Capitol to Capitol | Sept. 24, 2018

New Tariffs Could Impact Consumers/Elections


The Constitution spells out age, citizenship and residency requirements for becoming president of the United States or a member of Congress but contains no rules for joining the nation’s highest court. To date, six justices have been foreign born, the youngest justice appointed was Joseph Story at 32, and the oldest, Oliver Wendell Homes Jr., retired at 90. Although justices do not have to be lawyers or law school graduates, all serving justices were lawyers prior to joining the court. 

A new round of tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese goods went into effect today. China responded by imposing taxes on more than 5,000 kinds of U.S. products. As trade negotiations continue with no end in sight, the U.S tariffs are set to rise to 25 percent in 2019, and President Donald Trump has even floated the idea of placing tariffs on an additional $500 billion in imports from China. Unlike the first $50 billion wave in tariffs on Chinese products, which fell mainly on industrial goods, this second round of tariffs could affect many consumer products. Giant retailers like Walmart, Amazon and Target are warning of price increases for manufactured goods, and other small businesses are complaining about big hits to their exports.

With midterm elections just around the corner, this could prove to be a large obstacle for Republicans. Economists expect that these tariffs will translate into higher prices for consumers across the country, particularly for low- to middle-income voters who make up much of Trump’s base. Consumers and businesses are growing increasingly nervous about Trump’s trade policy. The White House has said it is sensitive to consumers seeing higher prices and has tried to fashion the tariffs to produce the least pain possible. But you can bet Democrats will be seizing on trade issues in tight races across the country, especially in states with a large amount of exports. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross insisted that “nobody is going to actually notice [price increases] at the end of the day” because the hikes will be “spread over thousands and thousands of products.” While the new tariffs on Chinese imports begin taking effect today, time will tell if there will be consequences for consumers just as the midterms and holiday spending season approach.

NCSL Contact: Neal Osten

House Hopes to Avoid Shutdown and Head Home

While controversy over the Supreme Court nomination continues to dominate the news on the Hill, House Republicans are quietly trying to finalize funding before the end of the current fiscal year on Sept. 30. The Senate signed off last week on H.R. 6157, a colossal funding package that would lay out the updated spending levels for the departments of Defense, Education, Labor and Health and Human Services for FY 2019. The House is set to vote on the $855 billion measure this week and while several conservatives in the chamber have been urging Republican leaders to decouple the military spending bill from the nondefense spending measure, it is expected to pass and be sent to the president’s desk. To give incentive for the president to sign the funding compromise, congressional leaders added language that would extend funding at current levels until Dec. 7 for any appropriations bills that are not agreed upon by the Sept. 30 deadline.

Republican leaders grew concerned last week when Trump criticized the compromise bill for not including funding for a wall along the southern border in tweets stating, “I want to know, where is the money for Border Security and the WALL in this ridiculous Spending Bill, and where will it come from after the Midterms?” Although by Sept. 21, the president appeared to be reassured by GOP leaders that his wall funding would get approved after the midterm elections. The president will have until midnight on Sept. 30 to sign the package or risk a partial government shutdown. If the House is successful in passing H.R. 6157 and a presidential veto is avoided, the chamber is expected to adjourn until after midterm elections.

Other spending issues expected to be addressed this week include:

  • An extra $8.8 billion will be set aside for the national response to Hurricane Florence in H.R. 6157.
  • Funding for the expiring anti-domestic violence law, the Violence Against Women Act, is also expected to be attached to H.R. 6157.
  • Congressional leaders announced a bipartisan deal this past weekend to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration for five years that includes $1.7 billion for hurricane relief.
  • House and Senate negotiators are still in conference on the Farm Bill, which also expires Sept. 30 and negotiators remain far apart on several issues. Due to funding procedures, an extension may not be needed until December.

NCSL Contact: Jake Lestock

Large Opioids Package Approved by Senate


The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) announced that the United States has surpassed Russia to become the world's largest oil producer. The milestone comes more than a decade since the start of the shale boom, when companies combined hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling technology to tap into oil and gas from shale formations. The EIA estimates that U.S. oil output will likely lead the world in oil production through 2019.  

After several weeks of debate, the Senate passed a sweeping opioids package, voting 99 to 1 in a rare show of bipartisanship. The bill was passed earlier this summer in the House. The Senate stalled on a vote until several pieces were agreed upon. The legislation is largely the same as the House version with a few notable exceptions including:

  • Not lifting the “IMD exclusion” ban, which would have dealt with a current ban on Medicaid funding for mental health facilities with more than 16 beds.
  • An inclusion of language making addiction-related health records easier to share between insurance plans and doctors.
  • Not expanding the list of health providers that can prescribe buprenorphine, a prescription commonly used for medication-assisted treatment (MAT).

The bill now goes to a conference between the House and Senate, where additional programs and provisions are expected to be proposed.

