Week Ending December 2, 2016
Federal Funding Expires December 9; Stopgap Expected Through April 2017
Federal spending decisions are absolutely critical to state and local governments and for public services that keep communities safe and prosperous, as well as the jobs needed to deliver services. The federal government for the fiscal year that began October 1, 2016 (FY 2017) has been operating under a temporary funding bill, known as a continuing resolution (CR), but it will expire on December 9. Congress appears to be preparing another CR for a vote next week that would extend funding through April 28, 2017, in order to provide the incoming Trump Administration the opportunity to finalize FY 2017 funding and attempt to pass legislation that includes its proposed first 100 days plan.
No draft of the CR is available yet, but the package is reported to be relatively free of “poison pill” policy riders sought to overturn many of President Obama’s policies. Bipartisan supporters of federal help to alleviate Flint’s water crisis continue to push strongly for its inclusion, even though the proposed funding level appears to have been reduced to just $170 million.
AFSCME continues to strongly urge Congress to finalize FY 2017 funding, provide aid to Flint and reject any anti-labor, anti-consumer or anti-environment policy riders.
Trump Cabinet Picks Threaten Workers, Civil Rights, Health Care, Education
President-elect Donald Trump is stocking his cabinet and close advisors with wealthy conservatives, many of whom have little to no background or expertise in the missions of the agencies they will be tasked with running if confirmed.
- Treasury Secretary: Steven Mnuchin is a former Goldman Sachs executive with no government experience. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) said Mnuchin is a “Wall Street insider. A guy who made millions of dollars off mortgages that crushed families financially.”
- Attorney General: Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) is a long time conservative legislator, and Trump supporter. Opponents have expressed concern that he has led the anti-immigrant charge in the Senate and was denied a federal judgeship due to his racist views. Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee indicated their intention to conduct a thorough review of his record and suitability for this position. AFSCME has joined other advocacy groups in opposing the Sessions nomination.
- Transportation Secretary: Elaine L. Chao is former Labor Secretary under President George W. Bush, and the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). An official of the Center for American Progress said at the Labor Department, “she was not only hostile to unions, she was hostile to all workers.”
- Health and Human Services Secretary: Rep. Tom Price (R- GA) is a six-term Republican congressman from Georgia who has led opposition to the Affordable Care Act and has promoted policies that would weaken Medicare and Medicaid.
- Education Secretary: Betsy DeVos is a billionaire former chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party. She has been identified with efforts to shift taxpayer dollars from public schools to “vouchers” for private and religious schools.
- White House Chief of Staff: Reince Priebus is the former chairman of the Republican National Committee.
- White House Chief Strategist: Stephen K. Bannon is the former Trump campaign chairman accused by Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) and others of having close ties to “White Supremacists” and the “alt right” Breitbart News.
Nominee for Health Secretary Wants to Gut Medicare and Medicaid
President-elect Trump has selected Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) as his nominee to head the Department of Health and Human Services. Price, an orthopedic surgeon, Tea Party conservative, and chair of the House Budget Committee, has a long history of championing the elimination of health coverage for 22 million Americans who rely on the Affordable Care Act. He also has fought to convert Medicaid into underfunded block grants to states and to end Medicare’s guarantee of benefits. Price backs so-called premium supports for Medicare, with the government giving older or disabled Americans inadequate financial help to buy private insurance policies. AFSCME will continue to strenuously oppose gutting the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid and Medicare.
Overtime Expansion Delayed
A federal judge in Texas issued a preliminary injunction to halt the Department of Labor’s (DOL) new overtime rule which would have gone into effect December 1 and benefited 12.5 million workers nationwide. The rule was challenged by 21 state attorneys-general and over 50 business groups led by the Chamber of Commerce. The judge says the DOL exceeded its authority by raising the salary threshold for overtime coverage without changing the “duties test” for overtime eligibility, which many experts dispute. The Justice Department has appealed the preliminary injunction.
