Week Ending January 10, 2014
Budget Deadline Approaches; Funding Bill Details Still Pending
With less than one week remaining until the temporary fiscal year funding bill expires on January 15, few details are available regarding the proposed package that would combine all 12 funding bills and set funding levels for the rest of the fiscal year. While the December budget agreement lifted most of the across-the-board “sequester” cuts, no details are available yet regarding the distribution of the budgeted amounts. Senate Appropriations Chair Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) has confirmed that six bills — Agriculture, Defense, Military Construction-Veterans Affairs, Commerce-Justice-Science, Transportation-HUD and Legislative Branch — have been completed and Energy-Water and Homeland Security are close to completed. The Labor-Health and Human Services (HHS)-Education and Interior funding bills, however, are still works in progress.
House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers (R-KY) introduced a temporary funding bill that would extend the funding bill deadline to January 18 to buy some more time for negotiations and floor consideration of the final package to avoid another government shutdown.
Senate Moves to Take Up Extension of Federal Unemployment Benefits
Returning from the holiday recess, the Senate immediately took up legislation to continue the current federal unemployment benefits program. In a surprise move, six Republicans joined Senate Democrats in voting to move forward to debate a bill extending the program for three months. However, Senate Republicans would not agree to support this extension unless it included offsetting savings by cutting other programs, and Senate Democrats would not agree to finding savings unless the legislation continued the program for a longer period of time. As a result, negotiations shifted during the week to develop a longer term extension that would include offsetting program cuts and reductions in the number of unemployment benefit weeks. That agreement fell apart leaving the fate of an extension of the federal unemployment benefits program uncertain.
50th Anniversary of War on Poverty
On January 8, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson declared an “unconditional war on poverty” in his State of the Union address. This speech signaled a national commitment to fight poverty through bold policy initiatives including establishing Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start, and Pell Grants, and expanding Social Security and nutrition assistance. In a statement issued commemorating the 50th anniversary of this historic pronouncement, AFSCME President Lee Saunders praised AFSCME members for the work they do that contributes to the continued effectiveness of these programs. And he noted: “At a time of rising income inequality in our nation, it is important to reflect on the poverty-reduction benefits of these safety net programs and on ways we must strengthen them for future generations. Since mid-2009, 95 percent of the increased income in the U.S. was sucked up by the wealthiest 1 percent, even as today Congress continues to deny jobless benefits to the long-term unemployed who rely on them to survive.”
In addressing the challenges we face today in reducing poverty, President Saunders made the following policy recommendations: extending federal unemployment benefits; removing impediments to union organizing; creating middle class jobs; increasing the minimum wage; and requiring wealthy individuals and corporations to pay their fair share in taxes to fund job growth, strengthen social insurance and safety net programs, and support other initiatives that will rebuild the middle class.
Fast Track Trade Authority Introduced
Three senior lawmakers on Thursday unveiled long-awaited legislation requested by the White House to help the President strike major trade deals with Asia and Europe. Thus, the stage is set for a potential election year battle between Obama and many of his fellow Democrats in Congress. Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) was introduced by Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) along with co-sponsors Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), the top Republican on the Finance Committee, and Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI), Chairman of House Ways and Means. The legislation would renew TPA which expired in 2007 and would allow the President to submit trade deals to Congress for a straight up or down vote without any amendments. In opposing TPA, AFSCME President Lee Saunders said: “Fast track authorization is a threat to our democracy and our sovereignty. It is a legislative procedure that facilitates closed-door deal making.”
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