Current Members of Congress Who Used to Be Interns

Everyone gets their start somewhere.  For some members of Congress, their careers kicked off at the bottom of the totem pole, by serving as interns for other members of Congress.  Below is a list of key current members whose experience with the legislative branch started with answering phones and other administrative duties.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)

The only woman to serve as speaker of the House of Representatives was exposed to politics at an early age, with her father serving as a Democratic Congressman from Maryland, and later, as Mayor of Baltimore.  Pelosi herself first dipped her toes in the political waters when she interned for Sen. Daniel Brewster (D-MD) while pursuing a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in political science at Trinity College in Washington, DC.

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD)

Also serving as an intern in Sen. Brewster’s office alongside the future speaker was the future majority leader, Steny Hoyer.  At the time, Hoyer was finishing up a BA in government and politics from the University of Maryland, College Park.  Just a few years later in 1966, Hoyer was elected to the Maryland State Senate.

Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA)

Hoyer isn’t the only University of Maryland alumnus serving in Congress.  While studying for his BA in government and politics, the California native interned with Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-CA) in 2001 and 2002.  Swalwell has stated that his experience interning on Capitol Hill during the September 11 terrorist attacks cemented his desire to pursue public service. 

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)

While studying at the University of Miami School of Law, Rubio interned for Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), a fellow Cuban American who retired from Congress only a few years ago.  Rubio also worked on the 1996 presidential campaign of Sen. Bob Dole (R-KS) while in law school.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA)

While attending George Washington University in the mid-1970s, Warner interned for Sen. Abraham Ribicoff (D-CT).  Shortly after graduating, Warner took a job with then-Rep. Chris Dodd (D-CT) and went on to manage Dodd’s senatorial campaign while studying in law school.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)

Like Pelosi, Gillibrand was born into a political family.  Her father was a staffer for Sen. Al D’Amato (D-NY), and her maternal grandmother founded the Albany Democratic Women’s Club.  While studying at Dartmouth College, Gillibrand interned in D’Amato’s Albany office. 

A History of Annual Congressional Sporting Events

Many Americans love sports, and members of Congress are no different.  A few times a year, lawmakers from both parties gather to play games in a variety of sports with the goal of raising money for charities.  Here are some of the games where Representative and Senators have the chance to take a break from the usual grind of Washington and bring out their inner athlete.

Congressional Baseball Game

Founded in 1909 by a Pennsylvania representative who once played baseball professionally, the Congressional Baseball Game is the oldest of the lawmaker-centric sporting events.  In the game, which has been played at Nationals Park since 2008, Democrats and Republicans form different teams and play against one another.  Congressional staffers, lawmakers’ families, and even some presidents attend the game, which raises money for four charities: the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Washington, the Washington Nationals Dream Foundation, the Washington Literacy Center, and the US Capitol Police Memorial Fun.

Congressional Football Game

Started in 2004, the Congressional Football Game features members of Congress and former National Football League players facing off against the US Capitol Police.  An Arizona representative led the effort to start the annual tradition as a way to honor the memory of two Capitol police officers who died in a shooting in 1998.  The Congressional Football game raises money for three charities: the US Capitol Police Fund, Our Military Kids, and Advantage 4 Kids.

Congressional Women’s Softball Game

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) and several other female members of Congress started the Congressional Women’s Softball Game in 2009.  Each year, a team consisting of female lawmakers plays against women of the Washington, DC press corps.  The game primarily raises money for the Young Survival Coalition, which supports women under 40 who are diagnosed with breast cancer. 

Congressional Soccer Match

Founded in 2013, the Congressional Soccer Match consists of separate teams formed by Democratic and Republican lawmakers that play against one another with help from some former professional soccer players.  Nearly all lawmakers who participate in the annual event are members of the Congressional Soccer Caucus.  The US Soccer Foundation hosts the annual match, which raises funds for several charity programs that help children in underserved communities.

Congressional Hockey Challenge

The Congressional Hockey Challenge began in 2009 from a weekly pickup match consisting of congressional staff and lobbyists.  Each year, members of Congress, congressional staff, and administration officials face off against lobbyists, and proceeds from the annual match go towards the Fort Dupont Cannons, USA Warriors Hockey, Capital Beltway Warriors, the Tampa Warriors, and the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association.

Members of Congress Related to Celebrities

Most members of Congress aren’t household names, but quite a few have people in their family who are, particularly in the world of film and television.  Here are some notable celebrity-lawmaker connections. 

Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI)

The Michigan congressman’s niece is model and actress Kate Upton.  Kate was born in her uncle’s hometown of St. Joseph, MI but later moved with her family to Florida when she was seven years old.  She rose to fame after appearing in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue in 2011, and since then, she’s appeared in prominent publications like Vogue and Vanity Fair.  Kate is also a successful actress who has appeared in several hit comedy films including Tower Heist and The Layover.  In 2016, Rep. Upton hosted his niece and gave her  a tour of the US Capitolalong with her husband, Houston Astros pitcher Justin Verlander.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY)

Comedienne and actress Amy Schumer and the Senate Majority Leader are first cousins, once removed.  Both Schumers have appeared publicly together to advocate on issues like gun violence, and in 2016, Amy attended a White House press conference with her uncle when then-President Barack Obama announced new actions on gun control.  However, both cousins were largely estranged from one another during Amy’s childhood, and the senator and the comedienne didn’t start to develop a relationship until Amy’s fame started to grow in 2009.

Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-CO)

The freshman Colorado senator’s cousin is filmmaker George Hickenlooper.  His feature-length documentary, 1991’s Heart of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse, explored the chaotic production of the 1979 Vietnam War film Apocalypse Now.  George’s final film was the 2010 comedy-drama movie Casino Jack, which focused on the corruption scandal surrounding lobbyist Jack Abramoff.  The film notably featured actor Kevin Spacey in the titular role, and George’s cousin John even had a brief cameo in the film.  Sadly, George Hickenlooper died in his sleep at the age of 47 on October 29, 2010, just a month after the film’s release.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)

The speaker’s daughter is filmmaker Alexandra Pelosi, who has filmed, produced, and directed 14 films to date.  Pelosi’s first film was the Emmy-nominated 2002 documentary Journeys with George, which chronicled George W. Bush’s first presidential campaign.  Since then, Pelosi has gone on to receive critical acclaim for a host of other documentaries, including Citizen USA: A 50 State Road Trip, which explored the citizenship process for immigrants, and Meet the Donors, which looks at the influence money has  in politics. 

Former Rep. Mike Capuano (D-MA)

A US Representative from Massachusetts who served from 1999 to 2019, Capuano’s famous nephew is actor Chris Evans.  After playing supporting role in films like 2001’s Not Another Teen Movie and 2005’s Fantastic Four, Evans rose to worldwide fame for his portrayal of the titular role in 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger.  Since then, Evans has appeared as Captain America in several Marvel Cinematic Universe films, and he’s acted in critically acclaimed films like 2013’s Snowpiercer and 2019’s Knives Out.  Notably, Evans told Esquire in 2016 that he’s considered getting into politics someday, and in 2019, he met with several Democratic senators on Capitol Hill for A Starting Point, new political venture aimed at addressing partisanship and distrust.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT)

Actor, comedian, writer, and filmmaker Larry David and the former presidential candidate are third or fourth cousins.  Neither man was aware of their relation until historian and literary critic Henry Louis Gates Jr. revealed the family connection in a 2017 episode of Finding Your Roots.  David has played Sanders in multiple episodes of Saturday Night Live since 2016.  Both men were born in Brooklyn, New York City and trace their ancestry back to Ashkenazi Jewish immigrants from Poland.

What Will ARPA-H Look Like?

There’s a new federal agency in town.  The Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 omnibus appropriations bill officially created the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H), which the Biden administration first proposed last year to drive “transformational innovation” in health research.  However, the omnibus bill is scant on details, and lawmakers have much to decide about the structure of the new agency.

What’s in the spending bill? Beyond appropriating $1 billion in funds to the new agency through September 30, 2024, the FY 2022 omnibus bill allows the ARPA-H director to use those funds to make awards in the form of “grants, contracts, cooperative agreements, and cash prizes.”  Notably, the bill gave the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) 30 days to decide whether the new agency would be independent or part of an existing institution, like the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The issue of whether to make ARPA-H an independent agency within HHS or house the new agency within the NIH has been the subject of debate for months.  Public health experts who testified before a congressional panel on February 8 unanimously agreed that ARPA-H would need to foster an independent culture to be successful in delivering biomedical breakthroughs, and most witnesses and lawmakers felt that housing the ARPA-H within NIH would make it impossible to cultivate its own identity and operating structure. 

Since then, more details about ARPA-H have come into focus.  In a March 31 congressional hearing, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra announced that ARPA-H would be placed within NIH.  However, Becerra did offer key details that suggests the administration wants to help foster an independent culture within the new agency.  For example, he said the ARPA-H director will be under the supervision of the HHS secretary, not the NIH director.  Additionally, Becerra clarified that ARPA-H would not be “physically housed” within NIH.  According to Becerra, the reason for the new agency’s placement within NIH is to allow ARPA-H to focus on research from the get-go while NIH handles all the administrative work like human resources and legal functions.  

However, the makeup and structure of ARPA-H won’t be up to the Biden administration.  That’s the job of Congress where a trio of authorizing bills are under consideration that flesh out the details of ARPA-H. The bills – the Cures 2.0 Act plus the House and Senate versions of the ARPA-H Act – propose similar requirements on the new agency, such as:

  • Presidential appointment of the APRA-H director for one five-year term, with the option to extend for one additional term.
  • Establish goals for delivering biomedical breakthroughs by prioritizing high-risk, high-reward innovations and identifying potential areas of health research advancement that industry stakeholders aren’t currently addressing due to technical or financial reasons.
  • Collaboration with other HHS entities like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

There’s one key area where the bills differ – the Cures 2.0 Act calls for APRA-H to be a part of NIH, while both versions of the ARPA-H Act say the new agency should be independent within HHS.  The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health held a legislative hearing on March 17 to review both the Cures 2.0 Act and the ARPA-H Act, and currently, House leadership supports the ARPA-H Act, which increases the odds the new agency will ultimately be independent from the NIH

As lawmakers continue their work, stakeholders outside of Washington are focusing on a different question: the specific location of ARPA-H.  While Becerra told lawmakers back in March that the new agency wouldn’t physically be a part of the NIH campus in Bethesda, Maryland – neither the FY 2023 omnibus bill nor the three authorizing bills say anything about where ARPA-H should be headquartered.  Currently, cities in California, Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Texas are lobbying to become the location of the new biomedical research agency.

