Week Ending March 8, 2013
House Passes Austerity Bill to Continue FY 2013 Funding
This week the House passed H.R. 988 to continue fiscal year 2013 funding beyond its scheduled expiration on March 27 through the September 30 the end of fiscal year. While it is essential to avoid a harmful, disruptive government shutdown, this bill fails to responsibly address the “sequester” cut of $85 billion. H.R. 988 does, however, release the Pentagon from its full share of cuts and allows greater flexibility within accounts, but doesn’t lessen the cuts to critical public services. The bill passed 267 to 151, with 53 Democrats crossing over to support the bill.
The Senate is expected to consider the funding bill next but restoring the across-the-board cuts will be difficult as attention now turns to funding decisions for FY 2014.
Please let Congress know that decisions on the budget and spending levels for public services are important to AFSCME members, and we need their support to reverse bad budget policies like the sequester that kill job creation and undermine the ability of state and local governments to meet the needs of working families and vulnerable citizens.
House Education and the Workforce Republicans Rewrite the Workforce Investment Act as Democrats Walk Out
House Education and the Workforce Committee Democrats walked out of a committee debate and vote on a bill (H.R. 803) to rewrite the Workforce Investment Act this week. They took the action to protest the repeated refusal of GOP members of the committee to engage in bipartisan negotiations on the legislation. In a statement they released, they noted that employment and training policy has always been bipartisan and that they could only conclude that the bill was being advanced for political purposes.
AFSCME strongly opposes H.R. 803, which was voted out of committee by a vote of 23 to 0 after the Democratic members walked out. The legislation would consolidate 35 existing workforce programs, end the Wagner-Peyser and veterans’ employment services programs, allow governors to consolidate the funding and administration of the Trade Adjustment Assistance, Unemployment Compensation, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) programs, and strip organized labor from any meaningful participation in the remaining workforce system. It would set the stage for further destructive funding cuts over time. Committee Republicans hope to have the bill on the House floor the week of March 11.
House Ways and Means Committee Republicans Move to Block HHS From Granting States Waivers to Run Innovative Programs
By a party-line vote of 21 to 14, the House Ways and Means Committee approved legislation (H.R. 890) to block the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) from granting Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) waivers to states wishing to run pilot programs to put people on welfare back to work. Committee Republicans have opposed the HHS policy since last summer when it was first announced and have charged that the Department was attempting to undermine TANF’s work requirements.
Committee Democrats pointed out that the waivers would only be granted if a state could show that it would reduce its welfare caseload by at least 20% and that the policy was initiated in part in response to at least one GOP governor. Ranking Democrat Sander Levin (D-MI) noted that the effort would make welfare reform more, not less, effective and noted that the action is a step backward from bipartisan discussions on improving TANF that had taken place last year, but have not been pursued by the Committee majority this year. Committee GOP leaders plan to have their bill on the House floor the week of March 11.
Senate Republicans Block D.C. Circuit Court Nominee
Senate Republicans blocked the nomination of Caitlin Halligan to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. On March 7, by a vote of 51 to 41, Ms. Halligan’s nomination was prevented from advancing to the Senate floor for an up or down vote. Two years have passed since President Obama nominated her to serve on the D.C. Circuit Court, which is widely regarded as the second most important court in the country. AFSCME strongly supported Halligan’s nomination. Ms. Halligan is a leading appellate litigator and law enforcement lawyer. She has an exemplary record of public service and has clerked for judges on the D.C. Circuit and Supreme Courts. She has also served as the Solicitor General for the State of New York as well as General Counsel for the New York County District Attorney’s Office. In addition, the American Bar Association rated Ms. Halligan “Unanimously Well-Qualified,” their highest possible rating.
Four of the D.C. Circuit’s 11 seats are currently vacant, creating a crippling impact on the court’s ability to resolve important cases that impact the lives of Americans across the country. Cases dealing with labor disputes, environmental protection, health, national security and Wall Street reform are usually sent to the D.C. Circuit.
GAO Report Finds Privatized Medicare Plans Continue to Overcharge Taxpayers
Medicare Advantage plans are private plans that supplant traditional Medicare and cost taxpayers more than what Medicare spends for beneficiaries enrolled in traditional Medicare. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) reduced the overpayments beneficiaries and taxpayers pay to these private plans but a recent report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) shows that Medicare could have saved up to $5.1 billion in overpayments from 2010 to 2012. The GAO found that the private plans tended to claim its enrollees’ health as more severe – and warranting more payments – than is actually supported by medical records.
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