Week Ending October 27, 2017
U.S. Senate Passes and President Trump Signs Disaster Relief Funding for Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico — More is Needed
The Senate voted 82 to 17 to approve and the President signed into law $36.5 billion in additional federal disaster relief for residents affected by hurricanes in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, and by wildfires in western states. The package includes $4.9 billion in loans desperately needed to overcome the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico’s short-term liquidity crisis, and ensure Puerto Rico has money to deliver vital public services and pay salaries to public sector workers, including AFSCME members involved in disaster relief efforts.
While this package is a start, it is inadequate for the dire needs in Puerto Rico and the other affected communities. AFSCME continues to advocate alongside the AFL-CIO and allied unions for more federal financial, technical, and material assistance for Puerto Rico, including significantly more funds for the Commonwealth’s Medicaid program.
The House had already approved this package. Nonetheless, congressional members from affected areas and congressional leaders promised to work for more federal resources for these communities. We expect Congress to develop another federal funding package, the third, to assist these devastated areas and potentially vote on it in November or December.
House Approves Budget Plan Setting up Vote on Tax Cut Legislation
As expected, the House followed the Senate and approved the Senate-passed budget plan by a close vote of 216 to 212. All Democrats were joined by 20 Republicans in opposing the budget. This is the first step toward passing a tax cut plan that is expected to largely benefit millionaires and big, profitable corporations. The budget plan includes instructions allowing the Senate to pass the tax cut bill under an expedited procedure that will require only a simple 51-vote majority rather than the usual 60-vote supermajority. The House GOP leadership is expected to introduce their tax cut bill on November 1, debate it in committee the following week and bring it to the full House for a final vote soon thereafter. The Senate leadership promises to follow right behind with similarly tight deadlines and expects to pass their bill in early December. Under the budget resolution, the tax bills would add to the deficit by at least $1.5 trillion. Many experts expect the resulting deficit will be much higher, owing to the use of overly optimistic economic assumptions and unrealistic job growth projections.
Senate Votes to Roll Back Banking Regulation in Gift to Wall St.
Vice President Mike Pence visited the U.S. Capitol to cast a rare tie-breaking vote in the Senate this week, to roll back a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) regulation that makes it easier for consumers to sue banks that cheat them. Republicans Lindsey Graham (SC) and John Kennedy (LA) joined every Democrat in opposing the measure. The House voted 231 to 190 to overturn the regulation in July. President Trump is expected to sign the bill. Should the CFPB want to regulate on this again, it would first need congressional approval.
President Trump Fails to Take Needed Action on Opioid Crisis
On Thursday, President Trump declared a public health emergency to address the opioid crisis. Rather than provide new and substantial resources to combat the opioid crisis, his plan takes funds away from other priorities:
- Allowing states to use existing dislocated worker funds from the Department of Labor to help workers who have been displaced from the workforce because of the opioid crisis;
- Allowing states to shift federal funds for HIV/AIDS treatment to opioid treatment;
- Using the remaining $57,000 in the Public Health Emergency Fund for opioid treatment.
The most important steps that President Trump could take to address the opioid crisis would be to stop sabotaging the Affordable Care Act and quit pursuing cuts to Medicaid, both of which provide access to addiction treatment to millions.
Congressional Budget Office Finds that Bipartisan Health Bill Saves Money
This week, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) issued its analysis of the Bipartisan Health Care Stabilization Act of 2017, Senate legislation that would stabilize the health insurance markets and reverse recent actions by President Trump to sabotage the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The CBO previously determined that President Trump’s actions would increase federal costs by $194 billion over ten years and increase premiums in the ACA markets by an average of 20%. The CBO found that the bipartisan bill to reverse Trump’s actions would keep the ACA markets stable and reduce the federal deficit by $3.8 billion over ten years. The Bipartisan Health Care Stabilization Act, drafted by Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA), has 12 Republican and 12 Democratic sponsors. It would continue reimbursements, or cost-sharing reduction payments, to insurance companies that are required by law to reduce deductibles and co-pays for low-income people who purchase ACA plans and it would restore funding for advertising during the upcoming enrollment period. According to Senate Democratic leaders, all 48 Democrats support the bill. With the 12 Republican sponsors, there are enough votes to pass the bill in the Senate, but Republican leaders have stated that they will not bring the bill up for a vote unless President Trump indicates that he will sign it.
In related news, a federal court in California denied a request by attorneys general from 18 states and the District of Columbia to issue an emergency ruling requiring the Trump administration to continue the cost-sharing reduction payments. The court’s decision is not the final ruling on the legality of Trump’s actions, but does reinforce the need for Congress to act quickly to reverse the President’s efforts to sabotage the ACA insurance markets.
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