Week Ending June 9, 2017
President Trump Announces Infrastructure Plan
This week, President Trump tried to bring some focus to his agenda by re-announcing his infrastructure plan and by endorsing a controversial plan to privatize the air traffic control system. His broader infrastructure plan is designed around $200 billion in corporate tax incentives, which he argues will encourage $800 billion in private investment in infrastructure. The Trump proposal would cause roads, water systems and other public assets to be privatized, imposing more tolls and fees on the public to use this infrastructure in order for investors to earn a profit on their investment. Experts have challenged whether the plan would create new jobs, or merely redirect private investment from other job-creating activities.
Congressional Democrats have released plans to make direct investments in infrastructure. In January, Senate Democrats unveiled a plan that would invest in infrastructure and create 15 million jobs over 10 years. Their 10-year blueprint includes $75 billion for schools, $210 billion for roads and bridges, $110 billion for aging water and sewer systems, $180 billion for expanded rail and bus lines, $70 billion for deeper ports and upgraded airports, $100 billion for an updated electrical grid, $10 billion for veteran hospitals, and $20 billion for broadband installations. In May, the Congressional Progressive Caucus proposed a plan that would invest $2 trillion over 10 years, employing 2.5 million Americans in its first year, to rebuild our transportation, water, energy, and information systems, and overhaul unsafe schools and other public buildings.
President Trump’s plan to privatize the air traffic control system is largely drawn from legislation authored by Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA). The plan has been widely criticized because it would disrupt one of the safest air traffic control systems in the world and because it would lead to poor air service in smaller cities.
AFSCME President Lee Saunders made the following statement regarding President Trump’s infrastructure proposal. “The Trump infrastructure plan isn’t an infrastructure plan at all. It’s a colossal $200 billion corporate handout, which will outsource good jobs to private interests at the expense of safety and accountability. The move to privatize the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is one of the worst aspects of this scheme to cede control of our nation’s vital infrastructure to corporations and take power away from taxpayers. To be more effective, the FAA doesn’t need to be controlled by a private entity; what it needs is stable, secure, long-term funding.”
Senate GOP Leaders Work to Finalize Health Care Bill
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) met with the Senate Republican caucus on Tuesday to lay out the elements of the Senate bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and cut Medicaid. While the Senate bill is still in flux and not yet public, it appears that it will largely track the bill approved in the House in early May. The Senate bill would end the ACA’s Medicaid expansion, although rather than ending it in 2020, it may be phased out gradually over a few years, starting in 2020. The bill would restructure Medicaid, capping federal Medicaid payments to the states. But features of the capping formula are still under discussion, including how each state’s allotment would be adjusted each year.
The bill may reduce tax credits for young people in order to increase the tax credits for older people purchasing ACA coverage. The bill would keep the ACA’s community rating provisions that prohibit insurers from charging people with pre-existing conditions more. However, the bill would allow states to eliminate the essential health benefits standards that make coverage comprehensive. Allowing insurance companies more flexibility in the design of plans would allow them to exclude benefits that sick people need. This would be a backdoor way to excluding many people with pre-existing conditions.
McConnell is trying to get the bill to the Senate floor before the July 4 recess. At this point, he does not have the votes to approve the bill, but he gained ground this week when Sens. Dean Heller (R-NV), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) and Rob Portman (R-OH) signed off on a termination of the Medicaid expansion if it were stretched out over seven years.
Senate Approves Bill to Undermine Worker Protections at Veterans Affairs
On Tuesday, the Senate voted to approve the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act (S. 1094), a bill that would make it easier to fire workers employed by the Department of Veterans Affairs. The bill would also prevent the federal Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) from reducing a penalty imposed upon a worker by management and reduce the time available to pursue a grievance or appeal to the MSPB. This bill is just one of many legislative and administrative attacks on the rights of federal workers.
House Approves Bill to Gut Financial Protections for Consumers
On Thursday, the House of Representatives voted 233 to 186, along party lines, to approve the harmful Financial CHOICE Act (H.R. 10). This bill would repeal key financial system protections signed into law by President Obama in 2010.
Following the financial meltdown that triggered the Great Recession, a package of reforms, referred to as the Dodd-Frank Act, were approved to prevent future financial crises and to protect consumers from predatory lending practices by banks. The Financial CHOICE Act would repeal many of the consumer and investor protections along with broader safeguards for the economy. The bill would also repeal an Obama regulation that requires investment advisors to give advice in their clients’ best interest.
This bill faces a steeper climb in the Senate where Democratic leaders have procedural rules that can be used to block the bill.
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