Week Ending October 6, 2017
The Senate will be in recess the week of October 9.
House and Senate Take Action on Harmful Budgets
Nearly six months past the official deadlines, Congress is moving budget resolutions that provide an outline for spending and revenue legislation to follow later this year. Budget resolutions in the House and Senate would make drastic cuts in spending in order to fund tax cuts for the wealthy and for corporations. Both bills include procedures that allow tax cut and spending cut legislation to be approved in the Senate by a simple majority vote, rather than the supermajority usually required for such controversial legislation.
The House passed its budget by a vote of 219 to 206, with 18 Republicans joining all Democrats to oppose $5.7 trillion in cuts over 10 years to domestic programs and essential services. The budget would cut $1.5 trillion by dismantling the Affordable Care Act and restructuring Medicaid. It would also cut $487 billion over ten years from Medicare and gradually increase the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67. The budget cuts another $1.3 trillion over 10 years from non-defense discretionary programs such as education, transportation, law enforcement, housing, public health and other services.
The Senate Budget Committee approved its proposal this week along party lines, and a Senate floor vote is expected the week of Oct. 16. The Senate version cuts spending by $5 trillion over 10 years with cuts of at least $473 billion from Medicare, $1 trillion from Medicaid, and $800 billion from non-defense discretionary programs.
Since there are differences between the two chambers’ budgets, they will need to reconcile the differences for a compromise package. But there is no good compromise here; both are awful.
AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders summed up the importance of these budget votes in a statement following the approval of the House budget, noting, “The cuts…will be felt in very real and tangible ways by our communities. Every member of Congress who voted for this budget resolution today voted to degrade the basic quality of life for American working families.”
AFSCME Urges Immediate Federal Assistance for Puerto Rico
With Puerto Rico’s 3.5 million U.S. citizens still suffering without power, and with inadequate food and water, crippled transportation and telecommunications networks and closed schools, hospitals, and nursing homes, the White House requested from Congress an inadequate aid package of $30 billion addressing Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria and recent wildfires. This proposal contains $13 billion for recovery from the hurricanes that devastated Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, and other jurisdictions; flood insurance relief to address a $16 billion debt in the National Flood Insurance Program, which insures affected residences and businesses; and roughly $500 million to address wildfires.
Importantly, both Republican and Democratic leaders in the House said that Congress must provide even more aid to the hurricane-devastated communities. AFSCME continues to advocate for increased federal financial, technical, and material assistance, to help with recovery and rebuilding. AFSCME is meeting with Congressional leaders, coordinating with the AFL-CIO and allied unions on lobbying and support, and helping out directly in Puerto Rico. AFSCME staff were in Puerto Rico immediately after Hurricane Maria hit to assess members’ circumstances, establish an operational office, and assist the relief effort. Six members from New York City-based AFSCME District Council 37 (DC 37) – five construction workers and a nurse – flew to Puerto Rico as part of an AFL-CIO contingent to help residents rebuild their lives.
Children’s Health Insurance Bill Advances in House and Senate
This week, House and Senate committees approved separate bills to renew federal funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), a federal-state partnership providing coverage to nine million children in low-income families that do not qualify for Medicaid. Funding for CHIP expired on September 30. Currently, 10 states report that they do not have sufficient funds to continue CHIP insurance coverage through the end of the year. The states are: Arizona, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Mississippi, Nevada, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Utah.
Both the Senate bill (S. 1827) and the House bill (H.R. 3921) would renew the CHIP program for five years and would continue an extra bump in funding provided by the Affordable Care Act through 2019. In 2020, the added funding would be cut in half and then eliminated thereafter.
The Senate bill was approved on a bipartisan basis. But the debate over the House bill was contentious due to Medicare and Medicaid spending cuts identified to pay for CHIP renewal and by the addition of provisions unrelated to CHIP.
The House bill includes additional Medicaid funding for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. But the amount included is entirely inadequate and requires that the territories provide their usual funding match. This is unrealistic since the hurricanes have devastated these economies and increased the need for Medicaid coverage. Moreover, following Hurricane Katrina, the state match was eliminated for new enrollees. AFSCME is pressing the Congress to provide more assistance and to waive the requirement that Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands match the funding in order to access federal dollars.
The House CHIP bill includes a measure to block a $2 billion cut in Medicaid funding for safety-net hospitals that provide substantial care for Medicaid beneficiaries and uninsured individuals. AFSCME is working to block these cuts to safety-net hospitals, for at least two years.
House Panel Moves to Reverse Obama-Era Labor Standard
This week, the House Education and Workforce Committee voted 23 to 17, along party lines, to approve the so-called Save Local Business Act (H.R. 3441) which would reverse an August 2015 ruling about joint employers issued by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The NLRB ruling clarified when companies could be held responsible for labor violations committed by their contractors and for negotiating collective bargaining agreements with their contractors’ workers. The joint-employer rule was a response to the growing number of workers, especially franchise and contract workers, who have been unable to pursue labor rights. The joint-employer rule is being used now to pursue labor rights violations against the McDonald’s Corporation.
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