Week Ending December 8, 2017
- Congress Approves Short-Term Spending Bill
- Republican Leaders Work to Finalize Harmful Tax Bill Behind Closed Doors
- Rubber Stamping Judges
- House Democrats Introduce Worker Protection Bill
Congress Approves Short-Term Spending Bill
The House and Senate narrowly avoided another federal government shutdown when they approved a short-term spending bill late Thursday, sending the bill to the President for his signature. The bill funds government services at current levels until Dec. 22. Congress has until then to complete negotiations and approve another funding bill or face another government shutdown threat. The House approved the plan by a vote of 235-193, followed by approval in the Senate by a vote of 81-14. Despite initial reluctance from conservative House Republicans, GOP leaders were ultimately able to pass it with primarily Republican votes, something they have not been able to do in the past due to the reluctance of conservatives to vote for spending bills.
Spending talks are continuing between House and Senate Republican and Democratic leaders and the White House. President Trump met with congressional leaders at the White House on Dec. 7. But they have been unable to reach agreement on a year-long funding bill for fiscal year 2018 that began on October 1, 2017, and ends on September 30, 2018. None of the regular annual spending bills have been approved, forcing the government to continue to operate on a short-term extension called a Continuing Resolution (CR). In addition to long-term funding, leaders have been unable to agree on additional defense spending increases sought by GOP leaders, and domestic spending needs demanded by Democratic leaders. Many Democrats also want to address the future of DACA, which protects young undocumented immigrants from deportation and which Trump has moved to eliminate in the spring unless addressed by Congress before then. There is also an urgent need to provide additional relief to hurricane victims in Puerto Rico, Texas and Florida.
The two-week spending bill did include the transfer of unused money to help several states that are running out of funds for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). This widely popular program provides health care to more than 8 million children. Renewal and continued funding for CHIP, as well as a measure to block cuts in funding for safety-net hospitals (DSH), are both being pressed by Democratic leaders as part of the end-of-year negotiations.
Republican Leaders Work to Finalize Harmful Tax Bill Behind Closed Doors
Behind closed doors, and without Democratic input, Republican House and Senate leaders are negotiating the details of a final tax bill. The measure could be voted on late next week, but is more likely to be voted on during the week of December 19. The bill would give massive tax cuts to corporations and the wealthy while raising taxes on tens of millions of working families over the next 10 years and weakening the Affordable Care Act and causing 13 million to lose health coverage.
Among Republicans, several significant differences remain, including objections by some representatives to the elimination of the federal tax deduction for state and local income or sales taxes and capping the deduction for property taxes. The elimination of this deduction would not only cause taxes to rise for millions of families, but it would make it harder for state and local governments to maintain revenues for public services such as education, transportation, law enforcement and more.
Another point of contention is the estate tax, paid by only very wealthy estates, those in excess of $5.49 million for individuals, and $11 million for a married couple. Many conservative House members are demanding a complete repeal with no limits. This would further benefit the extremely wealthy.
The bill would create deficits of more than $1.4 trillion over the next decade, which will increase pressure to cut spending. Already, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) has promised to pursue legislation next year to cut Medicare and Medicaid, in order to reduce deficits. Other Republican leaders and President Trump have echoed the call to pursue drastic spending cuts next year.
Rubber Stamping Judges
This week, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 11-9 along party lines to advance 10 of President Trump’s judicial nominees, including three very controversial circuit court nominees – Leonard Steven Grasz for the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals and Don Willett and James Ho for the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
The Senate has served as a rubber stamp of Trump judicial nominees, many of whom have philosophies that are far outside the mainstream of judicial thought and have failed to uphold civil and workers’ rights. Even a few have been rated as “not qualified” by the American Bar Association, including Grasz.
We expect the Senate leadership to pursue floor votes to confirm the circuit court nominees before the end of the year. AFSCME is opposed to these confirmations.
House Democrats Introduce Worker Protection Bill
This week, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) reintroduced the Workplace Action for a Growing Economy Act of 2017 (WAGE Act), a proposal to reform private sector labor law. The WAGE Act would add enforcement teeth to the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) to stop employers from illegal efforts to deter workers from exercising their right to organize under the NLRA.
Specifically, the WAGE Act gives the National Labor Relations Board the authority to reinstate workers who have been illegally fired and increases fines for businesses that have knowingly violated worker protections. Additionally, employees who have been wrongfully terminated for exercising their rights would be awarded double their salary in back pay. Employees would also be able to pursue civil penalties in addition to pursuing remedies through the NLRB.
Because this legislation is opposed by Republican leaders, we do not expect it to move in this Congress. AFSCME supports the WAGE Act.
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