Capitol to Capitol | Sept. 25, 2017

A Moore Strange Election in Alabama

This week, as Capitol Hill Republicans release their long-awaited tax reform framework and as Washington watches the Senate’s latest and possibly last attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2017, a special election in Alabama on Tuesday may prove to be of more lasting significance. Tomorrow, Republicans in Alabama will decide whether to nominate Sen. Luther Strange for a full term, or nominate Roy Moore, former Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. The winner will face Democrat Doug Jones on December 12. 

DYK?

Noah Webster, America’s first dictionary maker, believed that having an Americanized version of English was the first step to truly asserting independence as a nation. “Now is the time and this the country in which we may expect success in attempting changes to language, science and government. Let us then seize the present moment and establish a national language as well as a national government,” wrote Webster. His 1806 dictionary was the first American dictionary but his 1828 version, which completely changed how dictionaries were formatted, is his most lasting work. You can browse the 1828 dictionary’s entries online

At its core, this race has ultimately become a referendum on Mitch McConnell’s leadership, the Washington establishment and its failure to produce major legislative achievements. If Senator Strange loses tomorrow, despite the fact that his supporters have outspent Moore’s allies nearly five-to-one, it will signal a new low in the Trump-McConnell relationship. And, if a Strange loss is coupled with a failed attempt to repeal the ACA this week, expect the bumpy political climate in Washington to get even bumpier. Buckle up.

As background, Senator Luther Strange has only been in his position since February after being nominated by then-Gov. Robert Bentley to replace Senator Jeff Sessions, who left his post to become U.S. Attorney General. From the start, Strange’s tenure in the Senate has been shrouded in controversy. Before appointing Strange for the Senate vacancy, Bentley faced an impeachment investigation by state legislators regarding an alleged affair with a staffer. Strange, who was the Alabama Attorney General, had asked for a pause in the impeachment investigation so his office could begin investigating the scandal, which ultimately led to Governor Bentley’s resignation. The controversy surrounding Strange’s appointment led new Alabama Governor Kay Ivey, who as Lieutenant Gov. replaced Bentley after he resigned, to call for a special election a year earlier than required, from November 2018 to December 2017, to fill out the remainder of Sessions’ term.

The other Republican candidate for Sessions’ seat, Roy Moore, is no stranger to controversy himself. The former judge has been removed from office twice, once for refusing to move a monument to the Ten Commandments he had installed on state property, and again for publicly defying federal court orders that legalized same-sex marriage. While a controversial figure, Moore has strong support from the religious right, which views Moore as a proponent of upholding traditional values. The strong support of social conservatives may lead Moore to victory tomorrow despite the fact that Strange has the backing of President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who, along with allies, has spent millions on Strange’s behalf. However, if Moore wins, his controversial past could potentially make the Dec. 12 election against Democrat Doug Jones competitive. 

Final Attempt to Repeal the ACA in 2017

Early last week, it appeared that Senators Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.) had revived the once doomed ACA repeal effort in time to replace the health care law by the end of September. By week’s end, however, the legislation’s chances of passage became much bleaker when Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) said that he could not support the bill.

DYK?

The birth of South Sudan, which gained its independence from Sudan in 2011, owes a lot to America. Perhaps as a sign of gratitude, its national coat of arms (chosen in a public competition) looks rather like the Great Seal of the United States. And its new passports, blue and eagle-crested, closely resemble America's travel document. Those who decry such imitation should study history. Benjamin Franklin based the new American passport— as just a single sheet of paper with print on one side—like the French travel documents. For more, check out this article from the Economist.

Given that Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) already had publicly opposed the bill, and Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) were already leaning to “no,” McCain’s comments all but doomed the legislation’s chances. And even as Senate Republicans circulated a revised draft of the bill on Sunday night in attempt to appease the concerns of the key senators, it is far from clear that the revisions would be enough to win their support. Given that the legislative vehicle for the health care overhaul, the 2017 Budget Reconciliation legislation, expires on Saturday evening, Republicans will have to pass a new health care bill this week if they want to avoid the filibuster rules that are in place for most bills in the Senate. 

Read NCSL’s summary of the Graham-Cassidy proposal, and an update on movement around the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) as well as related legislation that was recently released by the Senate Finance Committee.

NCSL Contact: Haley Nicholson

Tax Reform Framework to be Released on Wednesday

This week, Trump and congressional Republicans are reported to be revealing their latest tax reform plan. According to multiple reports, the “Big 6” have set their sights on reducing the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent, lowering the top individual income tax rate from 39.6 percent to 35 percent, and setting a 25 percent rate on pass-through businesses. Now congressional leaders must face a number of challenges to get the ball rolling.

