Capitol to Capitol | July 17, 2017

A Stark Congressional Calendar – Recess is Coming  

When the House reconvenes this week, the chamber will have nine legislative days before the planned August recess, although Speaker Paul Ryan (R) has signaled that he will call the chamber to remain in session if the Senate delivers a health care bill.

DYK?

Japan is governed by a National Diet — its bicameral legislature. In politics, a “Diet” is a formal deliberative assembly, a term principally used in a historical context to refer to the Imperial Diet, the general assembly of the Imperial Estates of the Holy Roman Empire. Contemporarily, the term “Diet” principally refers to the Kokkai of Japan, its national legislature.  

The Senate will have two extra weeks in session as Majority Leader McConnell recently canceled the first two weeks of the August recess to give lawmakers more time to address unfinished business. This list includes the consideration of a health care bill, confirming more than 100 nominees, raising the debt ceiling, and funding the government.

The productivity of Congress in the next few weeks will dictate the calendar for at least the early fall, as whatever is left unfinished when lawmakers leave town will be waiting for them when they return in September. 

McCain’s Surgery Delays Health Care Vote 

Last Friday, Arizona Republican Senator John McCain had emergency surgery and will not return to Washington for at least one week, possibly two. His absence will delay consideration of the Senate health care bill after two of the 52 Republican Senators, Rand Paul (Ky.) and Susan Collins (Maine), have already announced that they will vote against a procedural motion to advance the legislation to the Senate floor. Given that the chamber’s 46 Democrats and two Independents will vote against the procedural motion, McCain’s crucial absence will delay floor action on the bill until the last week of July, or possibly the first week of August. However, expect McConnell to force a vote to start a debate on the health care legislation, even if he expects the vote to fail. The vote will be a crucial test for the seven-year Republican effort to repeal-and-replace the Affordable Care Act, but regardless of the outcome, a vote may bring some finality to the health care debate that has paralyzed the Senate for almost two months.

Latest on Health Care

  • NCSL’s summary of the most recent Senate health care bill can be found here.
  • Republican and Democratic governors express concern of Medicaid cuts during their annual meeting.
  • The latest Senate Republican bill includes a controversial amendment from Republican Senators Ted Cruz (Texas) and Mike Lee (Utah). The amendment would allow insurers to sell plans that do not meet ACA requirements, as long as they also sell plans that meet those rules. The amendment was strongly criticized by the nation’s largest health insurers.
  • Senator Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) released an alternative health care bill on July 13. The plan would redirect federal funding for health insurance directly to the states to use for health care spending.

NCSL Contacts: Rachel Morgan, Haley Nicholson 

House Vote on FY 2018 Budget Resolution Expected Before Recess

The House Budget Committee is expected this week to unveil and vote on its budget resolution for FY 2018, which begins on Oct. 1. The committee vote would be the first step to bringing the bill to the House floor before the chamber leaves town for August recess. However, the future of the budget resolution is anything but certain, given the divide between the party’s conservative and centrist members. House Budget Committee Chairman Diane Black (R-Tenn.) has privately told members that she will give up on passing a budget if one is not passed before the August recess.

While budget resolutions are largely symbolic as they do not carry the force of law or need the signature of the president, they do set spending caps for House appropriators to follow. More important, however, budget resolutions are the first step in the legislative process to sidestep the filibuster requirements in the Senate, which in this case could pave the way for a GOP-only tax reform bill. This process, known as budget reconciliation, was employed earlier this year for the FY 2017 budget to create a vehicle to repeal-and-replace the Affordable Care Act.

If the House budget resolution ultimately fails, it will be the latest blow for the chances of tax reform this year. Without a budget, Republican tax writers will either have to work with Senate Democrats to move the legislation through the Senate, or abandon the process altogether. Or, the Republicans can use a vehicle already at their disposal, the FY 2017 budget. If the Senate health care bill ultimately fails, the House and Senate could attempt to “repurpose” the FY 2017 budget reconciliation instructions for use for tax reform. However, this possibility raises a number of procedural questions, including whether the FY 2017 reconciliation bill would be available for use after FY 2017 ends on Sept. 30, 2017.

