Issues / Legislation » Legislative Weekly Reports

Week Ending July 24, 2015

Congress Punts Funding Decisions Until Fall

Congress is scheduled to adjourn for the summer next Friday, yet it has not passed any of the 12 annual funding bills for the fiscal year (FY) that begins October 1. When Congress returns from summer recess in September, only 10 legislative days will remain to finalize spending bills. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) admitted this week that a stopgap funding bill known as a continuing resolution (CR) would be needed to avoid a government shutdown. Reps. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Nita Lowey (D-NY) and Barbara Lee (D-CA), Democratic leaders on the House Budget and Appropriations Committees, urged the GOP earlier in the week to work with Democrats to resolve the standoff.  They stressed the fundamental problem of the looming $37 billion in across-the-board “sequester” cuts for non-defense programs that would slash important public services including education, health care, transportation, public safety and more.

It is unlikely that final FY 2016 budget decisions will be made until later in the fall, possibly in November when the federal government is projected to hit the debt ceiling, which will need to be increased to avoid defaulting on our nation’s debts. GOP leaders have noted that they will wait until the debt ceiling is closer to crisis to demand deeper spending cuts.  

House Passes Bill Scapegoating Immigrants and Threatening Funding for Local Law Enforcement

On Thursday, the House passed the Enforce the Law for Sanctuary Cities Act (H.R. 3009), sponsored by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), with a largely partisan vote of 241 to 179.  All Democrats opposed the legislation except Reps. Ami Bera (CA), Henry Cuellar (TX), Jim Cooper (TN), William Keating (MA), Collin Peterson (MN) and Kyrsten Sinema (AZ).  All Republicans supported the bill except Reps. Carlos Curbelo (FL), Robert Dold (IL), Dan Donovan (NY) and Dave Reichert (WA).

Rep. Hunter introduced this bill just one week after the tragic July 1 shooting death of a woman in San Francisco allegedly perpetrated by an undocumented immigrant, scapegoating all immigrants based on the acts of one person.  H.R. 3009 would withhold federal funds for law enforcement from states and cities that do not cooperate with federal immigration requests (so-called “sanctuary” cities).  The bill would penalize the exercise of any local police discretion to limit inquiries into immigration status in any manner, and would strip federal funding from localities that undertake the balancing of public safety considerations. The federal funding sources at risk include the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP), Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), and Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grants (Byrne JAG).

Hundreds of jurisdictions across the country have adopted local policies that are motivated by the understanding that fostering trust between local law enforcement and immigrant communities is central to law enforcement’s core mission of protecting public safety.  All residents, regardless of immigration status, must feel safe and comfortable contacting the police, reporting crimes, serving as witnesses, and cooperating with criminal investigations and prosecutions.  These local policies have also made it harder for abusive employers to use the threat of deportation as a weapon to silence workers.           

AFSCME strongly opposed H.R. 3009, as it continues a long line of enforcement-only GOP bills that fail to fix our broken immigration system by providing comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship.  GOP Sens. Charles Grassley (IA), Rand Paul (KY), David Vitter (LA) and Ted Cruz (TX) are all actively pursuing a similar Senate bill.  Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein (CA) is also working on a bill that would limit local authority.  President Obama has made it clear that he would veto H.R. 3009 if it reaches his desk. 

Senate Advances Highway Bill but Path Forward Still Murky

On Wednesday, the Senate voted 62 to 36 to begin debate on a six-year reauthorization of surface transportation programs after a similar vote earlier in the week failed to reach the 60 vote threshold necessary for proceeding.  Both Democrats and Republicans had blocked the measure from advancing because Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) released text of the legislation only an hour before voting began. 

AFSCME joined the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) and the Transport Workers Union (TWU) in opposing moving forward on the bill. The legislation includes a pilot program that would open the door to privatization of transportation programs and favor public-private partnerships. The original legislation also included a raid on certain Social Security benefits to finance the Highway Trust Fund which AFSCME strongly opposed. While the Social Security provision was removed, the bill also includes another offset, which would require the federal government to use private debt collection agencies to help facilitate the collection of federal taxes. AFSCME opposes privatizing inherently governmental functions, including tax collections.  AFSCME will continue to work to improve the bill before a final vote is taken. 

