Week Ending September 12, 2014
Congress Prepares Stopgap Funding Bill to Prevent Government Shutdown
Congress has prepared a mostly non-controversial stopgap measure to keep the government from shutting down when funding for this fiscal year expires on September 30. This is necessary because Congress has not completed any of its 12 funding bills. The so-called “continuing resolution” (CR) will fund programs at current levels through December 11 minus an across-the-board cut to comply with budget rules.
The CR does not include any extra funding for agencies that have been addressing the humanitarian situation at our southern border. However, it would grant the Obama administration’s request for more budget flexibility for border agencies. Earlier this summer, the President had requested additional funding of $3.7 billion to address the needs of the Central American children and families crossing the border in unprecedented numbers, but the request garnered significant controversy.
The CR was expected to pass the House this week, but the President’s request to authorize funding to arm Syrian rebels resulted in a delay until next week. We expect the stopgap measure will pass both the House and Senate next week, when Congress will adjourn to campaign before returning in November to finalize fiscal year 2015 funding and other pending legislative priorities.
Senate Considers Paycheck Fairness Act
At long last, the Senate voted 73 to 25 to open debate on the Paycheck Fairness Act (S. 2199). Earlier attempts to move this important bill forward had failed to garner the necessary 60 votes for debate and a vote on passage. The bill would address the serious problem of paycheck discrimination which has resulted in women on average earning only 77 cents for every dollar paid to men. The bill would bar retaliation against workers who voluntarily discuss or disclose their wages. It would also allow women the same remedies for sex-based pay discrimination that are currently available to individuals who have been subjected to race- and ethnicity-based discrimination. It also provides training and technical assistance to prevent discrimination. AFSCME strongly supports the Paycheck Fairness Act.
President Obama Postpones Executive Action on Immigration
In response to House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-OH) failure to move the Senate’s bipartisan, comprehensive immigration reform bill (S. 744) or any other immigration reform legislation this year, President Obama announced in June that by the end of the summer he would use his executive authority to take significant steps to reform our broken immigration system. Last weekend, the President revised his time table, saying he would announce action before the end of the year. His rationale is that taking action before the midterm elections in November would politicize the issue, thus possibly harming the longer-term prospects for congressional action on comprehensive immigration reform. He also noted the GOP’s exploitation of the humanitarian situation on the southern border to push its anti-immigrant agenda, even though the number of child refugees from Central America crossing the border has decreased substantially since June.
AFSCME continues to urge the White House to take the broadest executive action possible to provide temporary legal status, with work authorization, to those who would be on a pathway to citizenship now if the House GOP leadership had allowed a vote on the Senate bill. More than eight million immigrants – a full 5% of the labor market – are working today in the underground economy without the protection of the law. We know that unscrupulous employers are exploiting these workers to force down labor costs, which suppresses wages and working conditions for all workers.
Corporations Devise Plans to Reduce Taxes by Deserting America and Faking Relocations
American companies, including Walgreens and Burger King, are considering plans to reduce their federal taxes by billions of dollars through faking relocation overseas. While these firms intend to retain almost all their American operations, they plan to merge with foreign corporations and then pretend to move their headquarters offshore to a tax haven nation, which enables them to avoid American taxes. This issue is important to AFSCME first and foremost because large profitable corporations should pay their fair share of taxes. Second, when these firms avoid taxes, it results in higher taxes for working families and others playing by the rules. Third, America needs adequate tax revenues to invest in education, health care, job training, other vital social services and infrastructure, which keep our communities strong.
While these companies plan to desert America to pay less taxes, they will continue operating in America and taking advantage of benefits that make America an ideal location for business. These “corporate deserters” want to continue using America’s well educated workforce; legal protections, trademarks, and other property rights; modern infrastructure and public transport systems to market and sell their products; and our wealthy consumer markets. Moreover, these firms even want to continue receiving other federal tax breaks, profit from federal contracts and receive other federal benefits worth billions of dollars.
Many families and communities are outraged and have started boycotting Burger King, which appears to be moving forward with its plan. Congressional Democrats have introduced several bills to address this problem. Sen. Carl Levin’s (D-MI) “Stop Corporate Inversions Act of 2014” reduces the tax benefits of these fake relocations. “No Federal Contracts for Corporate Deserters”, co-sponsored by Sens. Levin and Dick Durbin (D-IL), would ban the federal government from contracting with these corporate deserters. AFSCME supports these proposals and is working to ensure they are enacted as soon as possible.
Deeply Flawed Public Pension Overhaul Legislation Gains Support
Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Orrin Hatch (R-UT) introduced the Secure Annuities for Employee (SAFE) Retirement Act, (S. 1270), which would give states and local governments the option to provide life insurance annuity accounts to their public workers as an alternative to traditional defined benefit plans. The Hatch bill was the main topic of discussion at a Capitol Hill meeting hosted by the Urban Institute, a Washington, D.C. think tank, where it received a “Straight A” grade under the Urban Institute’s new grading model. In stark contrast, the National Council on Teacher Retirement (NCTR) gave the Urban Institute model “a failing grade.” NCTR points out the Urban Institute accepted $484,079 from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, a group opposed to defined benefit plans. The Arnold money was used to develop the new public pension report card model. NCTR called the methodology employed “seriously flawed and contains many assertions that are not supported by the facts.” Sen. Hatch, who could become the Chairman of the Finance Committee if the GOP takes control in of the Senate in the November elections, used the conference to make it clear he wants to see action on his bill.
House Approves Bill to Undermine the Affordable Care Act
On Thursday, House GOP leaders held yet another vote on a bill to undermine the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The so-called Employee Health Care Protection Act (H.R. 3522) would allow insurance companies to continue to sell substandard health care coverage to employers through 2018. The bill was approved 247 to 167, largely along party lines.
Under the bill, insurers could continue to offer coverage that does not comply with ACA consumer protections that went into effect in 2014. As a consequence, small employers would once again be subject to higher premiums based on the gender and health status of their workforce. Small businesses could see their rates skyrocket if a worker developed a severe illness or experienced a serious accident. The bill would also allow group plans to once again impose annual limits on coverage. Employees or family members with catastrophic health events could temporarily lose access to lifesaving medicines, cancer care or other treatments until the start of a new year. Newly hired workers with pre-existing conditions could be forced to wait months before enrolling in coverage offered by their employer.
We do not expect the Senate to take up this bill.
Study Shows Moderately-Low Increase in Health Insurance Premiums On Average
The Kaiser Family Foundation released its annual survey of employer-provided health coverage on Wednesday. Despite dire predictions by opponents of the ACA, the law has not driven up health coverage costs. According to the survey of 2,000 large and small employers, the average annual premium for family coverage rose 3% this year, to $16,834.
Affordable Care Act Saves Medicare Beneficiaries More Than $11.5 Billion on Prescription Drugs
As reported by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Affordable Care Act has helped 8.2 million seniors and people with disabilities keep more than $11.5 billion in their pocketbooks by gradually closing the gap in coverage known as the donut hole. This gap required beneficiaries to pay the full cost of their medications. These savings would be lost if Congress adopted proposals to repeal the ACA or increase beneficiaries’ out-of-pocket costs.
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