Issues / Legislation » Legislative Weekly Reports

Week Ending May 13, 2011

House Leaders Slash FY 2012 Spending Except for Defense

This week, the House released its spending levels for the 12 appropriations panels to begin work on their funding bills for the next fiscal year.  Altogether, the spending levels total $1.019 billion, $61 billion less than FY 2010 and $30 billion less than FY 2011.  Every subcommittee received less funding than the previous fiscal year, except for Defense which received a $17 billion increase.  Labor, Health and Human Services and Education (Labor HHS) funds would be cut over $18 billion below FY 2011 and $24 billion under FY 2010, bearing the brunt of the enormous looming cuts.

Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA), one of the Appropriations Committee’s senior members, warned that any cuts that Republicans had proposed earlier for FY 2011 that were restored will “probably be cut again.” The Committee’s Senior Democrat Norm Dicks (WA) called the cuts draconian.

Labor HHS Subcommittee Senior Democrat Rosa DeLauro (CT) noted,  “This represents a cut of more than 22 percent to some of our most fundamental American priorities, including helping kids with early learning through Head Start, getting students the financial aid they need through Pell Grants and even life-saving biomedical research at the National Institutes of Health. This is almost the same exact amount of money we could save by repealing special interest subsidies to the oil industry.”

The Labor HHS spending bill is scheduled for a committee vote in early August, just prior to recess, which means it will likely not be up for a full House vote until September. 

Pressure to Keep Social Security out of Deficit Reduction Plans Continues

The Social Security program received strong public support from two senior and influential senators this week.  In a move to build a case to keep Social Security out of deficit reduction negotiations, Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) held a hearing on Social Security and the deficit at which he stated unambiguously that Social Security changes should not be considered as part of a deficit reduction plan.  Several witnesses at the hearing, including Nancy Altman, Co-Chair of the Strengthen Social Security Campaign and James Roosevelt, Jr., grandson of President Franklin Roosevelt, strongly reinforced that view by pointing out that Social Security cannot deficit spend by law and therefore cannot contribute to the federal deficit.  In addition, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND), who has been developing a deficit reduction plan for the Senate Budget Committee to consider, stated publicly that Social Security changes will not be part of the plan he is developing. 

Despite this positive development, however, legislation that would result in across-the-board spending cuts remains a serious threat to the Social Security program.  These measures include the balanced budget constitutional amendment and legislation sponsored by Sens. Claire McCaskell (D-MO) and Bob Corker (R-TN) that would limit federal spending to no more than 20.6 percent of the gross domestic product. 

The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing today examining constitutional balanced budget amendments (BBA) which would cap federal spending at very low levels and eviscerate domestic programs and entitlements like Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and Food Stamps.  AFSCME strongly opposes balanced budget amendments and spending caps.

Call for Public Hearings to Spread Sunshine on House Republican Budget Cuts to Medicare and Medicaid

On May 5, Democrats on the House Ways & Means and the Energy and Commerce Committees called on the Chairmen of both committees - Reps. Dave Camp (R-MI) and Fred Upton (R-MI), respectively-to hold public hearings on Republican proposals to end Medicare and Medicaid as we know them.

Last month, the House approved a Budget Resolution for FY 2012 which replaces Medicare with a private insurance voucher system and cuts over $1.4 trillion from Medicaid by converting it into a capped-funding block grant.  Overall, the budget plan makes over $4.3 trillion in devastating cuts to federal programs while providing $4.2 trillion in new tax breaks for profitable corporations and the wealthiest individuals.  Despite these radical changes, the House has yet to hold a single public hearing to discuss the proposals in depth.  Here are two reasons they might be hiding - at last count, 70 percent of Americans opposed limiting Medicare, and 54 percent called the planned changes to Medicaid “a bad idea.

Deficit Reduction Talks Continue

In an effort to ensure that the federal debt ceiling is raised by August 2 and our country does not default on its loans, President Obama has been reaching out to Congress in an effort to move deficit reduction talks forward. This week he met separately with both Senate Democrats and Republicans.  He is expected to meet later this month with House Democrats and House Republicans after they return from the district work period scheduled for the week of May 16.  He encouraged the parties to recognize the need for compromise and to support both spending cuts and revenue increases.  He clearly stated his opposition to global spending caps, which AFSCME also strongly opposes.  Meanwhile, Vice-President Biden continued to meet with the six congressional leaders on the President’s framework for deficit reduction.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) declared after the Republicans’ meeting with President Obama that he will not support an increase in the debt ceiling unless spending caps are included for Medicare, Medicaid, other entitlement and all discretionary spending programs.  He also ruled out any tax increases. 

It remains unclear what path forward will emerge to ensure the debt ceiling is raised and there is a balanced plan for reducing the deficit. 

House-Passed Plan to Cut Medicaid Would Leave Millions Uninsured

A report issued by the Kaiser Family Foundation this week estimates that under the House-passed budget plan, between 31 million and 44 million people nationally would lose their coverage by 2021.  This would result from dismantling the program by converting it into a block grant and repealing the expansion of Medicaid, which is part of the Affordable Care Act.  The exact number is dependent on how states decide to cut their Medicaid programs.  Do they protect seniors and people with disabilities, who make up a smaller percentage of recipients but the bulk of Medicaid spending?  Then, children and adults would bear the brunt of enrollment cuts.  Or, seniors and people with disabilities could equally share the repercussions.  “We cannot predict how these cuts would be distributed across adults and children but the cuts are so large that a typical state would have to eliminate almost all coverage for adults to avoid any cuts to children,” the report says. 

House Ways and Means Committee Attacks Unemployed Workers

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman David Camp has rammed through the Ways and Means Committee legislation that represents a major assault on unemployed workers and the unemployment insurance program. 

In a break with the December tax agreement with President Obama that continued the federal extended benefits program for the long-term unemployed through December, the legislation (H.R. 1745) would end the program on July 6.   In its place the bill would create a block grant that states could use to pay off their loans from the federal government, provide tax cuts to employers or pay for employment-related services in addition to paying unemployment benefits.  As a result, over four million unemployed workers would lose the federal guarantee of extended benefits. 

GOP leaders are eager to pass the legislation in the House quickly, but it could stall in the Senate where Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) has introduced a companion measure – S. 904.

DREAM Act Reintroduced in Congress

This week, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and 32 cosponsors introduced the DREAM Act, and Reps. Howard Berman (D-CA), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) introduced similar legislation in the House.  This legislation, which has been introduced in every congressional session since 2001, would provide undocumented youth who were brought to the United States as children a path to citizenship if they attend college for two years or enlist in the military.  It will benefit our nation’s economy, strengthen our military and enable children who came to this country through no fault of their own to pursue productive futures.

Introduction of this legislation came one day after President Obama called for comprehensive immigration reform in a speech in El Paso, TX, and said DREAM Act passage would be a good first step.  Last year, the Democratic-led House passed the DREAM Act, but the Senate voted against ending debate on the bill in December by a 55 to 41 vote.  AFSCME will be communicating our support for the DREAM Act in both chambers.

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