Issues / Legislation » Legislative Weekly Reports

Week Ending June 30, 2017

Senate Vote on Health Care Bill is Postponed

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) was forced to postpone the vote on the Senate health care bill after a number of Republicans said they could not vote for the bill as drafted. A few senators balked at voting for the bill because they believe it does not go far enough to repeal the Affordable Care Act. But others are concerned that it cuts too much. In particular, Sens. Susan Collins (ME), Lisa Murkowski (AK), Shelley Capito (WV), Rob Portman (OH) and Dean Heller (NV) have expressed concerns about the cuts, especially to Medicaid. But Leader McConnell is trying hard to make backroom deals with senators in order to secure their support and get the bill back on track for a vote in mid-July. 

This week, the Congressional Budget Office released its “score” of the Senate health care bill, estimating that it would cause 22 million to lose their health care by 2026 and that it would cut $772 billion in federal Medicaid payments to the states in the first 10 years. By 2026, federal Medicaid payments to the states would be cut by 26%, compared with current law, and by 35% in 2036. Initially, the cut in funding would force states to kick people off the Medicaid rolls, reduce benefits such as home care and nursing home services, and cut payments to providers. But over time, the drastic cuts would also force states to cut other public services.

Now is the time for action. Senators will be home during the week of July 4 and it is critical that they hear from constituents demanding that they oppose this bill. We urge AFSCME activists to call their senators at the toll-free number below and to urge their co-workers, friends and family to do the same. We also urge activists to turn out at public events where senators will appear, such as July 4 parades. Raise up signs demanding NO CUTS TO MEDICAID.

CALL YOUR SENATORS AND URGE THEM TO OPPOSE THE HEALTH CARE BILL

Senate Democrats are united in opposition to the health care bill. But Senate Republicans need to hear from constituents who oppose it. Call toll-free at 1-888-981-9704 and urge your senator(s) to oppose the bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act and cut Medicaid. Tell your senator(s) that it is wrong to take health care away from 22 million people and it is wrong to cut Medicaid.

Still No Budget but Funding Bills are Moving and Deep Cuts Loom for States and Services

House Budget Chairwoman Diane Black (R-TN) was not able to gain enough support for the Budget Committee to pass her budget plan before the July 4 recess, but she is likely to continue to try when Congress reconvenes. Her plan would increase defense spending substantially and cut non-defense discretionary (NDD) spending, which funds education, health care, transportation and all other non-entitlement spending. Her plan increases defense spending more than the President’s proposal, providing a jump of about $72 billion. The NDD spending level would be about $8 billion below fiscal year (FY) 2017. The NDD cuts could be much deeper, more than double, because of technical budget details. 

Chairwoman Black is also pushing for $200 billion in cuts to entitlement programs through a fast-track process known as “reconciliation.” Reconciliation would give the Senate the power to pass a bill with only 51 votes and bypass any need for Democratic support. And if the health care bill stalls, congressional Republicans could use this process to revive their plans to gut Medicaid. If we can keep reconciliation out of the budget, then we can prevent these very deep cuts to entitlement programs. Some moderate Republicans are pushing back against the use of reconciliation in order to avoid such deep cuts. House GOP leaders also want to include reconciliation instructions to fast track large tax cuts for the wealthy and big businesses.

Even without a final budget, Congress has started work on individual funding bills. It’s possible that the bill that funds the programs under by the Deparments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education may be voted on in subcommittee the week of July 10. We expect that bill to set spending at $5 billion below FY 2017, shouldering the majority of cuts to FY 2018 in this one bill. That’s very bad news for state budgets and important labor, health, education, and human services programs. 

When the Trump budget was released, many Members of Congress dismissed its deep cuts, promising to create their own, better budget. AFSCME is working to hold them to their words and not create a budget or funding bills that whack the programs that fund state and local government services.

House Panel Votes to Privatize Air Traffic Control; Senate Panel Takes Different Tack

On Tuesday, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee voted to approve a controversial measure that would privatize the air traffic control system. The measure was part of a larger bill to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) programs. While President Trump supports privatization, the proposal has been criticized by security experts for putting the safety of the airways at risk and by consumer advocates for allowing private interests rather than the public interest to dominate decisions about the use of airways. Many of the nation’s mayors are opposed to the scheme because it could lead to less airline service in smaller cities.

Conversely on Thursday, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation approved its bill to reauthorize the FAA programs and did not include the privatization measure. The Senate Commerce Committee didn’t avoid all controversy, however. Included in the four-year FAA reauthorization are contentious amendments that would loosen training requirements for commercial pilots and preempt state laws on meal and rest breaks for truckers, both of which have drawn criticism from truckers’ and pilots’ unions.

The FAA’s authorization expires on September 30, which coincides with the end of the fiscal year. As a result, it could get caught up in a showdown over government spending. It is unclear what lengths House Republican leaders will go to press for this privatization plan.

AFSCME members who work at the FAA would be affected by the privatization plan. The union joined several other FAA unions in supporting a proposal from Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) to provide long-term funding stability to air traffic control without privatization.

A Trio of Anti-Worker Bills are Approved by House Committee 

This week, the House Education and the Workforce Committee voted 22 to 16 to advance three bills that significantly undermine critical labor protections. The Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act (H.R. 986), the Workforce Democracy and Fairness Act (H.R. 2776), and the Employee Privacy Protection Act (H.R. 2775) all weaken the ability of private sector workers to organize. By reducing the right to collectively bargain for better wages and working conditions, unnecessarily delaying union election processes, and restricting information union supporters receive from employers during organizing campaigns, these bills make it harder for workers to exercise their fundamental rights. AFSCME strongly opposes these bills, which are nothing less than an attack on our freedoms.

House Approves Punitive Immigration Bills

The House approved two immigration bills (H.R. 3003 and 3004) this week which, together, would weaken the rights of immigrants and cut funding to state and local programs. The bills would undermine state and local government policing strategies and penalize state and local governments if they do not enforce federal immigration law. By requiring state and local governments to devote their own resources to federal immigration enforcement, it diverts funding needed for other public safety priorities.

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