Week Ending November 21, 2016
House and Senate Leadership Elections
Despite the national election upheaval, there will be little change in the House and Senate majorities and leadership going into the new Congress that convenes in January. The elections saw fewer than expected gains for Democrats in the House and Senate as both chambers remain in the hands of GOP leadership. The House Republican caucus unanimously re-elected Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI). House Democrats delayed their leadership vote until after Thanksgiving, but current House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) announced her plan to run again.
In the Senate, as expected, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) was formally nominated to continue as Majority Leader, and Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) as Majority Whip. In one change, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) was selected to succeed retiring Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) as Democratic Leader. Democrats also added Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) to their leadership ranks to serve in an outreach role in the Democratic caucus. Democrats also nominated Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) to continue as Senate Minority Whip and added Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) to a new Assistant Democratic Leader position.
The new 115th Congress is expected to convene on January 3, 2017. At that time party leaders will be formally elected and new House and Senate members will be sworn into office.
House Leadership Backs Plan to Put Federal Spending on Auto-Pilot Until April
Government funding for the fiscal year that began October 1, 2016 has been operating under a temporary funding bill, known as a continuing resolution (CR), since September, but will expire on December 9. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and President-elect Trump both signaled their support to pass a new CR until March 31, 2017. Funding for military construction and veterans’ services have been approved, but all other federal programs would operate for half of the fiscal year without a final budget, making planning at all levels of government extremely difficult. Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) slammed the plan for a new CR, noting that it, “effectively throws in the garbage months of painstaking and bipartisan work.” Some Senate GOP leaders have registered strong objections but have not indicated that they would block the effort or threaten a government shut-down.
The fate of funding to alleviate Flint’s water crisis also hangs in the balance, since the bill that includes it and funds water projects generally has hit a roadblock. House Republican leadership have indicated they may include Flint aid in the CR.
AFSCME continues to urge Congress to complete fiscal year 2017 funding by year’s end and to keep the package free from poison pill policy riders, including those that would strip new protections to expand overtime pay, to safeguard workers’ retirement savings, keep jobs safe, and potentially hundreds of other worker, consumer, and environmental protections.
Obamacare, Medicare, Medicaid, SNAP and Student Loans Face Serious Risks
GOP congressional leaders have stated their intention to use a procedure known as "reconciliation" beginning next year to make it easier to pass bills by requiring just a bare majority of 51 Senators to vote in favor of a bill instead of the 60 votes generally required to get past a filibuster. There are very strict, specific rules to guide what reconciliation can be used to do, including 1) raise or lower taxes; 2) cut spending in programs that receive automatic or "mandatory" funding such as Medicare, Medicaid, SNAP, student loans; and 3) address the debt limit.
GOP leaders have made known their desire to use reconciliation to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) very early next year. Congress did this in 2015, but President Obama vetoed the bill. The GOP may also create a second reconciliation bill later in the year that could be used to replace the ACA, cut Medicare and Medicaid, and/or pass a massive tax cut for the wealthy and big corporations. It is also possible that tax reform could be coupled with a new infrastructure bill.
AFSCME strongly opposes repealing the ACA and making harmful structural changes to vital safety net programs including Medicare, Medicaid, SNAP, and student loans.
TPP Has Stalled – For Now
Heading into the November elections, the Obama administration and Republican congressional leaders appeared to lack the votes to win approval of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). For now, the TPP has been scuttled and there will not be a vote on it during the lame-duck session before a new Congress convenes in January. Halting the progress of the TPP is the result of grassroots work by union members, retirees, environmentalists, consumer groups and many others who oppose this corporate-driven trade deal. While the TPP has been stalled, it is not dead. The business community and congressional Republican leaders want to get this deal done and will continue to press for it. If President-elect Trump decides to reopen the TPP negotiations, it is likely that the deal will become worse, not better, for working families.
House Passes Legislation Targeting Obama Administration Regulations
On Thursday, the House passed the so-called Midnight Rules Relief Act (H.R. 5982) by a vote of 240 to 179. Three Democrats (Reps. Henry Cuellar (TX), Colin Peterson (MN), and Kristen Sinema (AZ)) joined all Republicans in supporting the legislation. The bill would amend the Congressional Review Act to allow Congress to pass a resolution to overturn new rules.
While the law allows Congress to overturn regulations as far back as May of this year, sponsors asserted that the legislation prevents rules from being “hastily” rushed through at the end of an Administration. Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) cited a Public Citizen report that notes that rules finalized in the last three months of an administration took 3.6 years on average to complete.
AFSCME joined allies in the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards in opposing this harmful legislation. President Obama issued a veto threat if the bill were to make it to his desk.
Legal and Congressional Challenges to New Overtime Rule
On Wednesday, a federal judge in Texas held a hearing in a lawsuit brought by 21 states’ attorneys general and business groups against the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) new overtime rule which will expand eligibility for overtime pay to an additional 4.2 million workers who earn between $23,660 and $47,476 annually. The rule is scheduled to go into effect on December 1, but the challengers are attempting to block its implementation before then. The judge stated he will rule on November 22 on the request for an emergency injunction. Even if he denies this request, the lawsuit will likely go forward.
The DOL’s overtime rule is also vulnerable to attack in Congress. It is possible that opponents of this important rule will attempt to add its reversal as a policy “rider” on the December must-pass “continuing resolution,” needed to keep the federal government operating.
AFSCME strongly supported this long-overdue update to overtime coverage to ensure that more workers will either work no more than 40 hours per week, or be paid a premium for work beyond 40 hours. We will continue to fight any attempts to delay, phase-in, or overturn this critically important rule.
Court Ruling a Blow to Transparency in Union Organizing Campaigns
This week, a Texas federal court made permanent a preliminary injunction against implementation of the Department of Labor’s (DOL) rule that requires employers to disclose the actions of lawyers and others they hire to resist union organizing. In March, the DOL finalized its “persuader rule” so that workers would know who was providing their employer with union busting messages and tactics. The DOL has not yet stated whether it will appeal the Texas ruling to the federal appeals court.
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