Congress is in recess until the week of April 25, and neither chamber has indicated when it will markup and vote on their respective authorizing bills on APRA-H.  Until the finish line is in sight, conversations over the makeup of ARPA-H – and whether it should be a part of the NIH – are likely to continue

Will Hill Staffers Unionize?

Hill staffers say they’ve had enough.  Long hours, low pay, and cases of emotional and physical abuse are driving more and more congressional staffers to form the Congressional Workers Union with the hope of delivering better working conditions and higher pay.  But forming a union on the Hill is easier said than done, and staffers hoping for better working conditions in their current roles might have to wait for some time.

Why unionize?  The cost of living in the Washington, DC area is notoriously high, with the average rent for a studio apartment in the District going for $1,891Finding the money to cover high rent can be hard – 13% of Washington-based staff (about 1,200) make less than $42,610 each, which is the average salary needed to cover basic essentials like rent and groceries in DC.   On top of that, staffers face sub-par working conditions that have been regularly documented in the Instagram account @dear_white_staffers, which details stories anonymously of poor treatment by members and staff, harassment, burnout, and more.  Given all these pain points, it’s no surprise that turnover among House staff is at its highest level in 20 years.

High turnover among Hill staffers has negative implications outside of Congress.  For one, it’s bad news for advocates because it gives them fewer opportunities to develop meaningful relationships that help them advance their cause.  Additionally, an ever-changing staff makeup deprives Congress of the institutional knowledge and policy expertise it needs to pass legislation that impacts the American people.  By boosting pay and improving working conditions, congressional staff might be compelled to stick around the Hill longer – allowing them to forge deeper bonds with advocates, and more strongly familiarize themselves on the issues important to them and develop legislation that works better for most Americans.

Unfortunately for staffers, there are a lot of challenges to forming a union on the Hill.  These include:

  • Legal issues.  Congress is exempt from federal labor laws that protect most US employees’ labor-organizing activities.  Absent any legal protections, staff are reluctant to publicly push for a union because it could lead to them being fired or blacklisted.
  • Partisan problems.  In general, Democrats have supported staff efforts to unionize, while Republicans do not.  During a March 2 congressional hearing on a bill to allow staff to collectively bargain, GOP members said unionization efforts were “impractical,” would add to “even more dysfunction in Washington,” and amounted to a “solution in search of a problem.”  Outside of the hearing, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) has referred to unionization as a “terrible idea,” and Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) said giving staff the ability to organize is “nuts.” But it’s not just Republicans who stand in the way – Democrats who are generally pro-worker and pro-union could be at risk for allegations of hypocrisy if they fail to support their own staff’s organizing efforts. 
  • Operational considerations.  Congressional offices aren’t like normal businesses that can raise salaries and boost benefits based on market conditions.  Instead, each office is provided a yearly allowance that covers a range of expenses, like staff pay, travel funds, and mail.  Unfortunately, these allowances don’t provide much flexibility on staffers’ salaries.  While the Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 omnibus appropriations bill did boost the yearly allowance for House offices by 21%, this doesn’t guarantee House staffers will see higher pay as a result.  More so, each congressional offices operates independently, which means a unionized congressional staff would essentially involve hundreds of individual unions throughout the Hill.  Additionally, there’s a chance majority and minority staffers on each committee could try to organize separately, adding to the number of potential unions. 

What’s next?  Rep. Andy Levin (D-MI) introduced a resolution that would remove the exemption barring staffers working for individual members, committees and leadership offices to form a union.  To date, Levin’s resolution has garnered 165 cosponsors, all Democrats.  While this resolution would only apply to the House, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) has signaled interested in introducing a resolution for the Senate side. 

Beyond this, next steps are unclear.  Levin’s resolution will require approval from both the House Committee on Administration and House Committee on Education and Labor, and even then, the measure needs the support of 61 additional Democrats before it can secure the 217 votes needed to pass the House.  On top of this, the resolution has some technical issues that will take a few weeks to address.  And while Levin’s resolution would face at least attainable odds of passing in the Democratically controlled House, any Senate resolution on collective bargaining would have little chance of garnering the 60 votes needed to override a filibuster.  No Republican senators have endorsed efforts to unionize, and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) has voiced some skepticism about staffers forming unions.

However, Hill staffers are undeterred in their efforts to advocate for the ability to form unions.  As long as low pay and poor working conditions continue to be a fact of life for employees of congressional offices, staffers will continue to voice for changes to allow them to organize – even if the realization of those changes may be a long way off.

