Week Ending May 10, 2013
AFSCME Nurses Press Lawmakers to Protect Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security
More than 250 AFSCME nurses met in Washington, D.C. this week for the biannual Nurses Congress. The program included an afternoon of lobbying the Congress, with nurses participating in about 65 meetings with Representatives, Senators and congressional staff. The lobbying was focused on urging members of Congress to oppose cuts in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. In addition to carrying our message to Capitol Hill, the meetings yielded helpful information on the views of many members of Congress.
Senate Committee Begins Voting on Amendments to Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill
On May 9, the Senate Judiciary Committee held its first of what are likely to be many sessions to accept or reject over 300 amendments to S. 744, the comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) bill introduced by the bipartisan “Gang of Eight.” This session focused solely on border security provisions. Notably, an amendment sponsored by Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) was defeated, which would have required complete control of the border before allowing the first step on the path to citizenship. The two GOP members of the Gang of Eight on the Judiciary Committee, Senators Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), voted against this amendment along with all of the Democratic members of the committee. A similar amendment, sponsored by Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), which would have completely replaced this section of the bill and delayed the path to citizenship also failed to pass on a bipartisan vote. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and John Cornyn (R-TX) co-sponsored a successful amendment that requires the federal government to reimburse state and local governments for the cost of increased detentions, prosecutions and other law enforcement activities related to immigration. The committee has two sessions scheduled for next week in which they will debate and vote on amendments to other provisions in S. 744.
The Gang of Eight in the House continues to draft its comprehensive immigration reform bill. No date has been set for its introduction. It is expected that CIR will be more contentious in the House. Ultimately, the Senate and House must pass the same bill before it can be signed by the President and become law.
The labor movement and other immigration reform advocates made May Day a national day of action to demand comprehensive immigration reform. AFSCME affiliates helped to organize and participated in marches and rallies held in New York City, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Chicago, Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Miami, numerous locations in California, and elsewhere. President Saunders joined Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) at a march in Las Vegas, and Secretary-Treasurer Reyes spoke at a rally in San Diego.
Senate Approves Marketplace Fairness Act: House Divided on Next Steps
On May 6, a strong bipartisan Senate majority voted 69-27 to approve final passage of the “Marketplace Fairness Act of 2013” (S. 743) which is a key AFSCME legislative priority. The bill would grant states the authority to require remote sellers (e.g. out of state internet and catalogue vendors) to collect and remit sales tax from customers. Senate Republicans were almost equally divided on the bill and only five Senate Democrats, including Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT), opposed it. These Democratic senators represent states with no sales tax. Republican opponents voiced concern that this constitutes a tax increase. The White House issued a statement supporting the bill. Experts estimate uncollected taxes from all remote sales in 2012 cost states and localities a cumulative $11 billion to $23 billion annually. This added revenue could help relieve state and local budget pressures. After the Senate vote, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said he “probably” would not support the Senate bill. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) has also voiced multiple concerns. Nonetheless, advocates are working to add to the House bill’s 65 co-sponsors and ensure the bill receives a floor vote this year.
House Passes Dangerous Debt Ceiling Bill
This week, the House passed H.R. 807 along party lines, which would require that already-approved federal funding for nearly all federal, state and locally administered programs and services be subject to constant renegotiation, delays and uncertainty. H.R. 807 would threaten funding for veterans, public health services, food stamps, education, Head Start, housing vouchers, transportation, infrastructure, the military and more. If enacted, the measure would slow growth, eliminate jobs, increase layoffs and furloughs, and threaten the many vital public services Americans depend upon.
H.R. 807 sets the stage for a dangerous battle on raising the debt ceiling similar to what occurred in August 2011 when the stock market plummeted, our nation's credit rating was downgraded for the first time, and we saw the worst month of job losses since our fragile economic recovery began. AFSCME strongly opposes H.R. 807 and urges Congress to focus on a sustainable solution to improving our economy by promoting job growth and ensuring all Americans pay their fair share of taxes.
House and Senate Democrats Take Issue with Proposals to Cut Social Security
This week, House and Senate Democrats participated in a Summit on Protecting Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and veterans’ benefits organized by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT). The event coincided with a lobby day organized by the Alliance for Retired Americans to ask members of Congress to oppose cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
In other action, Rep. David Cecilline (D-RI) and Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) have introduced congressional resolutions opposing the use of a different cost of living formula, the chained CPI, to determine annual benefit for Social Security. The chained CPI would mean a reduction in benefits which would increase over time. The Cecilline resolution currently has 87 co-sponsors, and the Harkin resolution has 17.
House Passes Bill Gutting Overtime Pay
The GOP-sponsored “Working Families Flexibility Act of 2013” (H.R. 1406) cleared the House this week on a largely party-line vote of 223-204. The bill would allow private employers to offer paid time off as compensation for overtime hours instead of overtime pay and does not guarantee workers access to their comp time when they actually need to use it. This measure would provide less flexibility to workers under the guise of providing more. H.R. 1406 is not likely to be taken up by the Senate, and the White House has said it would veto the bill should it reach the President’s desk.
Secretary-Treasurer Laura Reyes Speaks Out in Support of Home Care Workers
AFSCME’s Secretary-Treasurer Laura Reyes spoke at a briefing on Capitol Hill improving long-term care and in-home care. The event was hosted by Caring Across Generations in celebration of Mother’s Day and the central role that women play in providing and supporting long-term care. Every eight seconds someone in America turns 65, and 1.6 million additional direct care workers will be needed by 2020 to make it possible for seniors and individuals with disabilities to remain independent and continue to live in their own homes. Also this week, Sen. Tom Harkin and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) introduced concurrent resolutions (S. Res.128/ H. Res.197) supporting the need to expand and support a strong home care work force and make long-term, in-home care affordable and accessible for aging Americans and those with disabilities.
Harmful Limits Proposed on Federal Support for State Medicaid Programs
On May 1, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) and Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Orrin Hatch (R-UT) issued a blueprint to change Medicaid (Making Medicaid Work), which includes a per capita cap proposal. This would limit the funds that the federal government contributes to states for each Medicaid beneficiary. Hatch and Upton propose different caps for four different Medicaid populations: aged, blind and disabled, children, and adults. The proposal would lead to shifting large Medicaid costs onto states, forcing them to reduce benefits and/or eligibility for services. AFSCME opposes shifting additional Medicaid costs onto states and limiting Medicaid coverage, especially for long-term supports and services.
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