Week Ending October 25, 2013
Budget Talks to Begin Next Week; “Grand Bargain” Unlikely
The 29 members of the House and Senate Budget Conference Committee will hold its first official meeting on October 30 in an attempt to reach a budget agreement by December 13 as called for in the legislation that ended the government shutdown. House and Senate negotiators remain far apart and the $91 billion difference between the House and Senate funding levels is largely due to House insistence on maintaining cuts to vital programs and resisting new taxes. It is not clear that the negotiations will result in any agreement beyond setting overall spending levels for the remainder of the fiscal year. The current funding bill expires January 15 and an extension is required to avoid another government shutdown.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) expects budget negotiations to focus on providing some relief from automatic spending cuts. He said it was “highly unlikely” any “grand bargain” can be reached on tax reform and spending for social insurance and other large-scale programs. He further noted: “On sequestration, we’ve done one year… [and] it has been brutal.”
AFSCME is pushing strongly for an end to the across-the-board sequestration spending cuts, for new progressive tax revenues, and against any beneficiary cuts to Social Security, Medicare, or any cuts to Medicaid.
President Obama to House Leadership: Pass Immigration Reform This Year
On Thursday, President Obama addressed supporters of comprehensive immigration reform – business, labor, faith leaders, immigrant rights activists – and urged the House GOP leadership to move forward and schedule a vote this year on legislation to fix our broken immigration system. He noted the large bipartisan vote in favor of the Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform legislation (S. 744) that passed in June. He also stressed the enormous benefits for our economy of fixing immigration policy, and the documented, overwhelming public support for reform.
Several GOP House members are reportedly working on immigration reform bills in addition to the five individual bills that passed through committees last spring (addressing border security, state and local law enforcement of immigration laws, a mandatory employment verification system, an agricultural guest worker program, and a higher-skilled guest worker program). Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) – the only GOP member of the House group that was working on a bipartisan comprehensive bill to stay with the effort until it collapsed – is working with others in the Republican caucus on a bill that addresses legalization, border enforcement and possibly other issues. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) is writing a bill that would give temporary legal status to undocumented immigrants. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) and others have been working on a bill tentatively called the KIDS Act that would grant legal status to some DREAMers – those undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children. Reps. Raul Labrador (R-ID) and Ted Poe (R-TX) are reportedly producing a bill that would establish a new guest worker program for lower-skilled workers that is unlikely to include the important worker protections incorporated into the W-Visa program that was agreed to by the AFL-CIO and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and included in S. 744. Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) is writing a bill that would establish a biometric entry-exit system to better track immigrants who overstay their visas.
AFSCME and our allies are continuing strong advocacy for comprehensive immigration reform this year that protects workers’ rights and includes a road map to citizenship. There is time to do it and the majority of House members support it; it is now up to the House GOP leadership to show it has the political will.
House Passes Bill Requiring School Employee Background Checks
The House passed a bill that would set federal standards requiring teachers and other school employees to undergo criminal background checks and set minimum standards for such investigations. The Protecting Students from Sexual and Violent Predators Act (H.R. 2083), introduced by Rep. George Miller (D-CA), was passed by voice vote. Given that all states currently have standards for background checks for teachers and most for non-teaching school employees, the new higher level of review could be inconsistent with existing state standards in some cases. Moreover, concern was expressed that this could lead to confusion and costly duplication at the state level at a time of scarce school resources, and even force individual employees to bear the costs of the background checks. No action is scheduled in the Senate at this time.
ENDA Vote Likely Before Thanksgiving
Following a bipartisan Senate committee vote in September, the full Senate is preparing for a floor vote on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) (S. 815). ENDA would protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from discrimination on the job. In 29 states, workers have no legal protections against firing based on sexual orientation, and an even greater number of states (33) offer no legal protection against firing based on gender identity.
A Senate vote on ENDA is likely before Thanksgiving. AFSCME urges you to call your U.S. Senators and urge them to support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (S. 815) to end workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Please call them today toll-free at 1-888-493-8963 or by going to http://www.afscme.org/enda
House Passes Water Resources Bill
The House passed the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2013 (WRRDA) (H.R. 3080) by a vote of 417 to 3. The bill is expected to be conferenced with the Senate bill, which passed on May 15 by a vote of 83 to 14. This legislation authorizes the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to carry out its mission to develop, maintain and support our nation’s vital port and waterways infrastructure needs and supports targeted flood protection and environmental restoration. Historically, Congress has passed such legislation every two years to provide clear direction, but no bill had been signed into law since 2007. WRRDA is one of the most reform-focused measures of its kind in the last two decades.
AFSCME supported the House bill but strongly opposed an amendment offered by Reps. Don Young (R-AK) and Tom Petri (R-WI), which sought to direct the Army Corps of Engineers to use private contractors for surveying and mapping functions whenever possible. This amendment would have set a harmful precedent by favoring contractors over federal workers to carry out these functions. The amendment was defeated on a voice vote.
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