Week Ending September 25, 2015
House Speaker Boehner will Retire in October
In a surprise move, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) announced Friday morning that he will be retiring from Congress and stepping down as speaker at the end of October. The most conservative wing of his party has been calling for him to step down and were threatening to force a vote to remove him as speaker. The most immediate impact of Speaker Boehner’s announcement is the House is now more likely to pass a short-term bill that would prevent a government shutdown on September 30, although this is not assured. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) seems well-positioned to become speaker but rivals from more conservative factions are likely to challenge him, including Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA), who also chairs the right-wing Republican Study Committee, and Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), chairman of the House Financial Services Committee.
After Speaker Boehner’s announcement, President Saunders noted: "We hope that Speaker Boehner’s resignation is not a sign of increasing extremism and intransigence in Congress. Regardless of partisan politics, working families in America need their elected officials to work together to keep the government open and fund the vital public services on which we all rely.”
Federal Government Shutdown this Week Unless Last Minute Deal Reached
Legislation that funds the federal government will expire on Wednesday, the end of the current fiscal year. At this moment, Congress has failed to pass any bills that would prevent a government shutdown. While Speaker John Boehner’s (R-OH) retirement announcement last week makes a short-term funding bill more likely to pass the House, it is not at all assured.
The Senate is scheduled to vote on a 10-week funding bill, called a continuing resolution (CR), which does not eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood and would retain current funding levels until December 11. Last week, most Democratic and eight Republican Senators stopped advancement of a funding bill that would have permanently defunded Planned Parenthood’s women’s health services (federally-funded abortions are already prohibited). Senate passage of a “clean” stop-gap funding bill is far from assured as Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) has promised to block any CR that does not strip women’s health services. And, if the Senate does pass its CR, the House will have scarcely more than two days to pass an identical bill and get it to President Obama for his signature before midnight on Wednesday. A shutdown, no matter how brief, would close all federal offices and block the flow of federal funds to state and local governments.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) is an example of how a shutdown would have an immediate effect. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has already notified states not to issue SNAP benefits until a stopgap measure passes, leaving food-insecure families literally not knowing where their next meal will come from. Even a last minute deal could result in delayed benefits.
Even if a government shutdown is averted this week, additional funding and budget perils are stacking up for this fall. The House plans to use a special budget process known as “reconciliation” to make another run at defunding women’s health services, and to yet again attempt to dismantle the Affordable Care Act (ACA). If successful at repealing the entire ACA, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projects these provisions would cost the federal government approximately $137.1 billion. Congress also faces the need to fund the government beyond December 11; pass a bill that continues funding for transportation projects beyond an October deadline; reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act; and reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
Also on the congressional agenda this fall is reaching a broad budget deal that would eliminate or at least adjust the across-the-board “sequester” spending cuts for defense and non-defense programs. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) continues to promote a budget deal that would include adjusting the current spending caps for fiscal years 2016 and possibly 2017. The federal government’s borrowing limit will also be reached this fall and will have to be lifted to avoid a catastrophic default on our country’s debts.
AFSCME strongly opposes political brinksmanship over federal spending, the budget, or lifting the debt ceiling. Most immediately, AFSCME is urging Congress to pass a clean CR this week to keep essential government services operating. The next order of business should be moving forward to eliminate or at least raise the harmful sequester spending caps.
Pope Francis Stresses Common Good and Inclusion in Speech to Congress
On Thursday, Pope Francis addressed a joint session of Congress as part of his historic visit to the United States. One theme of his speech was the importance of not leaving anyone behind as our economy and society move forward. With an indirect nod to income and wealth inequality, the Pope said: “A society endures when it satisfies common needs by stimulating growth of all its members, especially the most vulnerable.” He also addressed the struggles of working people when he said, “many thousands of men and women … strive each day to do an honest day’s work, to bring home their daily bread … to build a better life for their families.” He urged Congress to build a society for the common good, one that “shares in justice and peace, its goods, its interests, its social life.” Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, was one of four Americans he lauded as examples of America’s historical commitment to justice. He spoke about her activism on behalf of the oppressed and stressed the importance of not only the creation of wealth but the fair distribution of wealth and an inclusive economy.
The Pope also took this opportunity to reiterate his pro-immigrant message. He noted that immigrants enrich America and that they should be viewed “as persons, see their faces and listen to their stories. We must respond to their situation humanely and justly.” He said to Congress that if our country wants security, then we must give security to others, and if we want opportunities, we must provide opportunities for others. He noted that on our continent, thousands of people travel north in search of a better life and opportunities for themselves and their families. He asked: “Is this not what we want for our own children?”
Unfortunately, GOP congressional leadership has declared that it will not take up any comprehensive immigration reform legislation while President Obama is in office. Instead, they support enforcement-only bills that would hurt our country’s economy and tear immigrant families apart.
TPP Negotiators Meeting in Atlanta
Trade ministers from the countries negotiating the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) plan to meet in Atlanta, GA on September 30 and October 1 to try and wrap up this deeply-flawed trade agreement. Since the failure to reach a final agreement in ministerial talks last July, the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) has been working hard to resolve outstanding issues with various parties to the talks. If a deal is reached in Atlanta, it would likely be put before the Congress for a vote very early next year.
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