Issues / Legislation » Legislative Weekly Reports

Week Ending July 8, 2016

Labor, Health, Human Services and Education Funding Bill Approved by House Subcommittee

A House Appropriations subcommittee approved on a party-line vote of 8 to 4 the fiscal year (FY) 2017 Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (LHHS) funding bill, which will move next to the Appropriations Committee.  A number of amendments were offered by Democratic members to strip objectionable policy language from the bill and to increase programmatic funding, but all were voted down along party lines. The legislation includes funding for programs within the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and other related agencies. In total, the bill includes $161.6 billion in annually-approved funding, which is $569 million below the current FY 2016 level and $2.8 billion below the President’s budget request.

In addition, the legislation contains several harmful policy “riders” intended to block Obama administration regulations and other actions. The policy riders would reverse worker and consumer protections such as the rule expanding overtime pay, new National Labor Relations Board rules, and a new investment standard for financial advisors.  There are a wide range of additional riders affecting health, safety, consumers and more, including education-related policy riders on the “gainful employment” rule aimed at for-profit colleges, and forthcoming teacher preparation rules.

The Senate Appropriations Committee earlier approved its bill by a bipartisan vote of 29 to 1, without harmful policy riders and with slightly more funding. Senate Democratic leaders object to the House bill because it violates the two-year budget agreement on spending levels and parity between defense and non-defense funding and indicated they might block further work on FY 2017 spending bills. They also expressed opposition to the many policy riders that were added to the House bill.  This spells trouble for any hope of passing all the 12 regular funding bills before the October 1 start of the new fiscal year. It means a stop gap funding extension, called a continuing resolution (CR), likely will be needed to avoid any government shutdown. Meanwhile, a group of conservatives in the House are pushing for a vote as early as next week on a CR that would last until next March, which would effectively put an end to further action on the appropriations process this year.  

Among the harmful budget cuts in the House bill is a $16 million cut to federal funding for Employment Service state grants, and zeroing out funding for apprenticeship grants which the Senate Appropriations Committee funded at $100 million. The bill also cuts $18.4 million from OSHA, a 3.3% decrease from FY 2016 and $595 million below President Obama’s request, and cuts funding for enforcement of wage and hour laws by 5.3%.  The legislation also defunds ObamaCare programs and redirects money away from the $7.8 billion Pell Grant surplus to other spending areas unrelated to student aid.  The House bill does fund the State Health Insurance Assistance Programs, which provide accurate information to seniors about Medicare, at the current level of $52.1 million in contrast to the Senate bill that eliminated the program. The bill also provides $7.8 billion for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about $605 million over current levels. This includes $390 million to fight Zika and $300 million to create a new Infectious Diseases Rapid Response Reserve Fund that could be used for emergencies such as Ebola or Zika.

DOL Overtime Rule Embattled Again

Updating overtime rules is an important step in giving hard working Americans the raises they deserve. Despite the clear benefits to working families across the country, this week the House GOP continued their efforts to block the Department of Labor’s new overtime rule by inserting a provision in the Labor-HHS-Education spending bill that would prevent the rule from taking effect. These GOP lawmakers allege that paying overtime to hardworking Americans is too costly. But it is not.  Many workers’ lives will improve significantly when they receive a fair day’s pay for a hard day’s work.  In fact, 12.5 million workers would see their pay increased when this rule goes into effect on December 1.

AFSCME and our allies continue to oppose all efforts to weaken or overturn this step toward fair compensation.

Federal Worker Protections Undermined in House Bill

The House voted 241 to 181 along party lines to approve the Federal Information Systems Safeguards Act (H.R. 4361), which would weaken federal employees’ workplace protections, require detailed reports on federal workers’ use of official time, and prohibit the Obama administration from proposing or finalizing nearly any major rule after November 8. 

The bill would significantly lengthen federal employees’ initial probationary period to at least two years for competitive service positions, and provides a shortened review and appeals process for fired senior executive service employees.  The bill could also reduce effective union efforts to strengthen labor-management relations by requiring the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to expand annual reporting on federal employees’ use of official time.  Separately, the bill also would weaken the Obama administration’s capacity to advance executive branch rules by prohibiting it from proposing or finalizing nearly any major rule after November 8, which is a full 10 weeks before the end of the President’s term.  The President’s senior advisors recommend he veto this bill. AFSCME strongly opposes H.R. 4361 and our opposition letter is HERE.

Agreement on FAA Reauthorization Reached; AFSCME Helps Blocks Attempt to Privatize

After more than a year of hearings, studies, and political maneuvering, House and Senate leaders finally reached an agreement to reauthorize Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) programs through September 2017.  House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) had joined with business interests including Aviation for America (A4A) in an attempt to privatize Air Traffic Control (ATC) responsibilities as a giveaway to corporations and to further advance the GOP’s agenda of government deterioration. AFSCME joined with other unions including the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) and the Professional Aviation Safety Specialists (PASS) to fight these efforts. The National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) supported Shuster’s proposal.  The agreement comes just nine days before the agency’s current authorization expires July 15.  House leaders hope to pass the bill as soon as possible and follow with a Senate vote before Congress’ extended summer recess, according to Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Chairman John Thune (R-SD).  Otherwise, Congress might need to pass a stopgap measure and finish the bill in September.

The bill would extend the annual $3.35 billion authorized to be spent from the Airport and Airway Trust Fund. The funding through September 2017 would avoid disruptions to grant payouts in the federal Airport Improvement Program that funds capital projects at airports and provide time for the next Congress and administration to consider further policy provisions. 

AFSCME will continue to closely monitor and oppose ongoing efforts to privatize by Chairman Shuster.

Senate Rejects Anti-Immigrant Bills

Sen. Patrick Toomey’s (R-PA) Stop Dangerous Sanctuary Cities Act (S. 3100) and Sen. Ted Cruz’ Kate’s Law (S. 2193) both failed to garner the 60 votes needed to proceed to final votes on the bills.  S. 3100 would have required State and local law enforcement officials to act essentially as federal immigration agents, penalizing local communities that refused by withholding federal funds aimed at rebuilding and revitalizing communities.  Important infrastructure projects, economic development, low-income community development, meals for children and the elderly and housing initiatives would have suffered.  Sen. Ron Kirk (IL) was the only Republican to vote against this bill while Democratic Sens. Joe Donnelly (IN) and Joe Manchin (WV) voted with the 53-vote majority in favor of the bill.

S. 2193 would have criminalized immigrants by creating mandatory minimum sentences for undocumented immigrants charged with unlawful reentry.  No GOP members voted against the bill, and Democratic Sens. Donnelly (IN), Heidi Heitkamp (ND), and Manchin (WV) voted with the 55-vote majority.

AFSCME strongly opposes piecemeal immigration legislation that hurts communities and state and local funding when comprehensive reform is needed.  Until Congress garners the political will to pass comprehensive immigration reform, we will continue to urge the Senate and House to do no harm and continue to reject such deeply-flawed proposals.

House Passes Mental Health Bill With Electronic Verification for Home Care Workers

By an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 422 to 2, the House passed the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act (H.R. 2646).  The bill allows federal Medicaid payments for adults receiving treatment in institutions for mental diseases (IMD) for no more than 15 days under certain limited circumstances.  The bill also directs the federal agency for Medicaid to issue guidance on opportunities for demonstration projects to improve care for individuals with serious mental illness or serious emotional disturbance. The bill also provides an increased federal Medicaid match for states to design and adopt an electronic system for personal care attendants and home health workers to verify their visits to Medicaid beneficiaries.

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