Capitol to Capitol | April 1, 2019




Last week, the House was unable to muster enough votes to overturn the emergency declaration to build a border wall; the motion to proceed on the Green New Deal failed in the Senate; and there were a host of other actions, including:

Congressional Budget Writers at Odds Over FY 2020 Spending Limits


The Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974 turns 45 this year. One of the most significant pieces of federal budget-related legislation, the bill was intended to improve the budget process and assist policymakers in reestablishing constitutional balance in budgetary matters, and to prevent impoundment of congressionally appropriated funds. It changed the fiscal year from July 1 to Oct. 1, granting Congress time to respond to the president’s annual budget message and properly legislate federal spending.

The Senate Budget Committee adopted a fiscal year 2020 budget resolution allowing for increases in defense spending but lowering overall spending by $538 billion over five years.

The non-binding resolution may not progress to the floor, especially since House Democrats appear in favor of drafting legislation that would raise discretionary spending caps in lieu of a conventional budget resolution, setting the stage for debate in both chambers on how to appropriate funds for agencies’ fiscal year 2020 budgets.

A reminder that President Donald Trump’s budget blueprint cut discretionary funding for agencies by 9% but increased defense spending by 5%. The House will finalize a strategy this week and has drafted language for both a resolution and caps-raising legislation. 

NCSL Contact: Erlinda Doherty

To Speed Up Nominations, Senate Leadership Looks to Revise Rules

Senate leadership last week drafted a procedural rules change they hope will hasten the nomination process of hundreds of rank-and-file Trump administration candidates. The rules revision would reduce the currently-allowed 30 hours of debate to two hours for all candidates except cabinet positions, U.S. Supreme Court nominees, district court judges and some independent boards. The vote on this change is expected to be brought to the floor this week despite Democrats’ concerns on what has been nicknamed the “nuclear option.” You can follow live Senate action on this rules change here.

NCSL Contact: Erlinda Doherty

House Democrats Introduce the American Dream and Promise Act

The American Dream and Promise Act (HR 6) is the latest effort by Democrats in Congress to enact major immigration reform to establish a pathway to citizenship for hundreds of thousands of individuals with or who have had deferred deportation status. This NCSL summary unpacks the legislation section by section as it relates to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival, Temporary Protected Status and Deferred Enforced Departure recipients. The legislation was introduced in March and has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee and the Education and Labor Committee. 

NCSL Contacts: Susan Frederick, Lucia Bragg and Chesterfield Polkey, NCSL Emerson Fellow

Department of Transportation Secretary Chao Conditionally Backs Return of Earmarks


Earmark refers to a provision in a bill that sets aside funds for specific projects or programs at the state and local levels. Earmarks have been viewed as notorious, misunderstood and wasteful spending. However, they date back to the first acts of Congress. One appropriations bill, signed by President George Washington in August 1789, included an earmark for the construction of Cape Henry Lighthouse.

DOT Secretary Elaine Chao gave her support for the return of earmarks if the president also agrees, in responding to a question about the potential return of earmarks to help pass an infrastructure package.

Last month, Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Representative Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) announced he intends to bring back earmarks, which he plans to rebrand as "Article I projects," to help build support for an increase in user fees, be it for a one-off infrastructure package or a reauthorization of the 2015 FAST Act. Congress banned earmarks in 2011.

NCSL Contacts: Ben Husch and Kristen Hildreth

Late Week’s Decisions Could Have Major Environmental Regulatory Ripples

Trump issued a new presidential permit that would, if not subsequently blocked by the judicial system, allow the long-stalled Keystone XL pipeline to move forward with construction. On the same day, U.S. District Court of Alaska Judge Sharon Gleason ruled that the administration's April 2017 move to undo a previously enacted ban on oil and gas leasing in the Arctic Ocean and specific parts of the Atlantic Ocean (Chukchi Sea in the Arctic and dozens of underwater canyons off the East Coast) was unlawful. The ruling could prove to be the first in a series of lawsuits aiming to reverse the current administration's rollback of protections for national monuments. The same judge ruled in a separate case that former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke made "serious errors" when he reversed a previous Department of the Interior (DOI) decision not to build an emergency access road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

NCSL Contacts: Ben Husch and Kristen Hildreth

Senate Holds Gun Control Hearing on Red Flag Laws


The Special Olympics, created by Sargent and Eunice Kennedy Shriver began as a summer day camp in the backyard of their home. Through Shriver’s persistence and commitment, landmark legislation specific to the needs of children with mental disabilities was passed, and in July 1968 the first International Special Olympics Games were held at Soldier Field in Chicago. In December 1968, the Joseph P. Kennedy Foundation incorporated the Special Olympics, which is now the largest program of its kind.

