Capitol to Capitol | July 31, 2017

McConnell on Health Care: “It’s Time to Move On”   

At 1:39 a.m. on Friday morning, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) took to the floor and pronounced the Senate Republican health care bill dead. It was the most dramatic night in the U.S. Senate’s recent history, which climaxed with a dramatic thumbs down vote by Arizona Republican John McCain. After the failed vote, McConnell said: “Now I think it’s appropriate to ask what are their [Democrats] ideas. It would be interesting to see what they suggest as the way forward.”


On July 28, Democratic U.S. Rep. John Delaney of Maryland became the first prominent elected official to announce his candidacy for president in 2020. According to Five Thirty Eight, in the past 45 years, there’s no record of any serious candidates announcing that they’re running for president this early. In the 2016 cycle, Ted Cruz was the first to declare among Democrats and Republicans. He did so on March 23, 2015 — that was 315 days before the Iowa caucuses.

The legislation, dubbed a “skinny repeal” of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), lacked specifics but was framed by Republican leaders on both sides of the Capitol as the way to begin a negotiation between the House and Senate on a large health care package. Before the vote, Republican leaders knew that they had no margin of error as Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) had already announced their intention to vote against the legislation and Republicans could not afford any other defections, given their slim 52-48 majority.  McCain, who made a dramatic return to the Senate earlier in the week after it was announced he had been diagnosed with brain cancer, had not yet signaled how he intended to cast his crucial vote. But his Republican colleagues spent much of the time before the vote trying to persuade him to vote with them. Even Vice President Mike Pence, who was in the chamber in case there was a need to cast a tie-breaking vote, walked over to McCain at 12:44 a.m. to persuade him to vote “yes.” For the next 21 minutes, the vice president pressed McCain, Collins and Murkowski to change their votes, but ultimately was unsuccessful.

What the failed health care vote means for Washington going forward remains unclear. On CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday morning, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney told Jake Tapper that “in the White House’s view they can’t move on in the Senate” to other issues until they pass a health care bill. He said that the Senate “should stay and work and figure out a way to solve this problem.” But given that Congress has a packed calendar and fast approaching deadlines, including passing a budget by Sept. 30 to keep the government operating, as well as raising the debt ceiling before the government defaults in October, it is unlikely McConnell will spend any more precious floor time on health care, at least in the short term.

While disappointed, conservatives inside the beltway have signaled that it is time to move on to tax reform. Tim Phillips, president of the conservative Americans for Prosperity, on the failure to repeal and replace the ACA said, “it’s time to pivot to tax reform. There’s no time to pout.”

Can Republicans Pivot to Tax Reform?

After their health care bill died on the Senate floor last week, Republican congressional leaders have begun shifting their attention to another equally herculean task: reforming the U.S. tax code. The White House, Treasury and congressional leaders issued a six-paragraph statement last Thursday showing their commitment to pursuing tax reform before the end of 2017. In a symbolic statement, the so-called “Big Six” of top lawmakers and administration officials vowed to reduce tax rates, simplify the tax code, and improve U.S. economic growth by updating tax laws. While the announcement merely presented a broad mission without delving into any policy specifics, one of the most controversial topics in the tax reform debate was officially abandoned. The border adjustment tax, or the tax on imports, was formally stripped from tax reform discussions. This comes following fierce backlash from retailers, and other import-dependent industries and conservative activists who argued that it was a tax on consumers and would hinder economic activity.


The longest terms of office in the U.S. government, aside from judges, are the comptroller general and the assistant comptroller general. They hold office for 15 years. The current comptroller general is Eugene Louis Dodaro, who assumed his post  Dec. 22, 2010.  

The “Big Six”, made up of Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas), McConnell, Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and Gary Cohn, the director of the National Economic Council, will have an extremely busy August as they begin crafting tax reform measures after losing one of the largest ways to fund tax cuts, i.e. repeal of the ACA tax provisions. Brady, who supported border adjustability said last week, “for us to unify it was important to set it aside, for now. We’ve been actively exploring with the Senate and White House a viable alternative,” he added. “[We] still have work to do but I like the path we’re going.”

