Week Ending February 15, 2019

Congress narrowly avoids another shutdown as President Trump declares National Emergency on southern border.

  • Congress Passes Funding Legislation
  • White House Declares National Emergency on Southern Border
  • William Barr Approved as Next Attorney General
  • House and Senate Committees Examine Infrastructure Needs

Congress Passes Funding Legislation

Nearly five months into the fiscal year (FY), Congress finally passed legislation on Thursday to fund the federal government through the remainder of FY 2019, which ends on September 30. The legislation will prevent another disastrous shutdown, ensuring that federal workers stay on the job and that government services continue. Previously, Trump initiated the longest government shutdown in U.S. history, which ended on January 25 after 35 days. Trump precipitated the shutdown over demands that Congress provide $5.7 billion for the construction of a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. The president hesitated throughout the week, but eventually agreed to sign the legislation avoiding another political disaster.

The legislation prohibits construction of a concrete border wall, although it allows some funding for fencing that meets environmental and community concerns. Instead, the plan invests in other methods of border security and improvements in humanitarian assistance to address the needs of migrant families. The legislation also addresses several other important priorities unrelated to immigration and border security. The legislation provides federal civilian employees with a 1.9 percent pay raise, overriding the president’s decision to deny them any increase. It also includes funding for many programs critical to our communities, including programs to address the opioid epidemic, invest in U.S. infrastructure projects, including funding for transportation, broadband internet, drinking- and waste-water, strengthening local law enforcement, and fund community development and housing projects. Unfortunately, the deal did not include additional disaster relief for Puerto Rico, as earlier discussed.

What You Need to Know:  Shutdowns harm government employees, waste taxpayer dollars, and accomplish nothing. Over the past several weeks, AFSCME worked to ensure that elected officials understood the harm that the shutdown caused and the importance of avoiding another self-inflicted wound. AFSCME leaders joined rallies to raise awareness of the harms caused by the shutdown to government employees, and those that rely on government services. AFSCME members from across the country reached out to members of Congress to make their voices heard.

White House Declares National Emergency on Southern Border 

Despite a congressional compromise that fully funds the government and provides $49.4 billion in discretionary funding, $2 billion above the president’s budget request and $1.375 billion specifically for a physical barrier on the U.S.-Mexico border, President Trump declared a National Emergency to generate $8 billion in additional funding to build his border wall.  Trump is expected to draw over $7 billion from the Department of Defense and $600 million from the Treasury Department. Trump said; “I could do the wall over a longer period of time. I didn’t need to do this. But I’d rather do it [build a wall] much faster.”

What You Need to KnowRepublicans such as Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Rand Paul (R-KY), disagree with the president’s move evenas Trump’s Justice Department has warned the White House that the national emergency declaration is certain to be blocked by the courts, on at least a temporary basis, preventing the immediate implementation of the president’s plan to circumvent Congress and build the wall using his executive powers. 

William Barr Approved as Next Attorney General

William Barr was confirmed by the Senate as the next Attorney General of the United States this week. Members of the Senate voted to confirm him in a 54 to 45 vote largely along party lines. AFSCME fought against the nomination. Barr failed to put to rest any of our concerns about his troubled legal philosophy. In the weeks leading up to his two-day Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, AFSCME met regularly with Senate Judiciary members to convey our dismay with Barr’s well- documented policy positions that are averse to the well-being of hard-working Americans. We were joined by numerous organizations including the AFL-CIO, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the Alliance for Justice, and the NAACP. Senate Democrats also fought against his confirmation on the Senate floor. 

The GOP-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee has also been criticized for its plan to rubber-stamp judicial nominees that are clearly driven by a very narrow conservative philosophy. Their efforts are compounded by the Senate Rules Committee that voted on a 10 to 9 party-line to reduce the length of time senators can deliberate on certain judicial and executive branch nominees from 30 hours of debate to two hours. All this is part of a larger partisan arrangement to accelerate plans to stack the federal judiciary with judges who are outside of the mainstream of judicial thought.

What You Need to KnowA lot is at stake for Americans who depend on the judicial system to fairly protect the public interest, independently enforce the law and safeguard justice for all. Barr is an extension of an administration that is set on protecting the political interests of the president, refusing to protect the Mueller probe and disclose its findings to the public. 

House and Senate Committees Examine Infrastructure Needs

Last week, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman, Peter DeFazio (D-OR) held a committee hearing on the cost of inaction on infrastructure. Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz (D) and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti (D) urged Congress to quickly pass legislation that would provide new revenue for infrastructure improvements. Both cited their successful campaigns for tax increases to fund transportation needs in their own jurisdictions. Rep. DeFazio aims to increase the highway trust fund this year with his plan to raise the gas tax for the first time in 20 years.

On Wednesday, the committee held its second infrastructure hearing in as many weeks, this time examining the cost to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) of shutdowns on the agency, the economy and to the public. Paul Rinaldi, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, testified at that hearing that the aviation system’s safety level still hasn’t fully recovered from the 35-day government shutdown, halting progress on new technology and stopping reviews of incident reports used to improve safety. Rep. DeFazio recently introduced the Aviation Funding Stability Act of 2019 to protect FAA programs and personnel, and the U.S. aviation industry from future shutdowns of the federal government.

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee held a companion hearing on “America’s Infrastructure Needs.” The hearing focused on the current state of infrastructure and opportunities for improvement, including public and private funding, support for multimodal connectivity, and rural development. Public-private partnerships (P3s) were also the subject of a significant exchange during the hearing, after Chairman Roger Wicker (R-MS) asked if all P3 funding is “fake." Multiple witnesses responded in the affirmative.

What You Need to Know House leaders saw the hearings as the first of more to come as they intend to follow through on the need for massive new infrastructure investments. AFSCME sees this as a major priority to meet the huge infrastructure needs of the country that are being ignored and that will create new jobs and help the economy if done right.

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