Issues / Legislation » Legislative Weekly Reports

Week Ending April 24, 2015

Fiscal Year 2016 Budget Compromise Reached; Vote Likely Next Week

This week, House and Senate budget “conference committee” members quickly came to an agreement on a budget for Fiscal Year 2016 that merges the budgets each chamber previously passed. The budget reflects the across-the-board “sequester” spending caps set in the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA) of $1.016 trillion – $577 billion for defense programs and $530 billion for domestic programs. This reflects the required sequester cut of $54 billion for defense and $37 billion for domestic programs. Congress has been considering mitigating the full brunt of sequester cuts, but no definite plans have been released.

While final details of what is included in the budget deal are not yet available, Congress is planning to vote on the budget agreement next week. AFSCME strongly opposes the deep domestic spending cuts, but it will likely pass easily. Because the budget is not a law, it does not require the President’s signature.

House Appropriations Committee Divides Federal Spending Among 12 Subcommittees

The House Appropriations Committee divided the total federal budget of $1.016 trillion among the 12 subcommittees spending accounts this week. Ranking Member Nita Lowey (D-NY) proposed an amendment to increase domestic funds to $1.2 trillion, but it was unsuccessful.

Compared to current fiscal year spending levels, the committee proposed to slash $4 billion from the Labor-Health and Human Services-Education funding bill, about $2 billion from Financial Services and General Government, and $246 million from Interior and the Environment. The other subcommittee allocations boost funding above current levels, including Agriculture; Commerce-Justice-Science; Defense; Energy and Water; Homeland Security; Legislative Branch; Military Construction and Veterans Affairs; State and Foreign Operations; and Transportation. With these very large cuts for essential federal departments and programs, President Obama may be forced to veto some spending bills. 

Fast Track Legislation Clears Senate and House Panels

This week, the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee debated fast track legislation (S. 995, H.R. 1890) which would grease the skids for expedited consideration of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and other trade agreements that the Obama administration is currently negotiating.  The fast track bill was approved in the Senate Finance Committee by a vote of 20 to 6.  All but one Republican voted for the bill.  Sen. Richard Burr (NC) was the lone Republican to oppose.  Democrats were split, with Sens. Ron Wyden (OR), Bill Nelson (FL), Maria Cantwell (WA), Tom Carper (DE), Ben Cardin (MD), Michael Bennet (CO) and Mark Warner (VA) supporting the bill and Sens. Chuck Schumer (NY), Debbie Stabenow (MI), Robert Menendez (NJ), Sherrod Brown (OH) and Robert Casey (PA) voting against it.  In the House, the vote was divided more along party lines with all Republicans supporting the bill and all but two Democrats opposing it.  The Democrats who supported the bill were Reps. Ron Kind (WI) and Earl Blumenauer (OR).

 

This fast track bill allows trade negotiations to be conducted behind closed doors, preventing scrutiny by the public and meaningful input by the Congress.  Once a trade deal is signed, fast track procedures would prohibit the Congress from amending it.

The TPP is a nearly-completed trade deal being negotiated between the U.S. and 11 other nations in the Pacific Rim, including Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.  Rather than shipping American-made goods to other countries, TPP will ship American jobs to other countries and put downward pressure on the wages of U.S. workers.  The TPP includes provisions that would allow global corporations to sue countries for compensation if laws and regulations limit corporate profits.  These corporate rights put the safety of our food supply, labor standards, environmental protections and even Medicare and Medicaid at risk.  Fast track opponents, such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), have argued that Congress should not fast track a trade deal that is being hidden from the public.  Click here for more information.

Now that the fast track bill has cleared House and Senate committees, debate by the full House and full Senate will probably take place in early May.  AFSCME is working with other labor organizations as well as consumer, environmental, civil rights, faith-based and other groups to defeat fast track.   

Senate Finally Confirms Loretta Lynch for U.S. Attorney General

On Thursday, the Senate confirmed Loretta E. Lynch to be the next Attorney General of the United States. This historic confirmation makes Ms. Lynch the first African-American woman to serve in this position.  The Senate vote was 56 to 43, with 10 Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), voting for her confirmation, along with all Senate Democrats.  Prior to being confirmed as Attorney General, Ms. Lynch was most recently the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York.  Her public work outside of the Department of Justice has included serving as Counsel to the Prosecutor for the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, a board member of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and a member of the New York State Commission of Public Integrity.

Despite her unimpeachable qualifications, Ms. Lynch’s assent to the top judicial post in the country did not come without political drama.  Her confirmation was delayed for more than five months, making it one of the nation’s most protracted cabinet-level confirmations.  While Republicans and Democrats agreed that she was qualified for the position, Senate Republicans refused to bring her confirmation to a vote due to her support for President Obama’s immigration executive actions. The vote was further delayed when the Senate took several weeks to pass a human trafficking bill.

AFSCME joins other progressive organizations in applauding the confirmation of Loretta E. Lynch as Attorney General. 

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