Capitol to Capitol | March 20, 2017

This Week: Health vs. Gorsuch

On today's first day of spring, Congress begins a week that will be consumed by two different storylines that will compete for headlines in Washington: health care in the House, and the Senate Judiciary confirmation hearings for Judge Neil Gorsuch, who was nominated by President Donald Trump to replace the late Associate Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court of the United States. How the House handles replacement of the Affordable Care Act will dictate the policy agendas in both chambers for the foreseeable future. The outcome of the Gorsuch hearings may determine whether Senate Democrats will slow, or even filibuster, a confirmation vote by the entire chamber. On Capitol Hill, spring has indeed sprung.

Possible House Vote on Health Care Bill This Week

Last Thursday, the House Budget Committee advanced the American Health Care Act (AHCA) one step closer to the chamber's floor, but the legislation may have to be modified if it is to garner the requisite number of votes to pass. However, Speaker Paul Ryan will have a tough balancing act of amending the measure to appease conservatives without alienating more moderate members of his caucus. If no Democrats vote for the replacement bill, the speaker can only afford 21 Republican defections to send it to the Senate, where it will likely be dead on arrival. Even though the House legislation appears doomed in the other chamber, it would be a resounding blow to Ryan, as well as for the prospects of Republican health care reform, if the AHCA is voted down on the House floor.


DYK? When the British invaded Washington in 1814, they held a mock session of Congress in the U.S. Capitol on whether they should burn the city to the ground. Admiral Cockburn took the Speaker's Chair and sarcastically stated that "all in favor of setting fire to this harbor of Yankee democracy, say Aye!" Mockingly, the soldiers unanimously agreed. 

As the AHCA has cleared the Budget Committee, Republicans' best opportunity to amend the legislation is through what is known as a "manager's amendment," which would incorporate any changes and then would be added to the legislation in the Rules Committee, which will review the bill before it is considered on the floor. Oklahoma Republican Representative Tom Cole expects the Rules Committee to mark up the bill on Wednesday so it can be considered by the full chamber on Thursday, but GOP leadership has acknowledged that efforts to amend the bill may shift the timeline for its consideration.

House leadership has stated that while they are listening to Republican concerns, they are asking their members to not derail the legislation if it doesn't include everything they want. Members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, whose votes are crucial, have expressed concerns about the AHCA's tax credits to help people buy insurance and have complained that the bill does not sunset Medicaid expansion until 2020. More moderate members have been less vocal in opposition, but some have hinted that a vote for the bill could be politically treacherous, especially given the recent news from the Congressional Budget Office, which projected that 24 million people would lose health insurance coverage under the Republican plan. While changes to the measure have been suggested by conservatives and moderates alike, one change the House leadership is seriously considering would be to add a work requirement for able-bodied adults who receive Medicaid, a move they expect would be received well by their entire caucus.

NCSL Contact: Rachel Morgan

Gorsuch Confirmation Hearings Begin This Week

For the first time since June 2010, today the Senate Judiciary Committee will begin the process of confirming a justice to the Supreme Court of the United States, 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Neil Gorsuch. The hearings are expected to last three to four  days, which will then be followed by consideration by the full chamber later this spring. Gorsuch, a conservative and originalist who interprets the Constitution and laws in context in which they were originally written, will most likely be confirmed, given his credentials and the support he has received from persons on both sides of the political spectrum. Senate leadership is hoping to confirm Gorsuch before the chamber's spring recess, which begins the week of April 10. Whether that timeline will be achieved remains to be seen, but if leadership meets that goal, it is possible that the judge could participate in cases during the Supreme Court's current term, which concludes in June.

NCSL Contacts: Susan Frederick, Danielle Dean

HHS Sends Letters to Governors Regarding Health Coverage

While the House continues to grapple with health care legislation, last week the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) sent two letters to governors outlining their intent to support state efforts to strengthen their public and private health coverage systems. In their first letter, HHS encouraged states to apply for Section 1332 waivers through the Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight (CCIIO) for use in supporting private health insurance markets in the states. CCIIO is endeavoring to expedite these applications and work with states to put this funding into place as soon as possible. To receive approval and funding, states would need to enact a law providing for the implementation of the waiver prior to the end of the 2017 legislative session, or have enabling statutes in place.


DYK? Congress or the president can declare someone an honorary citizen of the United States. Only eight people have ever had this status. 

Their second letter on March 14 expressed their commitment to support state initiatives aimed at improving health outcomes, and pledges to ensure long-term sustainability of their health safety net programs. The letter outlines key areas where efforts will be made including facilitating expedited approvals for waivers and demonstrations, providing additional time for states to comply with the Jan. 16, 2014, Home and Community-Based Services (HCBS) rule, and ensuring that states have the tools they need to combat the growing opioid epidemic.

Additional details and resources are available on the NCSL website.

NCSL Contact: Rachel Morgan

EPA Issues Notice of Intention to Review Vehicle Mileage Standards


Leo Ryan is the only member of the U.S. Congress to have ever been killed in the line of duty. He was assassinated while investigating human rights violations at Jonestown, Guyana, in 1978.

One of Ryan's aides, Jackie Speier, was shot five times and waited 22 hours before help arrived. She went on to become a California state senator before being elected to Congress in 2008.

On March 15, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced its intent to review its Final Determination of the Mid-Term Evaluation of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emission Standards for Model Year 2022-2025 Light Duty Vehicles, and coordinate its reconsideration process with the Department of Transportation (DOT).

