Week Ending May 1, 2015
House Passes Reckless Budget
This week, the House passed the budget conference agreement negotiated with the Senate largely along party lines by a vote of 226 to 197, with 14 Republicans joining every Democrat in opposition. The Senate is expected to vote on the agreement next week.
This budget is one of the most radical plans that Congress has adopted since it created the modern budget process in 1974. It would more than double the across-the-board “sequestration” cuts for annually-approved domestic spending, totaling approximately $87 billion in cuts each year for 10 years. The impact would be to incapacitate state and local governments and lead to devastating cuts in public services that working families depend upon, including slashing funding for education, transportation, housing, health care, SNAP/food stamps and other vital programs. At the same time, defense spending would be increased by $96 billion using a gimmick that both parties agree is an off-the-books slush fund. And, the budget includes no new revenues and instead lowers tax rates for the wealthy and corporations.
The budget would also gut Medicaid and shift enormous health care costs to the elderly, disabled, and states’ budgets. And, it would force the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and make college less affordable for many students. Additional legislation would be needed to make these sweeping proposed changes, which President Obama has vowed to veto. AFSCME strongly opposes the budget agreement.
Fast Track Trade Legislation
While fast track trade legislation (S. 995; H.R. 1890) was approved by House and Senate committees last week, it is unclear when it will be debated by the full House and Senate. It appears likely that the Senate will take up fast track during the last two weeks of May, but it could begin sooner. We expect the House to follow the Senate.
In the House, the great majority of Democrats oppose fast track. Most House Republicans support it, but there are dozens who oppose the bill or are undecided. House Republican leaders are working hard to win over skeptical Republicans while the Obama administration is working hard to win over undecided Democrats.
The fast track bill allows trade negotiations to be conducted behind closed doors, preventing scrutiny by the public and meaningful input by the Congress. Once a trade deal is signed, fast track procedures would prohibit the Congress from amending the deal. Previous fast track trade deals have led to the loss of millions of U.S. jobs, as U.S. businesses moved their factories and business operations to other countries with lower wages. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade deal being negotiated between the U.S. and 11 other nations, would allow global corporations to sue countries for compensation if laws and regulations reduce corporate profits. For example, a French water company is currently suing Egypt over an increase in the minimum wage and demanding millions in compensation. These special corporate rights put food safety, labor standards, environmental protections, and even Medicare and Medicaid at risk.
AFSCME Supports Raise the Wage Act
On Thursday, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) introduced the “Raise the Wage” Act. The bill has 160 House co-sponsors and 32 co-sponsors in the Senate. The legislation would raise the minimum wage to $12 by 2020. The current $7.25 minimum wage would initially be raised to $8.00 an hour, followed by five additional $1 annual increases. By 2020, the minimum wage would be restored to 1968 and 1969 levels, when the value of the wage was at its peak. The Act would also phase out the subminimum wage for tipped workers.
Working full time at the current minimum wage leaves a family of three below the federal poverty line. Raising the minimum wage to $12 will lift these families above today’s poverty threshold, helping 38 million workers. One out of three women workers, 37 percent of African American workers and more than 40 percent of Latino workers would receive a pay raise. AFSCME believes that no one should work full time and still live in poverty. We strongly support this legislation.
House Panel Holds Hearing on Birthright Citizenship
The House GOP continued its anti-immigrant crusade by holding a hearing this week in the Judiciary Committee’s immigration subcommittee on ending birthright citizenship. This guarantee of citizenship is firmly established in the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which states: “all persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States.” Republican members of the subcommittee argued that this language somehow does not apply to children born to undocumented parents.
Reaction was swift both in Congress and the immigrants’ rights community. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) declared: “The Republicans’ unconscionable assault on birthright citizenship dishonors our history, betrays our future, and insults millions of proud first-generation American citizens. The American people deserve better than such a vile effort to narrow the definition of citizenship in our country.” The Alliance for Citizenship coalition, of which AFSCME is a member, issued a report on the same day of the hearing detailing the enormous volume of anti-immigrant attacks in the 114th Congress, which has only been in session for four months. This includes six House votes on mass deportation bills, and six Senate votes on overturning President Obama’s executive actions that expand the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and establish the Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) program
AFSCME continues to call for comprehensive immigration reform that includes worker protections and a path to citizenship for the 11 million unauthorized immigrants living and working in the U.S.
House Rejects GOP Attack on Official Time
During consideration of legislation to fund the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the House rejected an amendment offered by Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA) to eliminate official time rights for VA employees. All 183 Democrats who voted were joined by 49 Republicans in opposition, while 190 GOP members supported the amendment.
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