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

Volume 18   Issue 17 - May 17, 2011



Progress on the deficit and debt challenges continues to be slow but steady. Secretary Treasury Timothy Geithner informed congressional leaders on May 16 that in order to prevent default, he is suspending investments in two federal pension funds through Aug. 2, 2011. North Dakota Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad did not release a budget resolution last week as anticipated, and hope of a markup in the near future is in doubt. Reports indicate that Conrad’s proposal would reduce the national deficit by $4 trillion over 10 years, with half the savings attributed to revenue increases. (NCSL staff contacts: Michael Bird, Jeff Hurley)


U.S. Senator Patrick Toomey of Pennsylvania released one of the more aggressive debt reduction plans last week. Toomey’s plan would eradicate the deficit in nine years, surpassing the recent recommendations offered by House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and President Barack Obama. Included in Toomey’s outline is reducing non-security discretionary spending to fiscal year 2006 levels and revenue neutral tax reform. With nine co-sponsors in the Senate, Toomey hopes to offer his proposal as an amendment if and when Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad moves a budget resolution. Meanwhile, the “Gang of Six” continues to work toward a comprehensive deficit reduction plan that would include revenue increases and changes to mandatory entitlements. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, however, has stated that Vice President Joe Biden’s bipartisan working group is the primary vehicle for an agreement. (NCSL staff contacts: Michael Bird, Jeff Hurley)


House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers of Kentucky released his proposed spending allocations for the 12 appropriations subcommittees based on the House budget resolution (H. Res. Con. 34). Coming in at $1.019 trillion, the discretionary total is $30 billion less than the fiscal year 2011 spending level agreed to last month. Although the Defense Subcommittee would receive a $17 billion boost (3 percent), allocations for all the other appropriations subcommittees would be reduced. The largest on the chopping block is the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Subcommittee, which would decrease by $18 billion (12 percent) and the State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee, which would decrease by $8.6 billion (18 percent). Chairman Rogers also announced the schedule of committee markups for the 12 bills, with several hearings beginning last week. Members of the Homeland Security Subcommittee approved their draft spending bill on May 13, which includes $2.1 billion in reductions for state and local grants within the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Rogers noted the House should pass nine of the 12 bills before the congressional recess in August. (NCSL staff contacts: Michael Bird, Jeff Hurley)


On May 12, Congressman Rob Bishop of Utah and Senator Mike Enzi of Wyoming introduced a joint resolution (H. J. Res. 62) to amend the U.S. Constitution. It proposes to give states the right to repeal federal laws and regulations when ratified by two-thirds of state legislatures. NCSL policy recognizes the 10th Amendment as the cornerstone of constitutional federalism, which reserves broad powers for the states and for the people. (NCSL staff contacts: Susan Parnas Frederick, Jennifer Arguinzoni)


Last week, the House Ways and Means Committee approved legislation (H.R. 1745, Michigan Representative David Camp) giving states alternatives for using extended unemployment insurance benefit funds, which were approved last December in the federal legislation extending tax cuts. H.R. 1745 allows states to take extended benefit funds and use them to repay loans, continue paying extended benefits or hold to whatever unemployment insurance program policy is currently in effect. It does not waive interest on existing state unemployment insurance loans, however. States will still have to repay their loans with interest beginning Oct. 1, 2011. Prospects for passage in the House are uncertain, and “dead on arrival” sums up early bipartisan sentiment in the Senate. (NCSL staff contacts: Diana Hinton Noel, Michael Reed)