In 2012, EPA and DOT finalized a rule outlining both Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) Standards and GHG emission standards for light-duty vehicles model years (MY) 2017-2025 that set targets to increase fuel efficiency for light-duty vehicles from 35.5 miles-per-gallon in 2016 to 54.5 by MY 2025. Under the rulemaking, EPA made a regulatory commitment to conduct a Midterm Evaluation (MTE) of the standards for MYs 2022-2025. The MTE began on Nov. 30, 2016, when EPA proposed its determination to maintain MYs 2022-2025 standards. In January 2017, well ahead of its April 2018 deadline, EPA issued its final determination, which maintained the standards set forth in the initial rule. In response, members of the automobile industry claimed that the 2022-2025 requirements are too costly and difficult to meet and requested the new administration review EPA's January 2018 report. The March 15 announcement indicates that EPA will not only reconsider its final determination, but also reaffirms the April 2018 deadline for a new Final Determination.

In addition to the standards issued by EPA, the agency also granted California a waiver in 2009, which EPA had previously denied, allowing it to potentially set more stringent GHG emission standards for light-duty vehicles than the federal government based on Clean Air Act (CAA) Section 209. A second waiver was approved by EPA in 2013, which granted California's request to regulate GHGs in light-duty vehicles through 2025. Additionally, under CAA Section 17, other states can adopt California's requirements. Currently, 13 states compromising 40 percent of the auto market follow California's program. It remains unclear if EPA will seek to revoke these waivers.

NCSL Contacts: Ben Husch; Kristen Hildreth

Hopes of 2017 Infrastructure Package Continue to Fade

Last week Senator Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) confirmed the already long odds of passage of a comprehensive infrastructure package in 2017. The former chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee said in an interview that he suspects "it [infrastructure legislation] won't happen this year." Inhofe's comments are not surprising given that Congress plans to tackle comprehensive tax reform after its repeal/replacement of the Affordable Care Act, thus leaving little time on the calendar to address a large infrastructure bill.

NCSL Contacts: Ben Husch; Kristen Hildreth

Cool Reception for Trump's First Budget

On Thursday, Trump released his first budget outline entitled "America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again," a 64-page proposal known as a "skinny budget," which proposes a $54 billion increase in defense spending that would be paid for through cuts in the domestic discretionary spending. The president's proposal is extra skinny and is devoid of many details, making it one of the skinniest budgets in the 40 years presidential budgets have been tracked by the Congressional Research Service (CRS). The proposal makes no assumptions regarding "mandatory" spending programs, including Social Security and Medicare, and does not project how the president's promised tax cuts might affect the country's fiscal health.

However, the slim proposal was not unexpected, given that administration officials had previously hinted that the proposal would be thin. "This is a budget blueprint, not a complete budget," said Mick Mulvaney, director of the President's Office of Management and Budget (OMB), before its release. He promised data, economic forecasts, and details in the full budget that is planned to be released in the middle of May.

That said, upon its release, the budget blueprint received bipartisan criticism, which all but confirms that Congress will chart a different course for fiscal year 2018, which begins on Oct. 1. In fact, Representative Hal Rogers, the former chair of the House Appropriations Committee, said that the politics of supporting the president's proposal are so tenuous that he does not "think we'd get 50 votes for it." So, we will have to wait to see how seriously the legislative branch plans to consider the president's priorities when it begins the budget process in earnest in the coming months.

Budget Highlights

  • $54 billion increase in defense and public safety spending, offset by reduced funding of non-defense discretionary spending.
  • Appropriates an additional $30 billion to defeat ISIS including:
    • $24.9 billion in personnel, training, equipment, modernization and infrastructure.
    • $5.1 billion in overseas contingency operations to defeat ISIS and support operation freedom's sentinel in Afghanistan.
  • Allocates $4.5 billion for securing the border and investing in the immigration system.
  • Increases funds for the Department of Veterans Affairs by 6 percent.
  • Provides a $4.6 billion increase for VA health care to improve patient access and timeliness of medical care services for over 9 million enrolled veterans.
  • A $10.1 billion cut (28 percent) for the Department of State and USAID.
  • Eliminates $427 million in funding for programs for regional watershed efforts, including the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and the Chesapeake Bay program.
  • Eliminates the discretionary programs within the Office of Community Services, including the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and the Community Services Block Grant (CSBG), a savings of $4.2 billion.
  • Eliminates or reduces state and local grant funding by $667 million for programs administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
  • Proposes a 25 percent non-federal cost match for FEMA preparedness grant awards that currently require no cost match. This is the same cost-sharing approach as FEMA's disaster recovery grants. The activities and acquisitions funded through these grant programs are primarily State and local functions.
  • Requests $3 billion increase for DHS border security to plan, design, and construct a border wall. Funds to also be used to recruit immigration law enforcement and ICE agents.
  • Increases investments in public and private school choice by $1.4 billion compared to 2017, ramping up to an annual total of $20 billion, or an estimated $100 billion when including matching state and local funds.
  • Maintains $13 billion in funding for Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) programs to support students with special education needs.
  • Safeguards the Pell Grant program with level funding.
  • Eliminates the $732 million Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant program.
  • Reduces funding for the Department of Housing and Urban Development by 13 percent.
  • Eliminates funding for the Community Development Block Grant program (CDBG), a savings of $3 billion.
  • Eliminates funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for Humanities, and Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

The March 13, 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 Jarchow |202-624-8686 | Communications, Financial Services and Interstate Commerce
  • Lee Posey | 202-624-8196 | Education
  • 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