Congress’s Long-Standing History of Delaying Medicare Cuts

Medicare cuts are coming.  Automatic spending cuts like Medicare sequestration and PAYGO were initially put in place with the goal of reigning in federal spending, but time after time, Congress has delayed them to shield the popular health care program from payment cuts.  These cuts are nothing new – in fact, they’re part of a long-standing tradition that began with the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR).

PAYGO and Sequestration: A Brief History

Two laws currently trigger mandatory cuts to Medicare if lawmakers pass legislation that adds to the deficit.  The first, the Statutory Pay-As-You-Go (PAYGO) Act of 2010, requires the president to implement spending cuts to mandatory programs like Medicare and farm support if the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) determines there is a deficit on six- or 11-year PAYGO scorecards. 

The second law is the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011, which sets off across-the-board cuts to both mandatory and discretionary spending if spending exceeds explicitly set limits, or “caps.”  These cuts included a maximum 2% reduction in payments to Medicare providers known as Medicare sequestration.

However, Medicare is an incredibly popular program, with over 61 million beneficiaries.  Lawmakers are certainly sensitive to the political consequences of cutting funding to the popular federal health care program, which is why they’ve taken action to avoid automatic cuts as much as possible.  To date, neither the Medicare sequester nor the PAYGO cuts have ever gone into effect.

The SGR’s Precedent for Delaying Medicare Cuts

Congress’s strong tradition of delaying cuts to Medicare goes back to the SGR, which was implemented as part of the Balanced Budget Act of 1997.  The SGR created a formula that was intended to prevent Medicare spending growth for the Physician Fee Schedule (PFS) from exceeding GDP growth.  However, health care spending was continually outpacing GDP growth, making it clear that cuts to the PFS were inevitable.  To avoid the reimbursement cuts for physician services, Congress passed legislation to prevent the cuts from going into effect 17 times between 2003 and 2015.

The need for Congress to keep kicking the can down the road to prevent PFS cuts came to an end in 2015, when lawmakers enacted the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA).  It replaced the SGR formula with the Merit-Based Incentive Payments System (MIPS), which measures Medicare providers based on performance.  While MIPS hasn’t been without its faults, the new law means Congress no longer has to take action every year to address the SGR. 

It’s worth noting the SGR is not the same as PAYGO and sequestration – while the former only impacted physician payment, the latter affects reimbursement to Medicare providers more broadly. However, both have negative implications for providers and patients if they’re carried out, which is why Congress has regularly prevented such cuts from going into effect. 

Fortunately, Congress no longer has to deal with the SGR on an annual basis because after 15 years, lawmakers finally stepped up to pass legislation to make structural changes to the way physicians are paid.  Does that mean lawmakers will one day step up to make the structural necessary to stop kicking the can down the road every year with Medicare sequestration and PAYGO cuts? 

Congress last took action to address the Medicare sequester and PAYGO when it enacted the Protecting Medicare and American Farmers from Sequester Cuts Act in December 2021.  The law waives a 4% PAYGO cut until 2023, and it imposes a moratorium on the Medicare sequester until April 1, when a 1% cut goes into effect.  In July, the Medicare sequester then increases to 2%. 

While structural changes to address Medicare sequestration and PAYGO are possible, Congress is more polarized now than it was when passed MACRA seven years ago, leaving little room to pass comprehensive legislation to reform the budgeting process.  Additionally, the BCA and the PAYGO Act are far more complex than the legislation that eventually replaced SGR and would require significantly more effort for lawmakers to advance.  Therefore, until there’s widespread agreement among both parties on how to reform Medicare’s payment system, the near-annual ritual of delaying Medicare cuts is likely to continue to for some time.

When Will the Capitol Reopen to Visitors?

Washington, DC is coming back.  Since the Omicron wave has receded, the Smithsonian is expanding hours at its museums, foot traffic is picking up along K Street, and downtown bars are feeling a little more crowded during happy hour.  But one major exception to DC’s reopening is the US Capitol Complex, which is still largely closed to visitors.  As the rest of the nation continues to transition to a new normal, lawmakers and advocates are wondering when the Capitol will follow suit.

The Evolving Situation for Visitors

Since the Capitol was closed to the public in March 2020, congressional leaders have yet to publicly outline a reopening timeline.  While guests can currently visit members’ offices in the House and Senate office buildings, not just anyone can walk through the door.  All visitors to members’ offices must register in advance and require a member or staff escort upon arrival.  Additionally, both the House and Senate limits the number of visitors per group.

The reopening process has been off to a gradual start in the Senate.  In December 2021, the Senate reinstated tours for visitors, albeit with strict limitations in place.   Individual Senate offices are only allowed two 30-minute tours per week.  All tours must be staff-led, and only tours of up to six visitors each are permitted every half-hour between 9am and 3pm.  Additionally, tours are limited to the Crypt, the Rotunda, and the Brumidi Corridors.

The Senate took another step towards normalcy on March 1, 2022 when it passed by unanimous consent a resolution to reopen the Senate office buildings to the public.  Since then, lobbyists and other visitors have been able to meet in Senate offices on official business.

