Week Ending July 21, 2017
AFSCME Rallies on Capitol Hill; Senate to Vote on Health Care Next Week
AFSCME organized a rally on Capitol Hill this week to protest legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act and gut Medicaid. Speakers included Pres. Lee Saunders and Sec.-Treas. Elissa McBride as well as AFSCME members from Local 1199DC, Councils 3 and 67 and retirees from MD Chapter 1. In addition, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and several other members of Congress spoke at the rally.
Over the last several days, there have been many twists and turns in the debate over the health care legislation. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has stated that a vote will take place next week on a motion to begin debate. If the Senate votes to begin the debate, McConnell may first schedule a vote on a bill that would repeal the ACA in two years, but does not include a replacement plan. If offered, we expect that this bill will be defeated.
Then, Sen. McConnell would offer a modified version of the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA), the bill he has been working on for several weeks. In the latest version, this legislation would repeal much of the Affordable Care Act, including a phase-out of the Medicaid expansion. It would also convert Medicaid to a per capita cap system, which would reduce federal payments to states every year. Total cuts to Medicaid would be $756 billion in the first 10 years. The bill provides tax cuts to insurance companies, pharmaceutical manufacturers and medical device makers. It would cause 22 million to lose their health care.
McConnell is working to line up support for BCRA, trying to bridge differences between the conservative and more moderate wings of his caucus. At this point, the vote on the motion to proceed is too close to call, as is a potential vote on BCRA. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) has stated that she opposes BCRA and would oppose the vote to begin debate. With Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) absent due to illness, we still need two more Republicans to stop the debate from proceeding or defeat BCRA.
House Budget Proposes Draconian Cuts, Big Tax Breaks for the Wealthy
Three months past the deadline, House Budget Committee Chair Diane Black (R-TN) introduced the FY 2018 budget resolution, a framework for spending and tax legislation for FY 2018 and a broader blueprint for the next 10 years. The proposed budget resolution includes $5.7 trillion in spending cuts over 10 years.
The savings resulting from these spending cuts would be used to pay for tax cuts. The House GOP budget includes fast-track instructions that pave the way for tax cuts. Assuming that the tax cuts would track proposals by House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and President Trump, they would primarily benefit the wealthy and large profitable corporations and cost trillions.
The budget plan was approved by the House Budget Committee along party lines, but it is unclear whether there are enough votes for it to pass the House. The Senate will likely not take up a budget resolution until the House passes their version.
The $5.7 trillion in spending cuts over 10 years includes cuts of $4.4 trillion to entitlement programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps (SNAP), Social Security Disability Insurance and student loans. The budget plan calls for at least $203 billion of these entitlement cuts to be made in FY 2018.
The budget plan includes cuts of $1.3 trillion over the next decade in annual, non-defense discretionary (NDD) programs such as education, job training, environmental protection, homeland security, transportation, public health, veterans’ health care and more. The amount of the cut for FY 2018 would be $5 billion. Because much of this funding goes to the states, the proposed budget creates substantial uncertainty for state and local governments which provide these public services.
While details are not provided, the budget plan would lead to cuts in the federal workforce and their compensation. President Trump’s budget called for a 6% increase in federal workers’ pension contributions as well as a cut in benefits. It is likely that the House will pursue similar changes.
Defense spending is spared by this budget plan. In fact, over 10 years, defense spending would increase by nearly $1 trillion. In FY 2018, the increase would be $72 billion.
In a statement, President Saunders noted that the House budget “has the same warped priorities as President Trump’s budget…”
House Committee Approves $5 Billion in Cuts to Key Spending Bill
On Thursday, the House Appropriations Committee approved funding for the programs operated by the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (Labor-HHS), cutting $5 billion for FY 2018. Among the harmful cuts are:
- $671 million in Title III Employment Services, eliminating these important grants;
- $85.7 million for the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act Title I grants;
- $95 million in apprenticeship grants;
- $25 million from the National Labor Relations Board;
- $21 million to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, including eliminating the Susan Harwood training grants;
- $3.3 billion from Pell Grants;
- $2.1 billion in Title II-A/Supporting Effective Instruction Grants which eliminates the program; and
- $192 million in the 21st Century Community Schools Program.
AFSCME strongly opposes the bill, which also includes poison pill policy riders that would block an Obama regulation to protect retirements savings, weaken the National Labor Relations Board, and others. While the Senate has not drafted spending bills, it appears that its Labor-HHS spending bill will not cut as deeply. AFSCME has urged Congress to oppose deep cuts to public services and work toward a funding agreement that does not cut non-defense spending in order to pay for defense spending increases.
House GOP Leaders Delay Vote to Privatize Air Traffic Control Operations
House GOP leaders had to postpone a planned vote on H.R. 2997, which includes a measure to privatize air traffic control operations, including jobs at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) held by AFSCME members. While the White House has thrown its support to the legislation, a small cohort of Republican members, led by Rep. Steve Russell (R-OK), are organizing opposition to the bill. Russell gave a passionate floor speech against the proposal last week.
With a September 30 deadline for renewing FAA programs, a short-term extension of current law is becoming more likely. House leaders could also decide to take up the Senate bill, which does not include the privatization plan.
House Committee Votes to Repeal Obama’s Protections for Retirement Savings
The House Committee on Education and the Workforce voted to approve the so-called Affordable Retirement Advice for Savers Act, (H.R. 2823), which would repeal the Obama administration’s consumer protection rule requiring that retirement investment advisors act as a fiduciary and provide advice in their clients’ best interest. All 23 Republicans voted to repeal these protections on retirement investors and all 17 Democrats voted to retain them. These protections are important to Americans saving for retirement because some investment advisors have given advice aimed at boosting their own profits rather than their clients’ earnings.
Just as doctors are required to provide medical advice in their patients’ best interest and lawyers are required to advocate zealously for their clients’ best interests, retirement investment advisors are now required to provide advice in their clients’ best interest. This protection helps AFSCME members and others saving for retirement by reducing excessive fees, extra risks, and investments in assets with expected low performance. The Obama administration’s Council of Economic Advisors reported that conflicted investment advice costs retirement savers $17 billion in annual losses. Over a 35-year period, this could result in an individual saver losing almost 25% of their assets.
AFSCME has a long, strong history advocating for investor protections and is opposed to this bill.
President Trump Nominees to the NLRB Approved by Committee
This week, the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) voted 12 to 11 to move Trump’s nominees one step closer to being confirmed to fill vacancies on the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Marvin Kaplan and William Emanuel, two conservatives with anti-union credentials, are expected to receive a final vote before the full Senate prior to the August recess. If confirmed, it is expected that the new Republican majority on the NLRB will work to undo a host of Obama-era labor regulations such as the Joint Employer Standard, which holds a company responsible for the labor violations of contractors or franchise operators.
Marvin Kaplan previously served as a Republican policy counsel for the House Education and the Workforce Committee. In this position, he drafted anti-labor legislation, including the so-called Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act. Emanuel is a management-side lawyer at a firm in Los Angeles, CA. He has previously challenged state laws allowing unions to enter employers’ private property, and has extensive experience representing businesses on federal labor law issues and before the NLRB.
Democrats on the HELP Committee expressed concern that neither nominee has experience in promoting workers’ rights as described in the NLRB’s mission. While the board currently holds a 2-1 majority in favor of workers, those two slots are set to expire in 2018 and 2019, respectively. These are all five-year appointments.
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