Tax Reform’s “Big 6” Negotiators

  • Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)
  • Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah)
  • Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.)
  • House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas)
  • Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin
  • White House Economic Advisor Gary Cohn

First off, top White House negotiators and GOP leaders have agreed on the above-mentioned targets, but apparently, Trump has not. On Sunday, Trump told reporters he hoped to see the corporate tax rate lowered to 15 percent, a rate Ryan has said is unattainable. Secondly, with these numbers released, the group will also have to find a way to keep their plan from looking like a massive windfall for the wealthiest Americans. This comes in lieu of recent public opinion polls that found 62 percent of Americans believe taxes should be increased for both the wealthy and corporations and only 1-in-5 adults said reducing taxes for business and individuals should be a major focus for Congress.

DYK?

Today marks the 60th anniversary of the Little Rock Nine, the first nine black school children to attend the Little Rock Central High School after desegregation. On Sept. 25, 1957, the Army’s 101st Airborne Division, which was sent by President Dwight Eisenhower after an angry mob had gathered outside the school days earlier in protest, escorted the teens for their first full day of classes. Former President Bill Clinton delivered the keynote address this morning during a ceremony at the high school.

Another major issue they must deal with is how to pay for these cuts. One term that has not been used as frequently as it was earlier this year is “revenue neutrality.” While most of the “Big 6” have made public statements that tax reform must not add to the nation’s deficit, members have shied away from this conversation and have begun promising economic growth as a counter-factor. Unfortunately for many states, one of the largest potential sources to pay for the proposal was mentioned this past weekend as Mnuchin indicated that the State and Local Tax (SALT) deduction is on the chopping block.

Last week, NCSL, along with the other state and local organizations, education and various public service providers, came together to launch a robust campaign to preserve the SALT deduction, forming the Americans Against Double Taxation coalition. One of the six original federal tax deductions, SALT has been a staple of the federal tax code for more than 100 years. Since 1913, SALT has supported vital investments in infrastructure, public safety, homeownership and education, and provided states and local governments with the financial flexibility to meet the needs of their constituents. SALT also prevents double taxation of Americans by allowing taxpayers to claim a deduction for the state and local taxes they have already paid from their incomes. The coalition, which successfully preserved SALT in the tax reform package signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1986, sent a letter to the leadership of the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee last Thursday to urge them to ensure that Americans can continue claiming this vital deduction.

Finally, the issue of clout will also prove difficult for the GOP’s unveiling. The plan will have to compete for attention with the Senate vote on the Graham-Cassidy bill to replace the Affordable Care Act, a contentious Alabama Senate GOP primary contest, the president’s heated war of words with North Korea, and a growing list of high-profile professional athletes, including most of the NFL. With all of this happening, will anyone even notice the bare bones tax plan?

NCSL Contacts: Max Behlke, Jake Lestock

US Department of Education Rescinds Obama-era Campus Sexual Misconduct Guidance & Intends to Draft New Regulations

On Sept. 22, the U.S. Department of Education issued a new interim Q&A outlining how college campuses should investigate allegations of sexual misconduct. As part of the announcement, the department also withdrew the prior administration’s Dear Colleague Letter on Sexual Violence dated April 4, 2011, and the Questions and Answers on Title IX Sexual Violence dated April 29, 2014. However, the department will continue to use the “Revised Sexual Harassment Guidance” issued in 2001, as well as the Dear Colleague Letter on Sexual Harassment issued on Jan. 25, 2006. As part of this announcement, the department indicated they would solicit public feedback and draft new Title IX regulations. College campuses will be required to investigate sexual misconduct that is “severe, persistent or pervasive.” Campuses will have the discretion to “apply either the preponderance of evidence standards or the clear and convincing evidence standard.” No further information was released as to the timeline for future action.

NCSL Contacts: Joan Wodiska, Lucia Bragg

Also This Week…

  • Tonight, Monday, September 25 at 9 p.m. ET., CNN will host a town hall with Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.), who will be debating health care with Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.). 
  • The House is scheduled to vote on legislation that includes a range of tax benefits for areas affected by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. The tax provisions, which include lifting limits on claiming personal casualty losses and temporarily shelving limits on the charitable deduction for hurricane donations, were added to legislation that will renew the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for six months. The legislation also included language aimed to encourage the creation of private flood insurance markets to provide consumers with more coverage options.

Read the Sept. 18, 2017 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.

  • Neal Osten | 202-624-8660 | Molly Ramsdell | 202-624-3584 | Directors
  • Max Behlke | 202-624-3586 | Budgets and Revenue
  • Danielle Dean | 202-624-8698 | Communications, Financial Services 
  • Ethan Wilson | 202-624-8686 | Commerce and Financial Services 
  • Jon Jukuri  | 202-624-8663 | Labor, Economic Development and International Trade
  • Susan Frederick | 202-624-3566 | Law, Criminal Justice, and Public Safety
  • Ben Husch | 202-624-7779 | Natural Resources and Infrastructure