Week Ending October 11, 2013
Federal Government Still Shut Down; Endgame Unclear
In a meeting with President Obama late Thursday, House Republican leaders proposed a plan to delay a government default by six weeks but to continue the federal government shutdown. There was not agreement to this proposal and House Republican leaders continue to consider their options. Polling indicates that voters are blaming House Republicans for the government shutdown and that the entire situation has been a political disaster for their brand.
In the absence of federal funds, states have begun to furlough employees and more layoffs are contemplated around the country if the federal government is not reopened. The State of Michigan has announced that it is preparing to put up to 20,000 workers on unpaid leave after October 30, if the shutdown continues.
Instead of voting on a “clean” stopgap funding measure (continuing resolution, or “CR”) to simply reopen the government at the agreed upon funding level, House GOP leaders have been passing “mini funding bills” for politically popular programs, including Head Start, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), national parks, and several others. Twelve such bills have passed the House, mostly along party lines, and an additional six are pending. The Senate, most House Democrats and the President oppose this piecemeal approach to funding the government and have been pushing for a CR to reopen the entire government without strings, such as provisions to defund or delay the Affordable Care Act. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) continues to refuse to hold a vote on a clean CR, although press reports indicate that there may be enough House Republicans who would join with Democrats to end the shutdown.
House Democrats have initiated a “discharge petition” to force a vote on a clean CR. They would need the signatures of at least 18 Republicans to force a floor vote. So far, no Republicans have been willing to sign the discharge petition since it puts them at odds with their leaders. AFSCME continues to press for an end to the shutdown and a long-term funding bill for fiscal year 2014 that eliminates sequestration’s across-the-board spending cuts.
House GOP Leadership Proposes Short-Term Relief to Avoid a Default
The clock is ticking down to October 17, the date on which the federal government would default on incurred debt. The debt limit is the total amount of money that the U.S. government is authorized to borrow to meet its existing legal obligations. It does not authorize new spending, but allows the federal government to meet existing financial obligations for a wide range of commitments including Social Security and Medicare benefits; military and federal employee salaries and pensions; funding to state and local governments for Medicaid, education and other services; veterans’ benefits; interest on the money the federal government has borrowed; tax refunds; and other payments.
The President met separately this week with congressional Democrats and Republican to discuss a path forward on the debt limit. House Republican leaders have proposed a six-week extension of the debt ceiling, through November 22, but do not plan to couple it with a reopening of the government. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has said a short-term debt ceiling extension is a nonstarter in the Senate unless the House agrees to reopen the government. Meanwhile, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) has emerged to lead budget discussions and has proposed a
plan to increase the debt limit in exchange for dollar-for-dollar spending cuts and a promise of future changes to the tax code and cuts to social insurance and health programs. His plan pivots Republicans away from the tea party’s focus on defunding the Affordable Care Act, to the goals of revenue-neutral tax reform and harmful cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. The proposal is a rehash of old ideas proposed by Ryan in his earlier budget plans. Further, a group of 51 House Republicans, led by Rep. Reid Ribble (R-WI), is specifically advocating for cuts to Social Security by reducing inflation adjustments, raising the retirement age, and means-testing the program.
The Senate is preparing to vote on a bill to avoid default (S. 1569) through December 2014. AFSCME strongly supports this legislation.
AFSCME Joins Allies in Keeping Up the Heat for Immigration Reform
This past week the labor movement and our immigrant rights allies held dozens of public events in cities around the country, culminating in a large rally, concert, march and civil disobedience in Washington, D.C. Last Saturday, 183 major mobilizations and actions were held in 40 states, with approximately 50,000 people participating. Labor’s message was clear, demanding that the House GOP leadership take action towards a final comprehensive immigration reform bill that includes a road map to citizenship and that protects workers’ rights.
On Tuesday, thousands of working people and families attended a rally and concert on the National Mall. Among the speakers were Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and several other members of the House, both Democrats and Republicans. The common message was the need to pass legislation this year to fix our broken immigration system, bring the 11 million undocumented immigrants living and working in the U.S. out of the shadows, and provide them with a path to citizenship. AFSCME Secretary-Treasurer Laura Reyes joined several other labor and civil rights leaders on the stage. After a spirited march to the Capitol, over 200 people participated in civil disobedience which resulted in arrest. Several members of Congress were the first to be arrested; many labor activists were among the 200, including several AFSCME international staff and IVP Henry Nicholas.
While Congress is focused on the government shutdown and debt ceiling crises, AFSCME and our immigration reform allies are continuing to keep up the pressure both inside and outside the Beltway to push the House GOP leadership to debate immigration reform legislation this fall and together with the Senate produce a bill for President Obama to sign before the end of the year.
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