Issues / Legislation » Legislative Weekly Reports

Week Ending May 18, 2012

Senate Votes Down GOP Budgets

The Senate, in a series of procedural votes, defeated a number of alternative GOP budget plans generally along party lines, including the House-passed budget bill (H.Con.Res. 112), sponsored by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI). The Ryan budget was defeated by a vote of 58 - 41, with all Senate Democrats and five Republicans voting in opposition.

In a series of separate roll call votes, senators rejected motions to proceed to three alternative budget proposals offered by Sens. Patrick J. Toomey (R-PA), Rand Paul (R-KY) and Mike Lee (R-UT). In further action, a GOP-sponsored alternative budget, purported to be based on President Obama’s budget, was also rejected as Democrats denied it reflected the President’s plan. Sen. Toomey’s plan was defeated 57-42, while Sen. Lee’s bill garnered just 17 votes of support and Sen. Paul’s just 16 votes.

All of these plans had several things in common, including undoing the budget agreement reached last year which eliminates the need for any other budget for fiscal year 2013. The budget law, called the Budget Control Act (BCA), was approved with bipartisan support and imposed tight spending limits. Each of the defeated GOP plans would have reopened that agreement, eliminated the cuts in defense spending that are scheduled to take place in January, and would have reduced domestic spending further – including deep cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and other vital public services, just like the Ryan House-passed budget. At the same time, these budget plans called for new tax cuts for the wealthy.

Much of the Senate debate focused on the Bush tax breaks for the wealthy that expire at the end of the year, as well as the impact of the automatic spending cuts required by the BCA that are scheduled to take effect in January. In a related development, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) announced that the House GOP leadership would not wait until the end of the year to seek to renew the Bush tax breaks, and further, that the House will not consider another increase in the federal debt limit without new deep cuts in spending. Democrats have responded that Speaker Boehner once again is threatening to hold the nation’s credit worthiness hostage to a demand for extreme cuts in the federal budget. President Obama has made it clear that he wants a clean debt limit bill and decried putting the government’s credit rating at risk once again. 

House Passes its Version of the Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization

On a largely party line vote, the House narrowly passed its version of reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act (H.R. 4970) by a vote of 222-205, with just six Democrats supporting the bill and 23 Republicans voting against it.  The House bill is substantially different from the Senate-passed bill (S. 1925), a truly bipartisan measure that garnered the votes of 15 Republican senators.  Unlike the House bill, the Senate bill expands protections to specific groups of domestic violence victims, including immigrants, members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities and Native Americans.  The Senate bill would also expand reporting requirements for colleges and universities when there are campus incidents of domestic violence, dating violence and stalking.  Another difference between the two bills is that the House bill allows religious groups that receive public funds to deliver Violence Against Women Act services to make hiring decisions based on the job applicants’ religious beliefs, which amounts to taxpayer-funded employment discrimination. The next step is for negotiators from the House and Senate to agree on a final bill.  President Obama has issued a veto threat in the event that the final legislation resembles the House bill. 

Senator Harkin Introduces Resolution in Support of Home Care Workers and Affordable Services

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, introduced a Sense of the Senate resolution (S.Res.453),  urging the Senate to take a comprehensive approach to expand and support a strong home care workforce and to make long-term services and supports affordable and accessible.  Sen. Harkin, who was the author and chief Senate sponsor of the Americans with Disabilities act of 1990 (ADA), views improving the quality of direct care jobs as  necessary to uphold the right of seniors and individuals with disabilities to a dignified quality of life.  The Sense of the Senate resolution incorporates key elements of the Caring Across Generations campaign, which was launched with the support of AFSCME. 

AFSCME Activists Call Out WellPoint Insurance Company

Several AFSCME local union activists from California, Indiana and New Hampshire attended the WellPoint health insurance company’s annual shareholders meeting in Indianapolis, IN on Wednesday.  The AFSCME activists, along with other union activists, challenged WellPoint’s CEO over contributions the company has made to politicians, including Govs. Scott Walker (R-WI), John Kasich (R-OH) and Mitch Daniels (R-IN), who have pushed to end collective bargaining and other anti-worker measures.  The activists also challenged WellPoint over its financial support for organizations that promote anti-worker policies at the state and federal level, including the American Legislative Exchange Council and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. During the action inside the meeting, dozens of activists protested against WellPoint outside.  WellPoint is the parent company of Anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield and other companies that provide health care coverage to millions of union families. Yet, the company uses premiums collected from union members and their employers to support attacks against collective bargaining and other labor rights.  

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