Capitol to Capitol is NCSL's state-federal newsletter.
On July 28, Congress is scheduled to leave for its scheduled five week August recess. When it returns on Sept. 5, the body will have less than a month to pass bills to reauthorize important federal agencies, keep the government funded, and to raise the debt ceiling. In other words, if Congress does not repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act before it leaves town at the end of the month, it may never. Needless to say, the direction of the country’s health care system, as well as the future of the 115th Congress, likely hinges on what happens in the next three weeks on steamy Capitol Hill.
How well can you draw all 50 states? Time Magazine created an interactive quiz that will prompt you to draw one randomly selected state at a time. Once you’re finished sketching the outline with your mouse or finger, they compare your version to the actual boundaries and give you a letter grade as feedback. The quiz can be found here.
At the moment, Senate Republican leaders have tentatively scheduled a vote on a Senate health care bill in approximately two weeks. Assuming that a vote is taken, however, it is still uncertain what will be included in the legislation that they will be voting on. The current Senate bill lacks the 50 votes needed to pass, and modifications necessary to appease Republican moderates may jeopardize the support of their more conservative counterparts, and vice versa. However, it is still too early to count out Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who is known for his ability to work with his caucus to secure the necessary votes needed to pass a tough bill. Passing a comprehensive health care bill is a heavy lift and it sits squarely on the shoulders of the senior senator from Kentucky.
Here are a few of the big-ticket items that Congress must address before the end of September:
As the health care debate continues to dominate the public spotlight, the big-ticket items of funding the government and the nearing debt ceiling are sneaking up on Congress. Congress has not made any headway on a plan to lift the nation’s debt limit because of infighting in the administration and on Capitol Hill, on whether or not the raise should come with strings attached. The Trump administration is hoping Congress will act before the August recess, but rumor on the Hill is that it is unlikely to happen. What’s more likely is that the Senate will push a clean debt limit increase to the House in the fall, and the GOP will pass it with Democratic votes. Lawmakers have until October to get this done and, if history repeats itself, don’t expect a deal until the last minute
The FY 2018 budget is in trouble again as intraparty battles have recently intensified among House GOP committee leaders. House Budget Chairwoman Diane Black (R-Tenn.) has her hands full as she pushed back a floor vote until at least mid-July. She is caught between a committee stocked with fiscal hawks eager to cut the deficit and GOP chairmen who believe the cuts are too ambitious and could result in political backlash. Rumors on the Hill indicate that as of now, Congress will likely extend funding until December, and then fight over the rest of the year’s funding in the final month of the year.
Failure to pass a budget in time would be devastating for Republicans and their agenda in Washington. This contentious debate, however, underscores how the current political environment has made it hard to pass much of anything on Capitol Hill and has frustrated even members of the governing party. Representative Steve Womack (R-Ark.), a Budget Committee member, lamented in June that the budget “should have been put to bed a long time ago. It’s almost like we’re serving in the minority right now,” he said. “We just simply don’t know how to govern.”
NCSL Contacts: Max Behlke, Jake Lestock
The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a confirmation hearing this Wednesday for President Donald Trump’s pick to be the next FBI director, Christopher Wray. If confirmed, Wray would replace former FBI director James Comey, who was fired in May. Wray is currently a partner at the law firm King & Spalding and a former federal prosecutor. He also served in the George W. Bush administration leading the Justice Department’s criminal division. Wray’s confirmation hearing will most likely touch on a number of hot-button political issues, including investigations of the Trump campaign’s involvement with Russia. It took 38 days for the Senate to confirm former FBI Director James Comey after he was nominated by President Barak Obama. Following the slow confirmation process for this administration’s cabinet, our bet is that this will take longer.
NCSL Contact: Susan Frederick
In Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer the U.S. Supreme Court held 7-2 that Missouri violated Trinity Lutheran Church’s free exercise of religion rights when it refused, on the basis of religion, to award the church a grant to resurface its playground with recycled tires.
When Democrat Stephen A. Douglas called Abraham Lincoln “two-faced” during an election year, Lincoln replied, “If I had another face, do you think I would wear this one?”
Trinity’s preschool ranked fifth among 44 applicants to receive a grant from Missouri’s Scrap Tire Program. Missouri’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) informed the preschool it did not receive a grant because Missouri’s Constitution prohibits public funds from being used “directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect, or denomination of religion.” Trinity sued the DNR claiming it violated the church’s First Amendment free exercise of religion rights. The Supreme Court sided with the church. As the policy expressly discriminated against otherwise eligible recipients on the basis of religion, the Court reached the “unremarkable” conclusion that it must be able to withstand “the most exacting scrutiny.” It did not because the DNR “offers nothing more than Missouri’s policy preference for skating as far as possible from religious establishment concerns.”
The decision leaves unanswered the extent to which states can supply public funds to private, religious schools as part of school voucher programs. In light of the Trinity decision, the Supreme Court remanded a case pending consideration, Taxpayers for Public Education v. Douglas County School District, that addresses the issue head on. The District Court in Denver will reconsider the case, with arguments expected in the coming months.
NCSL Contact: Lucia Bragg
On this day in 1890, Wyoming was admitted as the 44th U.S. state.
On June 6, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey led Democratic attorneys general from 18 states and the District of Columbia in filing suit against Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for delaying revisions made to the Borrower Defense to Repayment (BDR) regulations written by the Obama administration. The rule creates an avenue for students defrauded by their institution of higher education to have their loans forgiven. The BDR rule itself dates back to the 1990s, but the revisions would have streamlined the application process for relief, banned most mandatory arbitration clauses from enrollment contracts, and taken steps to ensure colleges at fault foot the bill for loan forgiveness instead of the government. Those changes were slated to take effect July 1, but were delayed by the secretary indefinitely and plans to convene a rulemaking committee to rewrite them entirely. The department considered it necessary to delay the revisions while it addresses a separate federal lawsuit brought by a group of for-profit colleges in California aiming to block the rules.
The lawsuit against DeVos was brought by state’s attorneys from California, Connecticut, D.C., Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington. It challenges the secretary’s legal authority to delay the revisions.
Read the June 26, 2017 Capitol-to-Capitol.
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.