Week Ending May 19, 2017
With the FY 2017 spending bills finally done, Congress has turned its attention to FY 2018, which begins October 1. The process begins with the President’s budget proposal. President Trump submitted an outline of his budget about six weeks ago. On Tuesday, May 23, the administration will release its full budget proposal with greater details on annual spending programs, entitlement programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, and taxes.
Based on the budget outlined, we know the President wants to cut $54 billion from non-defense programs to pay for increased defense spending. We also expect him to push for deep cuts that will harm middle-class families and the poor, cutting health, education, housing, medical and scientific research, public safety, homeland security and more.
Details about cuts to education were released this week and they are deeply troubling, with the Department of Education budget reduced by $10.6 billion or about 14%. Funding for college work-study programs would be cut in half, public-service loan forgiveness would end and hundreds of millions of dollars that public schools use for mental health, advanced coursework and other services would vanish. Instead, the President proposes to focus on his education priority: vouchers. The budget would divert $1.4 billion from public education to vouchers for private and religious schools.
We expect the proposed budget to include deep cuts of about $800 billion to entitlements, including Medicaid and food stamps (SNAP). Any cuts to Medicaid would be on top of the $840 billion cut that was included in the House-passed bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, which the administration supports.
AFSCME will share details from the budget when it is released next week. AFSCME is strongly opposed to these deep cuts, and will continue to urge Congress to increase or eliminate arbitrary budget caps, and to make investments based on our country’s needs.
On Thursday, the Trump administration notified Congress that it will initiate negotiations with Canada and Mexico in order to “improve” and “modernize” the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). House Democratic leaders criticized the administration for seeking to make modest changes to the trade agreement, rather than significant reforms. They also criticized the administration for deciding to use the text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) as the starting point for negotiations. While the letter to Congress did not include significant details, a previously drafted letter indicated that the administration would not seek to end special legal rights for corporations that are included in NAFTA and the TPP. These rights allow multinational companies to challenge worker and consumer protections, environmental standards, even food safety laws and to demand compensation from countries when laws reduce their profits. They also encourage corporations to move American jobs off shore.
On Wednesday, we expect the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to release its review or, “score,” of the American Health Care Act (H.R. 1628), the bill approved by the House to repeal the Affordable Care Act and cut Medicaid. The CBO score will estimate the number of people expected to lose health coverage under the bill and the impact on the federal budget. The CBO estimated that a previous version of the bill would cause 24 million to lose their health care over ten years. It also estimated that the bill’s tax cuts for the wealthy and selected corporations would be more than $500 billion, and that cuts in Medicaid payments to the states would reach $840 billion.
The House was expected to debate a bill next week that would undermine worker rights at the Department of Veterans Affairs. However, it appears that the bill has been pulled from floor consideration because Republican leaders lack the votes needed for approval.
This week, the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee voted along party lines to approve the deceptively titled, Employees and Taxpayers Protection Act of 2017 (H.R. 1461), which would unfairly limit federal workers’ use of official time; double probationary periods from 12 months to 24 months; and allow union members to revoke union membership anytime. AFSCME opposes this bill because it limits the ability of stewards and other employee representatives from using official time to address workplace safety concerns, working conditions, employee discrimination and to develop employee training.
House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD) said; “This legislation unfairly targets federal employees in the Department of Veterans Affairs by significantly limiting their ability to be adequately represented by their unions, interfering with union leadership elections, and severely limiting the ability of union representatives to communicate with Members of Congress… In the past, Congress has rejected this type of anti-union legislation on a bipartisan basis.”
While the bill may not be debated by the full House next week, it could be brought up at a later time. AFSCME will continue to work against this bill and others that would undermine the rights of federal workers.
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