and public-interest advocates … presented five principles for reforming the earmarking process. The coalition, which includes firms that lobby for appropriated projects and groups that argue earmarks are government waste, want to limit campaign contributions from earmark beneficiaries and ban congressional aides from attending campaign fundraisers.” 

Sarah Ferris and Jennifer Sholtes, “Federal budgeting is so broken only earmarks might fix it,” Politico:

“Veteran lawmakers say the centuries-old spending process has been withering for a generation. Once-autonomous appropriators have been increasingly usurped by party leaders on key decisions.”

Cristina Marcos, “Lawmakers see path to bringing back earmarks,” The Hill:

“Lawmakers from both parties expressed support on Wednesday for reversing the House’s ban on earmarks, despite skepticism from key conservatives who originally pushed to end the practice nearly a decade ago. The overwhelming consensus at a House Rules Committee hearing on Wednesday was that allowing members of Congress to authorize pet projects back in their districts makes them more effective at their jobs.”

Congressional Capacity and Productivity

Casey Burgat, “Five reasons to oppose congressional term limits,” Brookings:

“Much of the term-limit reasoning makes sense. However, it ignores the very real downsides that would result. Despite widespread support, instituting term limits would have numerous negative consequences for Congress.”

Steve Israel, “The Breakdown in Trust That Could Shutdown the Government,” New York Times:

“It’s no different from any other negotiation. If one party is necessary to close the deal, then the deal must include that party’s values and priorities. But we’ve entered new territory. Back in the day, there was a basic trust between interlocutors. Sure there was the typical fudging on the number of votes committed or available. But everyone was working toward a responsible, fairly predictable outcome.”

Drew DeSilver, “Despite GOP control of Congress and White House, lawmaking lagged in 2017,” Pew Research:

“The GOP-led 115th Congress enacted a total of 97 laws last year, the fourth-fewest for the first calendar year of a congressional session in the past three decades. That was 18 fewer than in 2015, the first year of the 114th Congress, when Democrat Barack Obama was president and Republicans ran both the House and Senate. The current Congress also enacted the sixth-fewest substantive laws (83) in its first year, six fewer than in 2015.”

Carl Hulse, “Sharper State Divide in Congress Seen as ‘New Civil War,’” New York Times:

“If House delegations become more sharply divided by state, such geographic favoritism could become more prevalent because the majority party would have less incentive to consider the interests of states where they have little or no membership at political risk. The concern is that lawmakers would retreat even further into their ideological camps, staring warily across state lines.”

Sarah Binder, “How to waste a congressional majority,” Foreign Affairs:

“To be sure, congressional dysfunction is nothing new. In recent years, Congress has tended to delegate power to the executive—sometimes on purpose, other times as a consequence of deadlock. But now the buck no longer seems to stop with the president. Returning responsibility to Capitol Hill will not make finding solutions any easier if Republicans in Congress are unable to resolve policy impasses on their own.”

Alexandra Stratton, “Lobbyists Have a New Secret Weapon,” Bloomberg Business:

“While the face of lobbying is often a polished government relations executive trekking the halls of Capitol Hill armed with talking points, attending luncheons, and writing op-eds, the hidden side of the business entails hours of research and grunt work. And despite the billions of dollars that corporations pour into lobbying efforts each year, the work has remained relatively low-tech. Part of the problem is knowing how to sift through reams of information. That’s hardly unique to the lobbying business, but in many ways it’s been slow to catch up. Industries from finance to manufacturing to marketing have been using algorithms and big data to solve some of their biggest challenges. Those tools are now starting to catch on in lobbying.”

Congressional Process

Todd Ruger, “Senate Republicans Steamroll Judicial Process,” Roll Call:

“What happens next in judicial confirmations will reveal not only Trump’s ability to leave a lasting imprint on the nation’s courts, but how much the Senate asserts itself in its “advice and consent” role — particularly when the same party controls both the Senate and the White House. Senators have complained that the White House isn’t adequately consulting with them on whom to nominate, decried that Senate Republicans are ignoring negative candidate evaluations from the American Bar Association and criticized a faster than normal pace of hearings in committee that gives senators less time to question nominees and research their background.”

David Hawkings, “Why Congress Won’t Touch the 25th Amendment,” Roll Call:

“More and more of these conversations have veered into the largely unfamiliar territory of the 25th Amendment, which creates a mechanism for removing a president who is mentally or physically incapacitated. But that system’s complexities, supermajority political thresholds and essential role for the vice president are designed to be a fail-safe against anything that might smack of a hostile Oval Office takeover.”

Don Wolfensberger, “Criminal referrals by members of Congress raise procedural questions,” The Hill:

“It is curious there has been no discussion of the procedural anomalies of Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley(R-Iowa) and Sen. Lindsey Graham(R-S.C.) making a criminal referral of "Trump dossier" author Christopher Steele to the Department of Justice and FBI. The anomalies are two-fold: the action announced Jan. 5 was taken before the committee has completed its investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election; and the full committee did not authorize the referral. Judiciary ranking member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) raised the only procedural complaint: she had not been consulted in advance of the referral.”

Christopher Demuth, Sr., “Repairing Our Fractured Politics,” National Review:

On December 14, 2017, the American Enterprise Institute installed at its headquarters in Washington, D.C. a bust of its former president, Christopher C. DeMuth, sculpted by artist Chas Fagan. At a dinner celebrating the occasion, Mr. DeMuth suggested that abolishing the filibuster and passing a balanced-budget amendment would be a start toward curing what ails American government.

Congress and Sexual Harassment

Stephanie Akin, “Inspired by #MeToo, Some Staffers Are Telling Congress’ Secrets,” Roll Call:

“Critics say confidentiality agreements are designed to shield members of Congress from repercussions of their actions. And the secrecy has complicated efforts to assess the scope of sexual harassment and other workplace discrimination in the legislative branch.”

Elana Schor, “House readies strict harassment overhaul after wave of scandals,” Politico:

“The legislation is the product of negotiations among House Administration Committee Chairman Gregg Harper (R-Miss.), ranking Democrat Bob Brady (D-Pa.), and several other senior members of both parties. Its expected passage, after the House's upcoming recess, would amount to a major shift in the Hill’s handling of sexual misconduct complaints following a frenetic autumn that saw five lawmakers in both parties ensnared in harassment scandals.”

Kimberly Kindy and Michelle Ye Hee Lee, “How a congressional harassment claim led to a secret $220,000 payment,” Washington Post:

“Congress is now considering amending the 1995 Congressional Accountability Act, the law governing how harassment cases are handled on Capitol Hill, after seven members have either resigned or said they would not seek reelection in the wake of sexual harassment allegations. Attorneys who handle these cases say most staffers take no action because they fear it could hurt their careers.”

Oversight

Jack Corrigan, “Agencies Spent Billions on IT Without CIOs’ Approval in 2016,” Nextgov:

“Congress passed the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act in 2014 after a slew of failed projects highlighted the need for more oversight on government investments in technology. Under the law, agencies must properly identify IT contracts for chief information officers to review and approve, but the Government Accountability Office found few agencies have followed through on those requirements. Investigators reported only 8 of the 22 federal agencies they analyzed had CIOs review and approve IT acquisition plans and strategies as mandated by the Office of Management and Budget. Out of 96 randomly selected contracts at 10 different agencies, only 11 had been reviewed and approved by the department’s CIO, the office said.”