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

Volume 18   Issue 1 - January 13, 2011


 The 112th Congress convened on Jan. 5, 2011, and swore in its members, 109 of whom are serving their first terms. These 96 representatives and 13 senators include 44 former state legislators. That means 49 percent of the members of the 112th Congress bring previous state political and governmental experience to the federal policymaking table. (NCSL staff contacts: Michael Bird, Jeff Hurley)


The 100-member Senate stayed only one day in the nation’s capital last week, recessing in order to allow its members to negotiate further on possible rules changes. Various senators and Senate leaders are tackling some sticky traditional procedural wickets and are working under additional arcane interpretations that allow for amending Senate rules with a majority vote. Among the issues that have served to strangle Senate progress on legislation and nominations that are getting a possible extreme makeover is the filibuster floor tool. Also in the sights of Senate reformers are motions that compel 60 votes just to proceed to a bill, disclosure of members who place holds on bills, and nominations and removal of barriers for offering floor amendments. More will follow the week of Jan. 24. (NCSL staff contacts: Michael Bird, Jeff Hurley)


With a 238-191 vote, the new House majority adopted a smorgasbord of rules changes, some of which have potential implications for state-federal fiscal relations. The changes incorporated in H. Res. 5 (Virginia Representative Eric Cantor) include new transparency and availability requirements for legislation. All bills and joint resolutions will have to contain a citation of the constitutional authority allowing for federal legislative action. The rules give the chairman of the House Budget Committee authority to set a domestic discretionary spending cap for the current fiscal year, 2011. This could lead to discussions about cutting current-year spending $50 billion to$100 billion, some of which may come from state-federal programs. The new rules make significant changes to the budget reconciliation and PAYGO processes of the House that are summarized in a separate NCSL publication available at (NCSL staff contacts: Michael Bird, Jeff Hurley)


Among the changes to House rules adopted last week was a 1990s provision that procedurally made it possible to avoid separate votes on legislation increasing the federal debt ceiling. In a Jan. 6, 2011, letter to congressional leaders, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner warned that “failure to raise the limit would precipitate a default by the United States ... that would have catastrophic economic consequences that would last for decades.” Secretary Geithner estimated that the current $14.29 trillion ceiling will be breached “as early as March 31, 2011, and most likely between that date and May 16, 2011.” Failure to raise the debt ceiling would prevent federal borrowing to pay incurred obligations. It would also, according to the secretary, “raise all borrowing costs and interest rates for state and local governments ... would discontinue, limit or adversely affect Medicaid payments to states and unemployment benefits to states.” Some members of Congress intend to link the debt ceiling issue to deficit reduction plans. Stay tuned. (NCSL staff contacts: Michael Bird, Jeff Hurley)


On Jan. 6, 2011, the House overwhelmingly passed H.Res. 22, which compels a 5 percent reduction (9 percent for the Appropriations Committee) in operations related to House members, committees and leadership for the next two years. Savings are estimated to be $35 million for the first year. This is the first in what the new majority leadership says will be weekly attempts to reduce spending for individual programs and entities. (NCSL staff contacts: Michael Bird, Jeff Hurley)


Next week the House intends to take up H.R. 2 that would repeal the federal health care reform legislation enacted in 2010. (NCSL staff contacts: Joy Johnson Wilson, Rachel Morgan)