Calls to Fully Reopen Capitol Complex Grow

As jurisdictions across the country have loosened COVID-19 restrictions over the past few weeks, a growing number of lawmakers say it’s time for the Capitol to fully reopen to the public.  Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI)  is supportive of more broadly restarting Capitol tours, while Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) called for the Capitol complex to reopen to visitors on March 8 to aid Washington, DC’s tourist economy.  Allowing more visitors on the Hill would align with work habits of congressional staff, who have been increasingly showing up to work in-person after nearly two years of working remotely. 

External stakeholders are weighing in, too.  On March 9, the National Institute for Lobbying and Ethics sent a letter to congressional leaders to start  a dialogue with them on how to reopen the Capitol to the public without appointments.

Why reopen? Congress is an institution that serves the people.  Great strides have been made in advocating virtually, but it’s no replacement for developing relationships through in-person interactions.  By keeping lawmakers and their staff physically separated from the public, advocates are justifiably concerned that they’re limited in how they can communicate their message.

What Reopening Could Look Like

Fortunately for advocates, it appears that congressional leaders are at least thinking about allowing visitors to House offices and tour the Capitol more freely.  According to news reports, the Capitol will kick off its reopening on March 28 with a three-phase process lasting several months. 

  • Starting on March 28, Phase 1 will see the limit on groups of visitors increase from nine to 15, along with the resumption of staff-led tours.  Additionally, school groups will once again be permitted to tour the Capitol, although these tours will be limited to 50 students. 
  • Phase 2 begins on May 30, which will see a “limited reopening” of the Capitol Visitor Center.”
  • Phase 3 will bring a full reopening by Labor Day, although details are still being worked out. 

It should be noted that reopening plans thus far are highly tentative, and the US Capitol Police and the House and Senate sergeants at arms offices are still hashing out the specifics.  A major reason why the reopening is being drawn out over the spring and summer is staffing problems with the Capitol Police, which is currently short hundreds of officers – the department’s training academy was closed during the pandemic, and hundreds of officers resigned following the January 6th riot.

Democrats and Republicans haven’t always been seeing eye to eye in discussions over how to reopen for the past few weeks.   On March 3, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) outlined  some of his concerns during a somewhat tense colloquy with House Republican Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA).  During the colloquy, Hoyer said the Office of the Attending Physician and the Sergeant at Arms are looking into reopening “from a health and security standpoint.”  Hoyer didn’t offer a specific reopening timeline, simply stating, “as soon as we can do that responsibly, we ought to do that.”  Addressing security, Hoyer expressed a desire to have a “gun-free” and “weapon-free” Capitol once it reopens, and he implied the Republicans weren’t taking ramifications of the January 6th riot seriously enough.

Indeed, the security apparatus at the US Capitol Complex haven’t changed much since the deadly riots over a year ago.  The Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 omnibus appropriations bill contains additional funds to update security measures on the Hill and provide for more Capitol Police officers, but this measure was only signed into law days ago, and it will take time for the additional funds to translate into tangible security improvements at the Capitol.  Without new security measures in place, some Democratic lawmakers are still worried that the Capitol is vulnerable to another attack.

The decision to reopen the Capitol is a major step towards normal for lawmakers, advocates, and the general public.   Nonetheless, congressional leaders and the Capitol Police face a difficult job over the next few months as they try to balance the importance of allowing lawmakers to connect in-person with their constituents while addressing security concerns for all parties involved.

What Happened, What You Missed: March 7-11

Biden Poised to $1.5 Trillion Appropriations Omnibus into Law

Late last night, the Senate voted 68-31 to pass a $1.5 trillion omnibus appropriations bill, which is now headed to President Biden’s desk to be signed into law.  The spending bill contains wins for both parties, with Democrats cheering a 7% increase in non-defense spending and Republicans touting a 6% increase in defense appropriations.  Additionally, the omnibus bill marks the return of earmarks to the appropriations process for the first time in over a decade.  However, getting the bill across the finish line was marked with challenges, including a contentious move to cut $15 billion in COVID-19 funding from the bill after a number of Democrats revolted against using pandemic relief funds already directed to states as a pay-for.

FY22 Omnibus Provides $1 Billion for ARPA-H

A notable highlight of the Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 omnibus appropriations bill is $1 billion in funding for the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H), a new agency that would be charged with accelerating biomedical breakthroughs.  The omnibus text stipulates that ARPA-H be within the Department of Health and Human Services but gives the HHS secretary 30 days to make the decision to house ARPA-H within another agency, such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH).  However, the $1 billion in funding falls far short of the President’s initial request for $6.5 billion. Next week, the Subcommittee on Health of the Committee on the House Energy and Commerce will hold a hearing titled “The Future of Medicine: Legislation to Encourage Innovation and Improve Oversight”, which includes  legislation that authorizes ARPA-H.

