Week Ending February 9, 2018
Congress Approves 2-Year Budget Agreement; DACA Still Pending
Congress passed a fifth stopgap spending measure this week to keep the government running at current levels through March 23, but only after allowing the federal government to experience yet another shutdown. After missing a midnight deadline Thursday, the Senate and House passed the budget deal to reopen the government after a 9-hour overnight shutdown.
Despite the delay, the good news is they finally approved a two-year budget deal, significantly increasing annual budget caps nearly $300 billion over two years, with increases of $63 billion in fiscal year (FY) 2018 and $68 billion in FY 2019 for domestic annual spending. The bill also includes a package of health care extenders, child welfare improvements, disaster aid and some program-specific increases. The combination of domestic and other spending increases meets the demand for “parity” to match increases in defense. Defense spending has increased a total of $165 billion over two years. The package also lifts the federal debt ceiling until March 2019. The bill does not provide an immediate solution for DREAMers.
The budget agreement includes a number of AFSCME priorities for health care funding. Public safety-net hospitals received a two-year reprieve from cuts in Medicaid DSH payments. Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands receive $4.9 billion in much needed funds to increase the current Medicaid caps for two years. In addition, a 100 percent federal match is applied to these new Medicaid funds while these U.S. citizens recover from the aftermath of hurricane damage to their infrastructure. Seniors and Medicare will benefit from permanent repeal of the annual cap for outpatient therapy services, including physical therapy, speech-language pathology services and occupational therapy, beginning January 1, 2018 and closing the Medicare Part D coverage gap in 2019, a year early. States and working families will have more health security because the bill extends funding for Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for an additional four years, making it a 10-year reauthorization. The bill also provides two more years of funding for State Health Insurance Programs, which provide seniors and others with unbiased information on Medicare benefits. The bill includes $6 billion in new funding for mental health and substance abuse treatment. The bill also reduces federal funding dedicated for state and local public health efforts by $1.35 billion over 10 years. This is troubling but far less than the earlier proposal to gut nearly all of the prevention and public health fund.
The budget agreement dedicates $20 billion over two years specifically for infrastructure spending. This will be evenly divided over two years through existing grant accounts, such as Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) and New Start Transit grants, both successful programs from the Obama-era American Reinvestment and Recovery Act. Spending through existing accounts maintains strong Buy America and prevailing wage provisions. Ironically, these are precisely the programs the Trump administration is expected to zero out in favor of privatization schemes that guarantee profit for corporations as part of his infrastructure plan when it is released.
The budget agreement included the extension of the cost-neutral Family First Prevention Services Act. This program allows states to use federal child welfare funds that had been reserved for foster care and adoption additionally for two types of prevention services and programs: mental-health and substance abuse prevention and treatment services, and in-home parent skill-based programs, which include parent skills training, parent education and individual and family counseling.
Education and Child Care
The deal includes $5.8 billion for the Child Care and Development Block Grant program (CCDBG) and $4 billion for college affordability split over two years.
The budget agreement also creates a new Joint Select Committee on Solvency of Multiemployer Pension Plans. This 16-member Committee would address the threat that millions and millions of pensioners, miners, those in the Central States Fund, and other retirees, may be stripped of their earned pension benefits. Congressional Democrats overcame conservative opposition and successfully advocated for this special committee, which would be required to recommend a legislative fix to significantly improve the solvency of the plans and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation by November 30, 2018.
Puerto Rico and Disaster Relief Funding
The Senate budget agreement provides approximately $84 billion in supplemental emergency funding for disaster relief and recovery in jurisdictions affected by recent hurricanes and wildfires, including Puerto Rico, Texas, Florida and California. These funds include $28 billion of new assistance from the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant program, $24.6 billion from the Department of Homeland Security, $17.4 billion from the Army Corps of Engineers, and billions more from more than 15 other agencies. This is roughly twice the amount President Trump requested and lacks Trump’s proposed offsets. While Puerto Rico will receive its share of funds, it is still much less than the $94 billion Puerto Rico requested.
Social Impact Partnerships
The budget deal includes a new grant program for health and social service programs, which AFSCME strongly opposed. The “Supporting Social Impact Partnerships to Pay for Results” provision provides $100 million in new funding, which could include incentives for privatization and result in diverting scarce federal funds to Wall Street privateers.
Leader Pelosi’s Historic Action Urges DREAMer Solution
Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) stopped other action and occupied the House floor to demand that Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Congress provide a fair debate and hold a vote on DREAMers as soon as possible. Speaking for over eight hours, Rep. Pelosi set a record for the longest continuous speech on the House floor. The previous record of five hours was set over 100 years ago. Rep. Pelosi’s entire speech focused on the plight of DREAMers as she made the case for urgent action to fund a reasonable solution, and end months of delay. Speaker Ryan, indicated he intends to complete a “deal” on DACA, but refused to pledge a vote on specific plans that have the support of DREAMers and their advocates. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) had earlier given his word that the Senate would turn to immigration issues following the budget, and give Democrats an “open” process to try to advance help for DREAMers. The Senate is planning to move to the immigration debate as soon as Monday. AFSCME continues to call on Congress to provide fair debate and a vote to fix this self-inflicted human and economic crisis created by the Trump administration.
House Democrats Advance ‘Better Deal’ Infrastructure Plan
Democratic Policy and Communications Committee co-chairs Reps. David Cicilline (RI) and Cheri Bustos (IL) led House Democrats in unveiling “A Better Deal to Rebuild America,” a $1 trillion federal investment plan to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure that will create more than 16 million jobs. “A Better Deal to Rebuild America” builds on the work done over the last year by Democratic members of the Transportation and Infrastructure, Energy and Commerce, and Education and Workforce Committees, and follows the themes from the Democrats “Better Deal” plan and the Senate Democrats’ Infrastructure Blueprint that was announced in January 2017.
The Democrats’ efforts are intended to frame the debate in advance of the long-awaited release of President Trump’s infrastructure plan, which is expected next week. An outline leaked prior to President Trump’s State of the Union Speech floated a $200 billion plan over 10 years, however, the funds would be taken from existing programs while shifting ultimate funding responsibility to states. House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) called the plan a “devolution” to the states. House Transportation and Infrastructure Ranking Member Peter DeFazio (D-OR) said “President Trump cannot pretend to solve our infrastructure woes by slashing real investments to states and local governments.” Instead, he reiterated the need for new real dollar investments to meet the nation’s growing needs, such as the $1 trillion investment called for by the Democrats.
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