Week Ending December 5, 2014
Work Continues on Bill to Fund the Government
Congress continues to work towards creating a final package for Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 funding to keep the government running beyond December 11, when the current funding bill expires. In an attempt to "punish" the White House for the President’s recent immigration executive actions, GOP leaders are insisting that a full year funding package must exclude the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which would only be funded for an additional three months. This would hamstring DHS’s anti-terrorism and other priorities, leaving funding decisions for the final six months of FY 2015 up to the incoming GOP-controlled House and Senate. Many Democrats in Congress oppose breaking off DHS from the full package.
With very little time remaining to complete funding decisions, it is possible that an additional short-term bill may be required, but it appears unlikely that Congress will reach an impasse that would result in another government shutdown.
Details of the full-year plan, including funding levels for programs in labor, education, health care, transportation, and public safety, have not been released and likely will not become public until early next week. AFSCME has also been closely watching and opposing efforts to attach harmful policy requirements, known as legislative "riders," to the funding package (view letter on AFSCME’s website).
House Passes Bill that Provides Retroactive, Mostly Business Tax Breaks
The House voted 378 to 46, with overwhelming bipartisan support, to approve a one year, retroactive package of “tax extenders.” The bill (H.R. 5771) would extend more than 50 different tax provisions that expired at the end of 2013 from January 1, 2014 to December 31, 2014. The overall package costs $44.7 billion in lost tax revenues (over 10 years), which would increase the federal debt significantly. AFSCME supports closing other federal corporate tax loopholes to offset these lost revenues. Nearly all of the tax provisions and the overall cost are from granting tax breaks to businesses, including research and development and “bonus depreciation” credits. AFSCME strongly opposes many of these business tax breaks because they are bad policy and costly. For example, the rule that allows multinational corporations to defer paying taxes on income earned overseas is one of the reasons General Electric paid, on average, only a 1.8% effective U.S. federal tax rate over 10 years. AFSCME supports some of the tax extenders for individuals, including the federal tax deduction for state and local sales tax; the federal tax exclusion for employer-sponsored mass transit commuter benefits, and the federal tax exclusion for mortgage debt forgiveness.
While House GOP leaders preferred a more costly package, last week the White House threatened to veto a larger $400 billion bill, which included several outrageously expensive permanent tax breaks for businesses. The White House was concerned about the enormous cost. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said: "An extender package that makes permanent expiring business provisions without addressing tax credits for working families is the wrong approach, at the expense of middle-class families." House GOP leaders promoted the shorter one-year bill in response to this veto threat.
Attacks Have Begun on President Obama’s Executive Actions on Immigration Reform
Barely waiting for the ink to dry on President Obama’s executive actions on immigration reform that he signed on November 20, this week the House passed a bill that would negate his actions, and 18 states filed a lawsuit challenging them. The “Preventing Executive Overreach on Immigration Act of 2014” (H.R. 5759), sponsored by Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL), passed on a largely party-line vote of 219 to 197. Only three Democrats voted in favor – Reps. Collin Peterson (MN), John Barrow (GA) and Mike McIntyre (NC). Seven House GOP members voted against the bill. H.R. 5759 has no chance of becoming law because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) vowed he will not take up this bill, and President Obama would veto it if it came across his desk. It is evident that House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) allowed this purely symbolic vote to give his tea party wing an opportunity to vent their anti-reform sentiments. As AFSCME explained in our letter (view letter on AFSCME’s website) that urged House members to vote against H.R. 5759, President Obama’s actions were fully within his constitutional executive powers, and our economy and all workers would suffer if the President was prohibited from using prosecutorial discretion in carrying out our country’s immigration laws.
The lawsuit challenging President Obama’s immigration reform executive actions is led by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott on behalf of Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, North Carolina, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin. It is debatable within legal circles whether states have the right, or “standing,” to bring this lawsuit. A federal district court judge dismissed an earlier lawsuit brought by the state of Mississippi that challenged President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in 2012. That case has been appealed and could reach the U.S. Supreme Court.
President Obama Announces Plan for Law Enforcement Body Cameras
On December 1, President Obama announced his plan for improving community-based policing. His administration will seek $263 million over the next three years to expand training for law enforcement agencies, provide more resources for police department reform, and increase the number of areas where the Department of Justice facilitates community and local law enforcement engagement.
A major component of the Administration's proposal is $75 million for a new Body Worn Camera Partnership Program, which would provide a 50% match to states and localities that purchase body worn cameras and requisite storage. It is estimated that the proposed $75 million, three-year investment could help purchase 50,000 body worn cameras. President Obama is also asking for the creation of a new task force to promote expansion of the community-oriented policing model to encourage strong relationships between law enforcement and the communities they protect.
Uncertainties remain about how the new programs will be funded and implemented. AFSCME is closely monitoring these new law enforcement initiatives.
NLRB Nominee Passes Significant Hurdle
On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) approved the nomination of Lauren McFerran to the National Labor Relations Board by a party-line vote of 12 to 10. McFerran's nomination to fill one of the five spots on the NLRB board now moves to the Senate floor.
McFerran would take the position currently occupied by Sharon Block, who was a 2012 recess appointee by President Obama. That appointment was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year. Despite replacing Ms. Block with a more acceptable nominee for Senate GOP leaders – Ms. McFerran is a long-time HELP committee staffer – not a single Republican on the committee supported advancing her nomination.
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