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Week Ending July 28, 2017

Health Care Bill Defeated in the Senate; Great Victory for Grassroots Action

In the wee hours of Friday morning, and after a week-long debate on the floor, the Senate voted 51 to 49 to defeat legislation aimed at repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and cutting Medicaid.  Three Republicans, Sens. Susan Collins (ME), Lisa Murkowski (AK) and John McCain (AZ), joined all of the Democrats to defeat the bill.  See AFSCME President Lee Saunders’ statement here.

After votes rejecting two versions of more comprehensive legislation were defeated during the week, Senate Republican leaders worked on an alternative that would have caused millions to lose their coverage and caused premiums for millions of others to rise by 20% next year.  The bill was released at about 10 pm and only a few hours before the vote, denying the public a chance to know what was in the new bill before the vote took place.

Approval of the bill could have resulted in a round of negotiations between Senate and House Republicans over a final bill that would have included deep cuts to Medicaid, elimination of protections for those with pre-existing conditions and large tax cuts for the wealthy, insurance companies, pharmaceutical makers and medical device manufacturers.  But, just as worrisome, was the possibility that the Senate bill would have been approved by the House immediately and sent to the President for his signature.  This would have caused an almost immediate collapse in the insurance market for individuals who do not get coverage from their employers.  The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that 15 million would lose their coverage next year alone.

The defeat of the bill was a consequence of grassroots action.  Over the last seven months, AFSCME members and other activists around the country made phone calls, attended town hall meetings and protested against plans to upend our health care system.  The Senate defeat is a great victory for grassroots action.  But we must be prepared to act again.  Congressional Republican leaders are seeking other opportunities to dismantle the ACA, Medicaid and even Medicare.  But now we know that they can be stopped because AFSCME Never Quits.

Time is Short for Action on Spending Bills for Fiscal Year 2018

With only 17 legislative days left until the end of the federal fiscal year (FY) on September 30, none of the 12 spending bills, required to prevent a government shutdown and keep public services running seamlessly, have been finalized. The gap of tens of billions of dollars between House and Senate spending levels for FY 2018 sets up an unclear path to the finish line. The House proposes to cut domestic spending by $8 billion and increase defense spending by $54 billion, while the Senate proposes to maintain FY 2017 spending levels and calls for additional increases through a bipartisan budget agreement.  No bills have been debated by the full Senate and are unlikely to be considered without a budget deal because of opposition by Senate Democratic leaders.  Democratic leaders have stated that they will not support funding bills without relief from previous spending cuts, that include funding for a wall on the border with Mexico, or that include harmful policies unrelated to the budget.

House Republican leaders combined bills that would fund Defense, Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, Energy and Water and Legislative Branch operations (H.R. 3219).  They stripped a bipartisan amendment requiring congressional authorization for the use of military force abroad and added $1.6 billion in funds for a border wall.  The bill passed 253 to 192, largely along party lines.  AFSCME strongly opposed the bill. AFSCME is urging Congress to reach a bipartisan deal that would increase spending on public services and prevent a government shutdown.

House Convenes Hearing on Legislation to Preempt State and Local Taxing Authority

A House Judiciary Subcommittee held a hearing highlighting the harmful No Regulation Without Representation Act of 2017 (H.R. 2887), which would preempt state and local government taxing authority.  This bill would significantly reduce state and local government tax revenues, which are needed to invest in education, health care, infrastructure, and other vital public services.  Specifically, H.R. 2887 would hinder state and local governments from collecting sales tax on remote sales, such as purchases through catalogues and the internet.  The CBO estimated that a similar bill would reduce annual state and local government tax revenues by more than $2 billion. 

H.R. 2887 could also eliminate state consumer, health, and safety protections and a state’s authority over some out-of-state businesses and their production, manufacture, or post-sale disposal of their products.  AFSCME strongly opposes H.R. 2887.

House Approves Anti-Consumer Resolution

The U.S. House voted 231 to 190 along party lines to pass a resolution (H.J. Res 111) disapproving the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) recently issued final rule governing consumer financial contracts.  The rule bans businesses from imposing arbitration provisions and from preventing consumers from joining together in class action lawsuits to seek judicial redress for deceptive, predatory, or harmful business practices.  All but one Republican voted to overturn this rule. In contrast, all Democrats voted to retain the consumer protections.

For many years, credit card companies, banks, and other financial businesses have required consumers – as a condition of doing business – to accept mandatory (i.e., forced) arbitration as a means to adjudicate disputes between businesses and consumers.  These businesses have also prevented consumers from combining together in  class action suits. CFBP’s new pro-consumer rule changes this and as a result, aggrieved consumers are now able to get their day in court.  AFSCME supports CFPB’s rule and opposes this resolution.

Medicare and Medicaid Signed Into Law 52 Years Ago

Fifty-two years ago this week, President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed a bill to create Medicare and Medicaid.  The bill was approved with strong bipartisan support by a vote of 70 to 24 in the Senate and 307 to 116 in the House.  These health care programs provide health and financial security for millions of Americans.  As we celebrate this anniversary, we are reminded that some in Congress would turn back the clock and unravel these programs and that we must not allow that to happen.

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