Capitol to Capitol is NCSL's state-federal newsletter.
The House passed a stopgap measure in an effort to avoid a government shutdown and the Senate plans to move quickly on current level funding. Regular appropriations bills, however, have barely progressed in the Senate and talks of a one-year continuing resolution are now being reignited.
On Sept. 19, the House passed a continuing resolution (CR) to fund the government at current fiscal year (FY) 2019 levels through Nov 21. HR 4378 also included “anomalies”—which have become more and more typical in these measures—including billions of dollars in aid to farmers, extended funding for community health care centers, and delayed cuts to safety-net hospitals.
The CR also continued Medicaid payments to U.S. territories, including Puerto Rico, through Nov. 21, and provided additional funds for the decennial census. While the CR prevents a $1.2 billion rescission to federal transit funding, it does not include language to restore an upcoming $7.6 billion rescission in federal highway funds. Additionally, the CR included funding for the United States Export-Import (Ex-Im) Bank, which NCSL supports.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) expects the stopgap measure to progress quickly through the Senate this week, as lawmakers only have one legislative week to address the impending Sept. 30 shutdown deadline. Meanwhile, the option of a full-year CR is also being resurrected. The administration had originally offered to support year-long current level funding, but Senate leadership still hopes Congress will make progress on its regular FY 2020 spending bills.
NCSL Contacts: Erlinda Doherty (budgets and revenue) and Jon Jukuri (labor and economic development)
On March 4, 1841, the Senate conducted its first continuous filibuster over the issue of dismissal of the printers of the Senate. It lasted seven days.
Congress passed S.1689 that aims to help fund efforts to reduce lead from drinking water by allowing states to transfer some federal funding they receive for their Clean Water State Revolving Fund to their Drinking Water State Revolving Fund. The president is expected to sign.
NCSL Contacts: Ben Husch and Kristen Hildreth
On Sept. 19, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a bipartisan amendment to the Financial Services and General Government (FSGG) Appropriations bill, which will provide $250 million to the Election Assistance Commission for grants to states for election security. Specifically, this funding will allow states to upgrade election technology, improve cybersecurity and help prevent future cyberattacks. The House-passed version of the FSGG bill contains $600 million in election security grants to states so the two chambers will need to reconcile their differences in conference.
NCSL Contacts: Susan Frederick and Lucia Bragg
Last week, the Senate Labor, HHS & Education subcommittee chairman’s FY 2020 spending recommendations were released. Highlights include: an increase of 2.2% for the maximum Pell grant award, from $6,195 to $6,330 for the 2020-2021 academic year; level funding for Title I grants to local educational agencies, IDEA state grants, and career and technical education state grants. Several programs have proposed bumps in funding, including a $25 million increase for Impact Aid; $50 million increase for Title IV Student Support and Academic Enrichment grants; $20 million increase for charter school programs; and $20 million increase for Safe Schools National Activities.
NCSL Contact: Molly Ramsdell
The term filibuster is believed to originate from the Dutch word “freebooster” or “flee-booster” meaning taking booty or loot. It came to mean "pirating” when it was applied to legislators who obstruct parliamentary proceedings. The filibuster was used for the first time in American politics in the 1800s as a method to prevent or delay a vote on a bill or other Senate business. J. Strom Thurmond, who filibustered for 24 hours and 18 minutes against the Civil Rights Act of 1957, holds the record for the longest individual speech.
A bipartisan group of senators including Rick Scott (R-Fla.), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) introduced a bill that would ban federal funds from being used to purchase drones made in China and other countries thought to pose a national security threat, including Iran.
On Sept. 17, the House passed the FUTURE Act, a bipartisan proposal to preserve funding for historically black colleges and universities, tribally controlled colleges or universities and other minority-serving institutions. The legislation extends funding for these institutions for two years; funding is set to expire Sept. 30.
Lawmakers on the Senate Appropriations Committee are proposing to add more than $500 million to the Pentagon’s 2020 budget to strengthen U.S. cybersecurity capabilities. The money is specifically designated to enhance the Department of Defense’s weapons and information systems to allow them to operate on 5G networks worldwide when they are completed.
NCSL Contacts: Abbie Gruwell and Tres York
While little progress has been made on a list of tax measures in the House, Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal (D-Maine) expected at least a duo would be addressed. Bills still considered a priority include legislation that would increase the $10,000 state and local tax deduction limit enacted by the 2017 tax reform law, as well as a Social Security measure (HR 860) that contains drug pricing taxes supported by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). Meanwhile, the Senate has stalled in taking up a measure that includes a fix for military child survivors affected by the so-called “kiddie tax,” which was inadvertently included in the 2017 law. The House overwhelming passed its version of this provision included in a retirement security bill (HR 1994).
NCSL Contact: Erlinda Doherty
The House Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress considered the option of transitioning to two-year budget resolutions while bringing back earmarks. A biennial budget resolution would allow Congress to set allocations in advance and help speed up the budget process. Lawmakers banned earmarks in 2001 after spending was criticized as wasteful and self-serving. Panelists at the hearing agreed that if earmarks were to be reintroduced into budgets, there would have to be major efforts to instill transparency into the process. The Senate has also been considering budget process reform in recent weeks and expects to submit legislation before the end of session.
On Sept. 13, NCSL sent a letter to the leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee in response to their request for input for potential legislation addressing climate change. The letter highlighted that any move to develop comprehensive climate legislation at the federal level must not preempt traditional state authority in this arena, must be flexible, and must be cautious of adopting a “one-size fits all” approach. Further, any federal legislation must allow for a range of complementary strategies and maintain a strong role for state, local and tribal governments. States must be provided the authority and maximum levels of flexibility to work within an overall framework and ensure achievement of climate change goals in the most effective, timely and efficient manner.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee has begun a bipartisan investigation into private equity firms and their role in surprise billing practices. The committee has asked for information from three private equity firms regarding their relationship with companies staffing doctor offices and emergency rooms across the country, and their role as a source of unexpected medical bills. Private equity firms work with hospitals by supplying emergency physicians and specialists, but there have been growing instances in these relationships where firms are charging higher rates when patients receive out-of-network care.
NCSL Contacts: Haley Nicholson and Margaret Wile
On Sept. 17, the Department of Education announced the release of a Q&A that “made clear that vocational rehabilitation and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act funds can be used to support dual enrollment, comprehensive transition and other postsecondary education programs for students and youth with disabilities.” The full Q&A is available here.
The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) recently awarded $374 million for programs supporting maternal and child health. The funding will go to 56 states, territories and nonprofit organizations with $351 million going to the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program (MIECHV) and $23 million to three new programs working to improve maternal health outcomes. The MIECHV Program has provided more than 5 million home visits and served more than 150,000 parents and children in all 50 states.
The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) announced nearly $60 million in federal grant funding to eight projects in seven states to test the safe integration of automated driving systems on our nation’s roadways. NCSL recently submitted a letter to Congress outlining the appropriate balance between federal, state and local roles when it comes to autonomous vehicles. Four of the grants are going to academic institutions (two to Virginia Tech and one each to the University of Iowa and Texas A&M), while the other recipients are the state DOTs of Ohio and Pennsylvania, and local governments in Detroit and Contra Costa, Calif.
Read the Sept. 16 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.