Capitol to Capitol
An Information Service of NCSL's Standing Committees

Volume 20   Issue 25- Arpril 26, 2013

 

NCSL LEADERSHIP TESTIFIES IN HOUSE

On April 25 NCSL President-Elect Senator Bruce Starr of Oregon discussed federal surface and transportation funding before the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure’s Subcommittee on Highways and Transit. This marked the second oversight hearing on the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) Act, which authorizes highway and transit funding until Sept. 30, 2014. Senator Starr highlighted how the implementation of MAP-21 is impacting transportation program simplification, the development of performance measures, and the expansion of the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, which provides credit assistance to help finance surface transportation projects of national and regional significance. “NCSL supports the continuation and preservation of a federal-aid surface transportation program that directs spending to national priorities while allowing for state and insular area flexibility in local and regional variations,” Starr stated. His testimony can be read here: http://transportation.house.gov/sites/republicans.transportation.house.gov/files/documents/2013-04-25-Starr.pdf. NCSL staff contacts: Ben Husch, Melanie Condon


MARKETPLACE FAIRNACES ACT NEARS PASSAGE IN SENATE

After a week of heated floor debate and consideration of numerous amendments, the Senate voted 63-30 to invoke cloture on the Marketplace Fairness Act (S. 743) Thursday evening and is now scheduled to vote on final passage of the legislation on Monday, May 6 after returning from a week long recess. This NCSL-endorsed legislation would authorize states that have adopted tax simplification provisions to collect sales and use taxes from retailers who have remote sales exceeding $1 million in a calendar year. Under the terms of the agreement between Senate leaders, the successful cloture vote also ended consideration of all amendments. Opponents of the legislation, eBay and Overstock.com, are likely to use the recess to convince Senators to oppose the Marketplace Fairness Act on final consideration. During the congressional recess, NCSL urges all legislators to contact and even go meet with their U.S. Senators and ask them to support the Marketplace Fairness Act, S.743. Please remind them that this legislation will end the unfair competitive edge that online and remote sellers enjoy over your main street businesses and close a revenue loophole in states’ sales taxes. NCSL staff Neal Osten, Max Behlke


GOING OUR SEPARATE WAYS

The table is set for House and Senate action on immigration reform with this week’s pronouncements. Like most every other issue being discussed in the nation’s capitol, the paths each chamber will take are disparate. Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, Judiciary Committee chairman, continued hearings on the Senate’s bipartisan comprehensive reform package, S. 744, this week. He also announced an aggressive sequence of hearings and a markup of S.744 in May, with hopes of a final committee vote by Memorial Day. Majority Leader Harry Reid laid out a schedule of prospective Senate floor action that sets S. 744, if committee-approved, up for a final floor vote by Independence Day.
 
Bipartisan work continues in the House among its own “gang of eight” to agree to and introduce a comprehensive package resembling the Senate bill. Virginia Rep. Bob Goodlatte, House Judiciary Committee chairman, made it clear yesterday, however, that his committee will work incrementally and slowly. Rep. Goodlatte affirmed that the agricultural worker program would be the lead-off issue followed by a cascade of individual topic bills. He indicated that he would like to finish all bills this year but added that he would ‘be very cautious about setting any kind of arbitrary limits on when this has to be done.”
 
Finally, NCSL has completed a 37-page summary of S. 744 that builds off of last week's two-page outline. It is available at http://www.ncsl.org/documents/statefed/S744SectionbySection.pdf. NCSL staff contacts: Sheri Steisel, Susan Parnas Frederick, Ann Morse, Emily Wengrovius, Jennifer Arguinzoni


BUDGET DEBATE CONTINUES

We’re no closer to a spending plan that would allow appropriators in both houses to start writing the dozen FY 2014 funding bills. Disagreements abound. House Republicans want appropriations chairs in both houses to agree to a spending policy framework before naming conferees. Senate Democrats prefer naming conferees first and directing them to seek accord. House Republicans want to limit FY 2014 discretionary spending to an amount that includes sequestration. Senate Democrats assume that sequestration has been kicked to the side of the road. The two positions create a $91 billion spending gap—and that’s just for starters. As for the across-the-board reductions in FY 2013, the turmoil over the loss of funding within the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) budget is causing lawmakers to reconsider the automatic budget reductions. Both the Senate and House this week passed legislation (S. 853) providing the Department of Transportation flexibility in transferring funds within the FAA’s operating budget, with the president expected to sign the bill into law early next week. The Senate is looking into other mechanisms to halt sequestration. Majority Leader Harry Reid introduced legislation this week to cancel the sequester for the remaining five months of the federal fiscal year. In rebuttal, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell proposed a bill requiring the White House by May 15 to offer alternative spending cuts that would replace the sequester. Stay tuned—this promises to be messy. NCSL staff contacts: Michael Bird, Jeff Hurley; Ben Husch, Melanie Condon (FAA / Transportation)


DEBT, DOWNGRADES AND DEALS

More than 200 years ago, Alexander Hamilton stated “a national debt, if it is not excessive, will be to us a national blessing.” Whether it’s a blessing or otherwise, states beware! The federal government reaches its temporary extended debt ceiling (over $17 trillion) in May. Congress and the White House have recently been here before. In 2011, disagreements over extending the debt ceiling and paying the nation’s incurred obligations resulted in a federal credit downgrade, subsequent credit downgrades to several states and ultimately the Budget Control Act that produced sequestration. Four months ago with the debt ceiling about to be breached, federal policymakers extended authority to make debt payments through May 18. So what to do? This week, Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee approved H.R. 807. The legislation authorizes principal and interest on incurred debts and Social Security obligations to be paid daily when the debt ceiling is breached. After these priorities are satisfied, any remaining revenues would be used to pay other obligations and fund daily operations of the federal government until funds are exhausted. Senate Democrats have suggested a simple debt ceiling extension after the Treasury Department uses all of its extraordinary and emergency tools to “cover” debt payments—probably to August or September. There is also talk of adding a debt ceiling increase to a budget resolution deal (see story above) via reconciliation instructions (a 51-vote Senate threshold rather than 60 votes). State lawmakers, stay tuned—grant and program payments and credit ratings are on the line. NCSL staff contacts: Michael Bird, Jeff Hurley