Capitol to Capitol | Feb. 5, 2018

Capitol Hill Predicts Six More Weeks of a Continuing Resolution

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The U.S. Senate is steeped in tradition. Some, however, are more light-hearted than others. Once such tradition began in 1965 with the so-called “Candy Desk”. Senator George Murphy (R) of California originated the practice of keeping a supply of candy in his desk for the enjoyment of fellow senators. In every Congress since, a candy desk has been located in the back row of the Republican side of the chamber. The desk's current occupant is Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey (R).

In the classic movie Groundhog Day, Bill Murray’s character experiences the same day over-and-over again. Lately, a similar plotline has developed in Washington as the conversations seem to always be focused on how to keep the government open.

This week, Congress is expected to pass its fifth continuing resolution (CR) since September before 12:01 a.m. Friday, or else the government will shut down for the second time in less than a month. But, neither party is eager for another government shutdown and House Democrats are planning to leave town on Wednesday for their legislative retreat in Maryland, so it’s a safe prediction that the government will remain open for at least six more weeks through March 22, when the next CR is scheduled to expire.

While a short-term funding deal is likely, passage may depend on broader budget talks to fund the government through the remainder of fiscal year 2018, which began on Oct. 1. Lawmakers from both parties would like to raise the strict budget caps on spending, but there is disagreement on how to raise them. Republicans are pushing for a healthy increase in defense spending, which Democrats could go along with if there is a similar boost in spending for non-defense programs. According to Politico, the latest GOP proposal would provide an additional $80 billion in defense spending and $63 billion in non-defense spending, for a total of an additional $143 billion in discretionary spending in FY 2018 and FY 2019. While no final agreement has been reached, leaders from both parties have expressed optimism that one will be found.

House Republicans can ill afford to lose many Republican votes to pass the CR because finding support from across the aisle will be difficult. Most Democrats have signaled that they plan to vote against any spending deal that does not address the issue of "Dreamers," the unauthorized immigrants who were brought to the country as children. However, Republicans are hoping that attaching a provision to fund health centers for two years will attract Democratic support for the short-term funding measure.

Assuming the CR passes the House, it would then head to the Senate where Republican leaders are confident that they can ultimately secure the necessary votes to send it to President Donald Trump for his signature. While the politics of immigration are just as prominent in the upper chamber, Republicans believe that moderate Democrats, especially those from states that Trump won in 2016, will eventually capitulate and vote to keep the government open. 

Federal Debt

  • Debt Limit: Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin: The federal government will continue paying bills until the end of February, but may run out of money in March. Since the debt limit was reinstated in December, the government has employed "extraordinary measures" to pay the nation's bills. If the Treasury Department exhaust these measures, the government will default.
  • The U.S. government is set to borrow nearly $1 trillion this year, an 84 percent jump from last year. – Washington Post​

NCSL Contacts: Max Behlke, Jake Lestock

Trump’s Infrastructure Details Remain at Large

As had been widely predicted, in his State of the Union, Trump called on Congress “to produce a bill that generates at least $1.5 trillion for the new infrastructure investment we need," and that "Every federal dollar should be leveraged by partnering with state and local governments and, where appropriate, tapping into private sector investment.” Although the White House released a corresponding fact sheet, major details of the president’s proposal remain up in the air, including the amount of direct federal funding he supports as well as whether such funding will be paid for or added to the federal government’s debt responsibilities. One important aspect of the fact sheet released by the White House was that it seemed to be from a leaked document from earlier in January that provided significantly more details on the different programs within the president’s infrastructure proposal. For more details read NCSL’s Jan. 29 issue of Capitol to Capitol.

Additionally, the president noted, "Any (infrastructure) bill must also streamline the permitting and approval process—getting it down to no more than two years, and perhaps even one.” Such changes to the National Environmental Policy Act, which governs environmental reviews for infrastructure projects, would likely face a difficult time attracting enough votes in the Senate to overcome a filibuster. Overall, it remains very unclear as to how Congress will proceed with passing an infrastructure package following a full release of the president’s plan, expected sometime later this month.

NCSL Contacts: Ben Husch, Kristen Hildreth

Immigration Politics Continue to Dominate on Capitol Hill

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The federal government owns roughly 640 million acres, about 28 percent, of the 2.27 billion acres of land in the United States. However, the amount and percentage of federally owned land in each state varies widely as federal land ownership is generally concentrated in the West. For instance, the federal government owns 0.3 percent of land in the states of Connecticut and Iowa, while it owns 79.6 percent of land in Nevada. Moreover, 61.3 percent of Alaska is federally owned and 46.4 percent of the 11 coterminous western states is federally owned. By contrast, the federal government owns 4.2 percent of lands in the other states.

With a Feb. 8 budget deadline facing lawmakers this week, pressure is mounting for Republicans and Democrats in Congress to come up with an immigration deal amid efforts to keep the government open once again. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) promise to Democrats, in the wake of the January shutdown, to bring a vote on immigration legislation to the Senate floor by Feb. 8 has spotlighted negotiations balancing a solution for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) recipients, with increased border security. The White House released its proposal just over a week ago, allowing a pathway to citizenship for 1.8 million DACA recipients in exchange for $25 billion in border wall funding, elimination of the visa lottery program, and limiting immigrant family sponsorship to parents and minor children only. However, the proposal is unlikely to gain much traction, especially because of the sweeping changes to immigration law.

