Week Ending May 15, 2015
Fast Track Debate Begins in the Senate
On Thursday, the Senate voted to begin debate over fast track legislation, after 13 Democrats voted with Republicans to consider the bill. The 13 Democrats were Sens. Ron Wyden (OR), Michael Bennet (CO), Maria Cantwell (WA), Patty Murray (WA), Tom Carper (DE), Chris Coons (DE), Dianne Feinstein (CA), Heidi Heitkamp (ND), Claire McCaskill (MO), Bill Nelson (FL), Tim Kaine (VA), Mark Warner (VA) and Jeanne Shaheen (NH). Over the course of the next several days, Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (D-VT) and other fast track opponents will seek to improve the bill through amendments. However, we also expect supporters of fast track to attempt to make changes to worsen the bill. In particular, we expect Sen. Wyden to offer an amendment to weaken a human rights provision added to the bill during the Finance Committee debate. The provision, sponsored by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), forbids trade agreements with countries that allow human trafficking/slavery. The White House opposes the Menendez amendment because it would apply to Malaysia, one of the countries in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations.
The House is expected to take up the bill in early June, after it has cleared the Senate. We can defeat fast track in the House because the great majority of House Democrats and a significant number of House Republicans oppose it. But the fight in the House will go down to the wire and will depend upon efforts by union members and activists in the states to demand that Representatives oppose the bill.
Budget Will Shortchange Critical Programs in Your State- See it Here
Congress is moving ahead with individual spending bills even though the federal funds for programs are grossly inadequate, spurring veto threats from the President. The White House created these fact sheets to show the state-by-state differences between what the President’s budget would invest in versus what the House Republican funding bills would cut, including Head Start, schools, job training and employment services, health programs and more. The President’s budget would eliminate the across-the-board cuts, known as sequestration, for all non-defense, annually-funded programs and cancel a commensurate cut from defense programs. The GOP budget, however, provides no sequester relief for non-defense programs.
AFSCME is strongly urging Congress to eliminate the sequester and reach a deal soon so that more reasonable spending bills can move forward and fund the vital public services working families need.
House Committee Passes Transportation-Housing Funding Bill
By a party-line vote of 30 to 21, the House Appropriations Committee passed a $55.3 billion Transportation-Housing and Urban Development (T-HUD) funding bill Wednesday with reductions to core programs. The Budget Control Act’s spending caps prevented funding restoration for capital and safety investments in the railway system despite a fatal Amtrak derailment a day earlier.
The FY 2016 T-HUD budget provides $40.25 billion for the Highway Trust Fund (HTF), a level equal to 2015 levels but nearly $10 billion less than the President’s budget request. The Highway Trust Fund had been reported to run out this month; however, the Congressional Budget Office recently concluded that the HTF will be solvent into July and possibly August. Before then, Congress will need to pass legislation to reauthorize the HTF and provide funding.
The T-HUD bill also funds the Public Housing Operating Fund at last year's level of $4.4 billion, which is $160 million, or 4.4% less, than President Obama's request. Unfortunately, this once again would provide public housing authorities (PHAs) with less than 85% of their needed operating budget. The bill funds the Public Housing Capital Fund at $1.681 billion, which is a cut of $194 million, or 10% less, than last year's funding. This amount is $289 million, or 15% less, than President Obama's budget request. And, this is less than the amount needed to address housing authorities' annual capital needs. Worse, it does nothing to reduce public housing's $24 billion modernization backlog. The House bill does not allow PHAs to entirely merge their capital and operating funds and use their funds for either purpose.
The bill appropriates no funds dedicated to HUD's Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program and does not increase the current cap of 185,000 units on Public Housing and Moderate Rehabilitation conversions. President Obama's proposed FY 2016 budget requests $50 million for RAD and eliminates the 185,000 unit cap. Last year’s FY 2015 appropriations process increased this cap from 60,000 to 185,000. AFSCME is concerned RAD would lead to privatization of both the public housing stock and related jobs supporting public housing, including many AFSCME members’ work. For example, in Baltimore City’s Housing Authority, the RAD conversion process has already led to elimination of AFSCME members’ positions and threatens 140 AFSCME members with displacement and potential layoffs.
House Panel Approves Budget for State and Local Law Enforcement
The House Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations subcommittee advanced a budget proposal Thursday that would increase funding for Byrne-Justice Assistance Grants (Byrne-JAG) by $33 million for a total of $409 million for FY 2016. The Byrne-JAG program provides grants funding to state and local law enforcement agencies to procure equipment, improve technology, and develop community- and solutions-based criminal justice practices. Included in Byrne-JAG funding is $22.5 million for the Bulletproof Vest Partnership grant program, which provides cost-sharing between local agencies and the Department of Justice for purchasing armored vests.
For the first time since 2011, the subcommittee GOP majority stripped funding for police officer hiring grants (COPS Hiring), which received $180 million in the previous year. AFSCME is strongly opposed to this action and is working to restore funding to the program before final action in the House is taken. The House restored COPS Hiring funding on the floor before final passage in 2011. Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) is a staunch supporter of COPS Hiring, and spoke out in favor of it at a recent budget hearing.
House Expected to Pass FY 2016 Defense Funding Bill After Stripping Out DREAMer Provision
The House is expected to pass its FY 2016 Department of Defense funding bill (H.R. 1735) after adopting an amendment that removed a provision possibly allowing DREAMERs (unauthorized immigrants brought to the U.S. as children) serve in the military. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) authored the amendment that removed language added to the bill in committee by Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) that expressed a “sense of the House” encouraging the Secretary of Defense to consider permitting DREAMers to enlist in the military. Rep. Brooks’ amendment passed by a vote of 221-202, with 20 Republicans joining all Democrats in opposition. Many conservative Republican House members had threatened to oppose the bill if the Gallego provision was included.
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