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Week Ending August 2, 2013

AFSCME and Allies Gearing Up for August Recess Blitz on Comprehensive Immigration Reform

The House of Representatives left Washington, D.C. for its five week August recess without the GOP leadership putting any immigration reform bills on the floor for a vote.  This is after the Senate cast a bipartisan vote of 68 to 32 to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill in June.

In response to this inaction, national immigration reform leaders, including AFSCME President Lee Saunders and Reps. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) and Joaquin Castro (D-TX), held a large press event on July 31, kicking off “Immigration Reform Summer.”  This unprecedented field effort during the month of August will include hundreds of events around the country, targeting House leadership and members with the message that the immigrant, labor, faith and business communities will not take “no” for an answer to fixing our broken immigration system.  President Saunders said: “Our coalition will give voice to the enormous energy for citizenship that exists across this nation.  That energy will force the House GOP leadership to free aspiring citizens who are being held hostage to their cynicism and political gamesmanship.”

Congress has left for their recess with major unfinished business! Please call your representative in August and urge him/her to support a comprehensive immigration reform bill that includes a fair path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants.  Fixing our broken immigration system will benefit our communities and all workers.  Call toll-free 1 (888) 930-0113 to be connected to your U.S. representative.  When you’re connected, tell your representative that the time is now for comprehensive immigration reform that includes a fair path to citizenship.

Senate Confirms Nominees to the National Labor Relations Board

The Senate this week confirmed the President’s full slate of nominees for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).  Democrats Mark Pearce, Nancy Schiffer and Kent Hirozawa and Republicans Philip Miscimarra and Harry Johnson will take their places on the Board and therefore assure a functioning agency.  The NLRB plays a crucial role in safeguarding the rights of private sector workers. The Senate, by confirming all five nominees, will make sure that the agency’s mission will be effectively carried out.

House Panel Adopts Bill to Change Medicare Payments to Doctors

The House Energy and Commerce Committee adopted the Medicare Patient Access and Quality Improvement Act of 2013 (H.R. 2810) by 51 to 0.  The bipartisan bill would stop the scheduled cuts in Medicare payments for physicians’ services and reform Medicare’s physician payment system.  Physician payments represent one of the largest categories of health spending, and because decisions made by providers control the majority of health care costs, restructuring the provider payment system towards quality is important to reforming the health care system. The House Ways and Means Committee must still consider the bill and develop provisions to pay for the cost of the bill, which is more than $140 billion.  If the bill is to continue to have strong support on both sides of the aisle then the pay-for provisions must also be bipartisan.  AFSCME strongly opposes paying for the bill by increasing out-of-pocket costs for Medicare beneficiaries and their retiree plans, either through higher premiums or higher deductibles. 

House Passes Student Loan Bill; New Loan Rates Set

The House voted 392 to 31 on a bipartisan package (S. 1334) already passed by the Senate, which reduces student loan rates.  It will retroactively bring the 6.8% subsidized Stafford student loan rate down to less than 4% this year.  Overall, the compromise sets a single rate for subsidized and unsubsidized student loans and higher rates for graduate loans and PLUS loans taken out by parents, with caps for each.  The plan ties all loan rates to the 10-year Treasury note plus an additional percentage increase with undergraduate loans capped at 8.25%, graduate rates at 9.5%, and PLUS loans at 10.5%.  The plan is expected to generate $715 million over the next ten years, all of which is set aside for deficit reduction. 

The President strongly supported this compromise and is expected to sign the bill into law soon. 

President Introduces Plan to Create Jobs and Revise Corporate Taxes

This week congressional Democrats and the President focused on job creation. In follow-up to last week’s speech on improving the economy and prospects for the middle class, President Obama offered a new plan to promote job creation and revise corporate taxes. The plan does not address sequestration cuts or the funding challenges expected this fall when the federal fiscal year ends or when the debt ceiling is reached later in the year. The plan includes previous proposals for investments in infrastructure, public-private partnerships to incentivize manufacturing and create jobs, and community colleges, which would be funded by one-time revenues raised through the transition to a new corporate tax structure.  The plan’s policy initiatives include raising the minimum wage, trade agreements that protect U.S. jobs and job summits with national and business leaders. 

Congressional Democrats reinforced President Obama’s message on jobs and investments with the introduction of several individual bills, including Rep. George Miller’s re-introduction of The Local Jobs for America Act (LJAA), (H.R. 2889).  The bill would create or save up to one million jobs in both the public and private sectors and would provide local communities nearly $75 billion over two years to stop planned cuts or hire back public workers previously laid-off because of budget constraints. H.R. 2889 also includes $23 billion to help states support 300,000 education jobs, put 5,500 law enforcement officers on the beat, and retain and hire firefighters. AFSCME strongly supports LJAA. 

Affordable Care Act Saves Medicare beneficiaries $7 billion on Prescription Drugs

This week marked the 48th Anniversary of the signing of Medicare and Medicaid into law and new data shows the Affordable Care Act is making Medicare even stronger.  Some 6.6 million seniors and people with disabilities saved $7 billion on prescription drugs as a result of the Affordable Care Act in 2010.  The Affordable Care Act also made preventive services available without cost-sharing; in the first six months of 2013, some 16.5 million people with traditional Medicare took advantage of at least one free preventive service.  These improvements to Medicare improve the financial and health security of program that has helped generation after generation of Americans.  These improved benefits to Medicare due to the Affordable Care Act would be lost if the Affordable Care Act is repealed as called for by GOP leaders. 

House Votes to Dismantle Obamacare - Again

On Friday, by a vote of 232 to 185, largely along partisan lines, the House approved H.R. 2009, a bill that would prohibit the Internal Revenue Service from issuing tax credits to help families and small businesses purchase health care coverage.  The tax credits are provided under Obamacare to help those who do not have health insurance through their work, to purchase coverage through the health exchanges or regulated health care markets.  Tax credits for small businesses have already been implemented, but would be stopped if the bill is enacted.  This is the 40th vote in the House to dismantle the new health reform law since 2011.  Because it will not be taken up by the Senate and is opposed by the President, this vote was a waste of time.  More importantly, it is a distraction at a time when elected leaders need to be working on an agenda to create jobs and grow the economy.  

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