Week Ending April 1, 2011
Congress Faces Another Budget Stalemate as April 8 Looms
The current stop-gap fiscal year 2011 funding bill to keep the government operating expires Friday, April 8. Congress has not reached agreement on either another temporary funding bill or a long-term solution as Republicans continue a full-court press for the House bill’s (H.R. 1) devastating $100 billion in cuts and extreme policy riders that are unrelated to the federal budget, including blocking funding for health care reform. If funding is not extended past April 8, despite Democrats’ efforts to compromise, the federal government will shut down.
There are reports that negotiations to finalize FY 2011 funding are settling at $73 billion in cuts as opposed to $100 billion, which is nearly the midway point, but this would severely restrict and harm critical public services and could result in hundreds of thousands of job losses.
While attempting to wrap up FY 2011, Congress is also preparing for the next budget cycle. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) plans next week to introduce and hold a committee vote on his FY 2012 budget proposal, with a full House vote the following week. The Ryan budget is expected to cut $1 trillion from Medicaid over 10 years, likely by converting the program into a block grant. Rep. Ryan’s budget will also likely target Medicare, including attempts to voucherize the program.
AFSCME continues to advocate for a budget that preserves critical public services and is free of the extraneous and harmful policy riders. AFSCME strongly opposes attempts to eviscerate Medicaid and Medicare. We will update and engage you as the budget battle progresses.
Draconian Balanced Budget Constitutional Amendment Introduced by All 47 Republican Senators
This week, Senate Republicans unanimously joined forces to introduce a balanced budget constitutional amendment (BBA). A simplistic answer to a complicated problem, a BBA would provide a constitutional mandate for Congress to balance the budget. It could severely weaken the economy, jeopardize job growth, and result in major cuts to education, health care, transportation and other vital services. This version would place a stranglehold on critical programs and services by capping all federal spending at 18% of GDP, the lowest level in any proposal to date, and require a 2/3 vote from Congress to raise taxes.
AFSCME strongly opposes a BBA, as President McEntee warned: “At a time when Americans need to pull together to deal with the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, the entire membership of one party in the U.S. Senate defied logic today. They should be focused on creating jobs. Instead, they all joined as co-sponsors of legislation that would amend the U.S. Constitution in a way that would destroy our nation's ability to help veterans, seniors, students, working families and those in most need of help during an economic emergency…Working families across America will not be fooled by this radical proposal. They will see this irresponsible and shameless political ploy for what it is: another attack on the middle class. If there ever was a recipe for economic disaster, this would be it.”
Attacks on Workers’ Rights Continue as House Considers Aviation Bill
The crusade against working families continued during consideration this week of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization and Reform Act (H.R. 658). In a victory for labor, an amendment was defeated by a vote of 195 to 227 that would have stripped labor protections from FAA aviation workers. The amendment, offered by Reps. Phil Gingrey (R-GA) and Todd Rokita (R-IN), would have negatively impacted the 2,100 employees AFSCME represents at the FAA as well as other unionized workers at the agency. The Gingrey-Rokita amendment would have prevented elected union representatives and volunteers from using “official time” when performing union activities, including grievance handling and labor-management meetings, during normal working hours.
H.R. 658 is a multi-year bill that reauthorizes FAA spending. The legislation will make badly needed investments in new technology and improve aviation safety. As of this writing, another amendment was pending that would strike language that seeks to limit union organizing at airlines and railroads. The provision would overturn a National Mediation Board ruling on fair union elections that allows a majority of workers who actually vote to decide the outcome of elections for aviation and rail workers. The language in the FAA bill would count those employees who do not vote as a no vote in union elections.
Republican Study Committee Bill Targets 77 Programs for Cuts
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, introduced the misnamed Welfare Reform Act of 2011 (H.R. 1135), which would cut funding for the vast majority of programs for low and moderate income families to 2007 funding levels, plus inflation, if unemployment falls below 6.5 percent nationally. The bill essentially misrepresents dozens of popular programs as “welfare programs” to garner support for large cuts. Affected programs include Medicaid, SNAP (formerly food stamps), child care, Head Start, Title I education funding, Community Development Block Grants, job training and community health centers. In addition to automatic cuts for 77 programs, H.R. 1135 would make sweeping changes to SNAP, including repealing the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act’s SNAP benefit increase, instituting punitive work requirements with harsh sanctions, and repealing the right to continue to receive food aid while an appeal of an administrative action is pending. It is unlikely this bill will move in Congress, but elements could be included in other legislation.
Advocates Join Senator Harry Reid to Rally for Social Security
On Monday, almost 400 people, including over 60 AFSCME retirees from Philadelphia and Baltimore, joined Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Al Franken (D-MN) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) in a press event calling on Congress to protect Social Security. Waving signs saying “Hands off Social Security”, the crowd cheered on the senators as they recounted how their own families had depended on Social Security in various ways.
The press event was organized by the Social Security Works coalition in order to keep pressure on the Senate to not cut Social Security and to build support for a Sense of the Senate resolution sponsored by Majority Leader Reid and Sen. Sanders stating that Social Security benefits should not be cut as part of any federal deficit legislation. There has been ongoing concern that a handful of moderate Senate Democrats, working with some Senate Republicans, might reach agreement on a deficit reduction package that would cut Social Security benefits.
In the House, reports indicate that the budget which Budget Committee Chairman Ryan is expected to unveil next week will not call for specific Social Security cuts. However, his budget blueprint may detail what he considers to be the program’s problems and also call on the President to recommend ways to “fix” the program if its costs reach a certain level. In doing so, it appears that he intends to lay the foundation for cutting Social Security after the next election.
Funding to Support Early Retiree Coverage Nearly Exhausted
A program established by the Affordable Care Act that provides subsidies to employer-provided early retiree health plans will no longer accept applications for assistance after April 30. On that date, it is expected that the $5 billion set aside for the program will be exhausted. The program has so far provided assistance to more than 1,300 employers, a majority of which have been state and local governments. AFSCME is working with other unions to press Congress to provide more funding for this program.
House Violates Budget Rules and Passes Voucher Bill
This week the House passed legislation (H.R. 471) by a vote of 225-195 that would restart and expand Washington, D.C.’s failed private and religious school voucher program. Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL) was the sole Democrat to support it, and nine Republicans joined the Democrats’ opposition. The bill would cost an estimated $300 million and violates budget rules by adding to the federal deficit. AFSCME strongly urged Representatives to protect civil rights, the integrity of public education, and the resources badly needed to support quality public education by opposing this bill. The bill is not expected to move quickly in the Senate, and its future is dependent upon the FY 2012 budget bill.
Employment Non-Discrimination Act Reintroduced in the House
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) was re-introduced in the House this week by Reps. Barney Frank (D-MA) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL). The legislation would prohibit discrimination against gays and lesbians, bisexuals and members of the transgender community in the workplace.
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