Issues / Legislation » Legislative Weekly Reports

Week Ending June 13, 2014

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor Loses Primary in Historic Upset

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) lost his primary election Tuesday night to David Brat, an economics professor at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Virginia. This is the first time a sitting House Majority Leader has lost a primary since the position was established in 1899. While Rep. Cantor will finish out the remainder of his congressional term, he is resigning as House Majority Leader, the second highest leadership position, effective July 31. House GOP leadership announced the Republican caucus will hold a secret ballot election for the next Majority Leader on June 19. As of this writing, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), the current House Majority Whip (the third highest leadership position), has no declared opposition after Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), a leader of the tea party wing, and Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), the current House Rules Committee Chairman and former chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, announced they were dropping their bids for the position.

Political pundits of all stripes have put out instant analyses of how and why Cantor suffered such a cataclysmic loss.  What is clear is he is out of touch both with the voters in his district and with the needs and desires of working families across the country.  His legislative legacy is one of obstructionism on issues important to regular people. 

There is also much speculation about what Cantor’s loss means for the House’s legislative agenda for the remainder of 2014, with relatively few legislative days remaining before Congress leaves to campaign for the midterm elections. In the short term, the leadership election itself pushes the calendar back and leaves just one week remaining before the House leaves for its July 4 recess.  In particular, the clock is ticking on the House taking up immigration reform by early July, which is considered to be the last window of opportunity for action on this critically important issue this year.  

House Approves Transportation and Housing Funding

The GOP-controlled House voted 229 to 192, largely along party lines, to narrowly pass the annual spending bill providing federal funds for transportation and housing programs despite protests from Democrats that the measure shortchanges transit projects, Amtrak and housing assistance.  The $52 billion legislative package is about $1.2 billion more than fiscal year (FY) 2014 funding and about $8 billion less than the Obama Administration’s budget request.  President Obama strongly opposes the bill because it underfunds many important priorities.

Compared to current funding, the bill flat funds the Public Housing Operating Fund and cuts $100 million from the Public Housing Capital Fund.   Both of these funding levels are significantly below President Obama’s budget request and the dollars Public Housing Authorities (PHAs) need to fully operate, develop, and rehabilitate public housing.  AFSCME supports increasing the Operating Fund to ensure PHAs receive 100% of their expected operating costs and significantly boosting the Capital Fund to reduce the enormous backlog of needed low-income housing and to modernize public housing units.

This spending bill would also roll back the Administration’s efforts to help state and local governments finance road construction projects through a popular grant program.  The legislation also does not propose a funding system to shore up the depleted Highway Trust Fund to help states finance infrastructure projects. It is projected  to run out of funds as early as late July.

During the floor debate, the House voted 167 to 254 to reject an anti-union amendment by Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA) that would have prohibited federal funding of official time for union members’ work.  Sixty Republicans joined every Democrat in opposing the amendment.

The Senate is considering scheduling its T-HUD spending bill for a floor vote later this month, perhaps as soon as next week.  For many key programs, the Senate’s bill funds AFSCME’s priorities at higher levels than the House-passed bill. 

Other Budget Bills Move Slowly in House and Senate; Senate Prepares for “Minibus”

Funding bills have been slowly moving through House and Senate committees and on the House floor, but this week two bills hit a few snags.  The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee that funds labor, health, human services, and education (LHHS) programs agreed by a voice vote to increase spending for many important programs even though the subcommittee received no overall funding increase as compared to the current funding level.  However, partisan “gotcha” amendments designed to force politically vulnerable Democrats to take controversial votes before the midterm elections have indefinitely stalled the bill from moving to a vote in the full committee.  The House has not shared its timeline for taking up its LHHS funding bill.

