Capitol to Capitol | Oct. 15, 2018

Countdown to the Next Showdown


On this day in 1860, 11-year-old Grace Bedell, concerned that Abraham Lincoln’s gaunt, worry-lined face was so severe it might scare off voters, sent a letter to the Republican nominee suggesting that he grow a beard. Lincoln wrote Bedell back four days later asking, “As to the whiskers, having never worn any, do you not think people would call it a piece of silly affectation if I were to begin it now?” He appears to have answered his own question, since he began growing his famous facial hair shortly after.

Congressional leaders have limited time to figure out a year-end spending package. While the past few budget negotiations have gone surprisingly well, it is widely believed that this will not be the case following the midterm elections because congressional Republicans have promised to fight for President Donald Trump’s U.S.-Mexico border wall, an issue Democrats have denounced as a costly and unnecessary expense.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have both pledged to push for the funding and have already insinuated that they are preparing for “a big fight about it.” Trump has also doubled down on the issue saying that following the elections “we’re doing something very strong on the wall.” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) wasted no time in negotiations and introduced a bill last week that would provide $23.4 billion for a southern “border wall system” over the next seven years, which includes $5.5 billion for a wall in fiscal year 2019.

As of now Republicans don’t have the votes in the Senate to push through a funding increase for the wall and with the possibility of Republicans losing seats in the House following the midterm elections, questions about how they plan to find funding for Trump’s demands and keep the government open are growing. The House returns Nov. 13 with just five workweeks to answer these questions. Otherwise funding will lapse on Dec. 7 for the departments of State, Homeland Security, Commerce, Agriculture, Transportation, Interior, Justice and Housing and Urban Development, as well as science and foreign operation programs.

Side note: Talks of increased funding come as the latest estimates from the Congressional Budget Office were released last week stating the 2018 fiscal year funding resulted in a $782 billion deficit, an increase of $116 billion or 17 percent from the prior year’s shortfall. This estimate, if confirmed by the Treasury, would be the largest annual deficit since FY 2012.

NCSL Contact: Jake Lestock

Trump Administration Announces New Trilateral Trade Proposal to Replace NAFTA

After a little over a year of negotiations between Canada, Mexico and the U.S., trade officials have agreed to a new trilateral trade deal. Officially entitled: the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), is laid out to update and replace the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). In a joint statement with Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer called the deal “a new modernized trade agreement for the 21st Century.”

According to U.S. administration trade officials, the USMCA “will create more balanced, reciprocal trade that supports high-paying jobs for Americans and grows the North American economies.” Among guidelines, USMCA encourages “United States manufacturing and regional economic growth requiring that 75 percent of auto content be made in North America”. The next steps for final approval of USMCA include ratification from all three governments.

In the U.S., it means Congress must approve the new trade deal with an up or down vote.  As of now, a vote on USMCA is not going to happen until after the November midterm elections, and will most likely slip into 2019 after a new Congress is sworn in.

Read official fact sheets on the USMCA.

NCSL Contacts: Jon Jukuri, Miranda McDonald

America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018


Sears, the original “everything store” that just filed for bankruptcy, was founded after the Civil War by a Minnesota railway station agent, Richard W. Sears, who bought a shipment of watches to sell on the side to other station agents. Shortly after he quit his job and formed the R.W. Sears Watch Company. Sears, Roebuck and Co. later emerged as a general mail-order catalogue company that catered to America’s enormous rural population.

On Oct. 10, Congress passed S. 2031, “America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018,” colloquially referred to as the 2018 Water Resources Development Act (WRDA). WRDA plays a key role in protecting, maintaining and further developing our nation’s water infrastructure systems including, ports, waterways, and clean and safe drinking water. WRDA not only provides the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) with its authorization to address and maintain America’s water infrastructure, including its ports, dam and flood resistance efforts, and also continues to provide funding and financing opportunities to states undertaking vital water infrastructure projects.

The legislation includes provisions, which NCSL strongly advocated for, requiring the Corps to develop a process to consult with impacted non-federal stakeholders, including state and local governments, on future and pending WRDA projects, district budgets, and guidance documents. Unfortunately, the bill does not address the continued accumulation of harbor tax receipts in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HTMF), a critical tool to help address our nation’s ports and harbor infrastructure. While an estimated $1.7 billion in annual HMTF revenue is currently being collected, annual appropriations have been significantly less than annual collections, yielding a HMTF balance of more than $9 billion. For more information, see NCSL’s information alert.

NCSL Contacts: Ben Husch, Kristen Hildreth

Congress Passes 2018 FAA Reauthorization and Disaster Recovery Reform Act

On Oct. 3, Trump signed into law the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act of 2018 and the Disaster Recovery Reform Act. The new law includes what’s considered the most comprehensive disaster recovery reform package since Hurricane Katrina and the longest funding authorization period for FAA programs since 1982.