Voters Signal Support for Administration’s New COVID-19 Plan

According to a new Morning Consult/Politico survey, American voters largely approve of the Biden administration’s roadmap to address the COVID-19 pandemic.  For instance, 71% said they support giving people antiviral pills at pharmacies to people who test positive for COVID-19 and making improvements to ventilation systems in public buildings.  The positive feedback contrasts with the views of some public health experts and former Biden administration officials who say the administration’s latest plan doesn’t go far enough to address the threats posed by the virus.  While poll respondents from both parties agreed on most aspects of the administration’s COVID-19 roadmap, Democrats were more likely to support giving vaccines to other countries and strengthening data surveillance to protect the population against new variants.

Lawmakers Say It’s Time to Make Daylight Saving Time Permanent

Members of both parties signaled an interest in changing daylight saving policy during the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection hearing on Wednesday.  Most parts of the country will set their clocks ahead one hour this Sunday, and a growing number of experts have been pointing out the negative health effects of shifting clocks biennially, such as accidents caused by the upset of circadian rhythms.  However, there was some disagreement among members of the witness panel over what specific action to take.  One law professor on the panel said there should be a permanent shift to daylight saving time to allow for as much light as possible in the early evening, while a neurologist said standard time should instead be permanent because it’s more in line with the body’s natural responses to light. 

ICYMI: Smithsonian Shifts Away from COVID-19 Policies

Visits to the Smithsonian museums have been different for the last two years, with all kinds of requirements from indoor masking, online reservations, and to time limits spent at a museum.  Starting today, things will begin to feel a bit more normal as the Smithsonian museums and National Zoo drops their indoor masking requirement for visitors.  Additionally, the National Zoo and the National Museum of National History – two of the most popular Smithsonian institutions – will be open the public seven days a week for the first time since March 2020.  The Smithsonian is expected to expand its schedules at other museums in the coming weeks.

How Is the Pandemic Changing Dress Codes on Capitol Hill?

It’s time to reopen the US Capitol to visitors, say a growing number of lawmakers.  Last month, 26 Republicans senators cosponsored a resolution to reopen the US Capitol and Senate Office buildings to the public, and Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) said he’s supportive of restarting tours in the Capitol building.  Even external stakeholder are joining the call – the National Institute for Lobbying and Ethics sent a letter to congressional leaders today urging leadership to start a dialogue with them on how to reopen the Capitol to the public without appointments .

But Congress can’t reopen to the American people without staff members to take meetings and give tours.  Like a lot of Americans, congressional staff have spent most of the past two years working remotely while wearing casual, everyday attire.  What does this mean for the dress code once staffers return to in-person work in Washington? 

Before the pandemic, congressional staff wore professional, business attire on days Congress was in session, while casual attire was permitted when Congress was in recess.   

Since May 2021, staff have been gradually returning to in-person work in Congress, although the actual number of people in offices have shifted based on the surges of the pandemic ( for instance, in early January 2022the Office of Attending Physician urged staff to return to “maximal telework” due to a surge of the Omicron variant ).  Since then, DC-based staff have been dressing more casually in congressional offices, although some exceptions remain.  For example, professional attire is still the norm when appearing on the House or Senate floor or in a committee hearing.  Additionally, staff for congressional leadership like Speaker and the Senate Majority Leader also tends to lean professional.

It’s no surprise that most congressional staff reporting to work in-person can get away with more casual attire when they aren’t taking in-person meetings as congressional offices and the Capitol are still effectively closed to visitors.  Therefore, what does this mean for when the US Capitol Complex reopens to the public? 

While the pandemic has shaken up many aspects of office life, dress codes on Capitol Hill aren’t likely to change significantly, at least for when Congress is in session.  Even though office workers throughout the US have been drifting towards casual clothing more and more in the years leading up to the pandemic, attire in the halls (and offices) of Congress have been slow to change.   Even amid the brutally hot summers of DC, congressional staff still make their way to Capitol Hill in suits.  Once visitors return to the Hill, staffers are likely to greet them in the kind of professional attire they would have seen pre-pandemic – albeit with some slightly casual tones.

Why ARPA-H Needs to Be Independent from NIH to Be Successful

The nation needs more breakthrough medical treatments.  While the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is the government’s leading biomedical research agency, unfortunately, it takes a long time to turn NIH-supported research into cures.  To bridge this gap between research and innovation, Democrats are proposing an Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H) with the hope that it will deliver breakthrough medical treatments quicker. 

For ARPA-H to be successful, its placement within the structure of the federal government may be key.  In a February 8 hearing by the Health Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, witnesses testified to make the case that for ARPA-H to be effective, it cannot be housed within the NIH – instead, ARPA-H must be an independent agency within outside the purview of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Democrats modeled ARPA-H after the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), an independent research and development agency within the Department of Defense, that’s charged with the development of emergency technologies for use by the military.  According to former Assistant Secretary for Health Brett Giroir – a member of the witness panel and a former Director of Defense Science Office at DARPA – the independent status of DARPA was crucial in its ability to bring about innovations like cellular technology and the Global Positioning System (GPS).

During the hearing, members of the witness panel discussed several reasons why ARPA-H must be independent of NIH to be successful.

