Issues / Legislation » Legislative Weekly Reports

Week Ending September 23, 2011

House Narrowly Passes FY 2012 Stop-Gap Funding Bill but Senate Leaders Reject it Out of Hand

The House voted, 219-203, early Friday morning to pass a stop-gap continuing resolution (CR) that would fund government programs through November 18 (H.R. 2608). This came after the House rejected a nearly identical version of the legislation 30 hours before. The CR would keep spending at the rate set in the debt limit legislation enacted in August and includes little additional funding for the financially-drained Federal Emergency Management Agency. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said that the House-passed bill was not “an honest effort or compromise” and termed the disaster relief funding provided in the House bill as woefully inadequate. The current impasse between the House and Senate on funding the government almost certainly sets up a showdown for next week.

President Obama Launches Campaign for the American Jobs Act

President Obama continued his efforts to advance the American Jobs Act, his robust plan for new job creation, as he continued traveling the country to take the case for job creation to the American people. This week he traveled to the Brent Spence Bridge that connects the home states of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and called them out by name. "Mr. Boehner, Mr. McConnell, help us rebuild this bridge," Obama said. "Help us rebuild America. Help us put this country back to work. Pass this jobs bill right away." AFSCME supports passing the Jobs Act and encourages Congress to join the President’s efforts to pass a jobs bill.

Slow congressional action on the American Jobs Act, has left some members bristling. The jobs plan would immediately improve the economy, invest in infrastructure, and put Americans back to work. New funding is included to modernize schools, roads, rails, airports and waterways. The jobs of more than 300,000 teachers, police and other first responders would be saved. And, more than five million long term unemployed would have their unemployment benefits extended for an additional year. Rep. George Miller (D-CA), the Ranking Member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, has requested hearings on the plan, but since none have been scheduled he is launching an eForum, asking real people around the country to send the Committee their personal stories about how hard it is to find a job, to be under-employed, and to make ends meet in this stagnant economy.

The jobs eForum will initially run until October 3, and will specifically focus on gathering stories from the American people in the areas of education, construction and long-term unemployment. Selected stories will be published on the Committee’s website as the eForum progresses. Additional details on the eForum and how to submit testimony can be found on the Committee’s Democrats’ website: http://democrats.edworkforce.house.gov/eforum. If you know someone with a story, ask them to participate.

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Senate Committee Approves FY 2012 Labor-HHS-Education Funding Bill

This week, the Appropriations Committee approved its FY 2012 spending bill for Labor-HHS-Education on a party line vote of 16-14. The bill provides $158 billion in annually approved spending, which is $308 million below the current FY 2011 level.

The bill provides an increase of $340 million for Head Start and flat-funds the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), the Community Services Block Grant and most K-12 education programs. Safe and Drug-Free Schools national programs are cut by $40 million to $79.2 million. Funding for community health centers is increased by $200 million; funding for Medicare and Medicaid operations is increased to reflect health reform implementation and the influx of baby boomers into Medicare; and the Social Security Administration would receive a $208 million boost over current levels for administration.

The Committee also rejected two harmful amendments. One offered by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) to gut the authority of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) failed on a largely party-line vote of 15-15, with Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR) crossing over to support. The amendment would have undermined the basic rights of workers to organize and bargain collectively, and made it easier for companies to ship U.S. jobs overseas by eliminating the NLRB’s authority to take action against companies that do so. The Committee also rejected Sen. Richard Shelby’s (R-AL) amendment along party lines to defund implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

It is unlikely that the bill will have a full House vote or reach the Senate floor, but instead be folded into an “omnibus” spending bill in November or December.

Senate Appropriations Subcommittee Funds Housing & Transportation Programs

On September 21, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (T-HUD) voted 28-2 to approve its spending bill for fiscal year 2012. Only Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) voted against the bill. Overall, the bill approved $55.3 billion in annually-approved spending, cutting $100 million from FY 2011 levels and falls $19.7 billion short of President Obama’s request. The bill cuts funding for public housing and the Community Development Block Grant compared to current funding levels.

The bill would fund back pay to the 3,500 Federal Aviation Administration employees who were furloughed earlier this summer. This provision is not in the parallel House spending bill, which the House has not yet passed.

We expect the House and Senate will combine the T-HUD bill with other appropriations bills into a long-term omnibus bill lasting throughout FY 2012.

Senate Passes Trade Adjustment Assistance Act Extension

The Senate this week passed a modified version of the 2009 Trade Adjustment Assistance Act (TAA), which expired last February, after it rejected a series of Republican amendments (H. R. 2832). The vote on final passage was 70-27.

The TAA extension was negotiated between the White House and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI). 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 and allows continuation of current Department of Labor regulatory policy requiring that state agency staff provide TAA-funded services.

The bill now goes to the House, where Republican leaders want the President to submit the free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama before they vote on the TAA extension.

House Panel Passes Deeply-Flawed Mandatory E-Verify Bill

On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee passed legislation (H.R. 2885) along party lines, 22-13, that would require all U.S. employers to use E-Verify, an error-ridden online verification system that matches job applicants’ data with Social Security Administration (SSA) and Department of Homeland Security records. Currently, the system is voluntary and only about 4% of employers use it. AFSCME, labor allies, and immigrant and civil rights groups all oppose this legislation because it would mistakenly sweep up tens of thousands of authorized workers who would lose wages and jobs while trying to correct system errors. It would also adversely affect seniors and persons with disabilities who rely on the already-overburdened SSA to receive their life-line benefits. Many in the agricultural sector also oppose the bill because it would decimate the largely-immigrant workforce, many of whom are undocumented. The bill is not currently scheduled for a House floor vote, and the Senate is unlikely to pass similar legislation.

President Obama Expected to Sign Legislation Extending Funding for Child Welfare Programs

This week, both the House and Senate passed legislation (H.R. 2883; S. 1542) that will extend the Child Welfare Services and the Promoting Safe and Stable Families programs through fiscal year 2016. The bill would tie $20 million in support of workforce development to modified monthly caseworker visit requirements and reauthorize the Health and Human Services Department’s authority to approve waivers for demonstration projects for three years. Both programs were set to expire on September 30. President Obama is expected to sign the measure.

House Passes Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Extension

The House passed, by voice vote, a bill (H.R. 2943) that would extend the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and related programs through December 31, 2011. The bill would extend funding at current levels for TANF, mandatory child care grants, healthy marriage and responsible fatherhood competitive grants, and would continue state spending requirements. These programs are set to expire on September 30 if Congress fails to act. TANF supplemental grants, which expired on June 30, are not included in the bill. We expect the Senate will pass the bill and President Obama will sign it before TANF expires.

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