FY 2018 Budget Resolution

  • Raises defense spending beyond the Budget Control Act of 2011’s (BCA) statutory limit, which would require Congress to reach a bipartisan budget agreement to lift the caps and avoid automatic spending cuts, as lawmakers have done in the past.
  • Reduces nondefense discretionary spending to $511 billion, $5 billion below the current spending limit for FY 2018.
  • Increases the cap for defense spending to $621.5 billion, $72.5 billion above the FY 2018 limit.
  • Requires at least $150 billion in cuts to mandatory spending over 10 years.
  • Will likely include reconciliation instructions for tax reform.

NCSL Contacts: Max Behlke, Jake Lestock

NCSL Urges Senate to Pass Career and Technical Education Reauthorization

NCSL submitted a letter to the Senate on July 10 in support of legislation reauthorizing the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act. The bill, H.R. 2353, passed the House by voice vote on June 22 and is pending consideration by the Senate. Last reauthorized in 2006, the bipartisan bill outlines how the federal government will spend an annual $1 billion in funding on career and technical education programs and includes a yearly 1.38 percent increase in funding for the next six years. The bill aligns CTE program standards with the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) and the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) while strengthening the existing prohibitions on a federal curriculum and mandates. It provides states greater flexibility to allocate funding to target state specific education and economic needs.

NCSL Contact: Lucia Bragg

Fed Chair Janet Yellen Testifies Before House Financial Services Committee

The chair of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, Janet Yellen, took to the Hill on July 12 to give a semiannual monetary policy report to Congress.

DYK?

On this day in 1984, the national drinking age in the United States was changed from 18 to 21. The controversial bill, which did not outlaw the consumption of alcoholic beverages by those under 21 years of age, just its purchase, penalized every state that allowed persons below 21 to purchase and publicly possess alcoholic beverages by reducing its annual federal highway apportionment by 10 percent, which was eventually lowered to 8 percent in FY 2012.

The testimony, given before the House Financial Services Committee, was replete with economic statistics and forecasts aimed at providing a look into the economy’s future and continued financial recovery. She told the committee that a gradual increase in interest rates is likely to continue with the goal of achieving the Fed’s long-term inflation rate of 2 percent. Yellen also spoke to the overall strength of the economy and provided a generally positive outlook while acknowledging that instability in foreign markets will provide an unknown impact on the U.S. domestic economy. Her term as chair expires in February 2018 and rumors of President Donald Trump’s upcoming decision to either re-nominate Yellen or nominate a new Fed chair are swirling around the Beltway.

 Read Yellen’s full prepared remarks.

NCSL Contacts: Max Behlke, Ethan Wilson

Will FAA Reauthorization Take Off? 

DYK?

In 1902, engineer Willis Carrier was asked by a lithography plant in Brooklyn, N.Y., to develop a way to cool and dehumidify the plant. Using a system of “cooling coils,” he solved the problem, and without realizing it at first, invented the modern air conditioning system.  It wasn’t  long before everyone wanted one, including the president. As WhiteHouseHistory.org notes, “Construction of the West Wing in 1930 after extensive damage by a Christmas Eve fire in 1929 included a central air-conditioning system installed by the Carrier Engineering Company.” For more, click here.

Earlier this month both the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved differing versions of a multiyear reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration, whose current authority expires at the end of September. However, it remains unclear as to when the full House or full Senate would take up its committee-backed bill. This is primarily related to the highly significant and fairly divisive change included in the House bill that would overhaul air traffic control operations from FAA authority to a newly created nonprofit organization. The Senate, where the  bill does not include any similar provisions, is likely to proceed only after it becomes clearer whether such a change can pass the House. Additionally, both chambers are likely to deal with amendments concerning drones and the regulatory authority of state and local governments to issue operational restrictions.

NCSL Contacts: Ben Husch, Kristen Hildreth

Read The July 10, 2017 Capitol-to-Capitol. here.

If you have comments or suggestions regarding Capitol-to-Capitol, please contact Max Behlke.

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 and Interstate Commerce
  • Ethan Wilson | 202-624-8686 | Commerce and Financial Services 
  • Rachel Morgan | 202-624-3569 | Health and Human Services
  • Jon Jukuri  | 202-624-8663 | Labor, Economic Development and International Trade
  • Susan Frederick | 202-624-3566 | Law, Criminal Justice, and Public Safety
  • Ben Husch | 202-624-7779 | Natural Resources and Infrastructure