Week Ending October 14, 2011
American Jobs Act Blocked in Senate
The American Jobs Act (S. 1660) was blocked in the Senate this week by a vote of 51 to 49. No Republicans supported the measure, so it failed to reach the 60-vote requirement to end debate and move to a full vote. With 14 million Americans unemployed, five million Americans at risk of losing unemployment insurance at the end of the year, and state and local governments bleeding jobs, this was a lost opportunity to advance this much-needed economic boost for working families and our country. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has promised to hold additional votes on pieces of the legislation to move forward on key provisions, possibly as early as next week. To view AFSCME’s ad supporting a robust jobs bill, please click here.
As a counterpoint, Senate Republicans introduced their own version of a “Jobs Package” this week, which includes lowering corporate and individual tax rates, enacting a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, weakening labor and environmental protections, expanding free trade, and repealing health reform. This legislation includes no specific provisions to create jobs or help struggling state and local economies.
House Democrats Release Recommendations to Super Committee
This week marked the deadline for congressional committees to submit their recommendations to the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (super committee). House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) sent a letter to super committee co-chairs Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) along with the recommendations of 16 ranking members of House committees, highlighting options for job creation, increased revenues and cost savings. She noted: “Democrats strongly believe that economic growth is an integral component because creating jobs is the most effective way to reduce the deficit.”
In his capacity as chair of the Democratic Governors’ Association, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley sent a letter to all 12 super committee members, urging four priorities: focus on job creation, maintain federal payments to states for a variety of programs, limit Medicaid cuts, and raise revenues. He recommended more care coordination for those eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid, with savings shared equally with states, as the best approach to limiting Medicaid spending.
To view AFSCME’s letter outlining our priorities for the super committee, please click here.
House and Senate Pass Trade Pacts
On Wednesday, the House and Senate approved three trade agreements offered by the Obama Administration. The Colombia, Korea and Panama Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) had broad Republican support while they divided Democrats. Passage was ensured after the White House reached a deal with congressional Republicans on extending the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program that provides healthcare, retraining and other benefits to workers hurt by trade policies. AFSCME opposes these flawed trade agreements which will only continue the devastation of our manufacturing sector and outsourcing of American jobs overseas. Colombia remains the most dangerous country for trade unionists, with 51 assassinated in 2010. By some estimates, the Korea FTA would displace 159,000 net U.S. jobs, mostly in the manufacturing sector. And Panama has a history of failing to protect workers and enforce labor rights. In reaction to the passage of these agreements, AFSCME’s President Gerald W. McEntee said: “More important than these agreements which put corporations over people should be a focus on the most serious issue of our times – the millions of jobs that unemployed Americans so desperately need.”
Trade Adjustment Assistance Act Passes Congress Without Limiting Merit Staffing Policy
Immediately after the House passed the three free trade agreements, it approved a two-year extension of the TAA program. The vote was an overwhelming 307 to 122 in favor of the legislation. It now goes to the White House where it will be signed into law.
As previously reported, the TAA legislation is a modified version of the expanded program enacted as part of the 2009 economic stimulus bill. It retains provisions that expand coverage to service workers and workers whose jobs are shipped to countries with no free trade agreements with the United States, such as China and India. It also preserves adequate retraining resources to help the many dislocated workers affected by the government’s tax and trade policies.
In a significant victory, it also allows current Department of Labor regulatory policy requiring that state agency merit staff provide TAA-funded services to continue. Earlier in the year, some in Congress had sought to override the merit staffing rule, but the legislation containing that provision failed to pass Congress.
Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill Introduced in House
Reps. Nick Rahall (D-WV), Tom Petri (R-WI), Steve LaTourette (R-OH) and Tim Bishop (D-NY) introduced legislation on October 12 that would provide $13.8 billion over a five-year period for water infrastructure projects. The legislation (H.R. 3145) would create immediate jobs in construction while providing badly-needed funding for modern water and wastewater infrastructure projects. It would invest in the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, which provides low-interest loans to states for wastewater infrastructure. In addition, the bill would create a Clean Water Trust Fund that would provide grants for other revolving funds and loan programs. Backers of the legislation are attempting to have it included in evolving Jobs legislation.
Nearly 1.8 Million Seniors Save $1 Billion on Rx Thanks to Affordable Care Act
An important provision in the Affordable Care Act requires drug companies to provide a 50% discount on covered name drugs for Medicare beneficiaries who are in the Medicare prescription drug gap, called the donut hole. Nearly 1.8 million people with Medicare have received the discount, valued at nearly $1 billion. Help for Medicare beneficiaries who have high prescription drug costs will grow as the law completely closes the coverage gap by the end of the decade. In addition, nearly 20.5 million Medicare beneficiaries have accessed one or more preventative screenings available free of charge, thanks to the new law.
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