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

Volume 18   Issue 43- December 9, 2011



To finalize FY 2012 spending or not finalize FY 2012 spending? That is the question currently being debated in congressional halls. Nine spending bills remain after last month’s approval of a “minibus” package. Congress must determine whether they can agree upon a comprehensive agreement or pass another continuing resolution, as funding for government operations is currently scheduled to expire on Dec. 16. Washington Representative Norm Dicks, ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee, estimates the chances of passing an omnibus bill at about 60 percent. The House will vote on the spending measure for Military Construction-Veterans Affairs, the vehicle for an omnibus package, by the beginning of next week. Several points of disagreement remain, with the most contentious being whether the overall outlay should adhere to the spending cap in the Budget Control Act at $1.043 trillion, or be set at a lower level. Policy riders, particularly those to limit the regulatory authority of the Environmental Protection Agency, also remain a sticking point to an agreement. Stay tuned. NCSL staff contacts: Michael Bird, Jeff Hurley 


The congressional policy buffet table with payroll tax extensions, unemployment insurance benefits, Medicare provider reimbursements, tax extenders and dueling offsets remains very contentious. Various members have thrown a millionaire’s surtax, the Keystone pipeline project, reduced federal workforce propositions, overseas military operations and the earned income tax credit—and many others—into the piping hot policy pot. Bottom line—something is going to pass before members retreat for the holidays. Getting 60 votes in the Senate on any package, however, has proved completely elusive as the two political parties spar with one another. Stay closely tuned, NCSL will keep you updated. NCSL staff contacts: Michael Bird, Jeff Hurley


Establishment of a national interoperable communications network inched closer to reality last week. A House subcommittee approved a bill introduced by Oregon Representative Greg Walden that would reallocate existing spectrum and authorize $5 billion to develop a state-administered national first responder network. Key differences over governance, funding and spectrum auctions remain both with pending Senate legislation, S. 911, and among House members. This issue received plenty of positive attention from the now-defunct deficit reduction supercommittee, so it could still find its way into an appropriations or payroll tax extension bill (see related stories above). NCSL staff contact: James Ward


The Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction’s failure to recommend $1.2 trillion in savings does not mean states completely avoided the federal government’s firing line. The joint committee’s inability to provide legislative language by the Nov. 23 deadline triggered sequestration, which means the $1.2 trillion in cuts will be split among defense and non-defense discretionary spending. In planning for FY 2013, states should expect to receive 8 percent to 9 percent less in federal funding for some discretionary as well as mandatory programs compared with FY 2011. The areas most likely to be affected are education, public safety, human services, community development, and energy and environment programs. Exempt from cuts in sequestration are programs for “vulnerable populations,” including Medicaid, temporary assistance for needy families (TANF), the supplemental nutrition assistance program (SNAP, formerly Food Stamps), and Social Security, among others. NCSL will continue to update members as more information becomes available. NCSL staff contacts, Michael Bird, Jeff Hurley


Unable to resolve trillion-dollar debt and annual deficit issues and pass annual appropriations bills and budget resolutions, members of Congress are steering the fiscal ship elsewhere in search of consensus. Next week House Republicans will conduct their initial vote on a sequence of 10 bills aimed at “fixing” their fiscal process. Up first is H.R. 3521, legislation that would institute a presidential line-item veto. Next will come a biennial budget, mandatory and entitlement spending caps, elimination of inflation-factored spending baselines and across-the-board cuts when Congress fails to pass appropriations bills by the start of the new fiscal year. A handful of members have revitalized efforts to help states balance their budgets by imposing federal reporting fixes for state pension systems. And Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will lead the Senate next week through the up and down vote motions on two versions of a balanced budget constitutional amendment. NCSL staff contacts: Michael Bird, Jeff Hurley