The increases in the Senate LHHS bill fund important public services, including:

  • Reemployment and Eligibility Assessments and Reemployment Services (REA/RES) received an increase of $78 million to support reemployment services for Unemployment Insurance (UI) claimants. 
  • Workforce Investment Act Grants to States (WIA) that provide job training skills and assistance, were increased by $36 million.
  • An increase of $11 million was provided to address the misclassification of workers as independent contractors.
  • The maximum Pell grant award is supported by increasing the LHHS’s portion to $4,860.  Combined with approved automatic spending, the maximum Pell award would increase to $5,830.
  • Title I funding for K-12 education was increased $50 million.
  • The Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) received an increase of $100 million.
  • Head Start received an increase of $145 million of which $65 million is specifically designated for Early Head Start.
  • An increase of $100,0000 for Preschool Development Grants. 
  • A new State Paid Leave Fund to establish paid leave programs and benefits for workers who need to take time off for reasons covered under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was funded at $5 million.
  • The Social Security Administration (SSA) received an increase of $224 million, which is a good step towards addressing the decline in services due to understaffing.  Call center wait times have increased substantially in the last year, and by the end of this year 70 offices will have been closed.

The Agriculture spending bill also hit a road block on the House floor after prolonged debate concerning a controversial provision that would allow any school district which operates its meal program at a financial loss for at least six months to seek a one-year waiver from complying with new, healthier school food standards.  Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA) offered an amendment to strip out this provision, but the vote has not yet been held. AFSCME urged the House to support the new standards and reject the waiver both to improve children’s health and to safeguard the investment of taxpayer dollars that are helping schools meet the new requirements.  It is unclear when the House will finish its work on its Agriculture bill.

Join us in fighting to maintain these vital nutrition standards for our children! Don’t let Congress vote to super-size our kids! Call toll-free 1-855-712-8590 now to be connected to your representative. When you're connected, urge him or her not to weaken nutrition standards for school meals!

You can also email your Representatives by going to:  www.afscme.org/supersize

Senate leaders are preparing to package three bills together into a “minibus” next week, including Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS), Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (T-HUD), and Agriculture.  It is unclear if the Agriculture bill will still be included since the Senate had originally planned to wait for the House to finish its work on that bill.   

Senate Minority Blocks Vote to Allow Refinancing of Student Loans

The Senate rejected an effort to end debate on a bill (S. 2432) that would allow many student loan borrowers to reduce the interest rates they pay.  The vote was 56 to 36, short of the 60 votes needed to move forward.  All Senate Democrats voted for the bill as well as GOP Senators Susan Collins (R-ME), Bob Corker (R-TN) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK).  The bill would have allowed eligible borrowers who took out both federal direct and private student loans prior to July 1, 2013 to refinance those loans with the lower interest rates the government now offers to new borrowers. The new rates would be 3.8% for undergraduate loans, 5.41% for graduate loans and 6.41% for “PLUS” loans for parents who are financing their children’s education. The bill would be funded by the “Buffet Rule” which requires millionaires and billionaires to pay their fair share of taxes.

In addition, President Obama released an executive order allowing borrowers holding Federal Direct Loans to cap their federal student loan payments at 10 percent of their income. The executive order also tasks the government with improving the financial literacy of students and parents so that they have the information they need to make informed borrowing and repayment decisions. 

AFSCME Joins Members of Congress and Advocacy Partners to Continue Fight for Extended Unemployment Benefits

On Wednesday, AFSCME joined members of Congress and coalition partners fighting to renew federal emergency unemployment benefits by participating in “Witness Wednesday” on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol.  All the speakers shared stories from some of the three million long-term unemployed.  AFSCME shared the plight of an AFSCME member who was laid off from her job with a Head Start program in Pennsylvania and is struggling to survive after her unemployment benefits ran out. Recurring each Wednesday until July 30, Witness Wednesdays represent a national effort to push for renewal of unemployment benefits which expired in December 2013.  As Congress continues to delay action on unemployment insurance, AFSCME, along with our progressive allies, will continue to highlight the pain and economic uncertainty felt by more than three million unemployed Americans and their families.   

Join us in urging Congress to renew critical unemployment insurance for 3 million out of work Americans and their families.

Call toll-free 1-877-363-6141 now to be connected to your Representative. When you’re connected, urge him or her to take action immediately to extend federal emergency unemployment benefits.