The highway bill's path forward remains uncertain due to questions over the amendment procedures. For example, some senators looking to bolster their presidential campaigns want to attach amendments unrelated to the highway bill, such as language defunding Planned Parenthood. There is also disagreement over attaching renewal of the Export-Import Bank to the bill.  House leaders which passed a short-term stopgap funding bill for highway programs through December, remain skeptical about the Senate's package. Congress must take action by the end of July to prevent a shutdown of transportation projects nationwide. 

Senate Finance Committee Approves Package of Tax Extenders That Overwhelmingly Benefit Business

On July 21, the Senate Finance Committee voted 23 to 3 on a bipartisan basis to approve extending for two years a package of more than 50 expired tax provisions (so-called “tax extenders”) at a total cost of $95.2 billion to the federal budget. The package includes eight tax provisions for individuals costing about $17 billion, 31 tax provisions for businesses costing about $64 billion, and 13 extenders for energy costing about $16 billion.  Unfortunately, about 82% of the costs fund tax breaks to businesses and 18% incentivize businesses to send jobs and profits overseas.  The tax provisions all expired on December 31, 2014, but this package extends them throughout 2015 and 2016.  AFSCME opposes the business tax loopholes because they are bad tax policy and should expire. For example, AFSCME strongly opposes both the Active Financing Exception ($13.5 billion) and the Controlled Foreign Corporations Look Through Rule ($2.7 billion), because they encourage firms to ship profits and jobs overseas and are relatively large tax breaks.  At a minimum, the total cost of all these business tax breaks should be offset by closing other business tax loopholes.

AFSCME supports some of the tax extenders that benefit individuals, including the federal tax deduction for state and local government sales tax ($6.7 billion) and increasing the dollar cap for employer-sponsored mass transit commuters from $130 to $250 per month ($188 million). While Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) wants the full Senate to approve the bill before its August recess, its prospects are uncertain at this time.  While the House has already approved some of these individual extenders on a permanent basis, it has not voted on the broader package of tax extenders.  

Senator Casey Introduces Bill to Improve Child Care Nutrition

Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) introduced The Access to Nutritious Meals for Young Children Act (S. 1833).  The bill would enable child care providers participating in the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) to serve a third meal or additional snack, increase meal reimbursements by 10 cents, expand area eligibility for higher reimbursements from a threshold of at least a 50% poverty level to 40%, provide resources to implement the forthcoming new meal pattern, increase funds for sponsors and continue efforts to reduce paperwork.  AFSCME worked closely with Sen. Casey to draft the bill and we are advocating to have its provisions included in Child Nutrition Reauthorization; which is needed by September 30, or the current Child Nutrition Provision will expire. 

CACFP provides healthy, nutritious meals to more than 3.3 million children each day who are in Head Start, Early Head Start and child care programs in both centers and family child care homes.  The program plays a critical role in educating children, families and child care providers about healthy nutrition and providing resources for at-risk children to eat healthy meals.  To urge your Senator to sponsor S. 1833, go to:   http://www.afscme.org/action/feed-our-kids

2015 Medicare and Social Security Trust Funds’ Solvency

The Medicare and Social Security trustees’ report projects that Medicare’s hospital insurance coverage funds will remain solvent until 2030 and that the Social Security trust fund can continue to pay 100% of benefits through 2034.  The trustees confirm that on the eve of Medicare’s 50th anniversary and Social Security’s 80th, these programs are not in crisis. Medicare’s financial condition continues to be strengthened by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) reforms which have helped to curb health care costs. Although the Medicare Part B premium (for doctor visits) for 2015 will not be determined until later this year, it is expected that approximately 70% of Medicare beneficiaries will see no Part B premium increase in 2016, for the third year in a row.

The Social Security trust fund had a $25 billion surplus last year and is on track to run another surplus this year, increasing its total reserves to $2.81 trillion. The trust fund’s assets are projected to decline in about a decade due to substantially more individuals becoming eligible for the benefits and projected economic factors.  Social Security is funded through payroll tax contributions, which are impacted by wage stagnation and downturns in the economy.

While Social Security’s Old Age Survivor Insurance (OASI) and Disability Insurance (DI) trust funds together have sufficient reserves to pay full benefits to beneficiaries until 2034, the DI trust fund will need additional funding by the end of 2016, which is consistent with last year’s report and projections as far back as 1995.  The simple step of reallocating payroll tax income across the two Social Security trust funds has addressed this issue in the past and can again. AFSCME urges Congress to take this step and rejects calls to undermine the sole source of income protection for disabled individuals, which is working well for America’s working families.  

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