Week Ending September 8, 2017
House and Senate Approve Must-Pass, Short-Term Government Funding Legislation as Well as Hurricane Relief and an Increase in the Debt Ceiling
There have been added twists and turns to the expected September funding roller coaster. This week the House and Senate approved an initial $15.25 billion in hurricane relief, which was coupled with an increase in the debt ceiling and an extension of federal funding at current levels through December 8. President Trump reached the agreement with House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (CA) and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (NY), in an unexpected rebuff to the recommendations of Republican leaders. While the agreement provides welcome relief from further drama this month on funding and debt limit, the subsequent negotiations will still be difficult.
In the meantime, the House has been working on a year-long funding bill for many federal agencies for FY 2018 which begins October 1. The bill includes $5 billion in cuts to education, labor, health and human services programs. Final votes on this “omnibus” bill will occur next week at the earliest in the House. In the Senate, the Appropriations Committee approved a bill which generally provides funding for FY 2018 at current levels. The short-term funding bill mentioned above gives the Congress until December 8 to finalize FY 2018 spending levels.
Budget Resolution Would Cut Vital Services to Pay for Tax Cuts
The budget resolution has become a go-to path for Republicans to fast-track their key policy priorities, by providing “reconciliation” procedures that make it much easier to make permanent or long-term funding cuts to programs on which families rely and which state and local governments often carry out. Republican leaders used this fast-track process in their failed effort to push through a repeal of the Affordable Care Act and restructure and cut Medicaid. They are on the same path again with the FY 2018 budget resolution, using reconciliation to enact tax cuts and to make deep cuts to public services.
The House Budget Committee passed their budget resolution in July, cutting $5.7 trillion over 10 years, including cuts of $4.4 trillion to entitlement programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and food stamps (SNAP). These deep cuts help finance the Republican leadership plan for tax cuts that would overwhelming benefit wealthy individuals and large corporations. The budget would also slash $1.3 trillion over the next decade in annual, non-defense discretionary (NDD) programs such as education, job training, public health, protections for clean water and air, homeland security, transportation, veterans’ health and more. The amount of the cut for FY 2018 would be $5 billion and is already programmed into the House’s funding bills. Because much of this funding goes to the states, the proposed budget would create substantial uncertainty for state and local governments. It is unclear when the budget resolution will be debated by the full House, but GOP leaders are working to line up the votes.
Court Rules Against Obama Overtime Regulation
Today, many workers will be denied the overtime pay they have earned because the salary threshold to qualify for overtime remains outdated at $23,660. That’s because last week, a federal judge in the eastern district of Texas ruled to invalidate the Obama administration’s final rule which extended protections to more workers, requiring overtime pay to those earning up to $47,476.
Before ruling on the case, the judge had issued an injunction to block implementation of the regulation across the country. This ruling tees up a 60-day deadline for the Trump administration to choose whether the Justice Department will seek to appeal this court decision.
Trump Initiates Count Down to Deportation for DACA Recipients
On Tuesday, the Trump administration announced that it would wind down the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) which protects from deportation young adults who were brought to this country as children, but who today are American in every sense of the word, except on paper. Many of these young adults today fight in our armed services, go to college, work as first responders, and contribute – as any regular citizen does – to their communities.
The President’s decision to end the program prompted widespread criticism from legislators, universities, faith groups, business executives, and union leaders, including AFSCME President Lee Saunders. It is now up to Congress to find a legislative fix that provides a long-term solution to this potential humanitarian crisis. AFSCME supports the DREAM Act introduced by Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), which ensures DACA recipients are protected and that there is a pathway to citizenship.
Renewal of Children’s Health Insurance Program Uncertain
Congressional action is urgently needed to extend the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) which covers 9 million kids in working class families whose income is just above Medicaid eligibility. In testimony before the Senate Finance Committee this week, the Virginia Medicaid director told senators that unless Congress acts in September, states will need to begin to send out notices that coverage will be terminated and to freeze enrollment. AFSCME is urging Congress to fund the successful health insurance program for 5 years and to maintain extra funding for states to expand CHIP coverage that was provided by the Affordable Care Act. This will provide states with the needed certainty to do outreach, enrollment and administer the insurance program without budget shortfalls. The cost for the 5-year renewal and additional federal match is roughly $18 billion. Covering these children through the individual market would be more costly and not provide them with the needed range of pediatric benefits covered by CHIP.
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