  • Culture.  Like DAPRA, ARPA-H would need to have a distinct culture, vision, and approach to problem solving to deliver breakthroughs.  This is only possible if ARPA-H is separate  from NIH – otherwise, the new agency will be unable to develop a culture distinct from NIH. 
  • Operations. Unlike NIH researchers, project managers at ARPA-H would follow timelines with specific deliverables that witnesses at the hearing suggested being publicly posted.  DARPA follows a similar model
  • Interaction with private sector.  Project managers at ARPA-H would be required to engage with the private sector to ensure that there is no overlap between research being conducted within the new agency and drug developers.  Witnesses at the hearing additionally suggested that ARPA-H hold listening sessions and/or engage with specific communities to ensure health equity is a focus at the new agency.

What comes next? House and Senate appropriators proposed funding for ARPA-H in Fiscal Year (2022) appropriations.  However, the new agency’s future is increasingly in doubt as lawmakers move to pass another continuing resolution to keep the government funded at FY 2021 levels through March 11 – which mean no funding for new initiatives like ARPA-H.  And it’s not just appropriations – for ARPA-H to become a reality, Congress needs to approve authorizing legislation, and there’s currently no timetable for when either of the bills that authorize ARPA-H will move forward. 

Why More Lawmakers Are Looking into E-Bikes

E-bikes are really important, at least according to Democrats on the Hill.  Their $1.75 trillion Bill Back Better Act included a 30% refundable tax credit on the purchase of certain e-bikes, which Democratic lawmakers say are crucial to efforts to address climate change.  Considering that e-bikes only arrived on the scene a few years ago, how did they become popular enough to become a part of the Democrats’ climate change agenda?

Explaining e-bike’s popularity: Electric bicycles, which use a battery-powered electric motor to assist with propulsion, have exploded in popularity during the pandemic.  For instance, e-bike sales jumped 145% from 2019 to 2020, more than double the rate of tradition bicycles.  While it’s no surprise that more people would look to bicycles as a safe, outdoor transportation option in the midst of a pandemic, e-bikes offer many advantages that explain their popularity.

  • A perfect middle ground between walking and driving.  People are more likely to walk or use a traditional bike for short trips of no more than a mile or two and drive for trips consisting of more than six miles.  For everything in between, e-bikes offer an additional comfortable, convenient option.
  • A more sweat-free experience.  A bicycle trip lasting even a few miles will cause most cyclists to break a sweat, especially in locations that have high temperatures.  That’s why many commuters who use traditional bikes take advantage of showers at the workplaces whenever possible.  However, most e-bike users can arrive at their destination without being drenched in sweat thank to the assistance offered by the electric motor.  E-bikes also make it easier to conquer a hill or travel on a windy day compared to regular bikes.
  • The price is nice.  While e-bikes are more expensive than regular bikes, their price has dropped considerably in recent years.  E-bikes can now be found for between $1,000 and $1,500, while traditional road bikes usually cost $350-700.  And considering the average cost of a new car topped $46,000 in 2021, e-bikes offer a substantially better value proposition than their four-wheel counterparts.  This value proposition improves even more when accounting for the cost of fuel, insurance, and maintenance. 

Why are lawmakers so interested in e-bikes?  Simply put, Democrats want more Americans to use e-bikes because they provide a more climate-friendly transportation option than gas and electric cars. Most of the time, carbon sources power the batteries used in electric car motors. And even if an electric car is being recharged with green sources, like wind and solar, electric cars still require significant energy to build and maintain. Therefore, e-bikes are one-way Americans can reduce their climate footprint as climate advocates say greater e-bike usage will be even more impactful in fighting climate change due to e-bikes producing less carbon emissions.

It’s not just the environment. An increased use of e-bikes can have a  positive outcomes for health equity and safety, too.  By encouraging people to drive less, e-bikes would mean less cars on the road, making streets safer for pedestrians and cyclists.  Additionally, the refundable tax credit can make an e-bike more affordable for individuals who need more accessible transportation options. Many low-income Americans, who often live in communities far from employment opportunities and grocery stores, need more options to access jobs and nutrition sources through transportation, which also addresses a key social determinants of health.

Will e-bike tax credits become a reality?  Democrats are looking to revive BBB – or at least a watered-down version – that at minimum won’t include the expanded child tax credit and federally subsidized community college.  It remains uncertain whether e-bike tax credits will remain in a revived, “skinny” BBB, however, given the growing interest in e-bikes among Democratic lawmakers and the American people, the conversation over providing tax credits isn’t going away anytime soon.

All the Members of Congress Who Aren’t Running for Reelection in 2022

All the Members of Congress Who Aren’t Running for Reelection in 2022 (1/19/2022)

Get ready for action in November.  Ahead of what’s certain to be a historic midterm election in Congress, 45 current incumbents – six Senators and 38 Representative – have declared they won’t be seeking reelection for the 118th Congress.  While all Senators have cited retirement as a reason, which typically entailsspending more time with family or an account for health issues, the reasons House members are not running again vary a bit more. While 18 Democrats and 6 Republicans in the House have cited retirement, 15 Representatives – eight Democrats and seven Republicans – are stepping aside to run for other offices.  The following charts list all the current incumbents in Congress who’ve said they aren’t running for reelection in 2022, and their reasons for doing so. 

