Week Ending September 27, 2013
Stopgap Funding Measure Bounces Between House and Senate; Debt Ceiling Fight Not Far Behind
Today, the Senate passed its stop-gap funding bill, or “continuing resolution” (CR), to keep the federal government running after the fiscal year ends on Monday, September 30. Despite attempts from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) in an all-night speech to include language defunding the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in the CR, the Senate bill (H.J. Res 59) excludes extraneous issues. It would keep federal funding at the current level of $986.3 billion through November 15 – which is the level set by the across-the-board “sequester” cuts – to avoid a government shutdown while working on a solution to the inadequate sequester funding levels for vital programs and services. While AFSCME supported a “clean” CR without targeting the ACA, we oppose the continuation of harmful sequestration funding levels.
We expect the House to take up the Senate bill no later than early Monday. Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has announced that the House is unlikely to pass the Senate bill as is. We expect some added language to delay implementation of the ACA for one year. Senate Democrats are united in their opposition to including this in the funding bill. Other measures aimed at undermining the ACA are also being considered. It is possible that the House and Senate will pass a one week CR to avert an immediate shutdown while the back and forth continues. With only days remaining until September 30, government agencies are preparing for a shutdown.
Adding to fiscal uncertainty this fall, the Treasury Department announced this week that the federal government will reach its borrowing limit – or debt ceiling – by October 17. President Obama has pledged that he will not negotiate any issues with Congress in exchange for winning votes to avoid defaulting on our nation’s debts. Nevertheless, the House GOP leadership has already drafted a debt limit bill with several harmful policies as the price for enough votes to prevent default. In the area of tax reform, we expect proposals to lower corporate and individual tax rates and to cap revenues at 19% of the total economy. These tax changes would result in deep spending cuts across all programs and services. Some GOP House members are also advocating for entitlement cuts, including expanding means-testing for Medicare recipients and changes to Medicaid provider taxes that would result in an enormous cost-shift to states. This week, 185 House Democrats sent a letter to President Obama stating their support for a debt ceiling extension without extraneous issues. AFSCME strongly opposes any effort to hold the debt ceiling increase hostage to partisan demands that would harm critical programs and services.
Immigration Reform: Doors Remain Open
While the House GOP leadership continues to refuse to hold a vote on the Senate’s bipartisan immigration reform bill (S. 744) or any other legislation that would fix our broken immigration system, congressional and grassroots activity continues. Late last week, the bipartisan House working group on immigration reform, known as the gang of seven (G7), officially broke apart. After two of the remaining three Republican members of the G7 left – ostensibly because they did not trust President Obama to enforce any resulting legislation – it became clear that the House GOP leadership did not and would not support the effort, which would have made introduction of their compromise bill a futile exercise.
With that chapter of House members’ efforts to advance comprehensive immigration reform now closed, the remaining members of the G7 as well as other committed House members and the Democratic leadership are intensifying their efforts to get a vote on immigration reform with a roadmap to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented living in our country. A majority of House members support this outcome but the GOP leadership will not allow a vote.
Supporters of immigration reform are not slowing down efforts to get a bill passed this year. House Democrats are working on legislation that would include most of the provisions in the bipartisan Senate bill, minus the amendment sponsored by Sens. John Hoeven (R-ND) and Bob Corker (R-TN) and adopted on the floor which threw an additional $40 billion at the southern border, which even some GOP House members derided as “border candy.” It would be replaced by the bipartisan border security bill that the House Homeland Security Committee passed unanimously. We expect this comprehensive bill to be introduced in the next two weeks.
In addition to this effort, it is possible that additional piecemeal immigration reform bills will be introduced this fall. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) and Judiciary Committee Chair Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) have been working on The KIDS Act, which would allow some sort of legal status for at least some of the undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. We also understand that Reps. Raul Labrador (R-ID) and Ted Poe (R-TX) are working on a bill that would establish a new low-skilled guest worker program, rejecting the compromise Wvisa program in the Senate bill that was hammered out by the AFL-CIO and U.S. Chamber of Commerce and that protects U.S. and visa workers. No legislative language has been released for either bill.
While the path forward to achieving comprehensive immigration reform is still a work in progress, AFSCME and our allies are redoubling our efforts both on Capitol Hill and across the country to keep building strong, visible support for a House vote this year on immigration reform with a roadmap to citizenship. On October 5, more than 100 local public events are planned. If you would like information on participating, please contact Barbara Coufal, email@example.com or Karl Stark, firstname.lastname@example.org. AFSCME is also supporting a large rally, concert and march in Washington, D.C. on October 8.
Secure Rural Schools Funding Secure for the Upcoming Fiscal Year
This week, the House passed H.R. 527 which extends funding for the Secure Rural Schools (SRS) program for one year. The bill had unanimous, bipartisan support. The Senate already passed an identical bill and President Obama is expected to sign it. AFSCME strongly supported this extension, but will continue to push for reauthorization of the program to provide predictable funding rather than annual extensions.
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