Week Ending November 16, 2012
Congress will be in recess until November 27. The next Legislative Weekly Report will be on November 30.
Labor Leaders Meet with President on Fiscal Cliff
As action on the so-called “fiscal cliff” heats up, the first major group President Obama called upon to meet with were labor leaders. AFSCME President Lee Saunders joined with AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel, and SEIU President Mary Kay Henry to meet with President Obama on the pressing budget and tax issues facing the “lame duck” Congress, which convened November 13.
At the White House meeting the President reiterated his commitment to preserving tax cuts for middle-class families by continuing tax cuts for families with household incomes below $250,000, but allowing those for the wealthy to expire. The union presidents were unified in their position on taxes and other pressing issues. AFSCME and other unions and progressive groups released a Washington Post full-page ad which urges our national leaders to grow the economy by investing in good jobs, education and infrastructure and reach a budget agreement that reflects the basic principles of revenue fairness and protecting vital safety net programs and public services (see attached). The union leaders also discussed plans for a comprehensive mobilization campaign to hold lawmakers accountable. President Saunders thanked President Obama for pledging to fight for the middle class and tax fairness. He also said we need to hold the line on spending cuts and protect vital public services, including Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
Meetings with business leaders and others were scheduled for later in the week in advance of highly anticipated meetings with House and Senate leaders scheduled for today. So far, GOP leaders in both the House and Senate have signaled reluctance to give up their fight to protect tax cuts for the wealthy even if it means allowing taxes for middle-class workers to go up. Further negotiations and possible legislative action is not likely on the contentious budget and tax issues until after the Thanksgiving congressional recess.
Lame-Duck Session of Congress Convenes
Congress convened in a “lame-duck” session this week when current House members and Senators came together to attempt to complete action on critically important budget and tax issues. It is referred to as a lame-duck session because it includes lawmakers who may have been defeated or who plan to retire at the end of the year. It does not include newly elected members of the House or Senate, although they are also in town for orientation sessions to prepare for the 113th Congress which convenes in January.
Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) dismissed speculation that she would step down from her post as Minority Leader. Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) will continue to serve as Speaker in the 113th Congress. Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) will also continue to serve as Majority Leader. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) defeated Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) to become leader of the Republican Conference, the fourth ranking GOP spot in the House.
As of now, Republicans will outnumber Democrats in the House of Representatives 234-196 in the next Congress. Democrats, however, hold narrow leads in all five House races considered too close to call. In the Senate, Democrats were buoyed by election results giving them two more seats than they previously held. When the 113th Congress convenes, the Democratic caucus will include 55 seats to 45 for the Republicans, as newly elected Independent Angus King (I-ME) announced he will caucus with the Democrats.
Budget and Tax Issues Top List of Lame-Duck Priorities
The most pressing issues facing Congress in the lame-duck session are a budget compromise to avoid damaging 8% across-the-board cuts (“sequestration”) to nearly all federally-funded discretionary programs, and hundreds of billions of dollars of expiring tax breaks, including those benefitting the top 2% of Americans.
One of the principle elements of President Obama’s re-election campaign was to require wealthy Americans and corporations to pay their fair share of taxes, and he reiterated that pledge in a press conference this week along with his intention to enact a fair and balanced deficit reduction package. AFSCME has been strongly advocating through member mobilization and D.C. lobbying efforts to protect Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security benefits; end tax breaks for the top 2%, and avoid across-the-board cuts that could shred the safety net and lead to additional job losses for state and local governments.
Congressional conservatives continue to strongly resist increasing income tax rates – and in fact seek to reduce rates. While they have not submitted specific proposals, they generally support tax reform that would reduce tax rates and close loopholes –without increasing the overall taxes paid by corporations.
To add to the substantial list of pending big-ticket items, only the first six months of the current federal fiscal year is funded through a stop-gap measure that will expire March 1. An effort has been launched in Congress to fully fund the remainder of the fiscal year.
We will share details about pending tax and budget proposals as they become available.
Hurricane Sandy Recovery: Federal Financial Assistance Requested
Congress has now begun to discuss appropriate responses to Hurricane Sandy’s damage to the East Coast – from the Carolinas to Maine – and as far inland as Ohio, which could cost up to $50 billion and result in the second costliest storm in U.S. history, after 2005’s Hurricane Katrina. During President Obama’s Thursday visit to New York to view the damage and assess needed assistance, the President noted he wanted federal officials to coordinate with New York and New Jersey’s local and state leaders in an effort “to come up with a game plan for how we’re going to be able to resource the rebuilding process.”
The White House announced prior approval of at least $600 billion in direct assistance to affected individuals. The Obama administration had already declared large parts of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Virginia, West Virginia, and New Hampshire major disaster areas eligible for federal assistance, and other areas may also get designated. The New York City metro area and New Jersey shore suffered greatly, with Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) reporting damage and economic losses to New York State of $33 billion. Cuomo is counting on the Obama administration’s commitment to pay 100% for some public costs of rebuilding and has already announced he would request $30 billion in federal funding for Sandy-related expenses, including repairs to bridges, tunnels and subways, and paying overtime for emergency workers.
Many members of Congress from damaged areas plan to fight for billions of federal dollars. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), who chairs the Senate Appropriations Homeland Security subcommittee, said “there needs to be a supplemental appropriations bill to deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.” On Tuesday, 13 Democratic senators wrote to President Obama urging him to amend his 2013 budget to request emergency aid for federal disaster assistance programs; take quick action so necessary funds can be appropriated to help rebuilding and recovery; and requested an increased federal share for recovery costs.
AFSCME is closely monitoring congressional action to address damage in affected states and localities and will support efforts that ensure affected areas receive needed federal aid.
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