House

NamePartyStateDate AnnouncedReason
Bass, KarenDemocratCalifornia9/27/2021Running for Mayor (Los Angeles)
Brady, Kevin, Chairman of the Ways and Means CommitteeRepublicanTexas4/14/2021Retirement
Brooks, MoRepublicanAlabama3/22/2021Running for Senate
Brown, AnthonyDemocratMaryland10/25/2021Running for Attorney General (MD)
Budd, TedRepublicanNorth Carolina4/28/2021Running for Senate
Bustos, Cheri, Member of the Appropriations CommitteeDemocratIllinois4/30/2021Retirement
Butterfield, G.K., Member of the Energy and Commerce CommitteeDemocratNorth Carolina11/19/2021Retirement
Crist, Charlie, Member of the Appropriations CommitteeDemocratFlorida5/4/2021Running for Governor
DeFazio, PeterDemocratOregon12/1/2021Retirement
Demings, ValDemocratFlorida6/9/2021Running for Senate
Doyle, MichaelDemocratPennsylvania10/18/2021Retirement
Gohmert, LouisRepublicanTexas11/22/2021Running for Attorney General (TX)
Gonzalez, AnthonyRepublicanOhio9/16/2021Retirement
Hartzler, VickyRepublicanMissouri6/10/2021Running for Senate
Hice, JodyRepublicanGeorgia3/22/2021Running for Secretary of State (GA)
Hollingsworth, TreyRepublicanIndiana1/12/2022Retirement
Johnson, Eddie BerniceDemocratTexas10/9/2019Retirement
Katko, JohnRepublicanNew York1/14/2022Retirement
Kind, Ron, Member of the Ways and Means CommitteeDemocratWisconsin8/10/2021Retirement
Kinzinger, Adam, Member of the Energy and Commerce CommitteeRepublicanIllinois10/29/2021Retirement
Kirkpatrick, Ann, Member of the Appropriations CommitteeDemocratArizona3/12/2021Retirement
Lamb, ConorDemocratPennsylvania8/6/2021Running for Senate
Lawrence, Brenda, Member of the Appropriations CommitteeDemocratMichigan1/4/2022Retirement
Long, Billy, Member of the Energy and Commerce CommitteeRepublicanMissouri8/3/2021Running for Senate
Lowenthal, AlanDemocratCalifornia12/16/2021Retirement
Murphy, Stephanie, Member of the Ways and Means CommitteeDemocratFlorida12/20/2021Retirement
Perlmutter, EdDemocratColorado1/10/2022Retirement
Reed, TomRepublicanNew York3/21/2021Retirement
Roybal-Allard, Lucille, Member of the Appropriations CommitteeDemocratCalifornia12/21/2021Retirement
Rush, Bobby, Member of the Energy and Commerce CommitteeDemocratIllinois1/3/2022Retirement
Ryan, TimDemocratOhio4/26/2021Running for Senate
Sires, AlbioDemocratNew Jersey12/21/2021Retirement
Speier, JackieDemocratCalifornia11/16/2021Retirement
Suozzi, Tom, Member of the Ways and Means CommitteeDemocratNew York11/29/2021Running for Governor
Vela, FilemonDemocratTexas3/22/2021Retirement
Welch, Peter, Member of the Energy and Commerce CommitteeDemocratVermont11/22/2021Running for Senate
Yarmuth, John, Chairman of the Budget CommitteeDemocratKentucky10/12/2021Retirement
Zeldin, LeeRepublicanNew York4/8/2021Running for Governor

Senate

NamePartyStateDate Announced
Blunt, Roy, Member of the Appropriations CommitteeRepublicanMissouri3/8/2021
Burr, Richard, Chairman of the HELP CommitteeRepublicanNorth Carolina7/20/2021
Leahy, Patrick, Chairman of the Appropriations CommitteeDemocraticVermont11/15/2021
Portman, Rob, Member of the Finance CommitteeRepublicanOhio1/25/2021
Shelby, Richard, Ranking Member of the Appropriations CommitteeRepublicanAlabama2/8/2021
Toomey, Pat, Member of the Budget CommitteeRepublicanPennsylvania10/5/2021

What does “retirement” really mean?  While some members are legitimately retiring from public service either due to health issues or to spend time with family, some House Democrats with competitive seats, like Cheri Bustos and Ron Kind, may be preemptively stepping down to avoid the possibility of losing their seat in what’s sure to be a difficult midterm election cycle for Democrats.  The president’s party almost always loses seats in Congress during the  midterm election. And this year is no exception, especially with President Joe Biden’s current low approval rating simply makes “retirement” from Congress a more palpable option than a difficult reelection battle. 

And it’s not just Democrats worried about tough reelection fights.  Three retiring GOP congressmen, – John Katko, Adam Kinzinger, and Anthony Gonzalez, all voted to impeach former President Donald Trump in February 2021 following the riot at the US Capitol.  Trump is still popular among a large number of Republican voters, and this trio may have just decided to end their career in Congress on their own terms rather than face a tough primary race against an opponent who strongly supports the former president.