Week of March 13, 2017
Last week, the House Ways and Means Committee and the Energy and Commerce Committee debated Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act and cut federal Medicaid payments to the states. Both committees approved the legislation along party-lines with all Republicans voting for the legislation and all Democrats opposing. This week, the legislation will be debated by the House Budget Committee and we expect it to be scheduled for a vote by the entire House during the week of March 20. While the legislation was approved by committees last week, it is not yet clear that Speaker Ryan has enough votes to get the bill approved by the House and moved to the Senate for action. To see AFSCME’s letter about the bill, sent to House committee members last week, go to: http://afsc.me/2mQh13h
The House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform (OGR) passed H.R. 1387, a bill to renew a failed federal school voucher experiment that has been forced on the District of Columbia since 2004. The experiment diverts public money to pay for tuition at private schools in D.C. Studies overwhelmingly indicate that the program has failed to improve student performance and graduation rates. While voucher advocates claim parents deserve "choices" for their children, vouchers do not provide choice. Private schools select which students can attend, whereas public schools are required to admit all students. Amendments were offered by Democrats to require private schools to uphold civil rights protections including protections for children with disabilities, uphold rights for voucher and strengthen evaluation requirements. All of the amendments failed along party lines. AFSCME strongly opposes H.R. 1387 and other voucher and tax schemes that divert public funds away from public schools.
The Senate voted to eliminate the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces (H.J. Res. 37) rule, an Obama regulation that requires federal contractors to disclose labor and civil rights law violations. The vote was approved along party lines with Democrats opposed to eliminating the regulation and Republicans voting for it. The House has already voted to repeal the rule. President Trump is expected to sign it. Under the repeal procedures, future administrations will be prohibited from issuing a similar rule unless Congress acts to allow it.
Federal workers’ current and longstanding use of official time would be significantly restricted by two bills passed by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. The Committee voted along party lines to approve the Official Time Reform Act of 2017 (H.R. 1364), which would deny retirement credits to federal employees for some union representation work on official time. Specifically, the bill denies workers credit toward their retirement benefits for most days when their use of official time exceeds 80% of that day’s work hours. AFSCME is concerned because the bill unfairly limits workers’ use of official time, which is used to improve workplace safety and working conditions, protect workers from discrimination, and develop new employee training. It would impede labor-management discussions and problem solving, dampen consensus, and undermine workplace community building. It would also penalize workers who participate in representation activities.
The Committee approved a separate but related bill (H.R. 1293) on official time, which would require federal agencies to submit to the federal Office of Personnel Management (OPM) detailed reports on employees’ use of official time, an unnecessary burden on agencies. AFSCME opposes these bills because they would undermine labor-management relations.
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment held a hearing on the role of the federal government in water systems. At the hearing Center for American Progress Infrastructure Director, Kevin DeGood, laid out the major issue facing water systems nationwide – consistent underinvestment as a consequence of austerity policies at the federal, state, and local level. Additionally, he noted that ideas such as “public/private-partnerships” (P3) fail to provide adequate public investment and encourage profit seeking through privatization. He said:
“[According to proponents of P3’s] water agencies and other project sponsors face a lack of liquidity, and if only they would tap into this pool of equity capital, the infrastructure backlog would be solved. This is simply not the case…the favorable tax treatment afforded to municipal bond investors means the public sector faces borrowing costs that are three to five times less than equity capital. As a result, the municipal bond market is active and robust with more than $3.7 trillion in outstanding issuances at this time.”
DeGood’s testimony is consistent with the views of state transportation and water infrastructure officials who have testified in other hearings. When pressed, these officials saw no benefit in expanding P3’s. Rather, they have urged Congress to robustly invest in the EPA’s State Revolving Funds for Drinking Water and Clean Water. AFSCME continues to fight for real investments in our infrastructure that use established, successful programs to rebuild the entire country, rather than using financing gimmicks, tax incentives, and privatization schemes.
This week, President Trump will release an outline of his budget for the next fiscal year. Based on press statements, the President will propose an increase in defense expenditures of $54 billion and an equal cut in nondefense spending, including domestic programs carried out by state and local governments. While we wait for further details, we understand that the President is considering large budget cuts to the public housing operating fund, public housing capital fund, and the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program among other domestic program cuts. A press report indicates that the Trump administration proposes cutting the public housing capital fund by $1.3 billion and cutting the public housing operating fund by $600 million – a 13% cut. These cuts would negatively affect the public housing stock and public housing residents. Furthermore, given that the compensation of workers in most public housing authorities is funded nearly 90% by federal funds, federal budget cuts of this magnitude would be very harmful to workers. Trump’s proposed budget would eliminate the CDBG program, which is a budget cut of roughly $3 billion.
AFSCME opposes these draconian budget cuts and advocates for increased federal funding of public housing to ensure its residents can live in safe, decent, affordable housing. AFSCME supports federal investments that meet the full operating costs of public housing and would significantly reduce its modernization budget backlog, which is more than $20 billion.
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