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

Volume 17   Issue 8 - March 1, 2010


MARCH MADNESS – NATION’S CAPITAL-STYLE

Legislation addressing jobs, unemployment, COBRA, highway authority, Medicare physicians’ reimbursements and more hit several roadblocks last week. Here’s a look at what states can expect this week.


EXPIRED PROGRAMS

As of today, states cannot be reimbursed for expenses incurred for highway, bridge, safety and mass transit projects under SAFETEA-LU. States must adjust their unemployment benefit rolls because the federal extended benefit program is no longer authorized. Ditto for COBRA premium subsidies, the national flood insurance program and satellite television broadcast law. All of these programs, and protections against doctor reimbursement reductions in Medicare, expired on Feb. 28, 2010. Legislation (H.R. 4691) that would have extended each of these programs for one month was blocked by Kentucky Senator Jim Bunning. He single-handedly protested the bill’s “emergency” spending provision, meaning the bill’s $10 billion price tag was not paid for. It now appears that Congress will abandon the short-term fix and instead move to a second “jobs” bill (see following article). (NCSL staff contacts: Molly Ramsdell, Jeff Hurley)


MEDICAID AND MORE

An NCSL-supported six-month extension of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act’s enhanced federal Medicaid match headlines a second Senate Democratic “jobs” bill that chamber will take up this week. The draft legislation will also include extended unemployment benefits, reinstitute the COBRA premium subsidy for terminated workers and extend for 2010 nearly four dozen expired federal tax credits. There will be skirmishes over mechanisms used to pay for this legislation. Republicans will attempt to either add estate tax provisions to the bill or extract an agreement to visit this issue soon. Stay tuned to NCSL’s budget/jobs webpage (http://www.ncsl.org/default.aspx?TabId=19494) for updates. (NCSL staff contacts: Molly Ramsdell, Jeff Hurley [jobs bill generally], Joy Johnson Wilson, Rachel Morgan [Medicaid], Diana Hinton Noel, Robert Strange [employment])


SO WHAT HAPPENED TO SENATE “JOBS” BILL ONE?

It is sitting at the House desk ready for floor action. It still features extension of SAFETEA-LU authority and funding, expansion of the Build America Bonds Program, a payroll tax exemption for new hires and a write off for small business capital expenses. H.R. 2847 currently suffers from several problems, however. First, it is a watered-down version of the $154 billion package the House passed late in 2009. Second, Minnesota Representative James Oberstar has objected to extension of some of the highway-related funding in the bill. And, other Democrats have complained about the bill’s offsets or its focus on tax provisions. H.R. 2847 could still get a House vote later this week depending on progress the Senate makes with its second “jobs” bill. (NCSL staff contacts: Molly Ramsdell, Jeff Hurley )


GAO UNDERSCORES ARRA PROJECT DELAYS

While continuing to get high marks from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has experienced some project start delays. In a Feb. 18, 2010, report (GAO-10-83), the GAO found that prevailing wage, Buy American, NEPA and National Historic Preservation Act prevision have created various impediments to getting projects started in states. The report also notes challenges associated with “starting entirely new programs,” inability of states to provide match funds in certain instances and federal and state staff capacity issues as other factors affecting project starts. The report in many ways echoes arguments NCSL and governors have made to the Department of Energy in particular regarding guidance and reporting requirements. The full report is available at: http://www.gao.gov/ew.items/d10383.pdf. (NCSL staff contacts: Michael Bird, Jeff Hurley)


STATES GET MORE GOOD NEWS ON THE “CLAWBACK.

” First came the Feb. 18, 2010, announcement from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that states would save $4.3 billion in Medicare “clawback” payments because HHS determined the enhanced ARRA Medicaid match should apply in calculating state liabilities. Six days later, HHS further clarified that states could apply these savings as a credit against payments due March 8, 2010, against prior unpaid bills or against future payments. (NCSL staff contacts: Joy Johnson Wilson, Rachel Morgan)