Capitol to Capitol | Jan. 21, 2020


Senate Passes USMCA, Now Awaits Trump’s Signature

The Senate passed the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) by a vote of 89-10, following House passage late last year; the president is expected to sign it soon. The agreement would make changes to some of the existing chapters of the North American Free Trade Agreement as well as introduce new chapters. The White House released a series of fact sheets specific to the trade agreement that focus on provisions specific to intellectual property, digital services, financial services, labor and the environment. Additionally, provisions specific to the dairy industry would provide new access to the Canadian market for milk, cheese, cream, eggs and poultry while U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer issued a letter promising southern fruit and vegetable farmers that it will investigate unfair trade practices, following passage of USMCA, as the agreement did not include specific provisions.

NCSL Contacts: Michael Quillen (trade) and Ben Husch (agriculture) 

House Votes to Overturn Borrower Defense Rule

House lawmakers voted to approve HJ Res. 76, a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution that would block the Trump administration’s rewrite of the Obama-era “borrower defense to repayment” rule. The final vote was 231-180, which included six Republicans voting in favor of the CRA. The rule was finalized last year and raises the standards that student borrowers must meet to receive debt forgiveness after being defrauded by colleges. Democrats argue the new rules make seeking loan forgiveness too burdensome for defrauded borrowers, while Republicans have defended the rule as necessary to rein in costs for taxpayers. Senate Democrats are planning to force a vote on the measure in the coming weeks. The White House has already threatened to veto the resolution.

NCSL Contact: Austin Reid

Tobacco 21 Federal Legislation Passed, What to Expect

At the end of 2019, the president signed legislation that included changes to the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, raising the federal minimum age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21 years of age. The legislation took effect immediately, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has acknowledged that both the agency and retailers will have to update current practices, since it is now illegal to sell tobacco products to individuals younger than 21. The FDA has free resources available to assist retailers in calculating the age of customers and instructions on how to update these resources as well.

NCSL Contacts: Haley Nicholson and Margaret Wile

The U.S. and China Sign Phase 1 of Trade Deal

On Jan. 15 in Washington, D.C., the U.S. and China signed the “Economic and Trade Agreement Between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of the People’s Republic of China,” commonly referred to as the Phase 1 China trade deal. The agreement would pause, but not immediately remove, any of the existing tariffs that both countries have put in place over the past two years as well as require China to undertake additional actions to stop the theft of intellectual property of American companies.

The agreement also includes a pledge by China to increase imports of American goods and services by $200 billion. The specifics of these purchases, as noted by U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, include the expectation that China will buy at least $80 billion of U.S. farm goods over the next two years, based on “baseline” purchases of $24 billion in 2017, at least $12.5 billion more of oilseeds, meat, cereals, cotton, seafood and other agricultural goods in 2020, and approximately $32 billion of the same mix in 2021.

Additionally, the agreement will remove impediments that have blocked sales of a long list of U.S. farm goods, including beef, pork, poultry, seafood, dairy, rice, potatoes, blueberries, barley, avocados, alfalfa, hay, distillers’ grain and pet food. Although China will not be removing any of the retaliatory tariffs that it has imposed on $110 billion worth of American goods as part of the deal, it will be granting tariff exclusions for the agricultural products that it intends to buy. Further, China has also agreed to reduce the time it takes to approve new agricultural biotechnology traits to an average of 24 months, from about five to seven years currently. The agreement does not include provisions concerning the reform of Chinese state subsidies, which the administration has said it will address in Phase 2 of the deal, although talks of when that will begin have not been determined.

NCSL Contacts: Michael Quillen (trade) and Ben Husch (agriculture) 

Groups, Including NCSL, Push for Passage of SAFE Banking Act

A group of more than 30 state and national cannabis organizations wrote a letter to Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) urging him to pass the SAFE Banking Act, which would allow banks to offer financial services to cannabis businesses operating in states that have legalized cannabis in some form without penalty from federal regulators. NCSL also recently sent a letter to Crapo in support of the bill.

NCSL Contacts: Abbie Gruwell and Tres York

Congressionally Required Report Calls for Increasing Passenger Facility Charge to Help Fund Airport Infrastructure

An independent report to Congress, required by the 2018 Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization, concerning how to best upgrade the infrastructure needs of airports included recommendations to increase the Passenger Facility Charge cap to $7.50 from its current rate of $4.50. The existing cap has not been raised in nearly two decades, over which time growth in commercial aviation has increased significantly. The report also recommends changes in the allocation and spending of Airport Improvement Program dollars and reducing the uncommitted balance of the Airport and Airway Trust Fund, as well as fixing inequities in its tax structure. The report’s recommendation hews closely to NCSL’s policy position, which NCSL have lobbied on since 2013.

NCSL Contacts: Ben Husch and Kristen Hildreth

Commerce Proposed Rule Could Restrict Foreign Telecom Sales

A proposed rule from the Department of Commerce would prohibit U.S. companies from engaging in information and communications technology and service (ICTS) transactions if an investigation finds that the transactions would pose a national security risk. The rule stems from a 2019 executive order prohibiting the purchase of telecommunications equipment from foreign adversaries, and if implemented would allow the secretary of commerce to cancel transactions deemed to be a threat to the ICTS supply chain. The rule is widely opposed by the tech industry and comes amid significant scrutiny from Congress of supply chain security involving Huawei equipment. It is unclear which countries would qualify as foreign adversaries but China would likely be included.

NCSL Contacts: Abbie Gruwell and Tres York

Reading Room

Read the Jan. 13 Capitol to Capitol.

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
  • Austin Reid | 202-624-8678 | Education