Capitol to Capitol | March 6, 2017


Capitol to Capitol

Health Care in March: In Like a Lion, Out With a Plan?

 In a closed door meeting of his caucus last Thursday, House Speaker Paul Ryan announced that he plans to hold a vote on the House Republican Leadership’s health care legislation by the end of the month. The speaker said that the effort has support of both the White House and Republican leadership in the Senate. However, it is still unclear what the replacement legislation for the Affordable Care Act will entail, as the current draft has only been made available to Republican members of the Energy and Commerce Committee, who are able to a read copy of the bill in a secure room in the Capitol. However, the legislative text will soon be made available as the committee is scheduled to take up a portion of the bill this week.


The federal government spends approximately $7.4 million every minute, which is about $1.1 million more than it collects. According to the Congressional Budget Office, at the end of 2016, debt held by the public reached 77% of GDP, marking the highest ratio since 1950.

While Republicans on the House side of Capitol Hill, including members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, have expressed their reservations for the plan, leadership expects the caucus to ultimately coalesce around their Obamacare replacement. This is because “conservatives are going to be in a box,” according to a senior unnamed Republican lawmaker who spoke to POLITICO on Friday. The lawmaker went on to say that he expected that the president would ultimately “go out front and … tell the conservatives … they’re either for this or for keeping Obamacare.” Any legislation that passes the House will still have a rocky road in the Senate, where the Republicans hold a slim majority. In addition to Senator Rand Paul (Ky.), who has criticized the cost of the replacement proposal, senators are divided over how to handle Medicaid expansion and other issues that will impact states differently. But, the good news for the senators is that they won’t have to make any decisions until at least April.

NCSL Contact: Rachel Morgan

Budget and Debt Limit Deadlines Near

On March 2, Ryan told reporters that there is not enough time in the House to pass all 12 FY 2017 appropriations bills that fund the federal government before the current funding measure expires on April 28. This means that Congress will need to pass either a short-term stopgap measure, or a bundled appropriations bill that would fund the government through the remainder of the fiscal year, ending on Sept. 30, if it wants to avert a government shutdown. Of the 12 appropriations bills, only the Defense bill will have new language, as bipartisan legislation was unveiled in both chambers last week. The House will likely take action on the Defense measure this week, which will likely become the vehicle for remaining 11 spending bills by the time it is considered by the Senate and is ultimately sent to the president for his signature.


Lyndon B. Johnson was the only president to take the oath of office from a female official, Judge Sarah T. Hughes

In addition to appropriations, Congress will also soon have to raise the debt ceiling, which will be  reinstated next week (March 15). The debt ceiling, which limits the amount of money the government is able to borrow to cover its expenses, has been suspended since Oct. 30, 2015. While the Treasury Department will be able to employ extraordinary measures to keep the government funded through early summer, expect budget hawks to begin ramping up their calls to balance the budget and reduce the federal deficit.

NCSL Contact: Max Behlke; Jake Lestock

House Vote Scheduled to Pre-empt State Medical Malpractice Laws

On Friday Feb. 24,  Representative Steve King (R-Iowa) introduced H.R. 1215, the Protecting Access to Care Act of 2017, which was scheduled for markup the following Tuesday. The bill, which passed the committee immediately following the markup, has sweeping federal pre-emption language that would affect the laws of 47 states and territories. The legislation will be scheduled for a vote by the full House of Representatives as early as tomorrow. NCSL sent an opposition letter to the chamber and we urge members of Congress to oppose the bill and its substantial pre-emption of state law.

NCSL Contacts: Susan Frederick; Danielle Dean

Cybersecurity Legislation Gains Steam

Cybersecurity legislation is moving in the House, with freshman Republican Representative Abraham (La) introducing H.R. 1224, the NIST Cybersecurity Framework, Assessment, and Auditing Act of 2017. The bill would codify the implementation of the NIST Cybersecurity Framework across federal agencies and establish auditing requirements. Also, U.S. Representatives Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.) and Barbara Comstock (R-Va.) along with U.S. Senators Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) introduced the State Cyber Resiliency Act. This bipartisan, bicameral legislation aims to help state, local, and tribal governments more effectively counter cyber threats. Under the bill, DHS would be directed to set up a cybersecurity grant program for states to support their development and implementation of cyber resiliency plans as well as to encourage states to invest in expanding a robust cybersecurity workforce. 

