Week Ending March 3, 2017
This week, President Trump laid out his budget priorities when he addressed a joint session of Congress for the first time. He provided few details for his many proposals. During the speech, he repeated his plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act and expressed support for the legislation being drafted by House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), which would cause millions to lose their coverage, cut funding to states for Medicaid and tax workers on their health benefits. President Trump also called for unprecedented and deep cuts in public services, supporting tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations, and targeting immigrants for arrest and deportation. He referenced his plan to boost infrastructure spending, which has been criticized for being mostly tax breaks for developers and would do little to improve public infrastructure and create jobs. While providing no details, he also expressed support for paid family leave and improvements in child care.
President Trump did call for an increase in defense spending for the next fiscal year (FY 2018), shifting $54 billion from spending on domestic public services to defense. These deep cuts would shift the responsibility for many public services to state and local governments at a time when many states are projecting revenue shortfalls. More details are expected on March 16 when the President will issue his initial budget outline. A full budget proposal is expected in late April or May. The President also promised a cut in taxes for the the middle class, but the initial details point to the largest share of tax reduction going to corporations and millionaires.
This coming Wednesday, the House Committees on Ways and Means Committee and Energy and Commerce plan to debate and vote on a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and cap funding for state Medicaid programs. However, while the bill was made available for Republicans to review yesterday, it has not yet been made available to the public or to Democrats who serve on these committees. Because the bill is being rushed through the committees without analysis by the Congressional Budget Office, members of Congress will be voting on it without knowing how many people will lose coverage under the bill or what impact it will have on the federal budget or on state budgets.
As noted above, the bill would cap Medicaid payments to the states. Rather than states being guaranteed an average of 57% of Medicaid costs for all eligible beneficiaries, the new bill would cap the amount states receive from the federal government, providing states with less and less each year.
We also understand that the bill will include a provision to tax some portion of health insurance benefits that workers receive on the job. At the same time, the bill will repeal ACA taxes on the wealthy and on insurance companies. Tentatively, House leaders plan to put the bill up for a vote of the entire House during the week of March 20.
Next week, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform (OGR) plans to vote on legislation to renew a failed federal school voucher experiment that has been forced on the District of Columbia since 2004. It uses public money to pay for tuition at private schools, but all of the studies show that the program has failed to improve student performance and graduation rates. While voucher advocates claim parents deserve "choices" for their children, vouchers do not provide choice. Private schools select which students can attend, whereas public schools are required to admit all students. Private schools can discriminate on the basis of achievement, discipline history, religion, disability, and sexual orientation (of the parent/s and student) unlike public schools which are required by law to take all students and uphold civil rights protections. Congress failed to renew this program last year when it was considered.
This new vote is the beginning of the new effort by the Trump administration and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to dramatically expand public funding for private schools at the expense of public education. AFSCME strongly opposes this and other public school voucher schemes.
In a close vote of 13 to 12, along party lines, the Senate Finance Committee voted to approve the nomination of Seema Verma to head the agency that administers core federal health care programs that cover 100 million Americans. The head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) oversees more than $1 trillion in federal spending on Medicare, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program and the Affordable Care Act marketplaces. Every Democratic senator on the committee opposed the nomination. The full Senate may vote on Ms. Verma’s nomination next week. AFSCME opposes Verma’s nomination because her statements to senators indicate that she supports an overhaul of our health programs that would upend health coverage for millions of Americans and financially destabilize state budgets, hospitals and other providers.
On Monday, Sens. Jerry Moran (R-KS) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) joined the swelling bipartisan ranks of senators uneasy with House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster’s (R-PA) plan to remove air traffic control operations from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The senators sent a joint letter to newly sworn-in Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao urging her to restart the review process and undertake a more careful approach to the controversial scheme to privatize air traffic control operations.
While the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) supports Shuster’s privatization proposal, AFSCME, the Professional Aviation Safety Specialists (PASS), American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) and others representing FAA workers are working with general aviation, consumer, safety, and good government groups to fight the privatization proposal. While the proposal has not been embraced by the Congress, President Trump has indicated interest in a dramatic restructuring of the FAA. Current polling shows public opinion remains opposed to the proposal.
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