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House Majority Leader Eric Cantor Loses Primary in Historic Upset

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) lost his primary election Tuesday night to David Brat, an economics professor at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Virginia. This is the first time a sitting House Majority Leader has lost a primary since the position was established in 1899. While Rep. Cantor will finish out the remainder of his congressional term, he is resigning as House Majority Leader, the second highest leadership position, effective July 31. House GOP leadership announced the Republican caucus will hold a secret ballot election for the next Majority Leader on June 19. As of this writing, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), the current House Majority Whip (the third highest leadership position), has no declared opposition after Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), a leader of the tea party wing, and Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), the current House Rules Committee Chairman and former chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, announced they were dropping their bids for the position.

Political pundits of all stripes have put out instant analyses of how and why Cantor suffered such a cataclysmic loss.  What is clear is he is out of touch both with the voters in his district and with the needs and desires of working families across the country.  His legislative legacy is one of obstructionism on issues important to regular people. 

There is also much speculation about what Cantor’s loss means for the House’s legislative agenda for the remainder of 2014, with relatively few legislative days remaining before Congress leaves to campaign for the midterm elections. In the short term, the leadership election itself pushes the calendar back and leaves just one week remaining before the House leaves for its July 4 recess.  In particular, the clock is ticking on the House taking up immigration reform by early July, which is considered to be the last window of opportunity for action on this critically important issue this year.  

House Approves Transportation and Housing Funding

The GOP-controlled House voted 229 to 192, largely along party lines, to narrowly pass the annual spending bill providing federal funds for transportation and housing programs despite protests from Democrats that the measure shortchanges transit projects, Amtrak and housing assistance.  The $52 billion legislative package is about $1.2 billion more than fiscal year (FY) 2014 funding and about $8 billion less than the Obama Administration’s budget request.  President Obama strongly opposes the bill because it underfunds many important priorities.

Compared to current funding, the bill flat funds the Public Housing Operating Fund and cuts $100 million from the Public Housing Capital Fund.   Both of these funding levels are significantly below President Obama’s budget request and the dollars Public Housing Authorities (PHAs) need to fully operate, develop, and rehabilitate public housing.  AFSCME supports increasing the Operating Fund to ensure PHAs receive 100% of their expected operating costs and significantly boosting the Capital Fund to reduce the enormous backlog of needed low-income housing and to modernize public housing units.

This spending bill would also roll back the Administration’s efforts to help state and local governments finance road construction projects through a popular grant program.  The legislation also does not propose a funding system to shore up the depleted Highway Trust Fund to help states finance infrastructure projects. It is projected  to run out of funds as early as late July.

During the floor debate, the House voted 167 to 254 to reject an anti-union amendment by Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA) that would have prohibited federal funding of official time for union members’ work.  Sixty Republicans joined every Democrat in opposing the amendment.

The Senate is considering scheduling its T-HUD spending bill for a floor vote later this month, perhaps as soon as next week.  For many key programs, the Senate’s bill funds AFSCME’s priorities at higher levels than the House-passed bill. 

Other Budget Bills Move Slowly in House and Senate; Senate Prepares for “Minibus”

Funding bills have been slowly moving through House and Senate committees and on the House floor, but this week two bills hit a few snags.  The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee that funds labor, health, human services, and education (LHHS) programs agreed by a voice vote to increase spending for many important programs even though the subcommittee received no overall funding increase as compared to the current funding level.  However, partisan “gotcha” amendments designed to force politically vulnerable Democrats to take controversial votes before the midterm elections have indefinitely stalled the bill from moving to a vote in the full committee.  The House has not shared its timeline for taking up its LHHS funding bill.

