Week Ending February 8, 2019

No deal yet on government funding measure to avoid another shutdown.

  • Trump Delivers State of the Union Address
  • Congress Starts Work on Federal Budget
  • William Barr Nomination
  • House Panels Examine Threats to ACA and Individuals With Pre-Existing Conditions

Trump Delivers State of the Union Address

President Donald Trump delivered his second State of the Union address on Tuesday night. The speech was originally scheduled for last month but was postponed because of the partial government shutdown, caused by Trump’s demand that Congress pay for a wall along the southern border with Mexico. A big difference from his first State of the Union address was the fact that Democrats now control the House of Representatives, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) presided over the chamber with many newly elected Democrats in attendance.

Trump used the nationally televised speech as a forum to press for his demand for a border wall, ignoring the recent record-setting government shutdown and its harmful effect on public workers, communities and the economy. While he called for unity, as advertised, at the same time he was openly critical of Democrats, even saying they should not exercise oversight investigations of his administration. Meanwhile, Congress is still struggling to reach an agreement with the president on the budget, and Trump has refused to take another government shutdown off the table.

The address contained few policy specifics on Trump’s plans for possible bipartisanship on issues like infrastructure and other major initiatives. Just like last year, he called for a “$1 trillion investment in infrastructure” financed with both “public and private capital.” His earlier plan was dismissed and roundly criticized as a plan for greater privatization without sustainable, long-term federal funding needed to make necessary investments, create millions of living-wage American jobs and increase economic growth. Trump also called for a new plan to combat HIV and to fight childhood cancer. Details will have to wait until release of his Fiscal Year 2020 budget proposal expected in March. According to senior administration officials, the budget plan will include further cuts in domestic spending, along with cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, which have been proposed in the past. 

AFSCME President Lee Saunders issued a statement calling on Trump to invest in communities and public services and lift up working families and to “abandon the threat of another disastrous government shutdown.”  He said it’s “time to re-invest in public services instead of compromising them. That means a bold infrastructure plan that creates jobs – strengthening our schools, roads and energy grid, without privatization or outsourcing schemes.”

What You Need to Know:  The Democratic response was delivered by Stacey Abrams, who ran unsuccessfully for governor in Georgia last year. Abrams countered Trump’s favorable assessment on the economy, saying more Americans are falling behind under his leadership. “Families’ hopes are being crushed by Republican leadership that ignores real life or just doesn’t understand it,” she said. Abrams criticized the Republican tax law, saying it “rigged the system against working people ... rather than bringing back jobs, plants are closing, layoffs are looming and wages struggle to keep pace with the actual cost of living.” Abrams also called for an end to policies of voter suppression, for gun safety measures and for efforts to address the “crippling effect of educational loans.”

Congress Starts Work on Federal Budget

The House Budget Committee held a hearing this week to discuss the importance of raising spending limits to protect essential federal programs from devastating cuts. In 2011, Republicans in Congress threatened to allow the United States to default on its debt – potentially wreaking the economy – to force through legislation that resulted in the establishment of spending limits for federal programs through 2021. The spending limits were set at such low levels that Congress has repeatedly agreed to increase the spending limits each year, most recently reaching an agreement in 2018 to raise the limits for 2018 and 2019.

What You Need to Know:  Without a new agreement, spending on federal programs and services that address public health, education and other critical needs will be cut by $55 billion next year. Many of the programs that would be affected are grant programs provided to state and local governments, putting AFSCME member jobs at risk. AFSCME will be working to ensure that Congress raises the spending limits.

William Barr Nomination

This week, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a markup to consider an unprecedented number of executive nominees and dozens of judicial branch nominees, all in one sitting. The records of many of the nominees reveal troubling patterns on civil rights issues that threaten to erode protections for generations on issues like collective bargaining, workplace safety, employment discrimination, overtime pay, Native American tribal interest and sovereignty, voting rights, marriage equality and people living with pre-existing conditions.

Members of the committee voted along party lines to advance the nomination of William Barr to the be the next attorney general of the United States. It is abundantly clear the American people need an attorney general who is committed to the rule of law, transparency and the enforcement of equal justice for all. Barr has not demonstrated that he will be a good leader for the Department of Justice.

What You Need to Know:  When Barr served as attorney general in President George H.W. Bush’s administration, he helped create the failed war-on-drugs policy, which targeted millions of American citizens and did little to alleviate the public health crisis of addiction for nonviolent offenders. Barr has also taken controversial positions on equality for LGBTQ persons, affordable health care, immigration reform and campaign ethics. AFSCME called on members of the Senate to reject Barr and sent a letter to each office as we expect his nomination to move to the Senate floor as early as next week.

House Panels Examine Threats to ACA and Individuals With Pre-Existing Conditions

Safeguards in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) for individuals with pre-existing conditions changed the rules for insurance companies. This provision remains extremely popular and for good reason. The legal protections on pre-existing conditions opened the door to health care access for millions of Americans. However, this provision is under direct attack from a court ruling in Texas v. U.S., which invalidated the ACA’s core protections for people with pre-existing conditions. The decision has been stayed, but if the Supreme Court ultimately upholds this adverse decision, then only an act of Congress signed into law by the president could remedy the problem. With the change of the House majority during the 2018 elections, three House committees examined how this lawsuit and efforts by the administration to undermine the ACA affect individuals with pre-existing conditions, including workers who receive coverage through their employers. 

The House Appropriations Subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over the administration of funds to support the ACA, heard testimony that before the ACA, in 2009, 59 percent of people with employer coverage had plans with lifetime limits on benefits, while almost 20 percent had plans with no limit on out-of-pocket costs, exposing them to catastrophic costs in the event of serious illness. Because the ACA prohibits lifetime (and annual) limits on coverage and requires plans to cap consumers’ annual out-of-pocket costs, the law protects individuals with pre-existing conditions or those who have a serious illness. The Trump administration has refused to defend these provisions in the Texas lawsuit and supports the invalidating of these protections.

The health subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee heard testimony that said if the trial-court ruling is upheld by the Supreme Court, the case would result in coverage losses for over 10 million Americans and cause 9 million people to lose access to tax subsidies, end the coverage of preventive services without cost-sharing and coverage of dependents up to age 26, end the Medicaid expansion, and eliminate vital Medicare protections for seniors, including zero cost coverage of preventive services and the closing of the prescription drug “doughnut” hole. The House Education and Labor Committee heard how these changes would affect workers’ health coverage from their job. 

What You Need to Know:  Even though Republicans were unable to repeal the ACA, they are still threatening to undermine the ACA through a lawsuit to take away protections for individuals with pre-existing conditions and coverage for millions of Americans. Even though the president speaks in support of protections for individuals with pre-existing conditions, the actions of his administration have sought to sabotage the law. With these hearings, the House is laying the groundwork to challenge the administration’s actions to undermine the ACA, and if needed, to enact new legislation to protect individuals with pre-existing conditions.

Sign Up to Receive the Weekly Report and Action Alerts via Email and Become an AFSCME e-Activist!!!

In an effort to move toward electronic transmission which will allow us to put important federal legislative updates in your hands sooner, we urge you to sign up to receive the Federal Legislative Report via your email address.

Please go to www.afscme.org/join and check the "Federal Legislative Report" box under subscriptions on the bottom of the page.

Get the AFSCME Legislative Report delivered via email by signing up here.

Thank you!

You will begin receiving the AFSCME Legislative Report via email.