On March 26, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on extreme risk protection orders, more commonly known as red flag laws.

These laws allow law enforcement officers and/or families and household members—and in one state, mental health providers—to petition a court to temporarily restrict a person’s access to guns if he or she poses an imminent danger to themselves or others. Fourteen states have enacted laws authorizing courts to issue extreme risk protection orders.

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) stated that he did not believe a federal red flag law was likely and instead indicated that creating a federal incentive to encourage states to pass their own red flag laws may be the best congressional approach to the issue.

NCSL Contacts: Susan Frederick and Lucia Bragg (federal), Anne Teigen (state laws)

Trump Presses for USMCA Passage before Summer

On Tuesday, 23 House Republicans visited Trump to discuss potential moves on the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).

During the meeting, the president expressed profound interest in securing a congressional vote before this summer and as early as May. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer noted a few actions needed before congressional consideration: Mexico must pass labor reforms, ongoing talks with China need to be resolved and the administration must come up with implementing legislation to address Democrats’ concerns.

Thirty House Democrat votes are needed to pass the USMCA. However, Democrats have raised concerns related to drug pricing, labor and environment.

NCSL Contacts: Jon Jukuri and Miranda McDonald

President Issues Executive Order to Address Potential EMP Attacks

Trump signed an executive order Tuesday that aims to create a "whole of government" approach to addressing the risk of a potential electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack on the nation's power system. The departments of Commerce and Interior, as well as the White House Science and Technology Policy office, have been drawn into the effort.

NCSL Contacts: Ben Husch and Kristen Hildreth

ACA—Department of Justice Reverses Stance, Legislation Introduced

Last week, the Department of Justice reversed its decision in a filing to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit regarding the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Read more about the DOJ’s recent filing. Meanwhile, congressional Democrats have introduced several bills that would expand different parts of the ACA, legislation that was planned prior to the DOJ’s filing. This includes legislation to: expand ACA subsidies for both patient premiums and out-of-pocket expenses; reverse the administration’s expanded flexibility for the short-term; limit duration insurance plans; increase funds to support ACA marketplace enrollment; and enhance state flexibility when applying for reinsurance programs, among other proposals. There have been conflicting reports from Republicans in Congress as to the role they will play in creating an ACA replacement

NCSL Contacts: Haley Nicholson and Margret Wile

Department of Interior Still at the ‘Very Beginning’ of New Offshore Drilling Plan

During his confirmation hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, acting Secretary David Bernhardt noted that the DOI is at "the very beginning" of the process of creating a new offshore drilling plan. Last month, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia froze oil and natural gas drilling on 303,000 acres of federal land that the Interior's Bureau of Land Management leased for oil and gas development in Wyoming between May 2015 and August 2016, noting that the DOI did not adequately account for the climate effects.

NCSL Contacts: Ben Husch and Kristen Hildreth

Registration Open for the NCSL 2019 Legislative Summit

The 2019 NCSL Legislative Summit, Aug. 5-8, is your ticket to national policy experts, in-depth educational sessions, professional development training and dynamic networking. Join us this summer in Nashville, Tenn., where America’s issues take center stage. Register today!

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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.

  • Molly Ramsdell | 202-624-3584 | Director
  • Erlinda Doherty | 202-624-8698 | Budgets and Revenue
  • Susan Frederick | 202-624-3566 | Law, Criminal Justice, and Public Safety
  • Abbie Gruwell 202-624-3569 | Commerce and Financial 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 and Human Services
  • Joan Wodiska | 202-624-3558 | Education