Issues / Legislation » Legislative Weekly Reports

Week Ending November 20, 2015

Fiscal Year 2016 Funding Effort Creeps Forward

Congressional staff continue to work toward finalizing funding bills for Fiscal Year (FY) 2016, which began October 1. The federal government is temporarily funded until December 11. Each funding committee received an increase in available funds following the recent bipartisan budget deal, but most details have been kept secret.  Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) broke the silence, decrying the $5.2 billion increase for the bill funding labor, health, human services and education programs as unfair and disproportionally low based on its share of the overall budget.  She urged support for a proportional increase of $10 billion. 

AFSCME continues to oppose ideological policy riders being attached to funding bills, particularly those that would harm labor protections, education and immigration.  AFSCME Federal Government Affairs Director Scott Frey joined Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) and G.K. Butterfield (D-NC) and coalitional allies in decrying Republican attempts to load up funding bills with poison pill policy riders. 

Elementary and Secondary Education Act Reauthorization (ESEA) Advances

House and Senate Education Committee members met this week in a “conference committee” to resolve the differences between the House and Senate Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) bills.  The conference committee approved a compromise conference report that the House will vote on in early December.  If it passes, the report will move to the Senate for final passage.  Amendments cannot be offered to conference reports; rather members of Congress can only vote for or against. Controversial measures, including “portability,” private school vouchers, and changes in how federal education funds are allocated among states were removed from the conference report.  Portability would have permitted funds for low-income schools to follow a student to a higher income school, diluting assistance to poorer schools. The report amends the background check requirements to allow federal funds to be used for checks, but does not prescribe processes for states to follow.  The bill also includes the preschool development grant program. And, it expands charter school programs but strengthens accountability and transparency. 

Senate and House Champions Urge President Obama’s Support to Repeal 40% Tax on Worker Health Benefits

 Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Dean Heller (R-NV),  and Reps. Joe Courtney (D-CT) and Frank Guinta (R-NH) sent a letter to President Obama urging repeal of the 40% excise tax on high cost employer-sponsored health insurance plans and that repeal happen this year.

Their letter to President Obama states:

"As leaders in the effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act’s 40 percent excise tax on high cost health insurance plans, we urge you to work with us to eliminate this tax.  Finding a path forward on the repeal of this provision is a bipartisan and bicameral end-of-year priority for each of us and a large number of our colleagues on both sides of the aisle.....we request the opportunity to meet with you to discuss repeal of the tax, as soon as possible. We look forward to hearing back from you with potential opportunities to discuss this issue in person by December 1, 2015."

There is strong bipartisan support for repealing the 40% tax. In the House, more than 260 representatives have co-sponsored repeal legislation, including 80% of House Democrats.  In the Senate, 36 senators have co-sponsored repeal legislation. AFSCME strongly supports repeal of the 40% tax and is helping lead the lobbying and advocacy effort to eliminate the tax.

Women's Economic Agenda

This week, the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) introduced a comprehensive strategy to improve economic security for women and families. Components of the strategy include raising the minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020; eliminating the lower minimum wage for tipped workers; strengthening collective bargaining rights; strengthening laws against discrimination in hiring, pay and promotion; providing paid family leave and paid sick leave; requiring fair scheduling practices; providing accessible and affordable child care and early education; protecting and expanding Social Security; providing undocumented workers a path to citizenship; supporting strong enforcement of labor standards; and prioritizing wage growth and low unemployment when making monetary policy (raising or lowering interest rates). 

Congress Adopts Bill to Open Medicaid Emergency Psychiatric Demonstration to State Psychiatric Facilities

The House approved a bill (S. 599) to extend the Medicaid Emergency Psychiatric Demonstration through September 30, 2016, and to open the demonstration to publicly-run psychiatric facilities.  Under the demonstration, states receive federal Medicaid payments for limited inpatient emergency psychiatric care for individuals ages 21 to 64.  Current Medicaid law prevents such payments. The original demonstration had an irregularity and excluded publicly-operated psychiatric facilities.  S. 599 corrects this glitch and opens the extended Medicaid demonstration to public psychiatric facilities in the demonstration states (AL, CA, CT, DC, IL, MD, ME, MI, NC, RI, WA, WV).  The Senate passed a similar bill, which President Obama is expected to sign into law. 

House Passes Bill Attacking Collective Bargaining Rights

Despite vigorous opposition from AFSCME and other labor organizations, this week the House passed the Tribal Labor Sovereignty Act (H.R. 511) by a largely partisan vote of 249 to 117. Twenty-four Democrats joined most Republicans voting in favor of the legislation. Only 18 GOP House members opposed it. The bill now goes to the Senate (S. 248) for consideration.

The legislation, introduced by Rep. Todd Rokita (R-IN), seeks to deny National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) protections to workers employed by tribal-owned and operated enterprises on Indian land. In recent years, there has been a substantial expansion of enterprises that would be impacted by this legislation, including casinos, mining operations, power plants, saw mills, ski resorts, high-tech firms, hotels, and spas. A great majority of the workers and customers are not Native Americans.

While supporting the principle of tribal sovereignty, it should not be used to deny workers their collective bargaining rights and freedom of association, especially in instances where they are working for a commercial operation competing with other businesses. The National Labor Relations Board should continue to be allowed to consider tribal labor disputes on a case-by-case basis, reviewing all the circumstances.

Final vote results can be found here.

One Year Anniversary of Immigration Executive Actions

November 20, 2015 marks the one year anniversary of President Obama’s announcement of executive actions that established the Deferred Action for Parents of U.S. Citizens and Legal Permanent Residents (DAPA) program and expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). DAPA would remove the threat of deportation and provide work authorization to approximately 3.7 million immigrant parents with long-standing ties to the U.S.  The expansion of DACA would allow additional undocumented immigrants who were brought to this country as children to no longer be subject to deportation and to obtain work authorization.  President Obama’s immigration-related executive actions are in response to Congress’s failure to move forward on comprehensive immigration reform legislation to fix our broken immigration system.

Unfortunately, both DAPA and the DACA expansion are tied up in litigation and have not been allowed to proceed.  Last week, a panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a district court judge’s injunction against President Obama’s DAPA and DACA executive actions.  Today, the Department of Justice (DOJ) asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case during its current term, and to reverse the Court of Appeals’ decision.  President Obama’s executive actions are well within the president’s power to exercise prosecutorial discretion in deciding how and when to enforce the law. If the Court takes the case, a decision will be issued no later than June 2016. 

House Votes to Bar Refugees from Coming to U.S.

On Thursday, the House passed by a vote of 289-137 the American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act of 2015 (H.R. 4038), despite the threat of a Presidential veto.  The bill would prevent Syrian and Iraqi refugee families from resettling in the United States, and adds harmful barriers to the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program.

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