Capitol to Capitol is NCSL's state-federal newsletter.
Members of Congress headed home for the July 4 break, having passed a border/humanitarian aid bill. The Senate passed its version of a National Defense Authorization Act. The House also passed the Securing America’s Federal Elections Act or SAFE Act, a bill to mandate paper ballots in federal elections nationwide. An agreement on a FY 2020 spending deal is nowhere in sight; Congress has until Sept. 30 to pass FY 2020 funding bills to avoid a government shutdown.
A $4.6 billion humanitarian aid package is headed to the president’s desk. The Senate bill passed the House by a vote of 305 to 102 on Thursday evening, without the more extensive protections for migrant children in overcrowded border shelters that Speaker Nancy Pelosi had advocated for. However, Vice President Mike Pence indicated privately to Pelosi that the administration would uphold some of those provisions–including a requirement to notify lawmakers within 24 hours after the death of a migrant child in government custody, and a 90-day time limit on children spending time in temporary intake facilities, according to The New York Times.
NCSL Contacts: Susan Frederick and Lucia Bragg
The first anniversary of America’s Independence Day, colloquially known as the Fourth of July, was an impromptu celebration. Philadelphians kicked off the day with “festivity and ceremony becoming the occasion” as described in a letter written by John Adams to his wife Abigail. The Independence Day celebration became an annual commemoration after the War of 1812 and was officially recognized as a national unpaid holiday when Congress passed H.R. 2224 in 1870. It became a paid federal holiday in 1938.
The Senate passed its FY 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), S.1790, that includes a host of provisions aimed at addressing toxic chemical contamination in drinking water. This includes compromise legislation from the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee that would require EPA to set an enforceable drinking water limit within two years for PFOA and PFOS, the two best-studied chemicals in the PFAS class. Further, the secretary of defense would be required to finalize a cooperative agreement with states and local water utilities to add testing, removal and remedial actions for PFAS contamination. The Senate NDAA measure must now be reconciled with the House's version, which is likely to include even stronger measures addressing PFAS.
NCSL Contacts: Ben Husch and Kristen Hildreth
While the House has passed 10 of its 12 annual spending bills, the Senate has yet to devise a strategy for initiating its stalled appropriations process. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) has favored “deeming” their own spending limits much like the House did, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) appears to be set on negotiating a universal spending cap increase deal between the chambers that would ease the tight spending restrictions mandated by the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA). Current spending restrictions would force discretionary programs to be cut by 10%, or $125 billion compared to this year’s level. Since the BCA was passed, Congress has regularly passed legislation relaxing the caps in two-year spans. As negotiations have stalled between Congress and the administration, lawmakers have internally diverged on their path forward. Some House leaders have even mentioned a one-year deal as an option to move appropriations, but McConnell has dismissed that idea.
NCSL Contact: Erlinda Doherty
On June 25, the House Judiciary Committee met for a rescheduled hearing, "Oversight of Bankruptcy Law and Legislative Proposals.” Members of the committee discussed the possibility and implications of classifying student loans as dischargeable debt. Much of the discussion focused on the logistical measures. Ranking Member Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) expressed his concern that recent graduates would "game the system" by applying for bankruptcy soon after graduation to avoid paying their student loans. Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) responded that the student loan system is gaming the graduates: “I am confused by the comments earlier because the federal government [the system] is charging so much on interest that these borrowers will never be able to get out of debt.” Dalié Jiménez, a professor at U.C. Irvine School of Law, and John Rao, an attorney who represented the National Consumer Law Center concurred. They said that the existing means system already operates under a presumption of abuse and that the "undue hardship" waiver is virtually never granted, making avoidance difficult and improbable.
Watch a live stream of the hearing here.
NCSL Contacts: Jon Jukuri, Miranda McDonald and Maya Piñón
Fireworks were unintentionally created by the Chinese after tossing dry bamboo stalks into fire, which made them explode. Later, gunpowder was packed into bamboo stalks and thrown into a fire, creating an explosion that unleashed bright colors into the sky.
At a Senate Commerce Committee hearing last week, Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson stated that he is considering "breaking up" some of its long-distance routes. "We are working hard to try to get ridership up, but it's just clear that trips over 600 miles are not where consumers want to use Amtrak," and "We believe there's always a role for long distance, but on the margin, we should be looking at breaking up some of those long-distance trains."
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that it will allow trade-aid payments to farmers who grow cover crops on acres they were otherwise prevented from planting this year due to weather. Last month the agency announced that it would provide $16 billion to farmers hurt by retaliatory tariffs under a second trade-relief program. Additionally, USDA provided a full update on the implementation status of the 2018 Farm Bill. The update covers numerous areas where USDA is required to make changes to existing law including dairy, crop insurance, conservation programs and more.
On June 25, President Donald Trump issued an Executive Order Establishing a White House Council on Eliminating Regulatory Barriers to Affordable Housing. The council, chaired by Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson, will “address, reduce, and remove the multitude of overly burdensome regulatory barriers that artificially raise the cost of housing development and help to cause the lack of housing supply.” The barriers include “overly restrictive zoning and growth management controls; rent controls; cumbersome building and rehabilitation codes; excessive energy and water efficiency mandates; unreasonable maximum-density allowances; historic preservation requirement […] overly complex labor requirements; and inordinate impact or developer fees.”
In addition to Carson, members of the council include the secretaries of Treasury, Interior, Agriculture, Labor, Transportation and Energy.
NCSL Contacts: Jon Jukuri and Miranda McDonald
President Donald Trump signed an executive order (EO) last week addressing different measures on healthcare transparency and pricing. Under the EO, within the next 60 days, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will propose a regulation requiring hospitals to publicly post billing information based on negotiated rates for common health items and services. Additionally, HHS, the Department of Treasury and the Department of Labor will issue a proposed rule asking for comments on other billing aspects, and HHS will work with the U.S. attorney general and the Federal Trade Commission to issue a report on current private sector practices on health care pricing and transparency. There will also be a report developed by HHS, the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs called the Health Quality Roadmap, which will evaluate data and quality measures across Medicare, Medicaid, the Children's Health Insurance Program, the Health Insurance Marketplace, the Military Health System and the Veterans Affairs Health System.
NCSL Contacts: Haley Nicholson and Margaret Wile
Capitol to Capitol will return on Monday, July 15.
Read the June 24 Capitol to Capitol.
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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.