Week Ending May 27, 2016
House Committee Approves Puerto Rico Debt Restructuring Bill
Recently released House legislation (H.R. 5278), authorizing restructuring of the Puerto Rico government’s estimated $70 billion debt, was approved by the House Natural Resources Committee by a bipartisan vote of 29-10. The bill would create an orderly process authorizing the governments of Puerto Rico and its municipalities to restructure their debt, impose an appointed board with broad and strong oversight powers, and undermine worker protections such as minimum wage and overtime standards. Republicans voted 14-10 to approve the bill, and all but one Democrat voted in favor. This compromise bill reflected lengthy negotiations among House Republicans and Democrats and the Obama administration.
AFSCME, the AFL-CIO, SEIU, UAW and other unions oppose the bill because it fails to protect the accrued pension benefits of Puerto Rico’s workers and retirees, retain minimum wage and overtime protections, and preserve the democratic rights of Puerto Rico’s people. The full House is expected to vote on this bill the week of June 6.
Senate Votes to Block Obama Administration’s Retirement Savers Best Interest Final Rule
The Senate voted 56-41 along party lines to block the Obama administration’s recently issued final regulation ensuring that investment advisors provide retirement savers with advice in the savers’ best interest. Every Republican who voted was in support of blocking the rule. In contrast, all but one Democrat Sen. Jon Tester, (D-MT) voted against blocking the rule. The House previously voted to block this rule. The White House has indicated that President Obama will veto the legislation.
The Department of Labor’s (DOL) recently issued “Retirement Savers Best Interest” final regulation requires retirement investment advisors to provide advice in their clients’ best interest. It protects AFSCME members and tens of millions of other retirement savers by prohibiting advisors from recommending investments in order to generate more fees for the advisor but are costly and risky for the saver. The White House Council of Economic Advisors has reported that conflicted investment advice costs retiree plan participants $17 billion in annual losses and that over a 35-year period, could result in an individual saver losing almost 25% of his/her assets.
AFSCME and our allies oppose overturning this important rule. AFSCME strongly advocated for these retirement protections for many years and is a founding member of the Save Our Retirement (SOR) coalition, which works to ensure that DOL’s rule is implemented. Looking ahead, AFSCME will continue advocating to prevent Congress from acting to block, delay, defund, or otherwise weaken these new protections.
Energy and Water Funding Bill Sinks on the House Floor
This week, the House attempted to pass the Energy-Water funding bill (H.R. 5055), but it failed overwhelmingly by a vote of 112-305 with bipartisan opposition. The historically non-controversial bill was loaded up with policy “riders” initiated by the GOP, including amendments adopted to block a set of Obama administration rules and to overturn the restriction of federal funds to North Carolina because of its controversial bathroom law. The House also approved Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney’s (D-NY) amendment to restrict LGBT discrimination, which passed with the support of 43 Republicans along with all voting House Democrats. That amendment, however, led a block of Republicans to oppose the entire bill, along with Democrats who opposed the bill because of other policy riders.
The path ahead is unclear for this and other annual funding bills in the House. This was only the second funding bill to come to the House floor, and a total of 12 appropriations bills are required to keep the government running beyond September 30. If no additional bills can pass the House, then Congress is moving closer to the ultimate move of putting all federal funding on temporary autopilot through a continuing resolution (CR) until after the fall elections.
House Panel Examines OSHA Updated Rule to Track Workplace Injuries and Illnesses
The House Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on Workforce Protections held a hearing to examine the recently updated Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulation to improve tracking of workplace injuries and illnesses. Employers must already maintain workplace injury records. This updated standard requires employers in high hazard industries to electronically submit a summary of that data to OSHA each year, and large employers will have to submit information that is more detailed. Workers and the public will have access to this information. This transparency will allow OSHA, unions and workers to better identify and rectify hazardous conditions. The rule also protects workers by prohibiting retaliation against workers who report injuries. Retaliation violations will be subject to citations and penalties. With these stronger protections, workers will be more willing to report injuries, which will help with overall prevention. AFSCME supports this updated rule and urges Congress to reject calls to delay or otherwise block implementation of this reasonable and practical regulation.
“Take on Wall Street” Advocacy Campaign
Progressive advocates announced a new “Take on Wall Street” advocacy campaign at a Capitol Hill press conference this week. The campaign is endorsed by AFSCME, AFL-CIO, CWA, Americans for Financial Reform, as well as other unions, consumer advocates and civil rights groups.
The campaign has five congressional legislative priorities. First, close the estimated $18 billion annual federal tax loophole for “carried interest,” which allows Wall Street money managers to pay a lower marginal tax rate than many working families. Second, prohibit federal tax deductions for corporations paying enormous bonuses to executives, which costs an estimated $5 billion annually. Third, enact a new Wall Street tax on “speculation” or short-term trading. This could raise $352 billion over 10 years. Fourth, downsize risky mega-banks that weaken America’s economy by restoring proven protections that separate commercial and investment banking. Fifth, expand consumer access to fair and equal financial services and reduce predatory lending, including authorizing the U.S. Post Office to provide basic banking services, savings accounts, and check cashing services.
By closing federal tax loopholes and ensuring the wealthiest 1% and Wall Street financial firms pay their fair share of taxes, we can fund needed investments in education, health care, job training, infrastructure, and other vital public services that will help working families and those struggling to make ends meet.
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