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

Volume 20  Issue 3 - January 17, 2013



President Obama and Vice President Biden presented the administration’s four-point plan on Jan. 16 “to protect our children and our communities by reducing gun violence.” Titled “Now Is the Time,” the 15-page plan details a strategy to close background check loopholes, ban certain weapons and high-capacity magazines, enhance school safety and increase access to mental health services. Accompanying the plan are three executive memoranda that address (1) tracing firearms connected with criminal investigations, (2) increasing public health research on the cause and prevention of gun violence and (3) improving the availability of relevant records in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. The president also released a 23-point summary of the executive actions the administration will pursue to reduce gun violence. An NCSL summary of the president’s announcements is available at Additional information is available at: NCSL staff contacts: Susan Parnas Frederick (criminal justice, law enforcement), Joy Johnson Wilson (mental health), Lee Posey (schools)


On Tuesday the House passed legislation providing more than $50 billion in disaster relief for homeowners and businesses harmed by Hurricane Sandy. H.R. 152, approved by a vote of 241-180, includes $17 billion in immediate assistance and $33 billion for long-term projects. This is in addition to the  $9.7 billion contained in H.R. 41 passed by the House less than two weeks ago for flood insurance aid. H.R. 152 drew criticism for some of its non-disaster related funding. Some members sought to narrow the legislation’s scope or require offsets. South Carolina Rep. Mick Mulvaney offered an amendment to offset the bill’s cost by cutting discretionary spending by 1.63 percent, but his measure was rejected,162-258. Supplemental appropriation measures, like H.R. 152, have had full or partial offsets about 50 percent of the time. However, requiring offsets for disaster assistance is rare. The Senate, having previously passed a comprehensive disaster aid package at the end of 2012, will consider the House legislation once senators return from recess next week. For additional information, please view NCSL’s information alert on H.R. 152, accessible here: NCSL staff contacts: Jennifer Arguinzoni (disaster aid generally); Ben Husch (transportation); Tamra Spielvogel (water infrastructure)


After the federal government earned a credit rating downgrade 18 months ago (which trickled down to select states), Congress and the administration ultimately agreed to extend the debt limit by $2.1 trillion and reduce future federal discretionary spending by a similar amount through spending caps and “sequestration.” Two weeks ago, the federal government breached the $16.4 trillion debt ceiling and instituted “extraordinary measures” to keep paying its obligations. It’s now déjà vu all over again. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner stated in a letter to Speaker John Boehner on Jan. 14 that “Treasury currently expects to exhaust these extraordinary measures between mid-February and early March of this year.” The letter further indicates that “Treasury would be left to fund the government solely with cash on hand on any given day…cash (that) would be inadequate to meet existing obligations for any meaningful length of time.” Against this backdrop lies several factors. (1) President Obama has stated the debt ceiling should be increased devoid of any other legislative action. (2) House Republicans have stated that any increase in the debt ceiling should be joined with a similar decrease in federal spending. (3) At least one credit rating agency is ready to impose another downgrade should the debt ceiling not be increased. (4) Congressional Democratic leaders have urged the president to unilaterally increase the debt limit by using an obscure provision in the 14th Amendment, but the president has rejected this option. In Secretary Geithner’s letter, he states “…only Congress can extend the nation’s borrowing authority. No Congress has ever failed to meet that responsibility.” (5) The administration has stated it will pay its bills with whatever cash is available, rejecting options such as selling assets, prioritizing payments or cutting payments across-the-board. (6) House Republicans are using their retreat today and tomorrow to discuss debt ceiling resolution options. For states, this debt ceiling dilemma adds to the fiscal and economic uncertainty bred by the “fiscal cliff,” along with the March 1 “sequestration imposition” deadline and the March 27 continuing resolution deadline (see articles below). We will keep you posted via our webpage, Capitol to Capitol, information alerts and other means. NCSL staff contacts: Michael Bird, Jeff Hurley


Among the myriad mini fiscal cliffs looming this spring, the one most pertinent for states is the potential cuts to both defense and non-defense discretionary spending. Known as sequestration, these future cuts resulted after the failure of a joint congressional committee to come to an agreement in 2011. They were delayed until March 1 in the recent legislation to avoid the fiscal cliff. After Congress and the administration determines what to do with the statutory debt limit (story above), a host of other federal budget activity and deadlines are set to occur in March. Along with sequestration, these include: 1) the end of the continuing resolution that funds the federal government for FY 2013 and the expiration of the authorization of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, both running out on March 27; 2) the likely delay of the president’s FY 2014 proposal, typically released the first week of February, until March due to the funding uncertainty from the fiscal cliff negotiations; and 3) the introduction of both the House and Senate’s FY 2014 budget resolutions, most likely to begin in March. Stay tuned. NCSL staff contacts: Michael Bird, Jeff Hurley


The Office of Management and Budget issued a memorandum on Jan. 14 to all federal agencies that provides guiding principles to help in planning for and operating with fewer budgetary resources due to sequestration. These principles may also be helpful to states. They include reviewing grants and contracts to determine where cost savings may be achieved and looking for funding flexibilities such as “reprogramming and transfer authority.” The memorandum, however, cautions against making any reductions specifically in anticipation of sequestration “at this time.” The guidance is available at: NCSL staff contacts: Michael Bird, Jeff Hurley


States dodged a likely increase in their administrative responsibilities and costs with Monday’s unanimous U.S. Supreme Court decision is Los Angeles County Flood Control District v. Natural Resources Defense Council. The Court ruled that a “discharge of pollutants” under the Clean Water Act does “not” occur when polluted water flows from an improved portion of a navigable waterway into an unimproved portion. Had the Court sided with the defendant, the definition of “discharge of pollutants” and related state and local government administrative and funding responsibility would have expanded. NCSL signed a State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) amicus brief siding with the plaintiffs. NCSL staff contacts: Tamra Spielvogel (environment), Susan Parnas Frederick (Supreme Court); SLLC staff contact: Lisa Soronen