That path will prove difficult. Republicans plan to use the congressional tool known as budget reconciliation to push tax reform through the Senate without Democratic votes. But any provisions in a reconciliation package that would add to the deficit outside the 10-year budget window must be temporary. Most likely to end up as permanent would be cuts to business and individual rates while the elimination of various individual tax breaks, including the federal deduction for payment of state and local taxes are at stake. NCSL has joined with the other Big 7 state and local groups actively and adamantly opposing this approach. Specifics for tax reform will be planned during the August recess and Republican leadership will begin whipping members into line on passing a budget to serve as a vehicle for tax reform. It remains to be seen if Ryan, McConnell and President Donald Trump will be able to sell the tax reform plan to the public. Public support will be vital if comprehensive tax reform is to ever be realized.

NCSL Contacts: Max Behlke, Jake Lestock

Congress Will Have a Busy Fall

While the Senate will remain in session for the next two weeks to work on issues that have been sidelined during the health care debate, the House has adjourned for a five-week recess and won’t return to Washington until September. And September is shaping up to be a critical month in Washington for Congress and the Republican agenda. Even if health care legislation remains sidelined, Republican leaders will need to secure the votes to keep the government funded and to raise the debt ceiling, which will likely expose the ideological divisions within the GOP again. If Republicans have trouble sending “must-pass” legislation to the president’s desk, it will portend an even tougher path for other major initiatives for this Congress, including comprehensive tax reform.

Here are a few of the big-ticket items that Congress must address this fall:

  • Pass an Appropriations Bill: FY 2018 begins on Oct. 1. 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 spending measure in time, which would result in a government shutdown, would be devastating for Republicans and their agenda in Washington.
  • Raise the Debt Ceiling: 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. Lawmakers have until October to get this done and, if history repeats itself, don’t expect a deal until the last minute.
  • Reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration: Although bills are under consideration in both chambers, the House and the Senate will need to resolve differences, including whether to privatize the nation’s air traffic control system.
  • The Children’s Health Insurance Program, which provides health care coverage to more than 8 million kids, is authorized through 2019, but the funding expires at the end of the current fiscal year, on Sept. 30.
  • Reauthorize the National Flood Insurance Program: The program is set to expire at the end of September. The program has come under scrutiny following its handling of claims from Superstorm Sandy in 2012 and fiscal hawks are concerned about the program’s ballooning $24 billion debt. Numerous members have called for reforms, including proposals for privatization.

NCSL Contacts: Max BehlkeJake Lestock

House Committee Approves Autonomous Vehicle Legislation; Senate Committee Expected to Follow Suit Shortly

On July 27, the House Energy and Commerce Committee approved H.R. 3388, Safely Ensuring Lives Future Deployment and Research In Vehicle Evolution Act (SELF DRIVE Act). The bill aims to update federal regulations, requirements and preemption language related to autonomous vehicles and vehicle technology. Most important, the bill includes language that would expand federal preemption of states from motor vehicle safety to include automated driving systems, or components of automated driving systems.

While still an expansion of current preemption, the final language approved by the committee was changed from earlier versions after a letter from a number of major state associations, including NCSL, the National Governors Association, and others that called on the committee to ensure that states continue to serve in their traditional role as regulators of vehicle operations. Additionally, the letter, spearheaded by NCSL, was successful in revising language regarding exemptions of federal motor vehicle safety standards (FMVSS), and vehicle safety assurance requirements from earlier versions of the bill.

