The Act was written to amend UMRA by having the CBO compare the authorized level of funding in legislation to the costs of carrying out any changes.

It was done by also amending the Congressional Budget Act of 1974.

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Vertically applied mandates are directed by a level of government at a single department or program.

Conversely, horizontally applied, or "crosscutting," mandates refer to mandates that affect various departments or programs.

Despite opposition from the Reagan administration and George H. Bush administration, an additional 27 laws that could be categorized as unfunded mandates went into effect between 19.

During the period between the New Deal era and the mid-1980s the Court generally utilized an expansive interpretation of the interstate commerce clause and the 14th Amendment to validate the growth of the federal government's involvement in domestic policymaking. San Antonio Metropolitan Transit Authority affirmed the ability for the federal government to directly regulate state and local governmental affairs. United States, the Court struck down a federal law that regulated the disposal of low-level radioactive waste, which utilized the Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution to require states to dispose of the radioactive material.

Ever since UMRA was proposed, it has remained unclear, how effective the legislation actually is at limiting the burdens imposed by unfunded mandates on SLTGs, and whether or not unfunded mandates need to be limited so strictly.

Proponents of the Act argue that UMRA is needed to limit legislation that imposes obligations on SLTGs and that creates higher costs and less efficiency, while opponents argue that sometimes federal unfunded mandates are necessary to achieve a national goal that state and local governments don't fund voluntarily.If students did not show improvement from year to year on these tests, their schools were asked to work to improve the quality of the education by hiring highly qualified teachers and by tutoring struggling students. Duncan, the plaintiffs alleged that the school district need not comply with the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 because the federal government did not provide them sufficient funding; the court concluded that insufficient federal funds were not a valid reason to not comply with a federal mandate.The official legislation summarizes the bill as being: "An Act: To curb the practice of imposing unfunded Federal mandates on States and local governments; [...] and to ensure that the Federal Government pays the costs incurred by those governments in complying with certain requirements under Federal statutes and regulations, and for other purposes." It also allowed the Congressional Budget Office to estimate the cost of mandates to SLTGs and to the private sector, and allows federal agencies issuing mandates to estimate the costs of mandates to the entities that said mandates regulate.UMRA allows the United States Congress to decline unfunded federal mandates within legislation if such mandates are estimated to cost more than the threshold amounts estimated by the Congressional Budget Office.UMRA does not apply to "conditions of federal assistance; duties stemming from participation in voluntary federal programs; rules issued by independent regulatory agencies; rules issued without a general notice of proposed rulemaking; and rules and legislative provisions that cover individual constitutional rights, discrimination, emergency assistance, grant accounting and auditing procedures, national security, treaty obligations, and certain elements of Social Security".The 1970 Amendments to the Clean Air Act established the National Ambient Air Quality Standards, authorized requirements for control of motor vehicle emissions, increased the federal enforcement authority but required states to implement plans to adhere to these standards.