Congressional Budget Office Reports Downturn in Unfunded Federal Mandates

US House of Representatives. Image courtesy of The United States Government.

As reported in Governing, the most striking figure in a new Congressional Budget Office report is the small number of laws enacted in 2013 that contained intergovernmental mandates.

A Congressional Budget Office report issued in late March includes a rather surprising revelation: With the exception of the Affordable Care Act and another law affecting child nutrition passed in 2010, Congress has not passed any significant bill imposing unfunded mandates on state, local or tribal governments since 2008.

The article suggests that the phenomenon may be the effect of The Unfunded Mandates Reform Act of 1995 that requires the Congressional Budget Office to disclose the cost of certain intergovernmental mandates before a bill can be considered on the floor of the House or the Senate.  Alternatively, the downturn may be a false trend because the narrow definition of “mandate” in the Act does not account for all funding requirements handed down from the federal government.  Finally, it could be part of a general trend in Congress:

. . . the current Congress not only has failed to pass unfunded mandates — it has failed to do lots of things. The 113th Congress passed 72 bills last year, 40 percent fewer than the number passed in 2009 and less than half of the number passed in 2005. This is a rare positive attribute of a so-called “do nothing” (or, to be fair, “do little”) Congress: no laws, no mandates.

In the future, if we return to government controlled by a single party (or even a unified Congress), state and local governments worried about unfunded mandates imposed by Washington will have to return to a vigilant stance. For the time being, however, the highly partisan and dysfunctional nature of lawmaking in Congress appears to have at least one silver lining.

For more information, see the full story from Governing.