Issues / Legislation » Legislative Weekly Reports

Week Ending October 21, 2011

Senate Republicans Reject Jobs Bill for Teachers and First Responders

Congress should be focused on putting Americans back to work and creating jobs, but unfortunately, it isn’t. Since The American Jobs Act, recently proposed by President Obama, was blocked in the Senate when no Republicans voted for it, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) decided to break the bill into smaller pieces. The Senate, by a vote of 50 to 50, with no Republicans voting for the measure, failed to reach 60 votes to end debate and rejected The Teachers and First Responders Back to Work Act (S. 1723). The jobs bill would provide vitally needed employment as well as services for communities all across America. It would help local governments plug holes in their budgets after years of budget shortfalls caused by our national economic crisis. It would avoid layoffs that are dragging the economy down by providing funding to states and localities to keep more than 400,000 teachers, firefighters and police officers on the job. And, it would be paid for by levying a modest surtax on annual household adjusted gross incomes above $1 million, which would affect less than 1% of taxpayers. The legislation would help alleviate the economic tailspin in states and localities by providing $30 billion in grants to states to avoid teacher and other school personnel layoffs in K-12 education, and $5 billion for a Community Oriented Policing Stabilization Fund to be used to hire, rehire or retain career law enforcement officers, with $1 billion set aside for grants to support hiring, rehiring or retaining first responders. Additional votes are expected in the Senate on other pieces of the original Obama jobs act, including jobs for infrastructure. No action on the Obama jobs bill or any piece of it has been scheduled in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

AFSCME Police Officers Rally for Jobs Bill with Vice President Biden

On Wednesday, police officers from AFSCME Council 15 in Connecticut participated in a rally in Washington, DC urging the United States Senate to pass the Teachers and First Responders Back to Work Act (S. 1723). Officer Jennifer Pierce (AFSCME Council 15, Meriden Local 1016) highlighted recent layoffs of law enforcement officers in Connecticut, and urged the Senate to pass the bill quickly. “As police officers we are trained to run toward the problem, and I hope politicians in Washington, DC do the same and run toward the Teachers and First Responders Act and pass the bill,” Pierce said. She was joined by Officer Brian Wilkinson (Meriden Local 1016) and Officer Todd McCormack (Waterbury Local 1237).

Vice President Joe Biden headlined the rally, which also featured Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Assistant Majority Leaders Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Tom Harkin (D-IA). Video of the full event is available. Immediately following the rally, Officers Pierce, Wilkinson and McCormack met with Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), who despite their appeal urging him to vote yes on the bill, ultimately voted against the legislation.

Social Security Benefits to Increase for First Time in Two Years

After two years without a cost of living (COLA) increase, the nearly 55 million Social Security beneficiaries will see a 3.6% benefit increase next year, the Social Security Administration (SSA) announced this week. However, when possible Medicare changes for 2012 are announced, some of the increase may be partially or completely offset by increases in Medicare premiums.

In addition, a change in the way future Social Security COLAs are calculated could be under consideration by the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, which is charged with coming up with at least $1.2 billion in deficit reduction this fall. The change, which is called the “chained CPI”, would reduce annual COLA increases, in effect cutting Social Security benefits. According to an analysis released this week by the SSA, the brunt of the benefit cut would be borne almost entirely by current beneficiaries and those who are very near retirement. The SSA analysis validates the work of AFSCME and its coalition partners in the Social Security Works campaign, whose goal is to keep Social Security out of the deficit reduction talks. It also puts advocates of the chained CPI who also have promised not to harm current Social Security recipients in a difficult position since it shows that there is virtually no way this Social Security cut would not harm current beneficiaries.

Insurance Program for Long-term Care Services Halted

An important provision in the Affordable Care Act created the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) program. This program would establish a national insurance program for workers who become functionally disabled. The new insurance is to be financed through voluntary payroll deductions and provide benefits for supports and services to workers to help them stay independent, employed, and remain in their communities. The health care law required that the benefit design be funded solely from participants and marketable to a broad group of American workers, including younger workers. This week, the Secretary of Health and Human Services announced that limits in the law and in projections for the program’s solvency prevented a clear path in moving forward to implement the new program, so she suspended work on implementing CLASS. AFSCME supports addressing the critical long-term care needs of Americans and opposes legislative proposals to repeal the CLASS program.

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