Week Ending January 2, 2017
Senate Takes First Step in Effort to Repeal the Affordable Care Act
On Wednesday, the Senate began to debate a budget resolution that directs Senate and House committees to draft a plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA). This effort will culminate in votes on legislation to repeal the ACA in late February or early March. While we expect the repeal legislation to be approved handily in the House along party lines, there is a chance that we can beat the repeal bill in the Senate where Democrats would need only three Republicans to join them in rejecting the measure.
Since the election, a number of Senate Republicans have expressed concern about taking health care coverage away from millions of families, without a plan to replace the ACA. Proceeding with a bill to repeal the ACA would cause 30 million Americans to lose their coverage, 82% of whom are in working families. This includes 22 million who receive coverage directly through the ACA. But another eight million who purchase their own coverage would lose their insurance because the repeal of the ACA is expected to cause chaos in the insurance market.
While the ACA is on the firing line now, this is just the first phase in an effort to unravel our health care system. GOP congressional leaders are also working on plans to cut billions from Medicare and Medicaid. Their Medicare proposal would shift enormous costs over time onto seniors and people with disabilities and possibly raise the age of Medicare eligibility from 65 to 67. Medicaid cuts would put the coverage of millions of poverty-stricken children and parents at risk as well as force cuts in nursing home and other long-term care services for low-income seniors and people with disabilities.
AFSCME is working with allies in Washington, D.C. and around the country to stop this devastating health care agenda, which begins with an effort to stop the repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
Trump Administration Threatens Obama Administration’s Pro-Working Families Accomplishments
The Obama administration, without congressional action required, issued numerous executive orders and agency rules that are threatened after January 20 when President-elect Trump takes office. He also will have two vacancies to fill on the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), ensuring a GOP majority along with numerous other appointments such as a new Supreme Court justice. These are some of the most significant immediate threats:
Overturning Department of Labor (DOL) Rules:
- The Overtime rule increases the salary threshold for eligibility to receive time and a half overtime pay for hours worked above 40 in a week from $23,660 per year to $47,476. Scheduled to go into effect on December 1, 2016, it would give five million workers a raise. (Before the effective date a federal district court judge enjoined the rule; the Obama administration’s Department of Justice has appealed.)
- Congressional GOP leaders seek to enact legislation to block and/or overturn the Obama administration’s "best interest" rule requiring retirement investment advisors to provide advice in their clients’ best interest. Without this protection, retirement investors – including many AFSCME members – have lost $17 billion in excess costs and fees to financial firms.
- Several OSHA rules are at risk, including new, stronger standards for silica dust exposure.
Overturning President Obama’s Executive Orders/Actions That:
- Require $10.20 per hour minimum wage for employees of federal contractors.
- Require paid sick days for employees of federal contractors.
- Forbid employer retaliation for disclosing pay and benefits information (needed to show wage discrimination).
- Require disclosure of labor law violations by companies seeking federal contracts (currently enjoined by federal district court).
- Disallow federal contractors’ use of funds to oppose union organizing.
- Expand the protections from discrimination based on sexual orientation for federal workers and employees of federal contractors.
- Established the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program for undocumented youth who were brought to the U.S. as children, providing them with temporary, renewable, non-deportable status and work authorization.
Overturning NRLB Rules That:
- Require employers to report not only its own anti-union activities but also those of their anti-union consultants (currently enjoined by federal district court).
- Require streamlined union elections (industry challenges rejected by federal appeals court).
- Require federal contractors to post a notice informing employees of their rights under the National Labor Relations Act.
- Broaden the definition of a “joint employer,” thus expanding workers’ rights to receive wages owed and other employment protections (industry trade groups have appealed to the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit).
This week, the House took two votes – mostly along party lines – to make it easier to roll back some of President Obama’s policies as well as to make it more difficult to pass new protections in the future. The House passed the Regulations From the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act (REINS Act, H.R. 21) by vote of 237 to 187. The legislation would require Congress to approve major federal regulations before they take effect. This followed earlier action that would undo key overtime and environmental rules approved toward the end of the Obama administration via the so-called “Midnight Rules Relief Act” (H.R. 26), which passed by a vote of 238 to 184. AFSCME strongly opposed both measures.
AFSCME Opposing HHS Nominee Rep. Tom Price
President-elect Donald Trump has nominated Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) to be the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. Price has long-championed radical proposals to convert Medicaid into a block grant to states, turn Medicare into a voucher program, and repeal the Affordable Care Act. And, he has sponsored legislation to eliminate current limits on how much a doctor can charge a patient who must pay out-of-pocket under Medicare. Two Senate committees will hold hearings on Rep. Price’s nomination, one of which is planned for January 18. Democratic Senate leaders are calling for a delay until allegations of Rep. Price’s insider-trading can be investigated. Public Citizen has filed a complaint and called for an investigation by the Office of Congressional Ethics and the Securities and Exchange Commission. According to a Public Citizen report, patterns exist of extensive trading activity in businesses and industries that Rep. Price oversees in his official capacity. The beneficial timing of these trades raise legitimate questions concerning both potential insider trading and conflicts of interest.
AFSCME has taken the lead in circulating a sign-on letter with dozens of national organizations urging the Senate to reject Rep. Price’s nomination.
Trump’s DOL Nominee a Serious Threat to Workers
President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee to be the next Secretary of Labor, Andy Puzder, is of grave concern to AFSCME, the labor movement as a whole, and others who support workers’ rights. As CEO of CKE Restaurants, which includes Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, he has faced lawsuits for discrimination, wage theft, failure to provide breaks, and dangerous workplace environments. Throughout his career, Puzder has opposed not just raising the minimum wage but having a minimum wage at all, extending overtime protections, and requiring employers to provide even limited paid sick leave. Several Senators have questioned Mr. Puzder’s qualification and policies for the job.
The Senate HELP Committee hearing on Puzder’s nomination is scheduled for January 17. AFSCME is on record strongly opposing his confirmation.
Betsy DeVos, Public Education Adversary, Nominated to Lead Education Agency
The Senate Education Committee will hold a hearing on the nomination of Betsy DeVos to serve as the Secretary of Education. Like many of the President-elect’s nominations, DeVos is a billionaire with no government experience, except for her considerable contributions to the campaigns of Republicans and ultra-conservative causes directly and via dark money through various family charities and affiliated non-profits. She has unabashedly noted that her family was the single largest contributor of soft money to the national Republican party to “buy… influence, and expect(s) some things in return.”
DeVos’ only involvement in public education has been through campaigns to divert public funds to private schools, including religious schools. Her families’ contributions have also focused on campaigns challenging the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans. She pushed for Detroit’s expansion of unaccountable charter schools, which are widely recognized as the worst in the country and have bankrupted the public school system.
AFSCME is urging the committee to thoroughly review the DeVos’ nomination, both her qualifications to oversee the broad span of education issues that the Department oversees, and potential conflicts of interest as a result of her influence buying.
Senator Jeff Sessions as Attorney General
President-elect Trump proposed Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) as his first Cabinet appointee to serve as Attorney General. His selection has been widely condemned by civil rights organizations as well as many of his senate colleagues. The Attorney General is the ultimate defender of the rights and liberties of all Americans, and Sessions has demonstrated throughout his career that he is uniquely unqualified to play this role. Among other disqualifying words and actions, Sessions made numerous racist remarks when he served as a prosecutor in Alabama, The Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled a hearing to consider the Sessions nomination on January 10 and 11. AFSCME has joined other civil rights, Labor and progressive groups in opposing the Sessions nomination.
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