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

Volume 18   Issue 44 - December 16, 2011


With only hours before current stop-gap funding expires, appropriators have finalized a $915 billion package to fund the government for the remainder of FY 2012. The House and Senate will vote today on the Military Construction-VA bill (H.R. 2055), the vehicle that will be used to house the eight other spending measures. In November, Congress passed and the president signed a “minibus,” containing funding for Agriculture, Commerce-Justice-Science, and Transportation-HUD, and also incorporated the third continuing resolution lasting until Dec. 16. The biggest obstacle had previously been the payroll tax extension (story below), which still remains up for debate. More details will follow next week after today’s expected congressional action.  NCSL staff contacts: Michael Bird, Jeff Hurley


The House this week passed legislation to extend the Social Security 2 percent payroll tax reduction for employees until the end of 2012. H.R. 3630, which was approved by a vote of 234-193, would extend unemployment insurance benefits and the 100 percent business bonus depreciation. The legislation also addresses Medicare provider reimbursements and extensions of TANF transitional medical assistance (TMA) and qualified individual (QI) programs. The TANF legislation preempts state laws regarding electronic benefit transfers at liquor stores and casinos. The primary dispute is how to pay for the legislation. H.R. 3630 would raise funding through a Medicare premium on high-income earners, a federal employment freeze on salaries until 2015, and an increase of employee contributions toward federal pensions. The Senate proposal would pay for the payroll tax extension through a 3.25 percent surtax on the adjusted gross income of individuals and married couples making more than $1 million. Discussions on the payroll tax will continue, as efforts this week to combine it with the appropriations package (story above) were unsuccessful. Members of Congress are likely to do a short-term extension of the reduced payroll tax next week. NCSL staff contacts: Michael Bird, Jeff Hurley


Two strikes and it’s out. On Dec. 14, the Senate voted on two resolutions calling for a constitutional amendment to balance the federal budget. Both failed to get a majority of the members’ support, with 67 votes needed for passage. S.J.Res 24 (Colorado Senator Mark Udall) called for balancing the federal budget without including Social Security receipts and expenditures. It garnered a mere 21 votes. S. J. Res 10 (Utah Senator Orrin Hatch) called for capping federal spending at 18 percent of gross domestic product. It fared better with 47 favorable votes. The Budget Control Act compelled both houses to vote on a balanced budget amendment before year’s end without any sanction or forced action should the amendment fail. These actions pretty much put the issue to rest until the next Congress. NCSL staff contacts: Michael Bird, Jeff Hurley


On Dec. 12, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments in the case of Arizona v. United States. At issue is an Arizona state law criminalizing certain civil immigration violations in federal law. The case is likely to determine the scope of state immigration enforcement policies. The case will also test the “implied preemption” waters by pitting Arizona laws and its criminal sanctions against the U.S. Constitution which grants broad general powers over immigration to federal policymakers. Adding this case brings the count of key federalism/intergovernmental relations on the Supreme Court’s docket to three for the current term. Challenges to federal health care reform law and redistricting are also in the mix for rulings in 2012. NCSL staff contacts: Susan Parnas Frederick (Supreme Court), Sheri Steisel, Ann Morse (immigration)