Week Ending February 28, 2014
House Democrats Work to Force a Vote on Raising the Minimum Wage
The President and congressional Democrats consider raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour as one of their top legislative priorities. They have been backed in recent weeks by polls showing that more than six in ten Americans support the increase. In order to force a vote in the House, Democrats began collecting signatures on Wednesday for a “discharge petition,” a procedural tactic that allows a majority of House members (218) to force a floor vote on the bill, even if the leaders who control the House floor oppose the measure. The House Democratic bill to raise the minimum wage has 190 Democratic co-sponsor supporters, so another 28 signatures are needed.
Urge your member of Congress to sign the “discharge petition” and support raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour.
Call toll-free 1-888-851-1916 to be connected now!
Tell your Representative America needs a $10.10 minimum wage!!!
Efforts to Move an Unemployment Benefits Extension Continue
The Senate is one vote short of the 60 votes needed to pass a continuation of the Federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program. Intense grassroots activity and negotiations within the Senate continue. Because of the length of time since the program expired at the end of 2013, the Senate Democratic leadership now is considering offering a six-month extension instead of the three-month extension it took to the floor in January. A vote may occur soon.
White House Releases Infrastructure Package
During a trip to Minnesota, President Obama announced his plan to spend more than $300 billion over the next four years to fix the nation’s crumbling roads and bridges. The proposal represents a significant increase in expenditures on highways and mass transit, and comes as the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) warned that the federal gas tax is not bringing in enough revenue to pay for important road and transit projects. Obama called on Congress to pay for the aggressive new transportation spending with $150 billion in new revenue generated from business tax reform. This infrastructure plan is likely to be included in the president’s budget proposal, slated to be released March 4.
The White House staff said the president’s plan “addresses the funding crisis facing our surface transportation programs and increases infrastructure investment. This vision shows how we can invest in the things we need to grow and create jobs by closing unfair tax loopholes, lowering tax rates, and making the system fairer.” The White House also said the president is “open to ideas” and willing to work with lawmakers on alternative funding sources. President Obama has argued that investing in infrastructure projects would boost the economy in the short-term by creating jobs for construction workers, while helping long-term growth. “We can take the money we save with this transition to tax reform to create jobs rebuilding our roads, upgrading our ports, unclogging our commutes — because in today’s global economy, first-class jobs gravitate to first-class infrastructure,” Obama said in his State of the Union address last month.
The president also announced a new $600 million competition for TIGER grants, a program created as part of the 2009 stimulus program to fund transportation infrastructure projects. According to White House staff, the administration will prioritize projects that “make it easier for Americans to get to jobs, school, and other opportunities, promote neighborhood revitalization and business expansion, and reconnect neighborhoods that are unnaturally divided by physical barriers such as highways and railroads.” The government has awarded $3.5 billion in TIGER grants to 270 programs across all 50 states.
AFSCME Opposes House Tax Reform Plan
The chair of the House tax committee, Rep. David Camp (R-MI), released his long-delayed comprehensive tax reform plan. However, some of Congress’ GOP leaders immediately undermined it, saying it had no chance of passing in 2014. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) would not promise a House floor vote and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said he did not see how tax reform can get done this year.
The tax plan raises no new revenues over a 10-year budget time frame that could be used for jobs and new investments. Worse, it uses one-time revenues and gimmicks that, in the longer term, would significantly reduce revenues. The plan reduces the top corporate tax rate from 35% to 25% and does not do enough to stop large corporations from shifting jobs and profits overseas. The plan repeals individuals’ itemized deduction for paying state and local government income, property, and related taxes, which would negatively affect states’ and localities’ revenues. AFSCME opposes Camp’s plan.
Social Security Benefit Cut Averted
AFSCME and other Social Security advocates scored a major victory last week when the Obama administration announced that the “chained consumer price index” (CPI) would not be in the president’s FY 2015 budget that he will send to Congress next week. The chained CPI changes the annual cost of living formula by slowing down annual cost of living increases. Over a 20-year period it would result in a 6% reduction in the annual Social Security benefit. The president’s action was welcomed by many as a signal that attempts to hammer out an ambitious and austere deficit reduction plan were at an end.
Obama Administration Recovers $4.3 Billion in Taxpayer Dollars for Medicare and Medicaid Fraud
Thanks to new enforcement tools in the Affordable Care Act, the Obama Administration recovered $8.10 for every dollar spent on health care-related fraud and abuse investigations in the last three years. The federal government’s health care fraud prevention and enforcement efforts recovered a record-breaking $4.3 billion in taxpayer dollars in FY 2013 from individuals and companies who attempted to defraud federal health programs serving seniors or who sought payments from taxpayers to which they were not entitled. Due to required budget cuts in 2013, $30.6 million less is available to fight fraud and abuses in Medicare, Medicaid and other healthcare programs.
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