NCSL Contacts: Susan Frederick; Danielle Dean

Trump’s Trade Agenda

Trans Pacific Partnership: After being sworn into office, one of President Donald Trump's first acts was formally withdrawing from the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) on Jan. 23. This 12-country agreement had received criticism and praise from both sides of the aisle and became a target of criticism during Trump's campaign.

Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership: The future of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a measure that seeks to establish a free trade zone between the U.S. and the European Union (EU), is also uncertain at this time. The EU Ambassador to the U.S., David O'Sullivan, said recently that TTIP is currently in limbo while primary trade contacts within Trump's administration remain uncertain. A deal to harmonize mutually recognized "good manufacturing practices" between the U.S. and EU will reportedly move forward, nevertheless.

North American Free Trade Agreement: The new administration has also set its sights on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Trump has promised to renegotiate or reopen NAFTA negotiations with Canada and Mexico. In the case of a possible withdrawal from NAFTA altogether, the U.S. can technically withdraw from the agreement after a 90-day notice period, but Congress will presumably have its own say on the matter and several of the posts central to further discussion have yet to be filled.

NCSL Contacts: Jon Jukuri; Lucia Bragg

Executive Order Puts Waters of the U.S. Rule on Notice

On Feb. 28, Trump issued an executive order to begin the process of reviewing, and possibly rescinding, the Environmental Protection Administration’s (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Clean Water Rule: Definition of Waters of the United States. Any changes to the rule, or even its removal, will require EPA and USACE to follow the Administrative Procedures Act that necessitates the use of notice and comment periods. 


 Established on Nov. 26, 1789, the first national “Thanksgiving Day” was originally created by George Washington as a way of “giving thanks” for the Constitution.

Finalized in June 2015, the rule, more commonly referred to as WOTUS, was designed by the EPA and USACE to define “waters of the United States,” as used in the Clean Water Act (CWA). The rule aims to determine the scope of federal authority to regulate such water, and when states, local governments, and others must seek federal permits to develop land because it contains WOTUS. In October 2015 the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a temporary stay of the regulations preventing them from going into effect nationally. In February 2016, the 6th Circuit ruled that it, rather than a federal district court, has jurisdiction to rule on whether the WOTUS rule exceeded the Clean Water Act. On Jan.13, the Supreme Court agreed to resolve whether federal appellate, or district court judges have jurisdiction to review the regulation.

Additionally, the executive order directs the EPA and USACE to consider relying on the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s plurality opinion in Rapanos v. United States, rather than Justice Anthony Kennedy’s, in reviewing the regulation. calia argued that the Clean Water Act strictly applies to “navigable waters,” and only applies to non-navigable waters if the waters are “relatively permanent, standing, or flowing bodies of water,” such as streams, rivers, lakes, and bodies of water forming geographical features.

NCSL Contacts: Ben Husch; Kristen Hildreth

President’s Cabinet Almost Complete

The Senate was busy last week, and confirmed four members of the cabinet. First up was Wilbur Ross Jr., who was confirmed as secretary of commerce on Monday night. Ross, a former banker and investor, earned billions during decades of buying and selling industries and will now lead the president’s  trade negotiations.

Montana Congressman Ryan Zinke was confirmed to lead the Interior Department. Zinke, a former Navy SEAL and avid outdoorsman, made a stylish entrance arriving to his first day of work last Thursday in D.C. by horseback.

Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson was confirmed as secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Carson’s confirmation came down largely along party lines as critics on the left openly questioned Carson’s qualifications for leading a government agency with a very large annual budget.

The final confirmation vote of the week was on Thursday afternoon for Rick Perry for secretary of energy. The former Texas governor and recent reality TV star was less controversial than other nominees, but will now face a number of tough issues over regulations and potentially deep cuts in manpower and spending.

While the majority of the cabinet has been filled, hearings need to take place for Robert Lighthizer for U.S. trade representative, Sonny Perdue for secretary of agriculture, and Alexander Acosta for secretary of labor.

The Feb. 27, 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