Week Ending February 8, 2013
President Obama Seeks to Avoid Across-the-Board Spending Cuts
This week, President Obama called on Congress to delay the looming across-the-board spending cuts for the remainder of this fiscal year. He did not propose specifics but did call for a balanced plan of additional revenues and spending cuts. GOP leaders responded by rejecting the call for any new revenues and calling for the sequester to go into effect. Meanwhile, the House Progressive Caucus unveiled their sequester replacement plan, “The Balancing Act,” endorsed by AFSCME, which would reduce the deficit largely with additional revenues from closing corporate and individual tax loopholes. The bill (H.R. 545) cuts approximately $300 billion from wasteful Pentagon spending and reinvests in job creation. The bill is expected to create more than one million jobs in infrastructure and education, and would put money in consumers’ pockets.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its annual report on the nation’s economic health this week, noting that for the first time in four years the federal debt is under $1 trillion ($945 billion).
The House also passed H.R. 444, mostly with GOP support, which requires the President to submit a detailed plan on achieving deficit reduction for every fiscal year that his next budget plan projects a deficit. An amendment recommending that deficit reduction be modeled on the Simpson-Bowles failed.
Congress Moving Forward on Comprehensive Immigration Reform
This week, the House Judiciary Committee held its first hearing on comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) legislation. While all the committee members agreed that mass deportation of the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. is not an option, there was partisan disagreement about what policies to adopt. The committee Democrats spoke in favor of a roadmap to full, earned citizenship; the Republicans opposed any plan that could lead to citizenship. Committee Chair Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) asked panel witness, San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, if “there are options we should consider between the extremes of mass deportation and a pathway to citizenship.” Mayor Castro responded that he does not view citizenship as an extreme option. Castro cautioned against an America where we would consign 11 million people to a permanent underclass status. The committee also addressed current visa programs and potentially a new guest worker program. Some witnesses testified that increasing the number of visas for foreign workers would threaten jobs for native U.S. workers. The committee also heard testimony about border security and enforcement of current immigration laws. The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold its first CIR hearing next week.
AFSCME is working in coalition with the AFL-CIO and other labor and community allies to ensure that any CIR legislation includes a roadmap to earned citizenship and upholds the employment rights of all workers.
Affordable Care Act Saved Medicare Beneficiaries $5.7 Billion on Prescription Drugs
For decades, Medicare has been a resounding success in providing access to doctors and medicines. New data shows the Affordable Care Act is making Medicare even stronger. Some 6.1 million seniors and people with disabilities saved $5.7 billion on brand-name prescription drugs since the enactment of the Affordable Care Act in 2010. In 2012 alone, more than 3.5 million Medicare beneficiaries who reached the Medicare prescription drug coverage gap received discounts that saved them more than $2.5 billion. In addition, savings for covered generic drugs totaled $105 million for 2.8 million beneficiaries. Since the law made preventive services available without cost-sharing in 2011, over 30.5 million Americans with traditional Medicare have taken advantage of one or more free preventive services. These services have meant that over 5 million traditional Medicare enrollees have been able to have a bone density measurement for free and over 8 million have had a mammography screening at no cost to them. These improved Medicare benefits would be lost if the Affordable Care Act was repealed.
Celebrating 20 Years of the Family and Medical Leave Act
Twenty years ago, President Bill Clinton signed the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) into law. AFSCME is proud of our union’s leadership in the fight to pass this historic legislation, which provided job protection for workers and guaranteed unpaid leave for 12 weeks during which workers could care for a new baby, a seriously ill child, parent or spouse, or recover from illness. Our members rallied and lobbied Congress to pass FMLA, we testified before congressional committees, and we worked with President Clinton to garner the votes needed to enact a law that has now benefited more than 10 million working families.
Our work did not end with the passage of FMLA. Five years ago, we successfully fought to expand the bill to include military families and enable them take up to 26 weeks of job-protected leave to help care for service members injured in combat and the traditional 12-week FMLA allotment to help them deal with the deployment of a close relative. AFSCME also prevented the efforts of the George W. Bush Labor Department to make the use of FMLA benefits more difficult for families.
The Family and Medical Leave Act was a major milestone, but more needs to be done to help families dealing with medical emergencies and family needs. Paid leave is essential, including paid sick days. Depriving workers of their income during times of family crisis is something no hard-working American should experience. No one should have to choose between the job they need and the family they love.
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