Week Ending December 15, 2017
- Votes Expected Next Week on Harmful Tax Bill
- Congress Works on FY 2018 Funding, Shutdown Looms Before Christmas
- Higher Education Bill Threatens College Affordability and Access
- Waiting for Infrastructure
Votes Expected Next Week on Harmful Tax Bill
On December 14, congressional leaders announced they had reached broad agreement on a joint compromise tax-cut package, which they expect to bring to the House and Senate floor for votes the week of December 18. We expect each chamber to vote on this final tax bill as soon as next Tuesday or Wednesday. Despite the broad agreement, the bill’s policy details are evolving daily and remain fluid as Republican leaders work to nail down the votes needed for passage, since Democrats are expected to vote against it. But they do not have the votes yet. Reacting to pressure from their constituents, a number of House and Senate Republicans have expressed opposition to provisions in the bill that reduce health care, threaten state and local government services, and raise taxes on working families. Nationally, polling shows that this tax bill is very unpopular as it overwhelmingly favors the wealthiest Americans.
However, what we know of this tax-cut package remains extremely troubling for working families and maintains the most irresponsible provisions in the previous House and Senate bills. For example, the final bill would raise federal taxes over the next few years on tens of millions of working families, end health insurance for 13 million Americans by 2025, raise health insurance premiums by about 10 percent annually in the Obamacare marketplaces and trigger automatic cuts to Medicare of $410 billion over 10 years. The package would put extra pressure on state and local government finances by capping the federal itemized tax deduction that individuals claim for state and local taxes. This would make it more difficult for states and localities to maintain income taxes, sales taxes, and property taxes that fund public services. Furthermore, the bill would increase federal deficits by roughly $1.5 trillion over 10 years, which will lead to future cuts in vital public services. Already, House Speaker Paul Ryan is planning legislation for next year that is designed to cut Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps and other services to pay for these tax cuts for the wealthy.
The final tax cut package maintains most tax giveaways to the wealthiest 1 percent and large profitable corporations. In fact, although the bill’s tax cuts for working families are temporary, its corporate tax breaks are mostly permanent. Now is the time to call your senators and representative to urge them to oppose the tax bill.
Congress Works on FY 2018 Funding, Shutdown Looms Before Christmas
A short-term measure to keep the government open — the second one this year — expires next Friday, December 22. It is unclear how long the next short-term measure will extend funding, or what provisions will be included in order to secure the votes needed for passage. While it isn’t uncommon for funding packages to come together at year’s end, this year has been marked by delays mostly because congressional leaders have prioritized work on the tax bill. In addition, there is a pile-up of other must-pass legislation that is waiting to be added to a spending package. As a result, communities with pressing needs for hurricane and wildfire relief have had to wait, and state and local governments have been unable to finalize their own operations because of uncertainty over federal funding. Democratic leaders are pressing for the renewal of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) on which 9 million count for health care, and for additional Medicaid relief to Puerto Rico. Democratic leaders are also pressing for legislation that would protect from deportation young adult immigrants brought to the country as children and provide them with a path to citizenship.
Higher Education Bill Threatens College Affordability and Access
Along party lines, the House Education and the Workforce Committee approved H.R. 4508, a controversial bill to renew federal higher education policy. The bill rolls back decades of progress to increase access to higher education and instead delivers favors to corporations that abuse the federal financial aid system. The bill eliminates the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, makes harmful changes to other student loan and repayment options, fails to provide oversight for schools that have exploited at-risk students, and creates an apprenticeship program that favors corporations and excludes important public service professions.
In exchange for working for 10 years in the public sector and making regular loan payments, PSLF currently allows public sector workers to have their remaining student loan debt forgiven. Rather than eliminate this program, Congress should build on its success to encourage more students to pursue careers in fields that serve our communities.
The bill eliminates other loan programs, including subsidized loans for undergraduates. In the future, borrowers would pay more for student loans over time. The bill also fails to provide a much-needed increase in the maximum Pell Grant award, which covers less than 30 percent of the average cost of college attendance. The bill caps the amount students and families can borrow from the federal government at low levels, which would force students to borrow higher amounts in the more expensive private loan market.
While restricting options for students and families, the bill strips regulations on for-profit schools that prey on vulnerable students and families with empty promises of useless but expensive degrees. Further, the bill makes it more difficult for students who have been defrauded to seek and obtain discharges for their loans.
The bill also authorizes a new apprenticeship program that focuses on high-paying jobs and ignores training for important public service jobs. Further, the newly created apprenticeship program is not required to meet the Department of Labor’s standards for registered apprenticeships, which have clear guidelines and accountability standards to ensure quality control.
While House GOP leaders are pursuing harmful changes, the Senate is expected to engage in a more bipartisan approach which should lead to a better bill to reauthorize higher education programs.
Waiting for Infrastructure
After months of false starts and little progress to show beyond a short paper released during the 2016 campaign, the White House is promising to roll out an infrastructure plan early in the new year.
Previously, the administration had proposed to spur $1 trillion in infrastructure spending, by using tax breaks to incentivize private spending. But President Trump and GOP congressional leaders recently joined other skeptics in rejecting this ineffective approach. Still, it remains unclear what the president’s plan will look like.
The administration’s hopes to privatize air traffic control could be dashed by a larger infrastructure push in 2018. Funding for Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) programs are set to expire March 31. In a recent interview, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) acknowledged that opposition to his privatization plan may not be worth holding up larger infrastructure work.
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