Since the release of the White House proposal, bipartisan teams in both chambers have emerged to facilitate negotiations—the Common Sense Coalition in the Senate and the Problem Solvers Caucus in the House.

The Common Sense Coalition consists of 26 senators led by moderate Republican Senator Susan Collins (Maine), with Majority Whip John Cornyn (Texas) and Minority Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.), chairman and ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Immigration Subcommittee, partnering to draft the compromise legislation.

The Problem Solvers Caucus, Representatives Josh Gottheimer (R-N.J.) and Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) consists of 48 Republican and Democratic House members, and released their proposal last Monday. The proposal is very similar to the White House framework, but offers just under $3 billion for the border wall and other border security measures rather than $25 billion.

Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.) also plan to introduce a bipartisan narrowly-tailored DACA bill later today that will only address citizenship for young undocumented immigrants who have been in the U.S. since 2013, and authorize a study of border security needs. A similar bipartisan bill was introduced in the House by Representatives Will Hurd (R-Texas) and Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.). The White House has already voiced skepticism over this latest proposal because it does not contain funding for a border wall.

To find consensus, members of each party in both the House and Senate have continued to meet with White House officials, but few concrete developments have emerged since Congress recessed for the Republican retreat in the latter half of the week. With an eye toward reaching the finish line, members of Congress on either side of the aisle have been increasingly emphasizing the need for a narrow focus on a solution for Dreamers and increased border security funding that leaves out reductions to legal immigration found in both the White House and Problem Solvers Caucus plans. It remains unclear whether a deal on immigration will be reached. 

NCSL Contacts: Susan Frederick, Lucia Bragg

Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) Update

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) has approved consolidated state plans under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) for 33 states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Recently, the secretary announced the approval of Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Kansas, Montana and New Hampshire. 

ED announced a new flexibility for school districts to combine eligible federal funds with state and local funding to support “student-centered funding” or “weighted student funding.” Up to 50 districts will be eligible for this new flexibility under the pilot program. Applications are available Feb. 7 and are due March 12 for the 2018-2019 school year or July 15 for the 2019-2020 school year. For more information, check out the Frequently Asked Questions.

NCSL Contact: Joan Wodiska

Senate Action on Higher Education

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As of today, the Berlin Wall has now been down for as long as it stood dividing its city, with 10,316 days having elapsed since the barrier was pulled down by the German capital’s inhabitants. The guarded concrete wall was a flashpoint between East and West throughout the Cold War and stood for more than 28 years.  

Last week, U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chair of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), released a white paper on higher education accountability. Shortly after the release, the Senate Democratic Caucus released principles outlining their priorities for the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA). The Democrat principles outlined four key priorities: College Affordability & Student Debt; Accountability & Transparency; Access & Success; and Protecting Student Safety and Rights. It’s too early to tell when the Senate may act, but members and their staff continue to work hard to reauthorize and update HEA, which was last reauthorized in 2008.

NCSL Contact: Joan Wodiska

Also of Note …

  • Former Vice President Joe Biden will give the keynote address on Wednesday to begin the House Democratic legislative retreat in Cambridge, Maryland.
  • Ryan renews welfare reform push - Politico
  • The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) will expire on Feb. 8 if it is not renewed in the CR.
  • House Panel to Consider Democrats’ Own Surveillance Memo - WSJHouse GOP: More memos to come - Axios
  • General leaves National Security Council after leak of 5G telecom memo: report – Fox News
  • Supreme Court won’t block Pa. ruling that state redraw congressional boundaries immediately, in decision that could help Democrats – Washington Post

Read the Jan. 29, 2018 Capitol-to-Capitol.

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NCSL's Advocacy in Washington

NCSL's Washington staff advocate Congress, the White House, and federal agencies on behalf of state legislatures in accord with the policy directives and resolutions that are recommended by the NCSL Standing Committees and adopted by the full conference at the annual NCSL Legislative Summit Business Meeting. As a result of the advocacy that is guided by these policies positions, NCSL is recognized as a formidable lobbying force in state-federal relations.

NCSL Staff in Washington, D.C.

  • Neal Osten | 202-624-8660 | Molly Ramsdell | 202-624-3584 | Directors
  • Max Behlke | 202-624-3586 | Budgets and Revenue
  • Danielle Dean | 202-624-8698 | Communications, Financial Services
  • Susan Frederick | 202-624-3566 | Law, Criminal Justice, and Public Safety
  • Abbie Gruwell | 202-624-3569 | Human Services
  • Ben Husch | 202-624-7779 | Natural Resources and Infrastructure 
  • Jon Jukuri  | 202-624-8663 | Labor, Economic Development and International Trade
  • Haley Nicholson | 202-624-8662 | Health
  • Ethan Wilson | 202-624-8686 | Commerce and Financial Services
  • Joan Wodiska | 202-624-3558 | Education