Issues / Legislation » Legislative Weekly Reports

Week Ending January 27, 2017

Trump Nomination for U.S. Supreme Court is Imminent

This week, President Donald Trump announced that he will reveal his nominee for the vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court next week.  The vacancy to be filled is that of the late Justice Antonin Scalia, who passed away last February.  Immediately upon Scalia’s death, Republican leaders in the Senate announced that they would not consider any nomination made by President Obama and they maintained this position, refusing to consider Judge Merrick Garland.

Rumored to be at the top of Trump’s nomination list are Judges Neil Gorsuch of the 10th Circuit, Thomas Hardiman of the 3rd Circuit, William “Bill” Pryor of the 11th Circuit, Steven Colloton of the 8th Circuit, and Diane Sykes of the 7th Circuit.  Each of these possible nominees has a troubling record on such issues as workers’ rights, access to reproductive health care, discrimination against LGTBQ Americans, Voter ID laws, the rights of immigrants, civil and constitutional rights, hate speech, and the use of excessive force.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) has called on President Trump to select a nominee whose record reflects the mainstream in judicial philosophy.

Trump Executive Order Freezes Federal Employee Hiring

President Trump issued an executive order that blocks the hiring of new federal employees.  While there are exceptions for military, national security, and public safety, this across-the-board hiring freeze affects other federal government occupations and responsibilities and will create numerous problems for the remaining workers trying to deliver federal government services.  Furthermore, average Americans who rely on the federal government will suffer longer wait times and reduced services.  For example, by letting the IRS workforce shrink, it will take longer for Americans to receive their tax refunds.

In response to the action by Trump, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said, “It will hinder the functioning and efficiency of our government by forcing fewer workers to serve more and more Americans and deterring our best and brightest young people from entering the federal workforce.”

AFSCME President Lee Saunders said, “In one of his first acts in office, President Trump is making it harder for federal public service workers to do their jobs for the American people… It will make federal agencies less effective, hurting people and communities that depend on efficient public services.  You can’t make America great by undermining those who’ve dedicated their careers to serving America."

Health Nominee Weak on Details About ACA Replacement

During questioning from Senators on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Rep. Tom Price (R-GA), the Trump administration’s nominee to head the agency governing federal health programs, repeatedly stated that a replacement plan for the Affordable Care Act (ACA) would provide “access” to coverage.  Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) pointed out that access to coverage is very different from providing coverage, noting he has access to buy a high-priced home but it’s meaningless without the funds to do so.  Rep. Price repeatedly sidestepped questions asking for meaningful details about the Trump administration plan.  Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) tried to get Price to commit to protecting the ACA’s requirement that children can stay on their parents’ plan until age 26, but Price refused to pledge to keep even that very popular provision, suggesting insurance companies would voluntarily maintain that rule.

Price also appeared before the Senate Finance Committee this week.  Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) asked the nominee about the harmful excise tax on employer-sponsored health insurance. Price would not commit to addressing the tax. In general, Price evaded questions about legislation he sponsored to gut Medicare and Medicaid and leave millions of Americans without affordable health care.

AFSCME opposes the nomination of Rep. Price because of his proposals to repeal the Affordable Care Act, tax workers on their health benefits, and make draconian cuts to Medicaid and Medicare.   

Sessions Nomination Scheduled for Committee Vote

Republican leaders have scheduled a vote on Tuesday for the nomination of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) to serve as attorney general. Sessions has come under much scrutiny in the past several weeks with respect to his record on a host of civil and human rights issues. This week, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) raised concerns about Sessions stating that, “This nomination is a very big deal.  Some members may have follow-up questions they would like to submit about ensuring equal rights for all, upholding voting rights for all, demanding equal pay for equal work, maintaining workers’ rights and protecting our environment. It is these principles, these values, that the Attorney General must defend.”  AFSCME is opposed to Sessions’ nomination.

Trump Administration Issues Executive Orders on Immigration Enforcement

In an effort to cast a wide net of enforcement, Trump issued two broadly written Executive Orders that will hurt both American and immigrant families.  These orders direct the Department of Homeland Security to erect a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and punish “sanctuary cities,” or municipalities that practice community policing.

The so-called Interior Safety Executive Order (EO) would purportedly withhold federal funding for non-compliance in sanctuary cities where local police departments fight crime by making it safe for all residents, including undocumented workers, to report crime.  However, it is uncertain whether the EO will have an impact on funding, as it would likely take an act of Congress to implement it.  Moreover, it is unclear whether the EO meets constitutional tests.  Still, the EO calls for “empowering” Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to enforce laws which will lead to mass raids and mass deportation beyond those implemented under the Obama administration.

The President’s EO regarding the border wall must be acted upon by the Congress. It is estimated to cost at least $14 billion.

OMB Nominee Rep. Mick Mulvaney

This week two Senate committees held nomination hearings on Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC) to lead the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB).  The OMB director is a critical cabinet-level appointee who oversees the budget-planning process for all federal agencies, ensures accountability for taxpayer dollars, and oversees final approval of all federal regulations.

Rep. Mulvaney’s testimony raises serious questions about his ability to head OMB.  He supports deep budget cuts to some of the most important investments we make as a nation.  He supports huge, arbitrary budget cuts that will eliminate jobs and put families at risk.

He has called for deep cuts to Social Security and Medicare, including raising the eligibility age for both. He has called Social Security a “Ponzi scheme.” One of Mulvaney’s most disturbing actions in recent years was to lead the charge for government shutdowns and breaching the debt limit.

The OMB Director must work to preserve essential services and promote economic stability and growth, rather than propose huge arbitrary cuts that will cost jobs and threaten the economy. Mulvaney is the wrong choice, and AFSCME strongly opposes his nomination.  (Becky Levin- blevin@afscme.org)

Unprecedented Federal Budget Cuts Proposal Looming

Congress will soon turn its focus to drafting a budget for FY 2018.  President Trump has made it very clear that he wants to cut the federal funding for public services carried out by state and local government but increase defense spending and build an expensive border wall.  The administration is considering an initial list of cuts totaling $10.5 trillion over 10 years in a wide range of programs from law enforcement to Head Start, from labor rights enforcement to job training programs.

Such draconian cuts would not only impact public services, but have a depressing effect on the overall economy.

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