Week Ending September 13, 2013
Fiscal Fight at a Standstill as Deadlines Loom
With the September 30 deadline only two and a half weeks away, House GOP leadership cancelled a vote this week that would have initially funded the federal government for fiscal year 2014 at the current year’s post-sequester level of $986.3 billion through December 15. Tea Party members of the GOP caucus opposed the bill because it does not cut off funding for the Affordable Care Act (ACA). An indirect effort to try to link ACA funding to the spending bill was unacceptable to conservatives. The path forward is now very unclear, and the possibility has re-emerged that a government shutdown could occur if no deal is reached.
FY 2014 funding fights are quickly colliding with the need to raise the debt ceiling, further raising the stakes in yet another game of political chicken. The U.S. Treasury Department recently announced that the extraordinary measures in place to stave off reaching the debt ceiling will be exhausted in mid-October. Without resolution, November 1 checks for Social Security, veterans and persons with disabilities will not go out, and the full faith and credit of the United States will be severely compromised. However, House GOP leaders have already signaled another fight including another run at repeal of the Affordable Care Act and more budget cuts.
AFSCME’s August Field Mobilization Campaign in Support of Comprehensive Immigration Reform
AFSCME’s August recess field campaign was focused on building support for immigration reform that provides a path to citizenship among targeted Republican members of the House of Representatives. In collaboration with the AFL-CIO’s field program, AFSCME identified targets in 10 states where AFSCME concentrated our organizing actions (California, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania and Washington). As a result of labor and other allies’ work, by the end of August at least 25 members expressed their support for the first time.
AFSCME headquarters staff worked closely with our leaders and staff in the targeted districts. Actions included organizing and addressing rallies as well as holding press conferences and calls at which we released AFSCME/Center for American Progress state-specific reports highlighting the economic benefits of comprehensive immigration reform. AFSCME also organized civic engagement actions outside targeted offices and held in-district meetings with members and their staff. The efforts drew significant media coverage.
Field activities in support of immigration reform are continuing, and AFSCME is supporting public events across the country on October 5 and a rally in Washington, D.C. on October 8.
Immigration Reform Hits House Headwinds
Before Congress left Washington, D.C. for its August recess, House committees had passed five piecemeal immigration reform bills. The Judiciary Committee passed four bills on party-line votes, all of which AFSCME opposes: H.R. 2278, which shifts the responsibility and costs of civil immigration enforcement to states and localities; H.R. 1772, which would require all employers to use an E-Verify system within two years to verify work authorization for new employees and would require the re-verification of federal, state and local government employees; H.R. 1773, which removes important workplace protections for agricultural workers; and H.R. 2131, which increases the cap on H-1B visas and repeals employment-based per-country caps. The House Homeland Security Committee passed H.R. 1417 on a bipartisan vote which is a border enforcement-only bill. None of these bills has been scheduled for a floor vote. Noticeably missing from these House bills is any legislation providing a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented people living and working in the U.S.
The House leadership’s lack of political will is not the only reason immigration reform is not on the front-burner right now. The situation in Syria has and will continue to be an immediate issue, as will budget actions to keep the government functioning and legislation to raise the debt ceiling. October is the earliest the House would take up immigration reform, and that may be optimistic. AFSCME will continue to lobby and build public pressure on House members and leadership to hold a vote on immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship.
OIG Report Shows How Drug Rebates Could Save Medicare $3 Billion Each Year
The Office of Inspector General (OIG) for the Department of Health and Human Services reported that Medicare could save more than $3 billion annually under a limited expansion of rebates that the pharmaceutical industry already provides by law in Medicaid programs. No similar rebate authority exists for Medicare Part B, which covers beneficiaries’ doctor visits and other outpatient services. The report focused on a narrow rebate expansion that would cover the relatively modest number of drugs paid for by Medicare Part B, where 60 medicines account for 85% of roughly $16 billion in yearly drug expenditures.
Congress is currently considering how to repeal the scheduled cuts to physicians’ reimbursements and proposals to reduced Medicare costs for the federal government. This report reveals that if Congress is serious about reducing Medicare costs, it should end sweetheart deals for the pharmaceutical industry rather than shift costs from the government onto beneficiaries. The OIG report can be found at: http://oig.hhs.gov/oei/reports/oei-12-12-00260.pdf.
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