Members of Congress and worker advocates held a press conference on December 1 in support of the long-overdue updating of DOL’s overtime rule, and urged President-elect Donald Trump to publicly support it. AFSCME continues to strongly support the DOL’s salary updates for eligibility to receive overtime pay for all hours worked in excess of 40 per week. And, we will continue to support policies that put more money in the pockets of working families.
House Adopts Sweeping Bill to Speed Drug Approvals, Boost Research, Combat Substance Abuse
By a broad bipartisan vote of 392 to 26, the House passed legislation known as the 21st Century Cures Act (H.R. 34) on Wednesday. The $6.3 billion health policy bill changes federal review and research standards to help drug and medical device companies get quicker government approval for their products. The bill funnels $4.8 billion to boost a broad range of disease research. It also revises current mental health and substance abuse grants to states and localities to strengthen prevention, treatment and recovery support. And, the bill provides $1 billion in new federal funding to states to fight heroin and prescription narcotic abuse.
AFSCME supported the improved funding for and access to mental health and substance abuse treatment but objected vigorously to the $3.5 billion cut from dedicated federal public health funding to states and localities. AFSCME also criticized the provisions that will weaken safety standards because of concerns they put the public at risk of ineffective or even unsafe drugs and medical devices. AFSCME voiced strong concerns that the bill gives drug companies substantial benefits without asking for anything in return to help lower drug prices. AFSCME also advocated against provisions in the bill that could adversely impact the delivery of personal care or home care services under Medicaid.
Before the bill was voted on, the sections pertaining to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and child welfare were removed. An extension of TANF block grant funding was deleted, but this will almost certainly be added to the FY 2017 continuing resolution (CR) Congress will vote on next week. A new TANF provision AFSCME strongly opposed that would have siphoned off $100 million of TANF Contingency Funds to pay for privatized “Social Impact Partnerships to Pay for Results” also was dropped from the bill. The omitted child welfare provisions would have allowed states to use some of its foster care federal funding to pay for prevention services, which would have been paid for by reducing funding for adoptions and “congregate care.”
The Senate is expected to consider H.R. 34 early next week. President Obama has signaled that he supports the bill and would sign it into law.
Congressional Leadership Elections
The new 115th Congress will convene on January 3, but party leadership elections have already been held. With Sen. Harry Reid’s (D-NV) retirement, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) will take over as Senate Democratic Leader. Dick Durbin (D-IL) remains as Democratic Whip. Democrats also expanded their leadership team, creating several new positions: Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) is the new Assistant Democratic Leader; Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who caucuses with the Democrats, is the new Chair of Outreach; and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) is the new Vice Chair of the Democratic Conference. On the Republican side, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will continue as Majority Leader and Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) as Majority Whip.
In the House of Representatives, Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) mounted a surprise challenge to Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), but she was reelected by a vote of 134 to 63. Despite earlier rumors, no challenge materialized to Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) or Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). All leadership positions, along with committee chairs, ranking members, assignments and any rule changes will be ratified in early January.
Medicare and Social Security Public Trustees
This week, the Senate Finance Committee (SFC) voted 14-12 on a party-line vote to approve the nominations of Dr. Charles Blahous and Dr. Robert Reischauer to serve second terms as public trustees of Medicare and Social Security. Democratic Senators Chuck Schumer (NY), Sherrod Brown (OH), Sheldon Whitehouse (RI) and Elizabeth Warren (MA) issued a joint statement opposing Blahous’ nomination, noting: “As Public Trustee Mr. Blahous has promoted a radical agenda – spreading misinformation and fear about the future of Social Security and Medicare, while claiming to represent the very programs that protect millions of seniors from poverty.” Blahous supports privatizing Social Security, which would destabilize the program that seniors and people with disabilities rely on to meet their basic needs. These senators have vowed his confirmation and have urged President-elect Trump to keep his campaign promise to not cut Social Security. “One small step he can take towards doing this is nominating people to the Social Security and Medicare Board of Trustees who are committed to protecting and expanding, not slashing, Social Security to meet the needs of America’s workers in the years ahead.” AFSCME supports all efforts to block confirmation of Blahous’ nomination.
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