Week Ending July 14, 2017
Senate to Vote on Harmful Health Care Bill
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) released a revised draft of the so-called Better Care Reconciliation Act, which would repeal much of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and slash Medicaid. The revisions in the bill would do little to change the fact that this bill would cause more than 20 million people to lose their health care coverage. The bill still caps Medicaid payments to the states and still phases out the Medicaid expansion under the ACA. The bill includes a provision authored by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) that would allow health insurance companies to offer health plans that do not comply with ACA requirements, as long as they offer one plan in a health exchange that does comply with the ACA standards, including those for essential benefits coverage. This provision would be so destabilizing to the insurance market, that even the association representing health insurance companies opposes it. In order to pay for special deals included in the bill to win the votes of some reluctant Republican Senators, the bill no longer eliminates the ACA’s tax increase on investments for high income households and no longer eliminates an increase in the Medicare contribution by wealthy households. But the bill maintains large tax cuts for insurance and pharmaceutical companies and includes other tax breaks for the wealthy – all paid for by taking health care coverage away from millions.
We expect Sen. McConnell to hold a procedural vote on Tuesday evening or early Wednesday that, if approved, would trigger a debate and lead to consideration of amendments and a final vote late in the week. At this point, the procedural vote could go either way. All Democratic and Independent Senators oppose the bill. Two Republicans have stated that they will oppose the bill Sen. Susan Collins (ME), because she opposes the sharp cuts to Medicaid, and Sen. Rand Paul (KY), because he believes the bill does not repeal enough of the ACA. This would create a tie vote that Vice President Mike Pence would break by voting for the bill. There are several other Republicans who continue to express concerns about the bill but remain publicly undecided. They include Sens. Lisa Murkowski (AK), Shelley Moore Capito (WV), Dean Heller (NV) and Rob Portman (OH). A number of other Republican Senators have expressed concerns but seem unlikely to oppose it, at least on the initial procedural vote.
Despite Bipartisan Opposition, Scheme to Privatize Air Traffic Control Heads to House Floor
House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) is determined to force a vote on his plan to remove air traffic control operations (ATC) from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and turn those functions over to a nonprofit corporation. Rather than follow the Senate, which has its own FAA legislation without the controversial provision, House GOP leaders are planning to use the upcoming expiration of FAA funding as leverage to force through this controversial privatization proposal.
There is substantial bipartisan opposition in both the House and the Senate, but the White House and most major airlines have thrown support to Mr. Shuster’s proposal. Because House GOP leaders do not have enough support amoung Republicans, they are reaching out to Democrats. AFSCME is working closely with allies inside and outside of Congress to oppose the Shuster bill.
AFSCME members who work at the FAA would be affected by the privatization plan. The union joined several other FAA unions to support a proposal from Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) to provide long-term funding stability to air traffic control without privatization.
The vote on this legislation is currently scheduled to occur on the House floor next week.
House Rushes to Cobble Together Funding Bills with Deep Cuts
House GOP leaders are scrambling to complete work on all 12 annual federal funding bills before the August recess. In order to accomplish Republican leadership’s decision to cut spending $8 billion below fiscal year (FY) 2017, the bills make deep cuts to programs that are important for working families and state budgets. AFSCME strongly opposes this cut, $5 billion of which is disproportionately applied to programs in the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education bill, which was passed out of subcommittee by a party-line vote of 9 to 6 this week. The overall bill is $30 billion below funding from FY 2010. Below are some highlights:
- Labor Programs – Employment Service grants and apprenticeship programs are eliminated. Unemployment Insurance grants, National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), are all cut. Susan G. Harwood OSHA Training grants are eliminated.
- Education – Education program cuts include elimination of funding for professional training and class-size reduction. The afterschool and summer programs are cut. IDEA special education funding and charter schools received modest increases. The bill did not include President Trump’s request for school vouchers. The maximum Pell grant is flat funded, but the overall Pell program is cut by $3.3 billion and the bill does nothing to make college more affordable.
- Public Health Programs and Social Services – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Agency for Children and Families, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Agency (SAMHSA), and nurses’ training are all cut. Opioid and heroin abuse programs are flat funded. Head Start and the Child Care and Development Block Grant is slightly increased. Medicare’s operating budget is cut by $524 million, and the State Health Insurance Program is eliminated.
In addition to deep cuts, the bill includes numerous poison pill policy riders. These provisions that are not related to funding, but would block implementation of the Department of Labor fiduciary rule to protect retirement savings, make it easier for some businesses to employ seasonal workers on temporary visas, block the NLRB’s joint employer ruling and other related provisions designed to make it more difficult for workers to organize and benefit from union protections. The bill also blocks federal funds from being used to implement Obamacare and from funding Planned Parenthood.
2017 Social Security and Medicare Trustees’ Reports Issued
On Thursday, the Social Security and Medicare boards of trustees issued annual financial reviews of the programs. The financial position for both programs has changed little since last year. Although both face long-term challenges, they are manageable with congressional action. While still currently running a large and growing surplus of roughly $58.6 billion, the trustees reaffirmed that Social Security can pay full benefits until 2034. After that, it will be able to pay about 77% of those benefits. The program is extremely affordable and continues to provide reliable support to millions including retirees, surviving spouses and children and individuals with disabilities.
With respect to Medicare, the 2017 trustees’ report shows that the slowing growth of health care costs has improved Medicare’s trust fund that pays for hospital, home health and limited-skill nursing home care. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, Medicare’s solvency was improved by more than a decade. The program is projected to pay full benefits through 2029.
The reports released underscore the vital importance of preserving, protecting and expanding Social Security and Medicare. They highlight how important both programs are to the economic and health security of Americans, who work their entire lives and pay into Social Security and Medicare and deserve these benefits when they become eligible.
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