Issues / Legislation » Legislative Weekly Reports

Week Ending June 26, 2015

Affordable Care Act Victory in the U.S. Supreme Court

For the second time since the enactment of the Affordable Care Act, the U.S. Supreme Court has rejected a right-wing challenge to the law.  By a vote of 6-3, the Court confirmed that low and moderate-income individuals and families who purchase health care coverage through either a state-based exchange or the federal health exchange are eligible for tax credits to help pay for their coverage.  Challengers of the law argued that individuals could only obtain tax credits if they purchased coverage through a state-based exchange.  Because 34 states have failed to establish exchanges, many families obtain coverage through the federal exchange instead.  The Court’s decision protects the health care coverage of eight million people. 

Senate Approves Fast Track Legislation; Stage Set for Fight to Defeat TPP

After a month of twists and turns, both the House and Senate have approved Trade Promotion Authority, or fast track legislation.  Following passage in the House last week, the Senate approved fast track this week.  The pivotal vote was Tuesday on a procedural motion that required 60 votes to advance the legislation.  The motion was approved by the narrowest margin of 60 to 37.  Thirteen Senate Democrats joined with most Republicans to secure the 60 votes.  The Democratic Senators who voted for fast track were: 

                        Sen. Michael Bennet (CO)                  Sen. Tim Kaine (VA)

                        Sen. Maria Cantwell (WA)                 Sen. Claire McCaskill (MO)

                        Sen. Tom Carper (DE)                        Sen. Patty Murray (WA)

                        Sen. Chris Coons (DE)                       Sen. Bill Nelson (FL)

                        Sen. Dianne Feinstein (CA)                Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (NH)

                        Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (ND)                 Sen. Mark Warner (VA)

                        Sen. Ron Wyden (OR)

AFSCME opposed fast track because it prevents the Congress from amending the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and other trade agreements that, if implemented, will lead to the loss of private and public sector jobs and undermine food safety and other laws designed to protect us on the job, at home and in the marketplace.  However, the fight is not over because the President must still win congressional approval of the TPP when negotiations are completed.  While timing is not clear, a vote on TPP could take place before the end of the year.  AFSCME, along with the rest of the labor movement and 2,000 national and state progressive organizations, will now gear up to defeat TPP.

In addition to approving fast track, the House and Senate approved an extension of Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), a program that provides income support and training funds for workers who lose their jobs due to trade agreements.  While TAA is an important program, this bill provides inadequate funding, raids Medicare to help pay for it and fails to cover public sector workers who may lose their jobs due to trade. 

Senate and House Move Labor, Education and Health Bills with Deep Cuts

Both the Senate and House Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (Labor-HHS) Appropriations Committees passed their fiscal year (FY) 2016 funding bills this week along party lines.

The Senate’s bill reduces overall funding $3.6 billion below last year’s level and $14.5 billion below the President’s proposed budget, with deep cuts to labor, education, human services and health care programs. Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) offered an amendment to raise the bill’s funding level by nearly $14 billion, but it was defeated along party lines. The House bill reduces funding $3.7 billion and all Democratic amendments to increase the overall amount were rejected along party lines.

Both bills are loaded with harmful policy "riders" that would block regulatory protections for working families.  They would block the Labor Department’s (DOL) proposed retirement advice “fiduciary” rule that protects individual retirees, stop the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) from implementing rules to streamline elections and reduce unnecessary litigation, prohibit the NLRB from applying its test for appropriate bargaining units, prevent the NLRB from issuing new rules allowing employees to vote electronically in union elections, prohibit the NLRB from updating the “joint employer” rule, and overturn a DOL H-2B guest worker rule that protects wages for both U.S. and foreign workers, and protects U.S. workers’ jobs.  An education rider would prevent the Department of Education from holding for-profit universities accountable.  And, policy riders are included that would limit access to health care services funded under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

The Senate bill cuts labor programs more than $575 million, a $369 million deeper cut than the House bill.  The NLRB is cut 10%, less than the House’s 27% cut but still harmful. Employment Service (ES) funding is reduced by $30 million on top of over 15% cuts since FY 2010.  Unemployment Insurance State Administration was cut by $40 million. The bill significantly cuts funding for Workforce Investment and Opportunity Act (WIOA) programs. Funding for the Bureau of International Labor Affairs (ILAB) is cut 67%, which would cripple the government’s ability to monitor and enforce labor provisions in trade agreements.

