Week Ending June 17, 2016
Retirement Savers’ Best Interest Rule: President Obama Vetoes Resolution to Nullify Rule
President Obama vetoed a harmful GOP-sponsored resolution to overturn his administration’s recently issued final rule ensuring that investment advisors provide retirement savers with advice in savers’ best interests. While the House and Senate will likely attempt to override his veto, it is expected to fail.
This Department of Labor (DOL) rule protects tens of millions of retirement savers by prohibiting advisors from providing conflicted advice, and providing federal legal protections ensuring they receive “best interest” advice, which reduces excessive fees and risky investments. The White House reports that conflicted investment advice costs retiree plan participants $17 billion in annual losses, which over 35 years could cause an individual saver to lose almost 25% of their assets. AFSCME has strongly advocated for these retirement protections and is a founding member of the Save Our Retirement (SOR) coalition, which works to ensure DOL’s rule is implemented. Looking ahead, AFSCME will continue advocating to prevent Congress from blocking, delaying, defunding, or weakening these new protections.
Puerto Rico: Senate Plans Consideration PROMESA Legislation
Republican leaders said the Senate will vote on House legislation before July 1 to restructure Puerto Rico’s and its municipalities’ debt. They have not indicated yet how potential amendments will be addressed. Puerto Rico is facing a July 1 deadline when $2 billion of debt payments are due. Puerto Rico and its municipalities are expected to default.
AFSCME, AFL-CIO, SEIU, UAW, and allied unions continue to oppose the bill because it allows a subminimum wage for young workers, threatens public employees’ pensions, and limits the commonwealth’s sovereignty.
House Committee Approves Interior-Environment Spending Bill, Without Emergency Aid for Flint
Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee spent much of Wednesday attempting to add emergency relief for Flint and funding to combat Zika to the FY 2017 Interior-Environment funding bill, and striking more than 30 poison-pill policy “riders.”
The Committee voted 31 to 18 to advance the $32.1 billion bill, which cuts spending for the Interior Department, EPA and related agencies by $64 million below current levels and $1 billion less than the Obama administration's request. While the legislation does provide small increases for the State Revolving Funds for Clean Water and Drinking Water, the funding levels fall far short of what is needed to fix Flint’s water infrastructure. Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) and Betty McCollum (D-MN) proposed $385 million in emergency funding to replace, repair and upgrade Flint’s drinking water system. That amendment was rejected, 20 to 29, on a party-line vote.
Senate Democrats Filibuster Spending Bill, Forcing Votes on Gun-Related Amendments
On Wednesday, Senate Democrats led by Chris Murphy (D-CT) launched a 15-hour filibuster during discussions of the $56.3 billion FY 2017 Commerce-Justice-Science spending bill (H.R. 2578), blasting the absence of congressional action on gun control since the Sandy Hook shootings in his home state more than three years ago. Due to his efforts, the Senate will hold four votes on gun measures on June 20.
Further slowing the progress of H.R. 2578 are two troubling amendments related to the 2020 census. One, proposed by Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), prohibits the Census Bureau from calculating key poverty measures used to analyze poverty and inform policy proposals. The other, proposed by Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), adds questions on citizenship and legal status to the 2020 census in an attempt to exclude undocumented residents (and possibly all non-citizens) from state population totals that are used to determine congressional apportionment. AFSCME strongly opposes both amendments.
House Committee Passes Child Welfare Bill With Positive Funding Reforms But Significant Shortcomings
This week, the House Ways and Means Committee passed the Family First Prevention Services Act of 2016 (H.R. 5456) on a bipartisan voice vote. While the bill provides long-overdue, additional federal funding for prevention of child abuse and neglect beginning in 2020, it does so at the expense of federal adoption assistance almost immediately and federally-monitored congregate care. The bill also adds significantly to casework in a number of ways — including written prevention plans, intensive in-home parenting skill-based programs and six-month court reviews of all children in congregate care placements — without adequately addressing the pervasive reality of unmanageable caseloads and workloads.
Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), Ranking Member on the Human Resources Subcommittee, was the most outspoken about the bill’s significant shortcomings. Most fundamentally, he strongly challenged the GOP majority’s insistence that any additional federal support for a human resources program must come at the expense of another human resources program. In this case, already-enacted additional federal assistance for adoptions of two and three year olds will be delayed for over two years to help pay for preventive services. Many other Democrats on the Committee voiced similar criticisms of the bill but decided that the bill overall will have a more positive than negative impact on child welfare programs.
We expect the House to vote on and pass H.R. 5456 next week on its expedited “suspension” calendar. The Senate Finance Committee will likely take up its version of the bill in July.
House Committee Approves Bills to Weaken Affordable Care Act and Expand Tax Breaks for Wealthier Households
On Wednesday, the House Ways and Means Committee approved two bills that would undermine the employer responsibility requirements in the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The Student Worker Exemption Act (H.R. 210) would exempt educational institutions from their responsibility to offer health insurance coverage to full-time workers who are also students at the institutions where they are employed. The misnamed Tribal Employment and Jobs Protection Act (H.R. 3080) also exempts tribal governments, organizations and businesses from the employer responsibility requirements. For example, casinos owned by tribes would no longer be required to provide health care coverage for full-time workers, most of whom are not members of the tribe and are not eligible for tribal health services. AFSCME opposes both of these bills because they weaken the responsibility of these employers to provide coverage to their workers or pay a penalty for failing to do so.
The Committee also voted to approve a bill (H.R. 5445) to increase the amount of money that could be put into tax-preferred health savings accounts (HSAs) connected with a high deductible health plan. HSAs allow individuals to shelter income from federal taxation. The tax benefits are greater for wealthier households than for middle class households, causing more of the federal tax load to be shifted away from the wealthy and onto working families. This legislation would not only make our tax system more unfair, it would also encourage more employers to shift to high deductible health plans.
DOL Overtime Rule Still Under Attack
This week, Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), Chair of the House Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training, introduced a resolution (H.J. Res. 95) that would prevent the Department of Labor’s (DOL) final overtime rule from going into effect on December 1. Companion legislation (S.J. Res. 34) was introduced earlier this month in the Senate by Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Ron Johnson (R-WI).
AFSCME and our allies continue to oppose all attempts to overturn, weaken or delay this important rule that will give millions of workers a raise.
House Panel Adopts Mental Health Bill, With Electronic Verification for Home Care Workers
The House Energy and Commerce Committee adopted the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act (H.R. 2446) by a unanimous vote of 53 to 0. The bill allows federal Medicaid payments for adults receiving treatment in institutions for mental diseases (IMD) under certain limited circumstances for no more than 15 days. 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. At the last minute, a provision was added to the bill that requires states to adopt an electronic system that personal care attendants and home health workers would use to verify their visits to Medicaid beneficiaries. AFSCME had opposed the earlier version of this bill when considered by the Health Subcommittee. The revised version addresses most, but not all, of AFSCME’s concerns. We will continue to work with allies to improve the bill before it goes to a likely vote in the full House in September.
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