Capitol to Capitol | May 28, 2019















Senate Approves Long-Awaited Disaster Relief Bill

Last week, the U.S. Senate passed a $19.1 billion disaster-relief bill that provides federal funds for the large number of people affected in 2018 and 2019 by natural disasters including hurricanes, wildfires and flooding. The bill, which also includes an extension of the National Flood Insurance Program, is expected to be approved by the House when members return from Memorial Day recess, as a request for approval by unanimous consent was objected to by Representative Chip Roy (R-Texas). President Donald Trump has indicated he will sign the clean disaster aid bill, though it is free of additional border security spending he had previously requested.

NCSL Contacts: Erlinda Doherty (budgets and revenue) and Lucia Bragg (law, criminal justice and natural disasters)

Despite Caps Disagreement, Spending Bills Advance

Despite little progress in negotiations that would raise discretionary spending limits due to expire this fiscal year, House appropriations subcommittees last week forged ahead with advancing bills to meet a goal of getting all spending bills for a House floor vote by next month.  The $137.1 billion Transportation-Housing and Urban Development (HUD) bill funds housing programs at $50.1 billion, which is $5.9 billion over this year’s enacted level. The president originally sought to cut HUD’s budget by $8.6 billion.  The Transportation Department would receive $86.6 billion, or $3.7 billion more than Trump requested.

The Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee moved a $24.3 billion bill that would increase discretionary spending by $1 billion over current levels. If enacted, total funding for agriculture programs would total $155.3 billion, representing an increase of $3.2 billion.  Appropriations subcommittees have four of the 12 bills that make up total agency funding remaining to advance to the full House.

For up-to-the-minute appropriations action visit the House Appropriations Committee website here.

NCSL Contact: Erlinda Doherty


The doorkeeper of the House was an officer who served as a U.S. Representative before or after their service as a House officer. The doorkeeper was elected by resolution and oversaw the press in gallery as well as who gained access to the House Chamber. The position was abolished in 1995. Similarly, the Senate sergeant at arms and doorkeeper is responsible for controlling access to Senate sessions, which were private but are now public. The Senate doorkeeper is elected by members and is the principal administrative manager and protocol and law enforcement officer.

Senate Makes Earmark Spending Ban Permanent

The insertion of congressionally-directed funding—also known as earmarks, member projects, or less affectionately, “pork,”—was permanently banned by Senate Republicans last week.  The ban, first imposed in 2011, was up for a two-year renewal but senators sensed support for eliminating earmarks altogether.  Most Republicans endorsed the ban as preventing kickbacks and a culture of incumbency, but some lawmakers view the ability to direct funding as a mechanism to ensure district priorities are met. While the House is not expected to take up rules regarding earmarks, members nonetheless continue to work under their own 2011 earmark prohibition. 

NCSL Contact: Erlinda Doherty

House Moves to Promote Retirement Savings

The House overwhelmingly passed bipartisan legislation encouraging more people to save for retirement and fix an unintended glitch resulting from the 2017 tax code overhaul.  Known as the SECURE Act, HR 1994 would provide tax credits and make it easier for small businesses to offer retirement plans to their workers.  It would also increase the minimum age for required distributions from savings plans from 70 1/2 to 72 years old, and eliminate the “kiddie tax” which unintentionally raised taxes on income earned by children. The bill has been sent to the Senate where it is expected to pass easily despite objections by some Republicans opposing the removal of language expanding 529 programs for private, home school, and religious K-12 schools.

NCSL Contact: Erlinda Doherty

Congress Likely to Pivot to Surface Transportation Reauthorization After Infrastructure Talks Breakdown

Following a breakdown in talks on a large-scale infrastructure package, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Representative DeFazio (D-Ore.) announced that he would pivot to reauthorizing the 2015 Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, which expires at end of FY 2020 (Sept. 30, 2020). This follows the lead Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) set earlier this year. It appears unlikely that new revenue will be made available for the reauthorization, meaning either that Congress will have to find offsets for any increase in federal transportation funding, or cut its existing amount. However, Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) did introduce a bill that would increase the federal gas tax by five cents a year for the next five years—making it 23.3 cents per gallon in 2020—until reaching 43.3 cents per gallon after 2023.

NCSL Contacts: Ben Husch and Kristen Hildreth

House Education and Labor Committee Hosts Hearing on Addressing Barriers to Employment

keeping Americans out of the workforce and also identify legislative solutions to expand opportunity,” said Committee Chairman Representative Bobby Scott (D-Va.) in his opening statement. “Despite the overall strength of the economy, too many still face a range of obstacles to employment, including discrimination, that undermines opportunities to take part in the benefits of work,” he continued. In her rebuttal, Ranking member Representative Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) remarked, “Though in the past we seemed to agree more on what the barriers to success are and how to remedy them, today, Democrats see barriers as opportunities to increase federal power. Republicans see barriers as opportunities to enable individual empowerment.”  A live stream of the hearing may be found here.

NCSL Contacts: Jon Jukuri and Miranda McDonald

USDA Announces Details of New Round of Trade Aid for Farmers

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will provide $16 billion in aid to farmers in response to the ongoing trade war with China. The department will provide $14.5 billion directly to producers of commodities based on a varying degree of factors for each individual commodity. Overall, the direct payment portion of the aid package has a different and more complex design than USDA's first iteration of its trade aid package in 2018. The payments will vary from county to county, depending on what commodities were planted there this year, historical production average and the estimated trade damage. The department will also spend $1.4 billion through its Food Purchase and Distribution Program to help support those commodities impacted. Finally, the department will spend an additional $100 million through the Agricultural Trade Promotion Program to assist in developing new export markets.

NCSL Contacts: Ben Husch and Kristen Hildreth

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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.

  • Molly Ramsdell | 202-624-3584 | Director
  • Erlinda Doherty | 202-624-8698 | Budgets and Revenue
  • Susan Frederick | 202-624-3566 | Law, Criminal Justice, and Public Safety
  • Abbie Gruwell 202-624-3569 | Commerce and Financial Services
  • Ben Husch | 202-624-7779 | Natural Resources and Infrastructure 
  • Jon Jukuri  | 202-624-8663 | Labor, Economic Development and International Trade
  • Haley Nicholson | 202-624-8662 | Health and Human Services
  • Joan Wodiska | 202-624-3558 | Education