Week Ending June 29, 2012
U.S. Supreme Court Upholds Obamacare
The Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act (ACA) affirms that the law is here to stay and that this country will continue to move forward to implement it. For working families, the ruling means:
- Children with pre-existing conditions will not be denied coverage and, in 2014, neither will adults;
- Insurance companies cannot drop you when you get sick;
- Insurance companies will not be able to charge women more for insurance than men are charged;
- 6.6 million children, half with no other coverage option, will be able to remain on their parents’ health plan;
- Millions of seniors will be able to continue to get free cancer screenings and other preventive care;
- 5.3 million seniors with high drug costs will continue to get extra help with these costs;
- Millions will receive annual rebates because their insurance companies spent too much of their premium on administrative costs and CEO bonuses;
- Premium increases will be reined in for everyone, as the number of uninsured is reduced.
Somewhat unexpectedly, the Court ruled that states can choose not to expand their Medicaid programs, a provision which is aimed at providing coverage to those with the lowest incomes. It is not clear what impact the ruling will have on states, but it is likely that, over time, most states will implement this provision just as they chose to implement the original Medicaid program. The Medicaid expansion is 100% fully-funded by the federal government initially and, over the long run, states would only pay 10% of the cost. No doubt, there will be immense pressure from voters, demanding that states take advantage of this tremendous bargain to provide coverage.
House GOP leaders have already vowed to make another attempt to repeal Obamacare, with the vote taking place on July 10. This is no surprise given that they are also on a campaign to end Medicare as we know it, and dismantle Medicaid.
The enactment of the ACA was an historic achievement. AFSCME members were there every step of the way, providing the grassroots support needed to get the law passed by Congress. And since its enactment, AFSCME members have worked to protect it from those who want to tear it down.
Negotiators Reach Agreement on Transportation Bill
After months of debating, House and Senate negotiators working to resolve differences on the Surface Transportation Reauthorization Bill have finally reached an agreement. The two-year bill would fully-fund the Highway Trust Fund, which pays for roads, highways, bridges and mass transit. The bill will maintain spending at current levels, with highway spending set at $39.7 billion in fiscal year 2013 and $40.3 billion in FY 2014. Mass transit spending will be set at $8.5 billion in FY 2013 and $8.6 billion in FY 2014. The agreement is expected to produce or maintain about a million transportation jobs and fund highway safety worker training and other federal transportation programs. The bill is fully paid for, largely from a transfer of funds from the U.S. Treasury’s general fund.
While the bill provides significant transportation funding to states, it contains a number of provisions advanced by House GOP leaders that AFSCME finds objectionable. Most notably, it includes a requirement that the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) identify impediments to privatization and develop state “best practices’ in privatizing transit services, thus facilitating contracting out. The FTA is also required to issue guidance on increasing private sector participation to the maximum extent possible. This provision will provide private transit companies with the green light to engage in aggressive privatization efforts causing job losses, degrading transit workers’ living standards and weakening transit unions.
Another problem with the final bill is that it does not include AFSCME-supported Senate language that would have discouraged private financing for state roads and highways. In addition, it also did not include badly-needed operating assistance for transit agencies. Fortunately, language AFSCME opposed that would have mandated the privatization of transportation design, engineering and mapping services, was rejected.
Transportation Bill Includes Student Loan Interest Rate Extension
The political football game over student loans concluded this week. The transportation reauthorization bill included a one-year extension to stop the doubling of interest rates on federally-subsidized loans from 3.4% to 6.8% on July 1. The $6.2 billion extension was paid for by a combination of offsets, including increasing premiums paid by employers for the insurance provided by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC), and changing the method used to determine how much businesses must invest in employees’ defined-benefit pension plans. AFSCME strongly supported the lower interest rate extension.
U.S. Supreme Court Issues Anti-Union Ruling
In a 7 to 2 ruling issued on July 21, weakening agency shops, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that labor unions may not access fees paid by nonmembers to fund political activities, without first getting their consent. The case, Knox vs. Service Employees International Union (SEIU), involved a California branch of SEIU which levied a special assessment on both member and nonmember public employees to fund a political action campaign against two ballot initiatives. At issue in the case was whether a public sector union could contribute to SEIU’s political activities when the union had not provided members with advance notice, and the opportunity to refuse. The Supreme Court ruled against SEIU because an opt out was not provided.
U.S. Supreme Court Issues Mixed Decision on Arizona’s Controversial Immigrant Law
On June 25, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down three of the four challenged provisions of Arizona’s controversial anti-immigrant law (S.B. 1070) by a vote of 5 to 3 (Justice Kagan recused herself because she worked on this case while she was in the Obama administration). Unfortunately, the Court failed to overturn the most harmful provision in S.B. 1070, the so-called “show me your papers” policy that requires every Arizona law enforcement officer to verify the immigration status of every person stopped, arrested or detained if the officer reasonably suspects that the person is in the U.S. unlawfully. As AFSCME President Lee A. Saunders stated after the Arizona v. United States decision was announced, “We believe this provision not only places an added burden on officers, it can only be implemented through the use of racial profiling.” The Court did leave the door open to additional legal challenges, some of which are already working their way through the court system. By striking down the other three provisions of S.B. 1070, the Court prohibited Arizona from imposing criminal penalties for being an undocumented immigrant worker, making it a crime to fail to carry alien registration documents, and allowing warrantless arrests if an officer suspects an individual is undocumented. The Court majority reaffirmed that federal immigration laws take precedence over state laws. AFSCME continues to urge Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform that reflects our values as a nation.
Attorney General Held in Contempt of Congress
History unfolded on Thursday when the House of Representatives voted 255 to 67 to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in criminal contempt of Congress. The vote marked the first time a U.S. Attorney General had ever been held in contempt. The publicly-stated reason for the contempt citation was that the Attorney General had not released all of the documents requested by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and pertaining to a failed federal gun-trafficking sting called “Fast and Furious.” A second vote, for civil contempt of Congress, was also approved, allowing the Committee to sue to get the documents that created the controversy.
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus, the Hispanic Congress and House Democratic leadership walked out of the Capitol in protest of the votes, stating that the vote was a politically-motivated effort to discredit Attorney General Holder and embarrass the White House during an election year.
Affordable Care Act Helps 5.2 Million Medicare Beneficiaries Save $3.7 Billion
Thanks to the ACA, 5.2 million people with Medicare saved $3.5 billion on their prescription drugs from March 2010 through May 2012. In the first five months of 2012 alone, 745,000 people on Medicare who had high cost prescriptions in the “donut hole” coverage gap saved an average of $651 on their prescription medicines because of the new health care law. This lifesaving help for Medicare recipients would disappear if the changes to Medicare, endorsed by presidential candidate Mitt Romney and adopted by the House, became law. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision upholding the constitutionality of healthcare reform will allow these savings to continue and grow.
Sign Up to Receive the Weekly Report and Action Alerts via Email and Become an AFSCME e-Activist!!!
In an effort to move toward electronic transmission which will allow us to put important federal legislative updates in your hands sooner, we urge you to sign up to receive the Federal Legislative Report via your email address.
Please go to www.afscme.org/join and check the "Federal Legislative Report" box under subscriptions on the bottom of the page.