Week Ending February 10, 2017
Rep. Tom Price Confirmed for Secretary of Health and Human Services
In the wee hours of Friday morning, the Senate voted 52 to 47, along party lines, to confirm Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) as Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The debate on Rep. Price’s nomination was an argument over the future of health care in America. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) stated that, “This is about whether the United States will go back to the dark days when health care worked only for the healthy and the wealthy.” Those opposing his confirmation cited Price’s support for:
- Repeal of the Affordable Care Act;
- Capping federal funding for Medicaid, cutting $1 trillion (over 10 years) in aid to the states;
- Turning Medicare into a voucher and shifting more costs onto seniors every year;
- Increasing the eligibility age of Medicare to 67; and
- Annual, across-the-board cuts to Social Security benefits to reduce deficits.
AFSCME opposed Rep. Price’s nomination.
Senate Confirms Betsy DeVos for Education Secretary
The Senate confirmed Betsy DeVos as U.S. Secretary of Education by the narrowest possible margin. The vote was 50 to 50, requiring Vice President Mike Pence to cast the tie-breaking vote. Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) crossed party lines to join all 48 Democrats in opposition. Sens. Collins and Murkowski both issued strong statements (http://afsc.me/2ksRVWh and http://afsc.me/2kISEAY) in support of public education and in opposition to vouchers, which Sec. DeVos strongly supports. AFSCME strongly opposed Ms. DeVos’ nomination due to her lack of experience, and opposition to public education, which she has referred to as a “dead end.”
We may have lost the fight, but AFSCME members and millions of others proved activism matters. Individual senators reported receiving thousands of emails, calls, and faxes, and activists held rallies across the country. With her support for a plan to divert $20 billion into a national school voucher program, there is much work to be done to ensure that the Department of Education’s focus remains on improving public schools for all children.
Sen. Jeff Sessions Confirmed for Attorney General
On Wednesday, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) was approved by the Senate to serve as Attorney General. The vote was 52 to 47, cast largely along party lines. AFSCME opposed Sessions’ confirmation, because there is much in his record that demonstrates he does not possess the objectivity and sense of justice needed to serve as the nation’s chief law enforcement officer. He has a lengthy record of antipathy toward legal protections on which working families depend, including measures to protect women and disabled children from discrimination and legislation to address violence against members of the LGBT community. Sessions has supported voter ID laws and described the Voting Rights Act as “intrusive” as it seeks to protect minority voters. He is also a firm opponent of comprehensive immigration reform.
State-Based Transportation Officials Show Opposition to Private Financing in Senate Hearing
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held an “Infrastructure for the 21st Century” hearing Wednesday. Chairman John Barrasso (R-WY) brought in officials from Wyoming, West Virginia, Colorado and Delaware to testify. Each of the officials were skeptical that public-private partnerships, envisioned in Pres. Trump’s infrastructure proposal, would be the elixir for transportation projects, and cited the fundamental reason privatization isn’t a solution for government services – corporations seek profit, not accessibility.
Sen. Barrasso commented on the critical need for direct federal spending to modernize infrastructure in rural areas and raised concerns that Pres. Trump’s infrastructure plan was not workable for rural communities.
1199J Youth Apprentices Lobby Their Senator
Youth apprentices from AFSCME/NUHHCE New Jersey affiliate Local 1199J met with legislative staff for Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) in Washington, D.C. this week. Many of the apprentices are first generation Americans who voted for the first time this past election. They expressed their concerns about President Trump’s recent executive orders (EOs) on immigration and how the EOs could affect their families.
Newly hired or in training for health care jobs, they also expressed their concerns about repealing the Affordable Care Act and what it could mean for their future in health care. These apprentices represent a new generation of AFSCME activists, ready to make their voices heard.
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