Week Ending February 16, 2018
Senate Comes Up Short in DACA Debate
The Senate debated attempts to protect Dreamers from deportation but failed to garner sufficient support to move forward on any specific plan. As a result, protections for those under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) program are set to expire on March. In early September, President Trump ended the program, which protects from deportation nearly 800,000 young adults who were brought to this country as children, but who today identify as American.
Despite bipartisan efforts to come up with an acceptable plan, just hours before the Senate voted, President Trump again weighed in. He urged opposition to the bipartisan agreement offered by Sens. Mike Rounds (R-SD) and Angus King (I-ME), a compromise that was very close to his own proposal. This compromise would have provided a pathway to citizenship, $25 billion for border security and other pieces of the president’s proposal. The President and others were not willing to compromise. The amendment failed by a vote of 54 to 45, with 60 votes required under Senate rules to adopt it. Eight Republicans voted for the amendment, and just three Democrats opposed. Another bipartisan amendment offered by Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Chris Coons (D-DE) also failed to garner the 60-vote threshold needed to move forward.
The president demanded an end to diversity visas, the building of a southern border wall and an increase in the number of ICE and border agents and an end to family reunification, in exchange for protections for Dreamers. He also asked for $25 billion in new funding to be used as the administration saw fit. This Trump plan was offered in an amendment by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), but failed by a much larger margin of 39 to 60.
Democrats were successful in once again holding off attempts to pass enforcement-only legislation that punished so-called sanctuary cities, as was the case with Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) amendment. The amendment failed by a vote of 54 to 45.
AFSCME continues to urge Congress to approve a reasonable compromise to protect Dreamers before the March 5 deadline that President Trump has set for expiration.
President’s Budget: Broken Promises and Deep Cuts
President Trump released his budget plan this week. It’s called “An American Budget: Efficient, Effective, Accountable,” but it proposes a budget of $4.4 trillion for 2019, dramatically increasing military spending and setting aside funds for a border wall. It calls for deep cuts in domestic programs, and iterates growing deficits due to the passage of last year’s huge tax cuts for the rich and profitable corporations, which will add an additional $7 trillion in debt over the next 10 years.
The new budget cuts would fall sharply on poor Americans, but would also have a harmful impact on working families. It cuts public services very deeply. Further, these cuts would wreak havoc on state budgets by cutting federal assistance and shifting a greater share of responsibility to states for transportation, health care, education, nutrition assistance and more. The budget once again calls for repealing Obamacare and overhauling welfare programs, limiting federal aid for higher education and other services.
The budget also uses unrealistic assumptions to artificially reduce projected deficits and debt and artificially inflate impacts on economic growth and revenues. In addition, the budget includes additional funds for programs, many of which the original budget cut more deeply. The add-on is intended to address the additional $63 billion for fiscal year (FY) 2018 and additional $68 billion for FY 2019 that lifted the domestic spending or “non defense discretionary” (NDD) caps. These changes were included in last week’s two-year budget deal, which keeps the government running through March 23. Less than a week later, the president is attempting to reorder the agreement. Even though it was signed into law, he is now saying “no” to $57 billion for NDD, and ignoring congressional priorities.
Deep Cuts in Domestic Spending
The budget lays out an austere vision in an attempt to reorder the nation’s priorities. His vision also hurts many of the very people President Trump says he wants to help. By 2028, the Trump budget would slash domestic programs (NDD) 42 percent below 2017 (the most recently enacted level), and 50 percent below 2010 in inflation-adjusted terms. These would be the lowest levels of federal NDD investments as a share of gross domestic product since the Hoover administration at the height of the Great Depression. Domestic programs outside of the military, some veterans’ programs and homeland security would decline by $3.6 trillion over 10 years, slashing investments in housing, education and training, economic development, environmental protection, transportation, infrastructure, medical and clean energy research, food and drug safety, law enforcement, NASA, national parks and countless other programs that make America great and that working families rely on, as detailed below.
- Labor would be cut by 9 percent (including deep cuts to Adult Employment and Training grants to states, Dislocated Worker Employment Training, Apprenticeship Grants, Employment and Training, Community Service Employment for Older Americans, Unemployment Insurance, and Wage and Hour.
- Education would be cut by more than 5 percent, with deep cuts and 39 proposed program eliminations. Title I and IDEA special education funds are level-funded. Eliminations include $3.5 billion for Title II for educator training and class-size reduction, Title IV’s Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants, and before- and after-school funding. Head Start would receive a small increase but not enough to support full-day expansion. The Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) would increase $150 million, far less than the $2.9 billion proposed for both FY 2018 and 2019 in the budget agreement. Significant increases focus on school vouchers and private schools, totaling about $1.25 billion. Deep cuts are proposed to higher education, including:
- $203 billion from student loan programs over 10 years, including eliminating the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, eliminating subsidized student loans, replacing income-driven repayment plans with a new one, and eliminating account maintenance fees to guaranty agencies.
- $733 million in Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (SEOG) and deeply cutting work-study.
- Consolidating minority- and low-income student programs, GEAR-UP and TRIO, and cutting funding nearly in half and putting it into one state grant program.
- Health and Human Services would be cut by 2 percent with new spending to combat opioid epidemic.
- EPA would be cut by 26 percent.
- Transportation would be cut by 18 percent.
