Issues / Legislation » Legislative Weekly Reports

Week Ending February 3, 2017

President Trump’s Supreme Court Nominee is Outside the Judicial Mainstream

Despite a deeply divided country, President Donald Trump nominated a judge well outside the legal mainstream to fill the vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court.  His pick, Judge Neil Gorsuch, has a troubling record with consistent rulings against workers’ rights, women’s rights and civil rights.  He believes that corporations are people with respect to individual rights, that employers can refuse to provide access to birth control in their health plans, and has favored corporations over workers even when health and safety is at risk.

Reaction to the nomination from Senate Democrats was critical and at least eight of their votes will be needed as current rules require a 60-vote approval for the nomination.  President Trump has publicly urged Senate Republican leaders to “go nuclear” and eliminate this procedure in order to allow Gorsuch to be confirmed with only a simple majority vote.

House Panels Lay Groundwork to Gut Medicaid and Shift Costs to States

In House committee hearings this week, GOP leaders began the groundwork for legislation to restructure the Medicaid program and cut funding for the states.  It appears that GOP leaders do not plan to pursue a block grant of Medicaid, but will instead pursue a mechanism known as a “per capita cap,” that will leave some federal rules in place.  But the bottom line is that they want to reduce federal funding by $1 trillion over 10 years, on top of the plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion. 

To cope with such a dramatic loss of federal funding, states will be forced to take extreme steps.  Because home care and nursing home care for frail seniors and people with disabilities are a major expenditure in Medicaid programs, these benefits are likely to be a target of significant cuts by states.  But, to make up for the lost revenue, states will also be forced to cut other public services such as education, transportation, law enforcement, social services – virtually all public services are at risk.  And of course, eligibility will be tightened in order to reduce enrollment in Medicaid.

Since the election, AFSCME and other unions and health advocates have reconstituted Health Care for America Now (HCAN), the coalition which mobilized in the states to win the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  HCAN partners, with the help of many AFSCME affiliates, have been organizing activities to fight the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and cuts to Medicaid and Medicare.  Next week, HCAN partners will be releasing reports in the states showing the loss of health care coverage and jobs that would result from the repeal of the ACA.

Gas Tax Increase, Federal Spending Levels, Private Investment Dominate House Infrastructure Hearing

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka testified Wednesday at a House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure hearing.  Also testifying were several corporate CEOs. 

The wide-ranging hearing focused on urgent needs, and Trumka highlighted the American Society of Civil Engineers’ estimate that modernizing the nation’s infrastructure would cost north of $3 trillion and stressed the essential role of the public sector in this work. President Trump and Senate Democrats have both put forth plans—with vastly different approaches. While the Senate Democrats’ plan uses time-tested programs that create jobs, the President’s plan is little more than a $200 billion corporate tax giveaway with no guarantee the money will be spent on new projects that create jobs.

One of AFSCME’s major concerns on infrastructure and transportation projects is the privatization of public services and works. Because of the large gap between recent spending levels and the urgent demand for maintenance and repair, an infrastructure bill is ripe for privatization schemes, which often take the form of public private partnerships (P3’s). Privatization lowers wages on, quality of, and accountability over projects in the short-term, and decimates infrastructure funding and adequacy in the long-run.

Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) touted his plan to spin off Air Traffic Control Operations (ATC) away from the FAA and turn them over to a corporation. Chairman Shuster unsuccessfully pushed this proposal in the last Congress.

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), the top Democrat on the committee, urged Congress to raise fuel taxes and airline ticket charges that go into trust funds to pay for highway, transit and aviation projects. The gas tax hasn’t been raised since 1993 and is not pegged to inflation. DeFazio said indexing gas and diesel taxes to inflation would increase available highway and transit funds by $500 billion though fiscal 2030.

Federal Government Employees: Collective Bargaining and Salaries

Republican congressional leaders, the White House, and movement conservatives such as Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R), are renewing efforts to enact federal legislation and implement executive branch actions harmful to federal government employees.  Last Friday, Vice President Mike Pence met with Gov. Walker to discuss Walker’s 2011 anti-worker legislative campaign that significantly curtailed collective bargaining rights for Wisconsin public workers.  Walker claims that the Trump administration wants to determine “how they could apply that at the national level" onto federal employees. Walker said that "it's something the Vice President has brought up before."  As Governor of Indiana, Pence implemented both anti-union and anti-worker policies. 

