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Week Ending July, 15, 2016

House Appropriations Committee Approves Harmful Labor-HHS-Education Funding Bill

For the first time in 10 years, the House Appropriations Committee voted on and passed funding for Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (LHHS) programs in two consecutive years. The vote, 31 to 19, was along party lines, except Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX) crossed over to support the bill.  But there is no cause for celebration as this bill is $569 million below current funding levels, cutting federal support for essential labor, health, human services, and education programs that working families rely on. Further, the bill is full of poison pill policy riders aimed at eliminating Obama administration regulations and other actions that help working families.

Democrats offered dozens of amendments to restore and increase funding levels and to strike onerous riders. Most Democratic amendments failed along party lines.  The following amendments were offered and failed:

  • Rep. Barbara Lee (CA) – to restore funding for dislocated worker training and apprenticeship grants;
  • Rep. Barbara Lee (CA) — to strike anti-labor riders that reverse the Obama administration’s rule that financial advisors act in their clients’ best interests; reverse the rule that extends overtime pay for millions of workers; overturn the executive order that protects federal contractors’ employees; negate pro-union National Labor Relation Board decisions; and change the H-2B guest worker program, harming both U.S. workers and visa holders;
  • Rep. Nita Lowey (NY) – to provide $1.9 billion to fight the spread of Zika;
  • Rep. Chellie Pingree (ME) – to increase funding for early learning including the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG);
  • Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA) – to restore year-round Pell grants;
  • Rep. Jose Serrano (NY) – to require a report on the diversification of pension fund management;
  • Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL) – to strike all Affordable Care Act riders;
  • Rep. Mike Quigley (IL) – to increase funding for the Social Security Administration.

Rep. Tim Ryan’s (D-OH) amendment, which requires the Bureau of Labor Statistics to conduct a study on the impact of free trade agreements on the U.S. labor market, passed on a voice vote, as did Rep. Barbara Lee’s amendment that requested a Department of Education report to Congress on school segregation.

It is unlikely that the Labor-HHS-Education funding bill will reach the House floor. The House and Senate are in recess until September 6, at which point there will be only 19 legislative days to finish all 12 fiscal year (FY) 2017 funding bills. Congress likely will pass a stop-gap measure known as a continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government running until separate bills or a combined “omnibus” measure is passed.  Tea Party Republicans are pushing for a six month CR to carry funding through March 2017.  Democrats are strongly opposed to a CR extending past year’s end.

Senate Again Rejects Moving to a Vote on Zika

The Senate left town for its seven-week recess after failing in its second attempt to move forward on a $1.1 billion anti-Zika supplemental funding bill (H.R. 2577) that would have provided additional funding to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The 52-44 vote fell short of the 60 votes needed to advance toward a vote on final passage.

The bill contained ideological language that would prevent funds from going to Planned Parenthood clinics in Puerto Rico, which Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) noted would limit the ability of women to prevent pregnancy while Zika continues to be a threat. The bill also fell short of the $1.9 billion in emergency Zika funding President Obama requested in February. And, the Senate bill included funding offsets, which are generally not required for emergency funding.

Without additional funding to combat Zika available for at least the rest of the summer, the number of infants born with microcephaly will continue to grow. It is possible that Congress could come to agreement on a Zika funding bill when it returns in September, but there may be less urgency to move forward when the summer is over and the Zika threat presumably lessens. It is also possible that an FY 2017 Labor-HHS-Education spending bill could include additional funding to the CDC and NIH so they can continue their research and vaccine trials. However, this too is unlikely to occur in the fall.

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