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

Volume 20,  Issue 19 - August 6, 2013


Congress adjourned for a five-week summer break leaving the budget, all appropriations bills, the farm bill, and numerous reauthorizations unfinished. When the lawmakers return on September 9, the House and Senate will have only nine and 16 business days, respectively, before the fiscal year ends on September 30.   

  • APPROPRIATIONS PROCESS IN TATTERS. Not only are there disagreements between the House and the Senate, there now appears to be a divergence of opinion among House leaders as well. Last week, the Transportation-Housing and Urban Development appropriations bill had to be pulled from the House floor for lack of votes. “With this action, the House has declined to proceed on the implementation of the very budget it adopted just three months ago. Thus, I believe that the House has made its choice: Sequestration — and it’s unrealistic and ill-conceived discretionary cuts — must be brought to an end,” Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (Ky.) said. The House bill contained nearly $10 billion less than the Senate version.

  • CONTINUING RESOLUTION OR GOVERNMENT SHUT DOWN? The House and Senate budget proposals are $91 billion apart with no compromise in sight. This difference is largely due to inclusion of sequester-based reductions in the House bill. A continuing resolution will be needed given the short time frame and lack of agreement on appropriations. Speaker Boehner stated he wants a “continuing resolution for some short period of time,” presumably meaning one or two months. The Senate, meanwhile, prefers a longer period, upwards of six months.

  • DEBT CEILING CLIFF AWAITS. Although the nation’s debt ceiling was reached in mid-May, the Department of Treasury has used “extraordinary measures” to avoid breaching the limit. Congress, however, will have to increase the current ceiling of $16.7 trillion and perhaps agree upon a broader budget deal when the borrowing limit is reached this fall.

  • CHANGES TO SEQUESTER IN THE OFFING? The door seems to be slightly open to a renewed discussion in the fall on either changing the current sequester by exempting certain programs or eliminating the sequester altogether with a “grand bargain.” NCSL staff contacts: Sheri Steisel, Jeff Hurley


July 26 marked the deadline for U.S. senators to formally submit legislative language or proposals on tax expenditures to be included or excluded from the federal tax code. The Senate Finance Committee’s ‘blank slate’ approach to tax reform aims to either reduce the nation’s debt or allow significant rate reduction. As cited from Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (Mont.) and Ranking Member Orrin Hatch’s (Utah) “Dear Colleague” letter, provisions in the tax code should support several initiatives, such as to “1) help grow the economy, 2) make the tax code fairer, or 3) effectively promote other important policy objectives.”
NCSL submitted two letters to the Senate Finance Committee. On July 24, NCSL signed-on to a letter with other state and local groups, commonly referred to as the “Big 7,” urging the committee and Congress “to reaffirm the federal commitment to state and local governments by maintaining the federal tax exemption on municipal bond interest and the deductibility of personal state and local property, sales and income taxes.” Two days later, NCSL offered its own letter. In addition to supporting the tax-exempt status on municipal bonds and state and local tax deductibility, NCSL urged Senate Finance Committee members to avoid the negative impact of retroactively applying tax changes, and continue certain tax policies such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Individual Development Accounts (IDAs). NCSL staff contacts: Sheri Steisel, Jeff Hurley


On July 30, Maryland Delegate Sally Jameson testified before the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources to discuss the Nuclear Waste Administration Act of 2013. Delegate Jameson discussed NCSL’s support of congressional and administrative efforts to address spent nuclear fuel storage and high-level radioactive waste management.  In June, Senators Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), Ron Wyden (Ore.) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), introduced nuclear waste management legislation after reviewing public comments on a previously released discussion draft. Delegate Jameson applauded their effort to develop bipartisan legislation but urged the committee to include language that would highlight the important role of state legislatures in the various nuclear waste processes. NCSL staff contacts: Ben Husch, Melanie Condon


The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee last week approved H.R. 899 by a vote of 22-17. This legislation would require the Congressional Budget Office to score any new conditions on state for grant assistance in its fiscal reports. H.R. 899 would also expand UMRA’s reporting requirement to independent regulatory agencies and authorize Congress to request a “look-back” cost analyses of existing federal mandates. NCSL has long sought these changes. It supported the legislation in a letter on July 23, 2013, from Illinois Senator Toi Hutchinson and Colorado Senator Ellen Roberts, co-chairs of NCSL’s Budgets and Revenue Committee. The letter confirmed NCSL’s support of H.R. 899 as it would “ensure the federal government does not put an unreasonable burden on state governments through additional unfunded mandates and cost shifts.” NCSL staff contacts: Sheri Steisel, Jeff Hurley


On July 24, the Senate came to a compromise on federal student loan interest rates 81-18.( Interest rates on student loans, currently set in statute, doubled to 6.8 percent on July 1.) The Senate bill is an amended version of H.R. 1911, passed by the House in May. The Senate’s version of H.R. 1911, renamed the “Bipartisan Student Loan Certainty Act,” moves the loan program to a market-based rate, as supported by President Obama and the House GOP. The amended measure was swiftly passed in the House on July 31 by a vote of 392-31. It is expected to be signed by the president. H.R. 1911 applies to loans issued on or after July 1, 2013. NCSL staff contact: Lee Posey


On July 24, the NCSL Natural Resources and Infrastructure Committee joined the NCSL Law and Criminal Justice Committee in voicing concerns regarding the Chemical Safety Improvement Act (S. 1009) in a letter to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. The two committees expressed concern over the strong preemptive language within the toxic chemical reform legislation and stated they could not support the full bill as currently written. NCSL staff contacts: Ben Husch, Melanie Condon (environmental); Susan Parnas Frederick (preemption)


On August 5, NCSL issued a letter to the House and Senate Agriculture Committees expressing its opposition to Section 11312 of the House Farm Bill, H.R. 2642, Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013.  Also known as the “King Amendment,” for its sponsor, Rep. Steve King (Iowa), it would preempt vital state agricultural laws and policies designed to protect the safety and well-being of farmland, waterways and forests.  ACTION: Ask your members of Congress to oppose the King Amendment.  Ben Husch, Melanie Condon (agriculture)


House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) is making plans for a vote in early September on a new proposal to reduce $40 billion over 10 years in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). In July, the House adopted only the farm section of the Farm Bill, but did not consider nutrition provisions. The controversial doubling of the proposed cut would have serious implications for states, who share half the costs of the program. The changes also would create new work participation requirements for able-bodied SNAP recipients in addition to curtailing state flexibility to use categorical eligibility used by more than 40 states. The Senate’s Farm Bill (S.954) decreases $4 billion from SNAP and does not change categorical eligibility. Although Senate conferees were appointed on July 11, the House proposal may indicate any formal conference will be delayed further, which will likely require an extension of the Farm bill in the continuing resolution.  ACTION: Ask your House members to oppose the House SNAP Proposal. NCSL staff contacts: Sheri Steisel, Tamra Spielvogel, Joy Wilson (nutrition)


The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a Proposed Rule for the Child Care Development Block Grant that emphasizes early education requirements and could significantly affect the number of available child care slots. It has been 10 years since the last rewrite of federal child care regulations. There are major implications for the states. NCSL will be submitting comments on the rule. NCSL staff contacts: Joy Wilson, Rachel Morgan, Tamra Spielvogel