Capitol to Capitol is NCSL's state-federal newsletter.
"We got caught up in chasing the great white whale of health care and tax reform and that's great, but how about just making the government work first and then go and looking for Moby Dick? It's strange to me."
– Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) on passage of government appropriations, April 4, 2017
Last week’s focus on health care, tax reform, and the historic confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, overshadowed the issue that will soon confront Congress—how to keep the government open. When Congress returns on April 24 from its two-week recess that began this week, the body will only have four legislative days to come to agreement and send a funding measure to President Donald Trump. Failure to pass new appropriations would likely result in a partial government shutdown as the legislation passed in December funded the government through April 28.
By 1865, one-third to one-half of American money in circulation was fake. This was partly due to an old system of relying on state banks to produce money using approved designs and paper provided by the Federal Government. Although a national currency was adopted in 1863, federal dollars were as easy to counterfeit as state-produced ones.
To address this problem, President Abraham Lincoln, in one of his last official acts as president, signed into law legislation that authorized the creation of an agency that was tasked with investigating and reducing the use of counterfeit money. Ironically, the mission of this agency, which the president created on the day he was assassinated, evolved over time to take on a more important function – to protect the president. The agency? The United States Secret Service.
Complicating matters even further, Trump’s Office of Management and Budget has proposed an additional $30 billion in funding for defense programs as well as an additional $3 billion for border security, which includes $1.5 billion for the proposed wall on our southern border. The additional funding would be partially offset with a recommended $18 billion in cuts, mostly in social and educational programs, but the changes would still widen the deficit by $15 billion.
Meanwhile, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reported last week that lawmakers would have to cut $5.9 trillion in spending to balance the budget over the next decade without raising taxes. For lawmakers, who are already thinking about the upcoming budget for FY18, CBO’s estimate would translate into an $80 billion cut next year, with subsequent reductions ramping up to $1.2 trillion in 2027. This means Trump’s new budget request will force congressional Republicans, many of whom have opposed raising taxes and have also said the deficit must be eliminated, to make some tough choices this year and in the years to come.
To the reassurance of many, top GOP leaders, including House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have expressed confidence that they will be able to broker a deal and avoid a predicament like the 2013 government shutdown. Leaders on both sides of the aisle in the House and Senate are reportedly making progress on a deal that would wrap several individual spending measures into one "omnibus" spending bill they hope to approve before the deadline. But the clock is ticking and both sides caution that any move that significantly shifts funding levels or how it is allocated, such as the administration’s promised border wall, could extinguish that effort.
This will be yet another test for Republican controlled Washington, which has yet to face a budget deadline during this Republican administration. Through most of President Barack Obama’s tenure, the GOP needed the help of Democrats to pass annual spending bills, given the lack of agreement within the party. If that remains the case, which we will find out in the coming weeks, the Democrats will again likely leverage their power during budget negotiations to protect the funding of more contentious programs, such as Planned Parenthood. Absent Democratic support, congressional Republicans will need the support of their more fiscally conservative members, especially members of the Freedom Caucus, who have voted against previous budgets that they believed did not cut enough spending. Needless to say, tensions will continue to build throughout the month as the deadline to shutdown steadily approaches.
NCSL Contact: Max Behlke, Jake Lestock
U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao today approved the release of $768.2 million for emergency repair work to roads and bridges damaged by storms or catastrophic events in 40 states. Funded through the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) Emergency Relief (ER) program. FHWA’s ER program reimburses states for eligible expenses associated with major damage from natural disasters or other emergency situations based on a request from the governor of the state or a presidential disaster declaration. To find out more information regarding individual state grants, click here and for funds to states for highways on federal lands, click here.
NCSL Contacts: Ben Husch; Kristen Hildreth
On Friday, the U.S. Senate confirmed Trump’s nominee for associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch. The road to confirmation was rocky, to say the least, as it required a drastic change to Senate procedure, known as the nuclear option, that will forever change the process for confirming new justices to the court.
The 27th amendment to the Constitution, which restricts the ability of Congress to raise its own pay, was ratified in 1992, more than 200 years after the state of Maryland first approved it in December of 1789.
With the precedent established last week in the Senate, cloture motions to end debate on the confirmation of Supreme Court justices now only require a simple majority vote of senators. Until last week, the threshold had required a three-fifths vote of senators. The immediate fallout of the rules change is clear—for the first time since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February 2016, the court has a full membership of nine justices. However, the medium- and long-term implications for the change in Senate procedure are very murky. In the near term, it is unclear if the rules change will further divide the parties and make compromise in Washington even harder. (The budget showdown at the end of the month may be the first test.)
In the long run, it is unclear how future Supreme Court vacancies will be treated or if presidents will appoint more ideological justices to the court, given that appointees will only need to garner the support of 51 Senators. Finally, with the rules change, many are wondering if the 60-vote threshold to end debate on legislation, known as the legislative filibuster, will be the next to go. The elimination of the legislative filibuster would mean that the Senate would operate in largely the same way as the House, by majority rule. While leaders in both parties have said that they have no interest in changing this rule, keep in mind that in the aftermath of the nuclear option that then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid employed in 2013 for most all executive branch nominees, Senators on both sides of the aisle touted the importance of 60 votes for Supreme Court justices.
NCSL Contact: Max Behlke
President Abraham Lincoln never slept in the Lincoln Bedroom. When he occupied the White House, the 16th president used the current Lincoln Bedroom as his personal office. It was there that he met with Cabinet members and signed documents, including the Emancipation Proclamation.
Eight years ago, NCSL drafted model legislation that established a point of sale mechanism for the collection of 911 fees on prepaid wireless services. As of 2016, of the 42 states that levy a 911 fee on prepaid wireless services, each of them except Massachusetts had enacted the NCSL model 911 fee collection legislation. Currently on Capitol Hill, Congress is considering legislation focused on broadband deployment and spectrum allocation that includes a provision that would preempt the one state (Massachusetts) that had not enacted the NCSL model bill.
In addition to pre-empting Massachusetts, the provision may pre-empt every state’s ability to impose and collect fees on telecommunication services. As a standalone bill, the provision was entitled the Wireless Telecommunications Tax and Fee Collection Fairness Act, which is so broadly drafted that even the Congressional Budget Office could not be sure if or how other states’ taxes and fees on telecommunications services would be pre-empted. Last week, NCSL sent a letter to the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee opposing the provision’s inclusion in the underlying legislation, the MOBILE NOW Act of 2017, which was heard in the committee on April 5.
NCSL Contact: Neal Osten
The April 3, 2017, Capitol-to-Capitol can be found here.
If you have comments or suggestions regarding Capitol-to-Capitol, please contact Max Behlke.
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.