Week Ending January 5, 2018
- Party Balance Shifts in Senate
- Tax Fight Continues
- Congress Needs to Finalize Fiscal Year 2018 (FY 18) Spending
- Action Needed on Unfinished Health Care Business
- Negotiations Continue Over Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)
Party Balance Shifts in Senate
This week, two new members of the Senate were sworn into office. Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) was sworn in, replacing Sen. Luther Strange (R) who lost a primary election in the fall to Judge Roy Moore (R). Jones defeated Moore in a special election in December. Following Sen. Al Franken’s (D-MN) resignation from the Senate, Lt. Governor Tina Smith (D) was appointed to fill the Franken vacancy until an election is held in November. In 2017, the Senate was made up of 52 Republicans, 46 Democrats and two Independents who caucus with the Democrats, effectively a 52-48 partisan split. The addition of Jones brings the partisan balance to 51-49.
Tax Fight Continues
Polling has shown that the public rightly understands that President Trump’s tax cut, enacted prior to the holidays, is skewed to benefit the wealthy and corporations. As a result, the Koch brothers and others are investing millions of dollars into advertising to try and convince working families that they will benefit from the bill. AFSCME will continue to work with allies to educate the public about this harmful tax law and to hold accountable those members of Congress who voted for it. The tax bill was approved along party lines in both the House and Senate and signed into law in December. In the Senate, no Democrats voted for it and no Republicans opposed it. In the House, 12 Republicans joined all Democrats to oppose the bill.
Congress Needs to Finalize Fiscal Year 2018 Spending
Prior to the holidays, Congress approved a short-term spending bill to continue funding the government through January 19. Since the 2018 fiscal year (FY 2018) began on October 1, this marked the third time a temporary spending bill was required to allow the government to continue operating. Bipartisan negotiations between Congress and the administration resumed this week. Key sticking points in negotiations over a final spending bill for the remainder of the fiscal year include demands by President Trump and GOP congressional leaders for substantial increases in defense spending coupled with limited increases for nondefense, domestic spending. Democrats are demanding parity so any increase in defense is applied equally to domestic needs. The Trump administration also continues to press for funding for a wall at the border between the U.S. and Mexico.
The failure to finalize an FY 2018 spending bill creates significant uncertainty for state and local governments which rely on federal funds in order to carry out many public services.
Action Needed on Unfinished Health Care Business
Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). The Children’s Health Insurance Program, along with funding for health coverage for 8.9 million children, expired at the end of September. Congress and the administration have provided some stopgap funding, but a number of states are running out of money for their programs, including New York, Pennsylvania, Florida, Massachusetts, Oregon, Washington and Connecticut. While the program has bipartisan support, House GOP leaders insist on harmful cuts to other health programs to pay for the renewal of CHIP.
Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) Payments. Public and other safety-net hospitals will lose funds unless Congress acts to block scheduled cuts to DSH payments made through Medicaid. While a deal has been reached to block the cuts for two years, their fate may be tied to legislation to renew CHIP.
Affordable Care Act (ACA) Cost-sharing Reduction Payments. In return for her support for the tax cut bill, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) received a commitment from Senate GOP leaders that legislation would be enacted to continue federal cost-sharing reduction payments provided under the ACA, which President Trump had stopped. These cost-sharing reduction payments reimburse insurance companies for reductions in copays, deductibles and coinsurance that they are required to give to low-income families covered by ACA plans. Despite the promise to Sen. Collins, GOP leaders in the House have so far refused to approve this legislation. The failure to make cost-sharing reduction payments has driven up premiums and caused some insurance companies to exit ACA markets.
Hurricane Relief. Congress failed to approve additional hurricane relief for Puerto Rico and states impacted by hurricanes last summer. While the House approved a package, it failed to meet needs, especially for Puerto Rico. In addition to other aid, AFSCME and Democratic congressional leaders are pressing for increased Medicaid assistance for Puerto Rico. The Medicaid funding formula for Puerto Rico is far less generous than it is for states, and the island's federal funding is capped, despite increased need due to the impact on employment from hurricane damage.
Negotiations Continue Over Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)
There is bipartisan support for legislation to protect DACA recipients, or “Dreamers,” who are at risk for deportation as a consequence of President Trump’s decision to end the DACA program. DACA has allowed young adults who were brought to the U.S. as children to remain in the country to work, attend school or join the military. Negotiations continue but are hampered by Trump’s insistence that any deal on DACA include funding to build a wall along the border between the U.S. and Mexico. Democratic leaders and some Republicans are pressing for a resolution before the end of this month.
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