The increases in the Senate LHHS bill fund important public services, including:

  • Reemployment and Eligibility Assessments and Reemployment Services (REA/RES) received an increase of $78 million to support reemployment services for Unemployment Insurance (UI) claimants. 
  • Workforce Investment Act Grants to States (WIA) that provide job training skills and assistance, were increased by $36 million.
  • An increase of $11 million was provided to address the misclassification of workers as independent contractors.
  • The maximum Pell grant award is supported by increasing the LHHS’s portion to $4,860.  Combined with approved automatic spending, the maximum Pell award would increase to $5,830.
  • Title I funding for K-12 education was increased $50 million.
  • The Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) received an increase of $100 million.
  • Head Start received an increase of $145 million of which $65 million is specifically designated for Early Head Start.
  • An increase of $100,0000 for Preschool Development Grants. 
  • A new State Paid Leave Fund to establish paid leave programs and benefits for workers who need to take time off for reasons covered under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was funded at $5 million.
  • The Social Security Administration (SSA) received an increase of $224 million, which is a good step towards addressing the decline in services due to understaffing.  Call center wait times have increased substantially in the last year, and by the end of this year 70 offices will have been closed.

The Agriculture spending bill also hit a road block on the House floor after prolonged debate concerning a controversial provision that would allow any school district which operates its meal program at a financial loss for at least six months to seek a one-year waiver from complying with new, healthier school food standards.  Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA) offered an amendment to strip out this provision, but the vote has not yet been held. AFSCME urged the House to support the new standards and reject the waiver both to improve children’s health and to safeguard the investment of taxpayer dollars that are helping schools meet the new requirements.  It is unclear when the House will finish its work on its Agriculture bill.

 

Join us in fighting to maintain these vital nutrition standards for our children! Don’t let Congress vote to super-size our kids! Call toll-free 1-855-712-8590 now to be connected to your representative. When you're connected, urge him or her not to weaken nutrition standards for school meals!

You can also email your Representatives by going to:  www.afscme.org/supersize

                                                               

Senate leaders are preparing to package three bills together into a “minibus” next week, including Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS), Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (T-HUD), and Agriculture.  It is unclear if the Agriculture bill will still be included since the Senate had originally planned to wait for the House to finish its work on that bill.   

Senate Minority Blocks Vote to Allow Refinancing of Student Loans

The Senate rejected an effort to end debate on a bill (S. 2432) that would allow many student loan borrowers to reduce the interest rates they pay.  The vote was 56 to 36, short of the 60 votes needed to move forward.  All Senate Democrats voted for the bill as well as GOP Senators Susan Collins (R-ME), Bob Corker (R-TN) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK).  The bill would have allowed eligible borrowers who took out both federal direct and private student loans prior to July 1, 2013 to refinance those loans with the lower interest rates the government now offers to new borrowers. The new rates would be 3.8% for undergraduate loans, 5.41% for graduate loans and 6.41% for “PLUS” loans for parents who are financing their children’s education. The bill would be funded by the “Buffet Rule” which requires millionaires and billionaires to pay their fair share of taxes.

In addition, President Obama released an executive order allowing borrowers holding Federal Direct Loans to cap their federal student loan payments at 10 percent of their income. The executive order also tasks the government with improving the financial literacy of students and parents so that they have the information they need to make informed borrowing and repayment decisions. 

AFSCME Joins Members of Congress and Advocacy Partners to Continue Fight for Extended Unemployment Benefits

On Wednesday, AFSCME joined members of Congress and coalition partners fighting to renew federal emergency unemployment benefits by participating in “Witness Wednesday” on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol.  All the speakers shared stories from some of the three million long-term unemployed.  AFSCME shared the plight of an AFSCME member who was laid off from her job with a Head Start program in Pennsylvania and is struggling to survive after her unemployment benefits ran out. Recurring each Wednesday until July 30, Witness Wednesdays represent a national effort to push for renewal of unemployment benefits which expired in December 2013.  As Congress continues to delay action on unemployment insurance, AFSCME, along with our progressive allies, will continue to highlight the pain and economic uncertainty felt by more than three million unemployed Americans and their families.   

Join us in urging Congress to renew critical unemployment insurance for 3 million out of work Americans and their families.

Call toll-free 1-877-363-6141 now to be connected to your Representative. When you’re connected, urge him or her to take action immediately to extend federal emergency unemployment benefits.

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