Week Ending January 18, 2013
House Approves $50.6 Billion Superstorm Sandy Emergency Spending Bill
The House approved a $50.6 billion Superstorm Sandy emergency supplemental spending bill, which funds relief, recovery and mitigation assistance for affected communities, individuals, infrastructure and services. The House’s 241 to 180 vote highlighted continuing divisions between Democrats and Republicans, with only 49 House Republicans voting for final passage and 179 opposed. In contrast, only one House Democrat voted against final passage. House Democrats supported Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen’s (R-NJ) amendment, which added $33.6 billion to the initial bill of $17 billion. A GOP amendment designed to offset the initial $17 billion with spending cuts for vital services and programs was defeated. The White House supported this legislation as passed. The Senate is expected to consider and pass this legislation next week. AFSCME supports the $50.6 billion spending level and no offsets.
Comprehensive Immigration Reform Moving Ahead in Congress
A bipartisan “Group of 6” senators are in intensive negotiations in hopes of reaching an agreement on comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) legislation. The group members are Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), John McCain (R-AZ), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY). The group is currently working on principles for CIR that would likely include a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, border and internal enforcement measures, and reform of guest worker programs, among other issues. The Senate and House Judiciary Committees will likely hold hearings on CIR as early as February.
AFSCME and the labor movement as a whole are fully engaged in CIR. In our lobbying, we have emphasized the imperative that CIR modify all guest worker programs to put an end to the kind of abuses that occurred over the past several years in New York City’s H-1B program (targeted to high-skilled jobs), which resulted in the displacement of 2,000 information technology DC 37 members. We are advocating for the development of an independent commission on labor and immigration that would structure any labor visa programs to meet real and current labor market needs, with fees generated by these programs dedicated to skills training programs targeted to jobs currently filled by foreign workers. And, we are supporting stronger displacement protections for U.S. workers in any revamped guest worker programs, as well as for wage and working condition protections for foreign workers. In addition to guest worker reforms, AFSCME and labor as a whole are fully supporting a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the shadows in our country, whose illegal status has undermined the wages and working conditions of all workers because it makes them vulnerable to deportation threats when they try to unionize, often results in nonpayment of the minimum wage and overtime, and other employer abuses.
Minimum Wage and Overtime Rule for Home Care Workers Expected Soon
For decades, federal law has treated homecare workers as casual baby sitters. They have been denied federal minimum wage and overtime protections because, historically, they’ve been regarded as just “companions.” President Obama and out-going Labor Secretary Hilda Solis proposed new Fair Labor Standards Act rules that would ensure that these workers are treated fairly. On January 15, 2013, the Department of Labor sent the final regulation to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for review. OMB typically is the last stop before a rule in published. AFSCME stands in solidarity with our sisters and brothers who provide back-breaking personal care assistance to individuals with disabilities due to age or illness. These workers are the lifeline of independence for their consumers and deserve to be valued and treated with respect. They should receive the same minimum wage and overtime protections afforded to other workers.
Debt Ceiling, Take Two
Now that we have moved beyond the initial so-called fiscal cliff, other important budget deadlines are looming. The first is the debt ceiling extension which will need to be raised before the “extraordinary measures” taken at the end of last year to avoid default on our nation’s debt run out between mid-February and early March. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner urged Congress to address the debt ceiling soon and not let the clock run out, which would threaten the economy and endanger Social Security and SSI benefits; Medicare; Medicaid; income tax refunds, federal employee salaries and retirement, law enforcement and operation of the justice system; unemployment insurance; disaster relief; national security needs including military salaries and retirement; veterans’ benefits; and many other publically-funded programs and benefits.
GOP congressional leaders have demanded that an increase in the $16.4 trillion debt limit be accompanied dollar for dollar by spending cuts. President Obama strongly opposes holding the debt limit hostage to budget demands or any other issues. He noted in his press conference last week that in addition to jeopardizing important program benefits, if the debt limit is not raised soon, interest rates could spike, the U.S.’s financial reputation would be seriously questioned internationally. The President urged a quick, responsible, and sustainable resolution to raising the debt ceiling.
Filibuster Reform Update
A broad coalition of over 40 national organizations including AFSCME sent a letter to the leadership of the U.S. Senate in support of Senate Resolution 4, introduced by Sens. Tom Udall (D-NM), Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR), which seeks to expedite the Senate’s consideration of legislation and nominations. The most significant reform requires “talking filibuster” – in effect forcing an actual debate. When the Senate returns to work next week, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) will unveil his own proposal for reforming Senate rules. The package has not yet been finalized since Reid is still trying to reach a bipartisan deal with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to avert a partisan showdown on the floor.
House to Vote Soon on Extending Federal Pay Freeze
The House of Representatives will consider legislation (H.R. 273), next week that would extend the freeze on basic federal pay rates through the end of 2013. The bill, introduced by Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) and co-sponsored by 28 GOP leaders, would block a 0.5% raise that is scheduled to take effect after a temporary spending measure expires in March. Republicans have introduced similar legislation previously but the quick scheduling of the bill for a vote demonstrates the priority House GOP members give to holding down federal pay. “This is not the way to recruit and retain a top-notch federal workforce” said American Federation of Government Employees President J. David Cox, Sr. in a statement this week.
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