Capitol to Capitol | March 27, 2017

Governing Growing Pains

In a late breaking decision on Friday afternoon, House Republican leaders chose to pull H.R. 1628, the American Health Care Act (AHCA), just before a scheduled floor vote. After weeks of negotiation, the health care legislation failed to achieve consensus among the Republican House members to gain the 216 votes required to advance it. The bill had undergone several revisions and President Donald Trump was negotiating directly with different factions in the Republican party as late as the afternoon of March 23, when it was originally slated for a vote. Under pressure from the White House to advance the package to the House floor, the House Committee on Rules met Friday morning and published a closed rule to advance the measure, but after four hours of floor debate, the body recessed for the week instead of taking a vote. It remains to be seen how the political setback will influence the Republican agenda going forward, especially regarding tax reform and infrastructure investment.

“Moving from an opposition party to a governing party comes with growing pains. And, well, we're feeling those growing pains today. We came really close today but we came up short.”

-Speaker Paul Ryan, March 24, 2017

The AHCA included provisions that would repeal or modify parts of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), as well as provisions that were not specifically related to the ACA but were designed to enhance the stability of the private health insurance market. Moreover, the AHCA would have fundamentally altered the financing structure of the state federal partnership in Medicaid.


Pierre L’Enfant, who was appointed by President George Washington to plan the country’s new “Federal City” (now Washington D.C.), understood Washington’s vision that the city’s layout was to be infused with political ideology. He therefore drew the balance of power—the executive versus the legislative, and the states versus the federal government—onto his master plan of the city.

He connected the White House and the Capitol by Pennsylvania Avenue (named after the state where the Declaration of Independence was signed and the Constitution written) so that the executive and legislative branches were linked yet apart. At the same time, the broad avenues of the city were named after the original 13 states. 

Early on Friday morning, the House Rules Committee met and made changes to the bill in an attempt to garner more votes within the divided Republican caucus, with key revisions including Medicaid reforms and accelerated repeal of ACA taxes, but the changes did not affect AHCA’s provisions regarding states that did not expand Medicaid.

Specifically, the “Manager’s Amendment”:

  1. Preserved the ability of states to cover the Medicaid expansion population at the states traditional federal match.
  2. Grandfathered the expansion populations enrolled prior to Dec. 31, 2019.
  3. Retained the ACA enhanced matching rate of 90 percent until 2020.
  4. Provided states an option to institute a work requirement for the nondisabled, nonelderly, nonpregnant adult beneficiaries and provided a temporary 5 percent enhanced administrative match to support the transition in states.
  5. Increased the growth rate of the AHCA’s per-capita Medicaid cap for the elderly and disabled populations from the original medical inflation index to medical inflation plus one percentage point.
  6. Accelerated the repeal of many of the health care tax provisions in the original AHCA language making them effective to begin in 2017.


On March 23, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) updated its score of the AHCA to incorporate the changes made by the Manager’s Amendment, revealing the later version would yield less savings than the original package. The original estimate revealed a net reduction to the federal deficit of $337 billion over 2017-2026 period, but the proposed changes saved $186 billion less over the same period.

After four hours of floor debate on Friday, the House recessed and at that time it was announced that the Republican leadership was pulling the bill because they lacked the votes for passage. House Speaker Paul Ryan held a press conference that afternoon saying, "We came really close today, but we came up short.” He emphasized that a time of reflection would be required to examine how the process could have been improved. For now, the ACA will remain the “law of the land” while Republican leaders plan to refocus their efforts on other priorities and plan for future health actions.

NCSL’s analysis of the AHCA can be found here.

NCSL Contact: Rachel Morgan

Will Washington Pivot to Tax Reform?

Soon after Ryan announced that there were not enough votes to pass the healthcare replacement legislation, the president said, "We'll probably be going right now for tax reform." However, most in Washington spent the weekend wondering what exactly will happen next.

The failure of the AHCA to pass immediately added two additional obstacles for comprehensive tax reform: 1) the inability for the House GOP to coalesce around the health care replacement not only killed political momentum, but it also exposed ideological fractures within the party that may resurface during a tax rewrite; and 2) the math just became a lot harder. Republicans had hoped that the passage of the AHCA, which would have repealed nearly $1 trillion in taxes, would have made it easier for revenue-neutral tax reform. Without those taxes repealed, Republicans will either have to rework their plan or consider whether to continue even if it means adding to the national debt.  

NCSL’s Max Behlke participated on a Tax Foundation panel on Friday about how federal tax reform could impact the states, as well as offering a strong defense of maintaining the state and local tax deduction. Check it out here.