In better news for federal employees, Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-VA) introduced legislation this week to increase federal employees’ salaries. The “Fair Act” (S. 255 / H.R. 757), would increase federal employee salaries for calendar year 2018 by 3.2%.  During the last seven years, federal workers have suffered pay freezes, and minor increases, and have been forced to sacrifice a total of more than $180 billion in compensation over 10 years.  AFSCME strongly supports the FAIR Act and its 3.2% salary increase for federal employees.
(to view, go to:  http://AFSCME.org/fair-act)

Senate Democrats Respond to Trump’s Executive Order on Refugee Ban 

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and 41 Democratic colleagues introduced a bill this week to rescind President Trump’s discriminatory order banning refugees from seven Muslim majority countries.  While the bill does not include any Republican co-sponsors, the executive order has drawn criticism from the President’s own party, including comments from Sens. Ben Sasse (R-NE), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), John McCain (R-AZ), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC).

It is expected that a separate bill will be filed to ensure additional congressional oversight of the president’s authority under the Immigration and Nationality Act.  Trump is expected to sign additional executive orders on immigration in the coming weeks that have the potential to hurt Americans and immigrant working families.  

Status of Selected Trump Cabinet Picks

On Tuesday, the Senate voted 93 to 6 to confirm Elaine Chao as Secretary of Transportation.  She is one of the few relatively noncontroversial Cabinet nominations by President Trump.  

We expect votes next week on additional nominations, including Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) to serve as Attorney General.  All Senate Democrats and Independents are expected to oppose the Sessions nomination based on strong concerns over his civil and voting rights record.  

A vote to confirm Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) to serve as Secretary of Health and Human Services has been teed up to occur early next week.  AFSCME opposes the Price nomination because of his support for repealing the Affordable Care Act, cutting Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security and other important public services.  

The Senate will vote early next week on whether to approve Betsy DeVos to serve as Secretary of Education.  All Democrats and Independents are expected to oppose DeVos’ confirmation.  In addition, Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Susan Collins (R-ME) have both announced that they will vote against confirmation, out of concern for DeVos’ focus on expanding vouchers rather than strengthening the public school system.  AFSCME is working closely with other unions, education groups and civil rights organizations to try to defeat the DeVos nomination. 

We anticipate that the nomination of businessman Steven Mnuchin to be Secretary of Treasury will be approved along party lines next week.  Democrats remain concerned about his role in a bank that foreclosed on many homeowners and his truthfulness to the committee about his role. 

It is not clear when the Senate will vote on Rep. Mick Mulvaney’s (R-SC) nomination to direct the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), but he has advanced along party lines through the two required Senate committees.  AFSCME strongly opposes Mulvaney’s nomination, based on his record in the House, where he supported government shutdowns and allowing the federal government to default on its financial obligations.  He also has attacked Social Security for being a Ponzi scheme and voted to cut Medicare and Medicaid. 

Trump Executive Actions to Stop Retirement Investor Best Interest Protection (“Fiduciary Rule”) and Weaken Dodd-Frank Consumer Financial Protections

President Trump is expected to issue executive actions on February 3, related to the financial industry.  The first would delay the April 2017 effective date of the retirement investor best interest protection (“fiduciary rule”), which requires retirement investment advisors to provide advice in their clients’ best interest. This consumer protection was expected to cumulatively save retirement investors $17 billion per year by requiring financial firms to reduce fees, limit risky advice, and prohibit advice that is in the firms’ self-interest – rather than the best interest of the client.  To illustrate the risk of delaying this protection, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) issued a new report (to view, go to:  http://AFSCME.org/kickbacks-report) today listing the prizes and kickbacks currently offered to financial firms’ retirement advisers for selling certain high-profit financial products.

He is also expected to direct federal agencies to roll back and/or weaken numerous consumer financial protections and systemic safeguards that were implemented by the Obama administration to follow up on Congress’ landmark 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform package of safeguards. 

AFSCME strongly opposes both of these moves. 

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