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

Volume 17   Issue 34 - November 12, 2010 

AND THEN THERE WERE 44

The combined House and Senate first-term class of sitting or former state legislators now numbers 44, with Massachusetts Representative-elect Bill Keating being the latest addition. Newcomers to the 112th Congress number 106, with 42 percent of them bringing state capital legislative experience to the table. Seven House and one Senate contests remain undecided, so there’s still room for an even larger freshmen class. (NCSL staff contacts: Michael Bird, Jeff Hurley)


CO-CHAIRS RELEASE DEFICIT REDUCTION BLUEPRINT

On Nov. 10, 2010, the two co-chairs of President Obama’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform released a proposal to stabilize the nation’s debt. Former Clinton Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles and former Wyoming U.S. Senator Alan Simpson offered a comprehensive report that would provide $200 billion in domestic and defense savings by FY 2015, address the Medicare “doc fix,” and provide tax reform that would simplify the code and broaden the base. The sweeping proposal would commence domestic spending cuts to state-federal and other programs in FY 2012 and reduce them by 1 percent annually through 2015. The co-chairs propose reducing Medicaid administrative payments to states, shaving graduate medical education and narrowing state provider tax authority. They also recommend making transportation spending mandatory rather than discretionary, but prohibiting use of general funds to compensate for highway trust fund shortfalls. Included in the proposal is the elimination of the alternative minimum tax and the state and local tax deduction, and reforming Social Security by changing the cost of living adjustments. A full view of the proposal is available here: http://www.fiscalcommission.gov/sites/fiscalcommission.gov/files/documents/CoChair_Draft.pdf. Additionally, the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform postponed their meeting on Nov. 10  to Nov. 30, just a day before the release of the commission’s final recommendations. (NCSL staff contacts: Jeff Hurley, Michael Bird)


FEDERAL BUDGET PROCESS REFORM URGED

The co-chairs of the president’s deficit commission weren’t the only group to release a broad reduction plan this week. A collaborative effort from the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Committee for a Responsible Budget, titled Getting Back in the Black, offers recommendations on how federal policymakers can reform the federal budget process to help stabilize America’s debt to GDP ratio. The Nov. 10 proposal recommends Congress establish a new law with enforcement mechanisms for annual fiscal targets along with a multi-year budget plan. Also promoted is enhanced presidential rescission authority, greater transparency, incorporation of tax expenditures into the budget process and a strengthened PAYGO mechanism. The report’s authors also urge adding members of Congress’ leadership and revenue-writing committees to the respective House and Senate Budget Committees. The report concludes that “it may be tempting for lawmakers to shift costs to states and local governments … but such a step would exact a steep price for the U.S. system of shared governance.” The full document is available here: http://budgetreform.org/document/getting-back-black. (NCSL staff contacts: Jeff Hurley, Michael Bird)


ON THE HORIZON LOOMS A LAME DUCK SESSION

President Barack Obama will host a summit with congressional leaders on Nov. 18to discuss issues for the lame duck session … Among the topics potentially on the table are:  preventing expansion of the alternative minimum federal tax to 21 million taxpayers, providing another round of extended unemployment insurance benefits, and exploring alternatives to either extending or ending the federal tax cuts of 2001 and 2003. Also seeking space on the menu is a Nov. 30 sunset of provisions that prevent a 23 percent reduction in Medicare provider reimbursements, a Dec. 3 sunset of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant authority, a Dec. 31 sunset of SAFETEA-LU transportation program authority, and a Dec. 31 expiration of Build America Bonds authority. It does not end there. Either an enactment of another continuing resolution to sometime in early 2011 or passage of an omnibus FY 2011 appropriations measure is a must (but a long shot), and some feel addressing four dozen expired federal tax credits (“tax extenders”) also should not be overlooked.