Week Ending July 26, 2013
GOP Senators Try to Block Federal Aid to Detroit
During the Senate Appropriations Committee’s consideration of the Fiscal Year 2014 Financial Services and General Government bill, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) offered an amendment that would have prevented federal funds from being used to aid any city or municipality to avoid bankruptcy. Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), a co-sponsor of the amendment, said: "There's no good reason why Detroit or any other American city ought to receive a taxpayer-funded bailout from Washington." The amendment was narrowly rejected on a party line vote of 16 to 14, with all Democrats voting against and all Republicans voting in favor. The amendment would apply to all federal spending bills, not just financial services appropriations. It would not apply to non-municipal corporations. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) called it "partisan politics at its worst," potentially denying transportation, public safety and economic development monies to local governments facing financial hardship. A similar amendment has already been filed in the Senate on another spending bill and may be voted on by the full Senate next week. AFSCME is strongly opposed to the partisan tactics and will continue to vigorously oppose these amendments.
President Frames Economic Debate as Struggle to Preserve the Middle Class
In a speech at Knox College in Illinois, President Obama shifted his focus to the budget battles looming later this year, framing the debate as a struggle with congressional GOP leaders over the future of middle-class Americans. “Our focus,” he said, “has to be on the basic economic issues that matter most to you, the people we represent... Even as the economy continues to expand and add jobs four years into the nation’s recovery from its worst recession since the Great Depression, Americans at the middle of economic ladder haven’t regained lost prosperity.” He noted growing income inequality between the wealthiest Americans and everyone else, and blamed congressional gridlock on GOP leaders who have blocked legislation that would create good jobs and support job training, invest in infrastructure and education, strengthen retirement security, and make a college education, health care, and home ownership more affordable.
Senate Passes Student Loan Reform
The Senate voted 81 to 18 on a bipartisan package (S. 1334) to amend the House’s earlier student loan bill. It will retroactively bring the 6.8% subsidized Stafford student loan rate down to less than 4% this year. Overall, the compromise sets a single rate for subsidized and unsubsidized student loans and higher rates for graduate loans and PLUS loans taken out by parents, with caps for each. Overall, the plan ties all loan rates to the 10-year Treasury note plus an additional percentage increase with undergraduate loans capped at 8.25%, graduate rates at 9.5%, and PLUS loans at 10.5%. The plan is expected to generate $715 million over the next ten years, all of which is set aside for deficit reduction.
Seventeen Democrats opposed the plan due to concerns, which are shared by AFSCME that the caps are too high and the government should not be profiting on the backs of students. Efforts to cap the rates at 6.8% or shift the cost savings to the Pell grant shortfall were defeated. The House is expected to pass the Senate’s bill next week.
House Leadership Continues Piecemeal Approach to Immigration Reform; AFSCME Law Enforcement Leader Meets with Vice President Biden
In keeping with the House GOP leadership’s piecemeal approach to reforming our broken immigration system, the House Judiciary Immigration Subcommittee held a hearing this week on a bill that could grant legal status to some of the DREAMERs – undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) and Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) are working on the “KIDS Act,” which is said to be modeled on the DREAM Act. The last time the DREAM Act was on the House floor, only eight Republicans voted for it. Immigration advocates – including United We Dream – have denounced this divide and conquer approach to comprehensive immigration reform. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), a member of the bipartisan “gang of seven” drafting a comprehensive bill, said: “Let me be absolutely crystal clear and unequivocal: Legalizing only the DREAMers is not enough.” Another member of the gang, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), also rejected this approach, saying: “When you’re pitting sons and daughters against moms and dads, you’re creating a system that’s not healthy.”
This hearing may have been the last House action on immigration reform before the August recess, which begins August 2. The bipartisan gang of House members will continue to meet in August, with the goal of having a bill ready for introduction when Congress returns in September. AFSCME and our labor and community allies will be engaged in intensive grassroots activities in targeted congressional districts throughout August to demand a vote on comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S.
The Obama Administration continues to play a strong role in achieving comprehensive immigration reform. Last week, Vice President Biden convened a small group of law enforcement officers to hear their views on immigration enforcement policies. Robert Coppola, Council 15 Vice President in Connecticut and a detective with the Trumbull Police Department, represented AFSCME at this meeting. He delivered a strong message about the role AFSCME is playing in moving comprehensive immigration reform forward and conveyed his members’ opposition to requiring state and local law enforcement to be involved in enforcing immigration laws because it unfairly opens them up to liability for following laws and procedures over which they have no control and it breaches the trust between immigrant communities and law enforcement.
House Democrats Launch an Economic Agenda for Women and Families
In celebration of the 165 years of progress following the first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, N.Y., House Democrats introduced an agenda, “When Women Succeed, America Succeeds,” focused on achieving additional progress with particular focus on women’s economic security. Noting that women continue to be paid less than men for equal work and face challenges in the workplace, the proposed solutions which include, the Paycheck Fairness Act, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, paid sick leave, paid family and medical leave, an increase in the minimum wage, investments in job training and education, universal preschool for three and four-year olds, and affordable and high quality child care for infants and toddlers. Details of the plan are at http://www.democraticleader.gov/womensucceed.
House Panel Raises Concerns over Prescription Drug Prices and Trade Policy
During a House trade subcommittee hearing on the U.S.-E.U. Free Trade Agreement, Reps. Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) pointed out how trade proposals under discussion could undermine efforts to reduce pharmaceutical prices for U.S. consumers. AFSCME opposes trade agreements which would threaten the ability of states, through Medicaid, and the federal government, through Medicare and other public health programs, to continue or adopt new reimbursement policies and other price moderating mechanisms to secure lower cost medications for beneficiaries.
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