NCSL Contacts: Max Behlke, Jake Lestock

Are Senate Republicans Prepared to Go Nuclear?


 A U.S. Customs Declaration Made London Bridge the World's Largest Antique Ever Sold. London Bridge wasn't exactly falling down in the 1960s, but it was sinking under the weight of modern traffic. When the capital city in England decided to build another to replace it, the 1831 bridge was put up for sale and was sold to American Robert McCulloch. However, as McCulloch may not have bought the bridge if he had to pay a tariff on the sale, U.S. Customs and Border Protection declared the bridge an antique, so that the sale was tax free. 

With Senate hearings on the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court completed, Senate Republican leaders are moving to have him confirmed by April 6 so that a “Justice” Gorsuch can participate in the remaining cases to be decided by the court in this term. However, late last week, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said Democrats will deny Gorsuch the 60 votes needed to clear a Senate filibuster. If that is true, expect a showdown over Senate procedure once the Senate Judiciary Committee sends the nomination to the full chamber, which is expected to occur next week, that could forever change the way the Senate operates.

If eight Democrats do not join Republicans to vote to end debate on the Gorsuch confirmation, Republican leadership has warned that it would employ the “nuclear option”, which would change Senate rules to require a simple majority vote to end debate on the nomination, rather than the current 60 vote threshold. The president has endorsed the option, and has urged Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to “go nuclear” if needed.

The change in procedure would build upon the rules change implemented by then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in 2013, who removed the 60-vote requirement for Cabinet nominees and for lower-court judges. However, Senators on both sides of the aisle have expressed concerns for changing Senate rules, which Schumer knows. On Thursday, in an interview with POLITICO, the Democratic leader said, “I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion that Mitch McConnell changes the rules. There are people in his caucus who really don't want to change the rules, OK?”

NCSL Contacts: Susan Frederick, Danielle Dean

Government Shutdown Battle on the Horizon

Without passage of a new spending measure by April 28, most of the government will shut down when the current continuing resolution, which was enacted in early December, expires. The House, where finding the votes to fund the government will be most difficult, is only in session for 12 more days between now and then. And given that Capitol Hill is still reeling from the failed health care reform attempt last week, it remains to be seen whether the Republicans will unify around a spending package, or if the current political discord will spark a funding battle that could lead to the brink of a government shutdown.

NCSL Contacts: Max Behlke, Jake Lestock

NCSL Policy Deadline for Legislative Summit


The verb ‘to lobby’ first appeared in print in the United States in the 1830′s. The term is believed to have originated in British Parliament, and referred to the lobbies outside the chambers where wheeling and dealing took place.  “Lobbyist” was in common usage in Britain in the 1840′s.  Jesse Sheidlower, editor-at-large for the Oxford English Dictionary, believes the term was used as early as 1640 in England to describe the lobbies that were open to constituents to interact with their representatives.

NCSL's Washington staff advocate before the Congress, the White House and federal agencies for the benefit of state legislatures in accord with the policy directives and resolutions recommended by the Standing Committees and adopted at the NCSL Legislative Summit Business Meeting. Because of the policy decisions voted on by the Standing Committees, NCSL is nationally recognized as a formidable advocacy force in state-federal relations.

All new policy directives and resolutions, as well as amendments to existing directives, must be submitted to the attention of the NCSL Washington Office Directors, Neal Osten and Molly Ramsdell ( by 5 p.m. on July 7, the 30th day before the NCSL Annual Business meeting.

More on the NCSL Policy Process.

NCSL Contacts: Neal Osten, Molly Ramsdell


House Judiciary Committee Mark-Up of Adam Walsh Act

The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006 (Adam Walsh Act) reauthorization legislation, H.R. 1188, passed the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, March 21. The Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA), which was included in the Adam Walsh Act, created standards for sex offender registration and notification programs in states, tribes, and territories.

The rushed vote on the bill raises concern, especially since NCSL has not had the opportunity to work with the committee to ensure more states are brought into compliance. Currently, 17 states are in compliance with SORNA due to the Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering, and Tracking (SMART) office’s unjustly prescriptive implementation regulations. Although the legislation would loosen requirements on sex offender verification, it directs the Attorney General to approve other methods of check-ins without consultation with current state practice. It would also decrease the length of time juvenile offenders convicted of certain violent sex offenses must be registered on the national registry to 15 years, but does not ensure state registered offenses that are beyond the scope of SORNA are excluded from the law.

NCSL’s Adam Walsh Reauthorization Act of 2017 Backgrounder with the proposed amendments.

NCSL’s letter to the House Judiciary Committee.

NCSL Contacts: Susan Frederick, Danielle Dean

The March 20, 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