NCSL Contacts: Haley Nicholson, Abbie Gruwell

DOE Awards Renewal of Grant to NCSL

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) renewed a five-year grant with the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) to continue to help states and tribal nations understand the policies, programs and activities undertaken by the agency. The project will keep legislators, legislative staff, executive branch officials and tribal members informed about:

  • The cleanup of the nuclear weapons complex and national laboratories, including future site use, worker retraining and the potential for economic redevelopment of the sites.
  • The transportation, interim storage and permanent disposal of civilian and defense-generated radioactive waste.
  • DOE policies and programs related to energy infrastructure and development on tribal lands; the development and deployment of nuclear energy technologies affecting states and tribal nations.
  • The activities and processes related to long term stewardship and institutional controls.

It will also help the department understand the concerns of state, tribal, local communities, state elected officials and other related stakeholders.

NCSL Contacts: Ben Husch, Kristen Hildreth

House to Vote on 'Tax Cuts 2.0' this Week

The House is officially scheduled to vote this week on a package of bills that has been informally titled “Tax Cut 2.0.” The package would make permanent the individual tax cuts and pass-through business deductions that are set to expire in 2026 as part of the sweeping tax reform bill, The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, that passed last December. These tax cut extensions have been split into three separate bills:

  1. The Protecting Family and Small Business Tax Cuts Act of 2018 (H.R. 6760), which would make permanent the lower individual rates, larger child tax credit and larger standard deduction from last year’s tax law. The bill would also make the $10,000 cap to the state and local tax deduction and the lower mortgage interest deduction permanent, among other provisions.
  1. The Family Savings Act of 2018 (H.R. 6757), which would notably include a number of reforms to retirement accounts; create universal savings accounts, which would allow individuals to be able to contribute up to $2,500 a year with withdrawals being tax free and allow workers to use up to $7,500 from retirement savings accounts to cover childbirth or adoption expenses without penalty and allow tax-free 529 college savings accounts to be used to pay for apprenticeship fees, home schooling and paying off student debt.
  1. The American Innovation Act of 2018 (H.R. 6756), whose provisions include allowing startup businesses to write off more of their costs.

There was doubt that the bills would make it to the floor following internal division between Republicans over the controversial state and local tax deduction cap and how the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is polling with voters. Just last week, the Republican National Committee released its survey that says 61 percent of respondents say the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act benefits “large corporations and rich Americans” over “middle class families.” While nearly all House Democrats and some blue-state Republicans are likely to oppose Tax Cut 2.0 on the House floor, House leaders are hopeful they can pass them through the chamber before the election. GOP leaders and administration aides acknowledge that there is no chance the bills will pass the Senate before election day.

NCSL Contact: Jake Lestock

Senate Passes Legislation Preventing 'Gag Orders'

Last week the Senate passed legislation preventing all health plans and pharmacy benefit managers in the commercial market from using gag orders. Gag orders are rules that prevent pharmacists from telling customers how to buy cheaper prescriptions without insurance. The legislation also requires drug companies to file biosimilars patent settlements with the Federal Trade Commission as a requirement for giving more visibility into pay-for-delay agreements between name brand biologics and biosimilar drugs. There was some opposition to the bill from Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) who was concerned the bill would supersede state authority in regulating commercial markets. He offered an amendment to limit the gag order ban on self-insured plans, but it was defeated. The House has a similar legislation without the biosimilars language and is on track for a vote this Congress.

NCSL Contacts: Haley Nicholson, Abbie Gruwell

U.S. Department of Education Announces Hurricane Recovery Assistance for Homeless Children and Youth

On Sept. 19, the U.S. Department of Education announced an award of $15 million in federal assistance toward the Hurricane Education Recovery Assistance for Homeless Children and Youth Program. Congress appropriated $25 million to the new program and to date, $15 million has been awarded to 21 states. The department awarded eligible state education agencies with funds authorized to assist local education agencies helping homeless children and youth displaced by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, or the 2017 California wildfires.

NCSL Contacts: Joan Wodiska, Miranda McDonald

On This Day, Sept. 24, in …


Many U.S. presidents have had and continue to have a passion for golf. Woodrow Wilson found the game essential during World War I as a way to relax. He was so dedicated to the game that he had the Secret Service paint his golf balls black so that he could play in the snow.

  • 1789: U.S. President George Washington signed the Judiciary Act, which established the structure and jurisdiction of the federal court system including the lower federal courts and also created the position of the attorney general.
  • 1869: The U.S. experienced its first “Black Friday” and it was not for holiday shopping, but rather the collapse of the U.S. gold market.
  • 1906: U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt proclaims Devils Tower in Wyoming as the nation’s first National Monument.
  • 1957: U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower sent 1,200 federal troops to Little Rock, Arkansas to enforce school integration and famously said “Mob rule cannot be allowed to override the decisions of the courts.”
  • 1968: “60 Minutes” premiered on CBS-TV.  

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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