Week Ending February 4, 2011
Draconian Budget Cuts Released by House Republicans
Federal investments in public services spanning health care, education, child care, employment services, nutrition programs, and more are facing immediate and devastating cuts that would further jeopardize struggling state budgets. This week, House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) released plans to slash federal spending for the current fiscal year (FY11) by at least $74 billion from the current fiscal year, with non-defense domestic spending cut $43 billion below the current temporary funding measure that expires March 4. This would roll back federal spending to pre-stimulus, FY08 levels. While the proposal is less than the $100 billion in cuts proposed by the conservative House Republican Study Committee, those harsher cuts are likely to be offered as amendments to upcoming votes on funding bills for FY11 that could be on the House floor in the next few weeks. AFSCME strongly opposes these cuts, and we will continue to update you and engage your help as the budget process continues.
Senators McCaskill and Corker Introduce Harsh Bill to Cap Spending
This week, another wrong-headed attempt to reduce federal spending indiscriminately was introduced by Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Bob Corker (R-TN). Their "Commitment to American Prosperity (CAP) Act" would dramatically reduce federal spending by capping it as a percentage of the GDP, reducing spending down from the current level of 24.7% to 20.6%. The lower level ignores the aging of the population, substantial increases in health care costs, and new federal responsibilities in areas such as homeland security, veterans' health care, and prescription drug coverage for seniors. AFSCME opposes this bill because it would result in devastating cuts to critical social programs.
Senate Rejects Measure to Repeal Health Reform Law
During this week's debate on legislation to reauthorize Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) programs (S. 223), Senate Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) offered an unrelated amendment to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the health reform law enacted last year. The Senate voted Wednesday, 51 to 47, to reject the measure to repeal the ACA, which needed 60 votes to pass. The vote was on strict party lines with every Republican voting to repeal and no Democrat voting to repeal. Two Senators were not present to vote – Mark Warner (D-VA) and Joseph Lieberman (I-CT). We anticipate that Republican leaders will continue their campaign against the ACA by attempting to block funding for implementation and by attempting to repeal key sections of the law.
In related action on the same bill, by a vote of 81 to 17, the Senate approved an amendment offered by Sen. Deborah Stabenow (D-MI) to eliminate a business reporting requirement in the ACA, known as the 1099 requirement. The reporting requirement was aimed at rooting out fraud in corporate tax filings. However, the small-business community strongly opposed the measure and has pushed for a number of months to do away with it. To make up for the lost revenue, Stabenow's amendment directs the Office of Management and Budget to rescind unobligated discretionary spending. House Republican leaders have not yet scheduled action on the measure.
Senate FAA Bill Still on Floor
Apart from unrelated amendments, the FAA reauthorization bill (S. 223) seeks to modernize the air traffic control system, improve the safety, reliability and availability of air transportation, and fund the FAA. The bill contains several pro-labor provisions including improvements in the personnel management system for AFSCME's FAA employees.
Several anti-labor amendments are possible before a final vote on the bill, including weakening federal health and safety standards for some employees and an amendment restricting collective bargaining for Transportation Security Administration employees. An amendment introduced by Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) to limit the application of the Davis-Bacon Act (wage rates) was tabled by a vote of 55-42.
The FAA has been operating under a series of short-term extensions since the last multi-year authorization expired in 2007. The bill currently being debated on the Senate floor would create a minimum of 100,000 jobs in the U.S. through improvements in airport infrastructure. The Senate will continue its consideration of the bill when it returns to work next week.
Child Support Enforcement Funding Bill Introduced in Senate
Last week, Sens. John Rockefeller (D-WV), John Cornyn (R-TX), Herb Kohl (D-WI) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) reintroduced the bipartisan Child Support Protection Act of 2011 (S. 195). The bill would permanently restore states' ability to use earned federal performance incentive funds as a match for additional investments in their child support enforcement programs. Federal law allowed this funding mechanism for many years until it was repealed by the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005. The Recovery Act temporarily restored these vital federal funds, but only through September 2010.
AFSCME will continue to work with our allies, including the National Child Support Enforcement Association, to restore this funding for states' child support enforcement programs.
It's 15 to 2 in the Legal Battle over Health Reform
This week, in a decision widely criticized for being a "breathtaking example of judicial activism and overreach," a federal judge in Florida issued a decision in a challenge to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) brought by 25 Republican attorneys general and governors. In his decision, Judge Roger Vinson ruled not only that it was unconstitutional to require individuals to obtain health care coverage, but that the entire law was unconstitutional.
Judge Vinson becomes the second judge to side with those who want to put the insurance companies back in charge of our health care. Thirteen federal judges have dismissed constitutional challenges. Two other federal judges have upheld the law. Another judge in Virginia recently ruled that the individual responsibility requirement is unconstitutional, but he did not strike down the entire law.
It is expected that the U.S. Supreme Court will ultimately take up the challenge to the ACA. But the Florida decision has prompted suggestions from a few Republican governors that they may not continue their work to develop a state exchange. Should this work not be completed by a state, the law provides for a federal exchange to be implemented in the state.
In the past, federal judges have struck down Social Security, the minimum wage and the Voting Rights Act before the U.S. Supreme Court reversed their rulings. In a hearing this week on the constitutionality of the ACA in the Senate Judiciary Committee, Charles Fried, former Solicitor General under President Ronald Reagan, testified that the law is not unconstitutional.
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