Week Ending September 15, 2017
House Passes Sham Funding Bill, Gutting Public Services
The House approved, on a mostly party-line vote of 211 to 198, a mammoth fiscal year (FY) 2018 spending bill. The bill (H.R. 3554) reflects Republican leadership priorities by slashing nondefense public services and increasing Pentagon spending. The bill stands no chance of making it through the Senate in its current form.
The 12-measure bundle would provide $1.2 trillion in government funding, cutting labor programs by 11 percent including the elimination of funds for Wagner-Peyser employment services and apprenticeships. The bill also cuts funding for the Affordable Care Act and includes poison pill policy riders that threaten workers’ ability to unionize and reverse Obama administration protections for workers’ retirement savings known as the fiduciary rule.
While there is no threat of an October government shutdown, this bill does nothing to move Congress toward a needed compromise on spending levels for FY 2018. The clock is quickly ticking toward December 8, when the current stop-gap funding measure for FY 2018 expires.
Senate Republican Leaders Ready Another Effort to Repeal the Affordable Care Act and Cut Medicaid
It appears that Senate Republican leaders are getting behind another attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and cut Medicaid. This week, Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Dean Heller (R-NV) and Ron Johnson (R-WI) introduced a bill they have been working on since the Senate failed to pass legislation in early August.
Their bill would block-grant funding for the ACA tax credits and the Medicaid expansion to the states in 2020. But these funds would be phased out completely after 2026, completely eliminating the coverage that 11 million have received under the Medicaid expansion and the tax credits that help nearly 9 million afford coverage through the ACA marketplaces. The bill would also convert Medicaid to a per capita cap system, reducing funding for state Medicaid programs beyond the Medicaid expansion by another $175 billion between 2020 and 2026. These Medicaid cuts would continue to grow each year. The Cassidy-Graham bill would allow states to waive the ACA’s prohibition on charging people with pre-existing conditions higher premiums and also waive essential health benefit standards under the ACA, which would eliminate prohibitions on annual and lifetime limits in employer-sponsored coverage. Senate leaders are working the Republican caucus to build support for this bill with the aim of voting on it the week of September 25.
In stark contrast to Republican leadership efforts to take health coverage away from millions, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) introduced a Medicare for All bill this week which has 16 Democratic co-sponsors. The Sanders’ bill calls for a transition of much of the current health care system into a modified Medicare plan.
Key Senators Announce CHIP Renewal Deal; House Action Unclear
The top Republican and Democratic members of the Senate Finance Committee – Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-OR) – reached an agreement reauthorizing the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which covers nearly 9 million children in low-income households. With a September 30 deadline for renewing CHIP, the tentative deal is a welcome sign. If Congress fails to act, states that know they will run out of funds in the coming months must start preparing notices of disenrollment and take other actions to shut down the popular health insurance program. The Hatch-Wyden agreement would extend CHIP for five years, which gives states some budgetary certainty for the program. The deal would also maintain a previous 23 percent increase in the federal match rate for the program for two years and then phase it out. At this time there’s no text of the proposal; it is not clear how the cost for this reauthorization will be offset by cuts to other federal health care funding. The crystal ball prediction for House action on CHIP is also unclear.
Democratic Leaders Press for Deal on Dreamers
This week, Democratic congressional leaders met with Pres. Trump and discussed a plan to protect beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, also known as Dreamers, from deportation – young adults brought to the U.S. as children. AFSCME is working to ensure this plan will protect Dreamers and lay a pathway to citizenship. Democratic leaders support passage of the bipartisan DREAM Act to accomplish these goals. Republican leaders are being pressed by the extreme right to oppose the deal taking shape and push for further enforcement measures including funding for a border wall.
Democratic Leaders Introduce Child Care Bill
This week, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Robert C. Scott (D-VA) introduced the Child Care for Working Families Act, a bill that would double the number of children receiving child care assistance, help millions of families afford high-quality child care and make significant investments in pre-kindergarten.
The bill amends the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), so that no family earning under 150 percent of the state median income would pay more than 7 percent of their income on child care. Importantly, the bill invests resources in increased professional development for child care providers in order to increase compensation for providers and support education and training opportunities for them. The bill’s goals are to expand access, improve quality, ensure that all child care workers are paid a living wage and that early childhood educators are provided parity with elementary school teachers with similar credentials and experience. The bill also supports family, friend, and neighbor care providers by recognizing the important role they play in meeting the needs of parents working nontraditional hours and allows states to use some of their quality funding for activities focused on these providers.
The bill would allow for $8 billion a year for 10 years to enable states to support high-quality preschool programs for three- and four-year olds through a diverse delivery system and increases funding for full-school-day, full-school-year Head Start and additional funding to help programs meet the 2016 Head Start Performance Standards. AFSCME strongly supports this important bill.
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