Week Ending November 30, 2012
Obama Keeps Pressure on Lame-Duck Congress
President Obama, in a plan made public on Thursday, continues to press the lame-duck Congress to continue the tax cuts for 98% of Americans – those with family income up to $250,000 – while letting them expire for the richest 2%. He also is calling for additional revenue by increasing taxes on capital gains and dividend income, raising revenues from estate taxes, and limiting the value of tax expenditures and deductions at 28% for the wealthiest. The plan includes a $50 billion multi-year stimulus package consisting primarily of new infrastructure spending and a one-year extension of unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed, as well as $400 billion in cuts to health care programs. The President also is asking for more power to increase the government’s borrowing limit without congressional approval to avoid debt ceilings from being used as hammers to reduce spending on vital programs.
Congressional Republicans, for the most part, are still insisting on holding the middle-class tax cuts hostage in favor of continuing the Bush tax cuts for the rich. At the same time they are demanding domestic spending cuts be made including deep cuts in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security but refusing to make specific proposals. Interestingly, at least one House Republican, Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), publically disagreed with his party leaders this week and said it made sense to support the President and pass the middle-class tax extension now and deal with the rest of it later. Three other GOP members have followed and stated their agreement with Rep. Cole.
Meanwhile, serious talks over the so-called “fiscal cliff” issues have just gotten started, with President Obama’s negotiating team, led by Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and Chief of Staff Jack Lew, initiating talks with groups of congressional Republicans and Democrats this week. Congress has until the end of the year to work out a deal sufficient to avoid automatic across-the-board spending cuts in annually-approved defense and nondefense spending, and tax increases on almost all Americans if the current tax rate is not continued for the middle class.
Labor Leaders and Activists Lobby Congress for Lame-Duck Session
Affiliate leaders, retiree leaders and activists from AFSCME joined with those of the AFL-CIO, National Education Association and the Service Employees International Union to lobby Representatives and Senators in Washington, D.C. this week. The message they carried was twofold:
- Congress must allow the tax cut for the middle class to be extended, but the wealthiest 2% must be asked to pay their fair share by letting their tax cut expire on December 31; and
- Congress must not cut Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid to address the federal deficit, but should instead create jobs that will grow our economy.
The coordinated lobbying effort is part of a broader campaign that includes some advertising in key states, staging rallies, vigils and other events around the country and special days where we will flood congressional offices with telephone calls from union members.
Markers Being Laid on Immigration Reform
President Obama has pledged to work with the 113th Congress to achieve comprehensive immigration reform. Both the House and Senate have pending legislation that are piecemeal approaches to immigration policy. Today, the House passed H.R. 6429 on a largely party-line vote of 245 to 149. The bill would abolish a program that currently awards 55,000 visas through a lottery system that mainly is used by individuals in poor nations to gain entry to the U.S., and redirect those visas to immigrants who graduate from American universities with degrees in science, technology, engineering and math. House Democrats and President Obama have spoken out against the bill because it is not part of a comprehensive overhaul of the immigration system. The bill is unlikely to be taken up by the Senate during the lame-duck session.
In the Senate, two retiring GOP Senators, Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) and Jon Kyl (R-AZ), along with Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), introduced legislation (S. 3639) that would create new visa categories for young immigrants but offers them no route to citizenship. It is unlikely to be taken up in the lame duck. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has pledged to push for comprehensive reform that would offer a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
Also this week, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus released its principles for immigration reform. They include a path to permanent residency and eventual citizenship; family reunification; attracting highly educated and trained immigrants to the U.S.; bringing undocumented childhood arrivals to the U.S. into the mainstream of our society; ensuring that immigrant agricultural workers have a route to citizenship; reforming guest worker programs so that both native and foreign workers are protected from exploitation; smart and reasonable border enforcement; a reliable and workable employment verification system; and renewing our commitment to the Citizenship Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
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