Capitol to Capitol is NCSL's state-federal newsletter.
Last week’s House action included the passage of the Equality Act (HR 5) on a 236-173 vote, with eight Republicans joining the Democrats. The legislation updates existing federal nondiscrimination laws to “prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation, and for other purposes.” The House also passed HR 2578 to extend the National Flood Insurance Program through Sept. 30, 2019; the program is set to expire at the end of May. The Senate approved five additional nominations. President Donald Trump unveiled an immigration reform plan.
Other congressional and administration activity included:.
Three House appropriations subcommittees advanced their spending bills last week, displaying some momentum in the year’s stalled budget process. A $690.2 billion defense spending bill includes provisions that would block the administration from using Pentagon funds to construct a border wall. Also approved was $46.6 billion for energy and water programs, which is 4% above current year funding levels, and $39.5 billion for Interior-Environment programs, 10.9% over current levels. Labor-Health and Human Services-Education, Legislative Branch and Military Construction appropriations bills were advanced by the full House appropriations subcommittees last week.
For up-to-the-minute appropriations action visit the House Appropriations Committee website.
NCSL Contact: Erlinda Doherty
While there’s no consensus on how to improve the annual congressional budget process, leaders of both parties agree that it needs to be overhauled and reformed. The Senate Budget Committee last week restarted efforts to investigate and recommend changes to a process that has been called “broken.” Senators lamented that rules are frequently waived when inconvenient and spending bill deadlines are routinely ignored, leading to government shutdowns. Proposed solutions include instituting a two-year budget cycle and requiring votes to raise the debt ceiling each time a spending bill is passed. While hearings are set to take place over the upcoming weeks, senators expressed that only political will can lead to actual reform.
Does Congress have the political will to improve the budget process? Follow hearings to find out.
Congress has passed all the annual appropriations bills on schedule only four times. The federal budget framework was created in 1974 and the last time Congress passed all spending bills on time was in 1997. In 44 years, Congress has had 20 funding gaps of varying lengths
Earlier this month the administrationsubmitted a full argument to a federal appeals court on invalidating the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The argument looks at congressional intent of the law and argues if the ACA individual mandate is unconstitutional, how can other aspects of the law work as Congress intended when it was passed? Parts of the law have been repealed, including the individual tax penalty for being uninsured, but that did not strike down the overall law. The brief also recognizes some provisions could still function as Congress intended despite other reforms within the law being struck down.
NCSL Contacts: Haley Nicholson and Margret Wile
In recognition of the 65th anniversary of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education and ongoing work to ensure equity in education for all students, the U.S. Education and Labor Committee marked up and approved two bills. The bills amended HR 2574, the Equity and Inclusion Enforcement Act, and HR 2639, the Strength in Diversity Act of 2019, by a vote of 26-20. HR 2574 would restore a private right of action to file disparate impact claims under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. HR 2639 would support local efforts to promote diversity in schools.
NCSL Contact: Joan Wodiska
The second infrastructure meeting between Democratic leaders and the White House is tentatively set for May 22. The goal of the meeting is to develop more of a plan for how to pay for[JB1] [LK2] a potential $2 trillion infrastructure package.
NCSL Contacts: Ben Husch and Kristen Hildreth
On May 17, the United States Trade Representative announced the removal of Section 232 tariffs on aluminum and steel imports from Mexico and Canada. Lauded as a win for “American farmers that have been subjected to tariffs from Canada and Mexico,” the agreement includes aggressive monitoring of steel and aluminum products. In an effort to prevent surges in imports of steel and aluminum, the United States reserves the right to reimpose Section 232 tariffs.
NCSL Contacts: Jon Jukuri and Miranda McDonald
Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced that the administration is considering a second round of aid to farms to help offset continued losses from retaliatory tariffs. The second installment of trade aid is being modeled after the aid program offered in 2018 when the USDA pledged up to $12 billion in assistance for 2018 production, mostly in the form of direct payments. This year’s aid level could be significantly higher, as Perdue noted that initial calculations “probably range between $15 and $20 billion.” Last year’s aid levels were met with complaints, primarily from corn and wheat growers, that the formulas used to determine the level of direct assistance didn't adequately reflect their losses. The National Corn Growers Association released a statement after the secretary’s announcement that the penny-per-bushel payment rate for corn farmers under the previous program "didn't cut it then and won't cut it now."
Last week, Ivanka Trump, special advisor to the president on economic empowerment and workforce development, met with Senators Tim Kaine (D- Va.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) on S 839, the Jumpstart Our Businesses by Supporting Students Act of 2019. Also known as the JOBS Act, it is a bipartisan bill to allow Pell Grants to be used for short-term workplace credentials. The bill is being discussed as part of the larger reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. Earlier this year, the president’s budget called for Congress to allow Pell Grants to be used for students to earn workplace credentials. The bill closely mirrors Virginia’s FastForward Program, created by the Virginia General Assembly in 2016 with the passage of HB 66. It established the New Economy Workforce Grant Program, which was implemented as the Virginia FastForward program. Read more in the NCSL Brief on Virginia FastForward
NCSL Contacts: Joan Wodiska (federal) and Sunny Deye (state)
Read the May 14, 2019, Capitol to Capitol.
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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.