Week Ending July 13, 2012
President Obama Urges Congress to Let Tax Cuts for Wealthiest 2% Expire
On Monday, President Obama urged Congress to let the Bush tax cuts for the richest 2% of Americans expire – those earning more than $250,000 per year – and extend for one year the current Bush tax cuts for the middle class during these tough economic times. Furthermore, Obama’s senior advisor David Plouffe said, “the President will veto any legislation that extends the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% of Americans.”
AFSCME supports Obama’s position. “At a time when millions of Americans struggle to make ends meet, the President has taken a course of action that responsibly protects the middle class, the backbone of our economy,” AFSCME President Lee Saunders said. “It’s time for tax breaks for the wealthy to expire and to have them pay their fair share. We agree with the President that our number one priority is to create new jobs and restore the nation’s economic health.” Two AFSCME members from Local 3085 (Maryland Council 67) appeared with President Obama during Monday’s announcement, which was held in the East Room of the White House – Dale Chase, a Howard County master electrician and president of Council 67, and Bill Chenowith, a county waste water treatment plant operator.
The issue of extending the Bush tax cuts is expected to get a Senate floor vote in the next few weeks. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) hopes to show he has 51 votes to pass Obama’s proposal for a one-year extension of the Bush tax cuts solely for the first $250,000 in earnings. However, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is using procedural maneuvers to prevent passage of the tax cut extension for the middle class.
On Thursday, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) announced his plan for a floor vote before August to extend all the Bush tax cuts. The House GOP leadership announced it will not permit a vote on Obama’s proposal to extend tax cuts solely for the first $250,000 of income.
AFSCME President Saunders Addresses House Democratic Caucus
AFSCME President Lee Saunders addressed the House Democratic Caucus this week. His remarks focused on the difficult challenges confronting AFSCME’s 1.6 million members and retirees and all working families in a tough economy. He stressed the need for continued support on key budget, tax and economic policies, including the need to protect and create jobs as well as to maintain support for vital public services.
Taxing Internet Sales Gains Momentum in Congress
Momentum is growing in the Senate for legislation that would enable state and local governments to collect taxes on sales by remote and online sellers of goods and services. Earlier this week, Sens. Michael Enzi (R-WY), Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) proposed this as an amendment to an unrelated tax bill. Although procedural issues prevented a Senate vote on the amendment, the attention resulted in the Marketplace Fairness Act (S. 1832) gaining five new Senate co-sponsors, which increases the co-sponsors to 18. Sens. Enzi and Durbin spoke on the Senate floor, highlighting the bipartisan support among senators, governors, and other elected officials – and the endorsement of 240 organizations, including several labor unions, state and local governments, large corporations, mom and pop stores, and business trade associations. A July 9 Washington Post front page story entitled “States, Congress rallying for an e-sales tax” reported: “The movement in state capitals is driving newfound support for a proposed bill in Congress that could make collection of sales tax a standard practice on the Web.”
The House Judiciary Committee is planning to hold a hearing on July 24 on its taxing Internet sales legislation, Marketplace Equity Act (H.R. 3179), which has bipartisan support from 47 co-sponsors. AFSCME supports closing tax loopholes that allow sellers to avoid collecting sales tax on hundreds of millions of remote purchases made via the internet, telephone and mail. This is a matter of fundamental fairness for Main Street brick and mortar stores. Furthermore, the uncollected taxes from remote sales in 2012 will cost state and local governments $23 billion. These funds would help maintain funding for education, health care, infrastructure and other vital public services protecting the vulnerable and assisting working families.
House Committee Advances Farm Bill with Deep Food Stamp Cuts
After considering approximately 90 amendments, the House Agriculture Committee voted 35 to 11 to advance its farm bill (H.R. 6083). Among the amendments rejected was one sponsored by Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) and supported by the majority of Democrats on the panel that would have restored $16.5 billion in cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps). Most of the cuts would come from limiting automatic eligibility to households receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Supplemental Security Income disability, or general assistance. The cuts would cause two to three million working adults, children and seniors to lose their SNAP benefits and 280,000 low-income children to lose free school meals. As Rep. McGovern noted: “These aren’t people trying to game the system, they’re just people trying to get by.” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack pointed out after the House Agriculture Committee vote that, “these cuts wouldn’t just leave Americans hungry, they would stunt economic growth.” The Senate’s farm bill (S. 3240), which passed on a bipartisan vote last month, contains $4.5 billion in SNAP cuts, less than one-third the amount in the House bill. The House bill also would cut federal SNAP incentive funding to states for improved payment timeliness, accuracy and customer service. An amendment sponsored by Reps. Robert Goodlatte (R-VA) and Steve King (R-IA) that eliminates Puerto Rico’s cash out option in its SNAP block grant passed on a largely party-line vote. Requiring EBT cards only will diminish access for the very poor and those in rural areas. The Committee also adopted by voice vote an amendment by Rep. Leonard Boswell (D-IA) that would require the U.S. Department of Agriculture to solicit public input and assess workloads before closing Farm Service Agency offices.
It is not clear whether the GOP House leadership will schedule a floor vote on H.R. 6083. The current farm bill expires on September 30.
House Votes Yet Again to Repeal Obamacare
The House voted on Wednesday to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) – the 33rd time the House has voted for repeal since January 2011. The vote was 244 to 185, with all Republicans voting to repeal and all but five Democrats voting to preserve the law. AFSCME had urged the House to focus its energy on measures that will improve the economy and create jobs rather than wasting time on another repeal vote. The vote was largely symbolic, since the Senate is not expected to debate the House bill.
When the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Obamacare at the end of June, it preserved health reform’s many benefits that are already in place, including:
- Kids with pre-existing conditions cannot be denied coverage and, in 2014, neither can adults;
- Insurance companies cannot drop you when you get sick;
- Insurance companies cannot charge women more for insurance than men are charged;
- 6.6 million young adults, half with no other coverage option, can remain on their parent’s health plan;
- Millions of seniors are able to continue to get free cancer screenings and other preventive care;
- 5.3 million seniors with high drug costs will continue to get extra help with these costs;
- Millions are scheduled to receive rebates in August because their insurance companies spent too much of their premium on administrative costs and CEO bonuses.
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