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

Volume 18   Issue 8 - March 4, 2011
 

 

TRANSPORTATION EXTENSION APPROVED

States are on the brink of getting transportation funding certainty for seven more months with the House’s near unanimous approval of H.R. 662 on March 2. The Senate followed suit on March 3. The legislation provides the seventh extension of SAFETEA-LU, the authority for which expires today. Also on March 2, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood predicted a six-year reauthorization bill would hit the president’s desk before the August, 2011, congressional recess. That’s an uphill climb given the lack of revenue sources to fund either existing or restructured highway and mass transit programs. The president offered a $556 billion six-year reauthorization in his FY 2012 budget, but it lacks a specific designation for how to pay for it. The president is expected to sign H.R. 662. (NCSL staff contacts: Molly Ramsdell, Helen Narvasa)


WHO’S ON FIRST?

Those inquiries you are making on the status of FY 2011 appropriations for state-federal programs have slightly more clear answers. In rare quick fashion this week, both houses of Congress passed and the president signed H.J.Res 44. This legislation, a fifth continuing resolution, keeps the federal government open and state-federal programs funded through March 18, 2011. It also reduces federal spending by just over $4 billion through elimination of earmarks ($2.7 billion) and termination or reduction of domestic programs ($1.4 billion). Terminated are election assistance grants, broadband direct loan subsidies, four education programs (Striving Readers, Even Start, Smaller Learning Communities and LEAP) and $650 million in non-recurring highway funding. All of this came in the wake of the House passage of H.R. 1 on Feb. 19, which would reduce FY 2011 spending by approximately $60 billion, one-third of which are reductions to state-federal programs. 

Now, what to do about the remainder of the fiscal year? On March 3, the White House and congressional leaders met to determine spending for the remainder of FY 2011. The president indicated he is willing to accept further spending reductions except for education, research and development,  job creation and economic growth. To this effect, the administration proposed additional spending cuts of $6.5 billion, which Senate leadership intends to offer for floor votes next week. Meanwhile, House Majority Leader and Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor vowed that, lacking an agreement, future spending proposals must abide by the $2 billion a week spending cuts included in H.J. Res. 44.

At a recent NCSL meeting for legislative leaders, House Majority Whip and California Rep. Kevin McCarthy offered insight into potential cuts to states in federal funding. He mentioned states should lower their federal fund expectations by 5 percent. NCSL added its voice to the debate in a letter to Congress urging members  (1) to work out an agreement expeditiously to give states federal funding certainty for their fiscal years FY 2011 and FY 2012 and (2) to avoid exacerbating or creating unfunded federal mandates with spending reductions. Massachusetts Senator Richard Moore and Kansas Senator Steven Morris, NCSL’s president and president-elect respectively, signed the letter. It’s available at http://www.ncsl.org/default.aspx?tabid=22302. This issue is very fluid. Updates will be posted on NCSL’s webpage. (NCSL staff contacts: Michael Bird, Jeff Hurley)


REAL ID DEADLINE EXTENDED

Today Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano extended the deadline for states to comply with implementation provisions of the Real ID Act and regulations from May 11, 2011, to January 15, 2013. New guidance is expected in coming months. NCSL remains engaged on these issues with the department. (NCSL staff contacts: Molly Ramsdell, Helen Narvasa)


PATENT PENDING

This week the U.S. Senate attempted to clear S. 23, legislation revamping federal patent laws. However, the going has been slow as a bevy of related and unrelated amendments have dominated floor debate. One of those amendments, by first-term Utah Senator Mike Lee, would have put the Senate on record as favoring a balanced federal budget. The amendment drew 58 favorable votes, two short of the 60 needed procedurally and nine short of the two-thirds it would take to pass a proposed constitutional amendment. Earlier in the week, Louisiana Senator David Vitter offered an amendment that would prioritize debt obligation payments if Congress fails to increase the national debt ceiling. The $14.29 trillion national debt ceiling will be hit sometime this spring. Senator Vitter’s amendment would compel U.S. bondholders, including overseas holders, to be paid first out of any revenue in the federal treasury. The amendment failed 47-52 but provides an early peek at the rough road ahead for upping the debt ceiling. Don’t leave your seats! (NCSL staff contacts: Michael Bird, Jeff Hurley)


FEDERAL PROGRAM DUPLICATION HIGHLIGHTED

Thirty-four  areas of “potential duplication, overlap, or fragmentation” and 47 additional “cost-saving and revenue-enhancing areas” were presented to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform by the Comptroller General of the United States Gene Dodaro this week. Last year, Congress passed legislation requiring presentation of annual reports to Congress from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that identify federal programs, agencies, offices and initiatives that have duplicative goals or activities. Surface transportation, natural disaster emergency assistance, domestic food assistance, teacher quality and employment/training programs are among state-federal initiatives cited for duplication, overlap or fragmentation. Farm payments, the essential air service, tax-exempt government bonds, mandatory Social Security for state and local employees, improper Medicaid payments and Medicaid supplemental payments make GAO’s “cost-saving or revenue-enhancing” scorecard. The report is likely to draw much attention as Congress and the administration negotiate appropriations, budget, debt ceiling and related fiscal issues this year. The full GAO report (GAO-11-441T) is available at http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d11441t.pdf. (NCSL staff contacts: Michael Bird, Jeff Hurley)


HEALTH CARE REFORM LEGAL UPDATE

Yesterday, U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson ruled that the administration could continue its Affordable Care Act implementation activities in states legally challenging the law, with two caveats. The first condition compels the administration to move forward on its appeal of his decision that found the act unconstitutional within seven days. A second condition requires the administration to request expedited consideration in either the federal Court of Appeals or the U.S. Supreme Court. Yesterday’s ruling constituted a response to the administration’s “motion to clarify” Judge Vinson’s Jan. 31, 2011 decision. (NCSL staff contacts: Joy Johnson Wilson, Rachel Morgan)