The Senate bill deeply cuts Department of Education funding by $1.1 billion, but thankfully less than the House’s brutal chop of $2.8 billion. Title I Education for Disadvantaged Students is increased $150 million in the Senate bill, and IDEA special education state grants are increased by $125 million.  While the Senate bill supports the maximum Pell award of $5,915, it cuts $300 million, which will cause shortfalls in subsequent years. The Senate bill also cuts $40 million from Federal Work Study and $29 million from Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants. Even on the heels of a bipartisan reauthorization last year with new requirements that will cost $1 billion, the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) funding was only marginally increased by $150 million. Head Start funding is increased by $100 million, focused on Early Head Start, but no funding is designated for Head Start staff cost-of-living increases. 

The Department of Health and Human Services’ Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ administrative funds were hacked by nearly one-third, losing $1.15 billion in the Senate bill. The Social Security Administration was also cut.

The White House has provided an analysis of the House bill’s funding levels impacts on individual states for selected programs.

The President has stated he will veto all funding bills based on the GOP leadership’s unacceptably low budget levels. Likewise, Democratic Senators continue to support efforts to block any funding bills from reaching the floor in an effort to force bipartisan talks to reach an agreement to end across-the-board “sequester” cuts.  House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) noted that the House intends to vote on its bill before its August recess. AFSCME strongly opposes the House and Senate Labor-HHS-Education bills and is urging Congress to negotiate a bipartisan budget deal to replace the sequester and eliminate harmful riders. 

Senate Panel Advances Transportation-Housing and Urban Development Spending Bill

The Senate Appropriations Committee voted 20-10, largely on party lines, to approve the T-HUD spending bill which underfunds housing, transportation services and infrastructure for the next fiscal year beginning October 1. 

The bill’s total funding is more than $8 billion below President Obama’s budget request.  More specifically, the bill underfunds Public Housing Operating Fund at a flat-funded $4.4 billion, which funds public housing authorities (PHAs) at less than 85% of their needed operating budgets.  The bill cuts the Public Housing Capital Fund by about 6%, or $132 million.  This is less than PHAs’ annual capital needs and does nothing to reduce public housing's $26 billion modernization backlog.  

In transportation, while the bill provides $164 million more to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) than the current fiscal year, that increase will maintain the agency’s workforce of air traffic controllers and support day-to-day operations at the expense of the agency’s deteriorating facilities and equipment.  The bill flat funds FAA’s infrastructure, which has not received increased funding since 2013.  This funding level is $255 million below the President’s budget request.  The FAA currently faces a backlog of $5 billion in maintenance needs, so it is just a matter of time before breakdowns occur in our air traffic control system. The committee rejected a plan floated by Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA) to remove air traffic control from the purview of the FAA and reorganize it under a federally-chartered not-for-profit organization. AFSCME strongly opposes any and all efforts to privatize any function within the FAA.

The White House has threatened to veto this bill due to inadequate funding levels.  AFSCME opposes it because it cuts funding for our key funding priorities for public housing, community development, and transportation. Much of the bill’s federal funding goes directly to state and local governments, which in turn employ many AFSCME members.  

AFSCME and Allies Storm Hill to Advocate for 9/11 Health and Compensation Act

On Tuesday, AFSCME District Council 37 joined with other labor, health and community groups to urge members of Congress to support the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Reauthorization Act (H.R. 1786; S. 928) and become co-sponsors of the legislation.

Congress passed this bill in 2010 to provide medical treatment and health monitoring for those who developed illnesses due to their work after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It provides compensation to those who are no longer able to work, as well as survivor benefits to relatives of those who have died. The law established the World Trade Center Health Program, which has provided monitoring and treatment for over 70,000 responders or survivors in all 50 states.

AFSCME advocated strongly for the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act five years ago, and its reauthorization is a top priority for this Congress.  

House Continues Attacks Against Affordable Care Act

On Tuesday, the House voted 244 to 154 to pass legislation (H.R. 1190) that repeals the Independent Payment Appeals Board (IPAB) – an unimplemented provision of the Affordable Care Act aimed at strengthening Medicare – and makes up for the lost cost savings from implementing IPAB by cutting $8.85 billion from the Prevention and Public Health Fund.  This Fund is the nation’s single largest investment in state and local public health and prevention infrastructure.  A cut of this magnitude will decimate federal investments to all states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico and hamper their ability to address public health needs in innovative and locally defined ways.  And, it will put our nation at risk of being unprepared for emerging epidemics and public health crises. While AFSCME is open to thoughtful improvements to the IPAB, H.R. 1190 is reckless and unwise because it will severely weaken the efforts of state and local public health departments, vaccination programs and other disease prevention efforts. The bill is headed to the Senate.  President Obama is expected to veto the measure. 

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