The bill would reauthorize the FAA for five years, FY 2019-2023, at a cost of $97 billion. Of the $97 billion authorized, only $16.8 billion for the Airport Improvement Program is funded in the form of airport grants drawn on the Airport and Airway Trust Fund. The remaining $80 billion, primarily for FAA operations, equipment and facilities, would need to be appropriated in annual appropriations bills over five years. The bill contains a section on Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), commonly known as drones, with several provisions significantly affecting states. The bill also contains several provisions affecting airline passengers. The FAA would be required to issue a rule setting minimum standards for airline seat size and legroom while simultaneously ordering a study of plane evacuations, including the effect seat size and legroom have on evacuations. For a full breakdown of the bill’s provisions and impact to states, read NCSL’s Info Alert

The Disaster Recovery Reform Act (DRRA), increases the federal investment in pre-disaster mitigation, increases reimbursement caps for state and local governments on a range of disaster costs and allows state and local governments to administer housing assistance grants. In Section 1239, the law directs the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) to revise and update the factors considered when evaluating a governor’s request for a major disaster declaration, including the way FEMA estimates the cost of major disaster assistance and the capacity of a jurisdiction to respond to disasters. This section also includes NCSL drafted language that requires consultation with state and local governments. For additional details on the disaster recovery section of the bill, see NCSL’s blog post here.

NCSL Contact: Ben Husch, Kristen Hildreth (FAA), Lucia Bragg (DRRA)

Congress Passes Federal Opioid Legislation

Earlier this month, the U.S. Congress passed HR 6—the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act, also known as the Opioid Crisis Response Act. The core of the bill deals with the increasing public health costs and lives lost to opioid misuse disorder. In a show of bipartisanship, both chambers passed the legislation, and sent it to the president for his signature.  This bill provides flexibility to several Medicare and Medicaid programs by:

  • Increasing awareness in pain medication addiction among seniors.
  • Providing expanded mental health support for those recovering from opioid misuse as well as to their families.
  • Expanding resources for opioid and substance use disorders to use more integrated treatment models.  

For more information on the new law and how it will affect government-run and private health programs, check out NCSL’s Blog.

NCSL Contact: Haley Nicholson, Abbie Gruwell     

ED Releases ESSA Flexibilities Document

On Oct. 4, 2018, the Department of Education (ED) released three documents summarizing state and local flexibilities authorized in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

The documents summarized state ESSA flexibilities in the following areas:

  • Standards and Assessments.
  • Statewide Accountability Systems.
  • School Support and Improvement Activities.
  • Direct Student Services.
  • Institution-wide projects, under Title I, Part D.
  • Charter School Programs.
  • Funding Transferability for States.
  • Ed-Flex.
  • Consolidation of Funds.
  • Waivers.

ED also released a family-friendly ESSA guide for parents and guardians to better understand the new federal education law. ED also released a slide deck with the same information in the ESSA guide. For a copy of the slides or complete list of the ESSA documents, please visit ED’s webpage.

NCSL Contact: Joan Wodiska, Miranda McDonald

New Hampshire Approved to Test IADA Program

On Oct. 2, the U.S. Department of Education announced the approval of New Hampshire’s pilot effort under the Innovative Assessment Demonstration Authority (IADA) program. New Hampshire’s program, Performance Assessment of Competency Education (PACE), uses local assessments to build on annual proficiency accountability. To reduce standardized testing, PACE will also rely on students’ day-to-day work as a means of assessment. The Department may approve up to seven states, or a consortium of states, for the pilot program each year.  More information on the Innovative Assessment Demonstration Authority (IADA) program may be found here.

NCSL Contacts: Joan Wodiska, Miranda McDonald

ED Awards 2018 National Blue-Ribbon Schools

On Oct. 1, the U.S. Department of Education awarded its prestigious National Blue Ribbon Schools designation to 300 public schools and 49 private schools across 47 states; including the District of Columbia and Department of Defense Education Activity-connected schools. These schools were recognized based on their efforts to close achievement gaps among subgroups and their overall academic performance. The 349 honorees will be celebrated with an awards ceremony Nov. 7-8 in Washington, D.C. Read more information on this year’s honorees.

NCSL Contacts: Joan Wodiska, Miranda McDonald

NCSL in D.C. Committee Newsletters

Looking for more detailed information about all the goings-on when it comes to federal transportation, energy, environmental and agriculture? NCSL’s Natural Resources and Infrastructure Committee just released its latest updates including stories on USDA aid for farmers impacted by tariffs, court rulings on Waters of the United States and more than $500 million in grants for airports.

On This Day, Oct. 15, in …


Some women and African Americans could vote in New Jersey before the 15th and 19th Amendments. New Jersey’s constitution in 1776 gave voting rights to “all inhabitants of this colony, of full age, who are worth fifty pounds … and have resided within the county… for 12 months.” This was reversed in 1807, when the legislature restricted suffrage to tax-paying, white male citizens.

  • 1878, Thomas A. Edison opened the Edison Electric Light Co.
  • 1951, “I Love Lucy” premiered on CBS-TV.
  • 1966, U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed a bill creating the Department of Transportation.
  • 1991, Justice Clarence Thomas won Senate confirmation to the Supreme Court by the narrowest margin in the 20th century, 52-48.

Read the Oct. 1 Capitol-to-Capitol.

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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
  • Jake Lestock | 202-624-8171 | Budgets and Revenue
  • Danielle Dean | 202-624-8698 | Communications, Financial Services
  • Susan Frederick | 202-624-3566 | Law, Criminal Justice, and Public Safety
  • Abbie Gruwell 202-624-3569 | Human 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
  • Joan Wodiska | 202-624-3558 | Education