- Housing and Urban Development would be cut by 14 percent. It zeros out the Public Housing Capital Fund and significantly cuts the Public Housing Operating Fund. Rental Assistance Demonstration Program (RAD) funding is increased from zero to $100 million. The budget also proposes new work requirement for some recipients of housing aid. It zeros out funding for the Community Block Grant formula program.
The budget breaks President Trump’s promise not to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and proposes profound changes to safety-net programs, including deep cuts to health care and entitlements. The Trump budget also calls for new work requirements to certain low-income programs. It cuts Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid by $1.66 trillion over a decade. It cuts the Food Stamp program (SNAP) by $214 billion over a 10-year period It also cuts and restructures Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), including cutting the current cash benefits for the poor with overall cuts of $1.7 billion in FY 2019 and $10.2 billion through FY 2023.
The president’s budget continues his political promise to repeal and replace the ACA and to end Medicaid as we know it. It assumes $1.4 trillion in savings from ending the federal guarantee to states for Medicaid health insurance coverage. This would increase the number of uninsured Americans and shift billions of health care costs onto state budgets. The budget also proposes numerous approaches to take away health care coverage by making it difficult for millions of individuals to become eligible for Medicaid coverage or to maintain their existing Medicaid coverage. This includes redefining Medicaid as welfare and not health insurance and to impose new conditions on coverage, such as work requirements or new asset tests.
The budget calls for a $1 trillion investment in infrastructure, but would actually cut highway funding and seeks to privatize public assets, such as airports, bridges, highway rest stops and other facilities. It provides $200 billion for programs over 10 years, but this is offset with cuts in other programs. The plan also seeks to “incentivize” new private investment through tax leveraging schemes, privatizing and devolving programs to state and local governments. The budget cuts existing infrastructure, including transportation and water systems by:
- Eliminating funding for USDA Rural Water and Wastewater Grants ($509 million) in an attempt to consolidate and cut overall spending.
- Eliminating TIGER grants ($500 million): Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants have proven to be extremely popular and competitive.
- The New Start Transit Grants are cut by 58 percent: The primary grant program for funding major transit capital investments, including heavy rail, commuter rail, light rail, streetcars, and bus rapid transit.
- EPA Categorical Grants are cut by 44 percent: Categorical grants help fund state environmental program offices and activities to implement and enforce federal environmental laws, including the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and Safe Drinking Water Act.
The Trump budget harms public employees by freezing pay for federal employees and proposing changes to benefits, including reducing leave time by combining all leave (e.g. sick, vacation, etc.) into one category of “paid time off” and reducing the total quantity of leave days. Additional cuts would come from major changes to the federal retirement system, including:
- Increasing employee payments to the FERS (Federal Employee Retirement System) defined benefit plan to equalize employee and employing agency share of the employee’s annuity costs.
- Reducing or eliminating COLA for existing and future retirees.
- Phasing in employees’ increased annuity contributions at 1 percent annually.
- Calculating employee annuity payments based on “high 5” salary years rather than “high 3”.
- Eliminating FERS Special Retirement Supplement for employees who retire before they are eligible for Social Security.
- Reducing the return rate on Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) G-Fund investment option from current rate related to a medium-term Treasury Bond to the lower rate of a short-term Treasury Bond.
Other Program Cuts
The budget also includes additional program cuts that would hurt AFSCME members:
- The budget would eliminate earmarked funding for the congressionally authorized non-profit East-West Center, which employs AFSCME HGEA members in Hawaii.
- The Federal Grain Inspection Service funding is eliminated and replaced with a user fee from stakeholders.
Congress is not expected to further consider the Trump budget in its entirety but is expected to approve FY 2019 funding bills which may reflect Trump’s budget priorities. Congress may also consider the policy changes suggested in the budget, some which have budgetary and program implications.
Trump Infrastructure Plan Released
President Trump unveiled a long-awaited infrastructure proposal as part of his budget plan. The overall plan fails to provide the $1 trillion in new investments promised. Though the Trump budget calls for new spending of $200 billion over 10 years, it mostly relies on leveraging private investment and devolving responsibility to state and local governments. At the same time, the administration’s plan seeks to privatize public assets such as airports, bridges, highway rest stops and other facilities.
Congressional leaders in both parties criticized the Trump infrastructure plan for lacking any revenue sources, and for taking funding from existing programs. In a meeting with members of Congress, President Trump indicated he might be willing to support a 25 cent increase in the gas tax.
President Trump also advocated for privatization of Air Traffic Control operations something that’s hotly debated in Congress. So far there is strong bipartisan opposition to the plan in the Senate. Efforts of House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA), who has championed the FAA plan, have stalled in the House.
House Votes to Limit Rights of Individuals with Disabilities
By a vote of 225 to 192, mostly along party lines, the House passed legislation (H.R. 620), to roll back the civil rights of people with disabilities to seek redress for being denied access to public accommodations, that are privately owned, leased, or operated facilities, such as hotels, restaurants, theaters, private schools, private day care centers, and doctors’ offices. Prior to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), public places were often inaccessible to people with disabilities, which effectively barred them from entry. The ADA required places of public accommodation to take steps to be reasonably accessible to people with disabilities. AFSCME opposed H.R. 620 because it would impose new and additional burden of procedure and proof under the ADA on victims of discrimination. It also would create a 180-day waiting period before an individual with disabilities could challenge an accessibility violation under the law. And, it would unfairly put the responsibility on the discriminated victim to educate the entity about their accessibility violation and instruct them on compliance with the ADA. AFSCME urges senators to reject H.R. 620.
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