There is a similar ongoing effort on autonomous vehicles in the Senate. On June 13, Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chairman John Thune R-S.D.), Ranking Member Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and Senator Gary Peters (D-Mich.) introduced a set of principles on self-driving vehicle legislation. The six principles outlined include:

  • Prioritizing motor vehicle safety to ensure that federal standards are eventually set.
  • Promoting innovation and reducing roadblocks by ensuring that existing rules are updated to account for this new technology.
  • Remaining tech-neutral to avoid favoring one business model over another.
  • Reinforcing separate federal and state roles to ensure the federal government sets vehicle safety standards while states regulate the driver, and while also making targeted updates for this new technology.
  • Strengthening cybersecurity to ensure the vehicles are safe to operate.
  • Educating the public around the differences between conventional and self-driving vehicles.
  • It remains unclear when the Commerce Committee will release a formal bill although a markup is not anticipated until September, at the earliest.

NCSL Contacts: Ben Husch, Kristen Hildreth

NCSL’s States’ Agenda to be Adopted at Boston Legislative Summit


President James Garfield could write Latin with one hand and Greek with the other … at the same time.

Next week, the NCSL Standing Committees will meet to consider almost 50 policy directives and resolutions during NCSL’s Legislative Summit in Boston. If approved by at least three-fourths of the states in the committees, the policy directives and resolutions will then be considered at the annual Business Meeting. To be part of NCSL’s States Agenda, policy directives and resolutions will again need to be adopted by at least three-fourth of the states. These policy directives and resolutions will guide NCSL’s advocacy efforts before Congress and the administration.

Below is a link to the policy directives and resolutions the NCSL Standing Committees expect to consider during their meetings on Sunday, Aug. 6, and Monday, Aug. 7. Final votes on all policy directives and resolutions reported from the standing committees will take place at the annual NCSL Business Meeting, scheduled for Monday, Aug. 7, from 3:15--5 p.m.

More on the NCSL Policy Process can be found here.

NCSL ContactsNeal OstenMolly Ramsdell

NCSL President-elect Senator Deb Peters Testified Before Congress

NCSL President-elect Senator Deb Peters (R) of South Dakota testified before the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial and Antitrust Law last Tuesday in opposition to the No Regulation Without Representation Act, H.R. 2887. Peters explained in her testimony that the legislation would preempt countless laws in every state and would cede even more control to the federal government. “Congress has persistently endeavored to erode state sovereignty and undermine the significance of the 10th Amendment in favor of more centralized power at the national level,” Peters said. “This erosion of state sovereignty has only accelerated in recent years as the congressional thirst to dictate state governance apparently cannot be quenched."

In her written testimony, Peters cited some of the hundreds, or even thousands, of state laws that would be preempted by the No Regulations Without Representation Act, including state laws that prohibit the possession of Salvia, laws that would address the opioid crisis, and laws that protect against invasive species. She also said the legislation being discussed in the hearing would have shut down efforts by states to collect sales taxes on remote transactions and would preempt numerous other tax laws, such as corporate income taxes, in 25 states.

In general, the members of the subcommittee were sympathetic to the concerns raised by Peters, and most offered little or no support for the No Regulation Without Representation Act. Representative Doug Collins (R-Ga.), in his comments, stated that because of the broad and preemptive nature of the bill, “I cannot support the approach we are taking in the subcommittee here today in considering this legislation.”

NCSL Contacts: Max Behlke, Jake Lestock

The July 24, 2017 Capitol-to-Capitol can be found here.

If you have comments or suggestions regarding Capitol-to-Capitol, please contact Max Behlke.


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.

  • Neal Osten | 202-624-8660 | Molly Ramsdell | 202-624-3584 | Directors
  • Max Behlke | 202-624-3586 | Budgets and Revenue
  • Danielle Dean | 202-624-8698 | Communications, Financial Services and Interstate Commerce
  • Ethan Wilson | 202-624-8686 | Commerce and Financial Services 
  • Rachel Morgan | 202-624-3569 | Health and Human Services
  • Jon Jukuri  | 202-624-8663 | Labor, Economic Development and International Trade
  • Susan Frederick | 202-624-3566 | Law, Criminal Justice, and Public Safety
  • Ben Husch | 202-624-7779 | Natural Resources and Infrastructure