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

Volume 19   Issue 9 - March 19, 2012


The road for states to obtain certainty on federal transportation funding possibly improved last week with the Senate's 74-22 approval of S. 1813, an 18-month, $109 billion reauthorization and modification of state-federal transportation programs. S.1813, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), would consolidate more than 90 surface transportation programs to fewer than 30, reduce the time required for certain environmental reviews and increase performance measure use. The legislation would also establish a 95 percent state funding guarantee, reduce core highway programs from seven to five, boost highway safety funding and create safety standards for the federal mass transit system. Because the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) will not take in enough revenue to fully fund MAP-21's provisions, bill sponsors agreed to transfer $3.7 billion from the leaking underground storage tank trust fund into the HTF. They also agreed on a dozen or so revenue-related adjustments, including import tariffs, gas guzzler taxes and various offsets to the general fund to help pay for the legislation.

Now what? The House returns from recess as Speaker John Boehner continues to search for votes for a five-year surface transportation reauthorization that has eluded him so far. Some members of his caucus prefer a shorter-term extension to either Sept. 30, 2012, or the end of 2012, while others continue to press for legislation that uses only HTF revenues—no other transfers or gimmicks—to fund it. Speaker Boehner has indicated the House may consider the Senate’s bill, described above. The current eighth extension of the surface transportation program expires in 12 days. Something has to give. NCSL staff contacts: Ben Husch, Jennifer Arguinzoni


State authority regarding insurance regulation, medical malpractice, product liability and tort reform will be under siege this week on the House floor. House leaders intended to return this week from recess to consider bipartisan legislation, H.R. 452, which would repeal the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB). The IPAB is a federal health care reform entity that is tasked with making adjustments to the Medicare program prospectively in order to ensure budget savings assumed in federal health care reform law. Repealing the law adds to the deficit. Therefore, House Republican leaders recently decided to attach legislation (H.R. 5) to H.R. 452 that would preempt state medical malpractice law. The Congressional Budget Office claims preemption is a deficit-reducing tool, a conclusion challenged by NCSL’s Deficit Reduction Task Force. H.R. 5 has been stalled in the House because of bipartisan and NCSL opposition. By linking the two bills, House leaders have lost Democratic support for H.R. 452 and triggered additional opposition from members of the Congressional 10th Amendment Caucus. NCSL expressed opposition to marrying the two bills and to “passage of H.R. 5 either as a stand-alone bill or as attached to any other legislation” in a letter sent on March 14 signed by South Dakota Senator Joni Cutler and Mississippi Representative Tommy Reynolds, co-chairs of NCSL's Law and Criminal Justice Committee. The letter describes the arguments for opposing preemption in this area and can be viewed at: Amendments that would repeal the McCarron-Ferguson Act and disrupt state insurance regulation and another that would strip states of Supreme Court protections for oversight of state prescription drug labeling may surface as well. NCSL staff contacts: Susan Parnas Frederick, Jennifer Arguinzoni


On March 9, NCSL sent a letter to congressional leaders urging Congress to review and act on recommendations made by the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future in its report released earlier this year. Kansas Senate President and NCSL President Stephen Morris and Maryland Delegate Sally Jameson, chair of NCSL’s Nuclear Legislative Workgroup, stated in the letter that “NCSL has consistently encouraged the commission to recognize the critical role of states in managing the waste from the Cold War arms race and nuclear energy plants.” The full letter is available at NCSL staff contacts: Tamra Spielvogel, Marcus Peterson


The federal government's dizzying and sluggish quest to curb annual deficits and manage long-term debt continues. This week Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan, chair of the House Budget Committee, unveils his FY 2013 budget resolution, which likely will include $19 billion in state-federal and other domestic discretionary grant savings beyond those approved in last August's Budget Control Act. The legislation is likely to renew proposals to change the Medicaid and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance programs into block grants, reform corporate and other taxes, and shrink deficit and debt growth over the next 10 years. Rep. Ryan's Senate counterpart, North Dakota Senator Kent Conrad, continues to face resistance from his leaders to move a FY 2013 budget resolution, moving him to work with the Senate's bipartisan “Gang of Six” to offer a comprehensive deficit reduction alternative later this year.

Everyone will be working from the Congressional Budget Office's (CBO) “Updated Budget Projections” March report that shows the nation is headed toward its fourth consecutive year with a trillion-dollar annual deficit. The spending ceilings and mandatory across-the-board cuts ordered by the Budget Control Act, if not amended and retained, would put the nation on a deficit- reducing course, according to CBO. However, the report is not bashful about the implications of “staying the current course.” Continuing the tax cuts of 2001, 2003 and 2010; preventing the expansion of the alternative minimum tax; blocking scheduled reductions to Medicare provider reimbursements; repealing or modifying the Budget Control Act's mandatory across-the-board defense and discretionary cuts—all of which are on many federal policymakers' agendas—will push the federal debt as a percentage of gross domestic product very close to 100 percent or more. And, as CBO warns every year, if Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and other federal health care program costs continue to rise while revenues are held at levels (percentage of GDP) of the last 40 years, “the resulting deficits will push federal debt to unsupportable levels.” NCSL staff contacts: Michael Bird, Jeff Hurley


Next week a House subcommittee will discuss both state implementation of the Real ID Act and a possible updated administration implementation guidance. States have until January 13, 2013 to comply with the law and further extension from the Department of Homeland Security appear unlikely ... Next month the Senate Finance Committee will conduct a hearing on tax reform and simplification. Members will discuss NCSL-backed legislation that would authorize states to collect sales and use taxes from remote sellers.