Week Ending November 20, 2020

Lame Duck Session Begins with Unclear Endgame

  • COVID Aid and FY 2021 Funding Hangs in the Balance
  • House and Senate Leaders Re-Nominated
  • The National Apprenticeship Act

COVID Aid and FY 2021 Funding Hangs in the Balance

Congress returned to work for a lame duck session following the elections with two enormous tasks, addressing urgent COVID needs and finalizing funding for the next fiscal year (FY) 2021. AFSCME has been urging Congress to pass a comprehensive COVID aid package since May, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has continued to stonewall relief efforts and ignore the growing crisis. Instead, he continues his partisan attacks against “blue states.” Meanwhile, over 11.5 million Americans have had the virus and more than 250,000 have died. Many states and localities are implementing lockdown measures which, while necessary, will cause additional economic problems. Promising vaccines could be available soon, but our public health infrastructure is ill-equipped to deliver them and to also administer tests. It’s clear that help is needed at a level only the federal government can provide.

  • Time is Running Out – Congress is working to resolve differences between House and Senate funding proposals, racing toward the expiration of the current stopgap funding bill on Dec. 11. The Senate just released its funding plan last week, while the House passed 10 out of 12 bills earlier this year. Many are concerned time is running out, so the negotiations will likely continue through mid-December in order to avoid a government shutdown if funding bills are not approved and signed into law by President Donald Trump. It seems possible, while not certain, that COVID aid could be attached to the final version. 
  • Inaction is Not an Option – AFSCME is urging Congress to pass an omnibus appropriations package to fully fund the federal government for the remaining 2021 fiscal year that includes comprehensive COVID aid. That way states and local governments will know what resources will be available for them as soon as possible, and can be prepared to provide essential public services and fight the pandemic instead of cutting services and jobs.
  • Georgia Runoffs Could Flip the Senate – The two Senate races in Georgia failed to secure majority support, requiring runoff elections for both seats on Tuesday, Jan. 5. If both Democratic candidates, Jon Ossoff and the Rev. Raphael Warnock, win and unseat Republican incumbent Sens. David Perdue and  Kelly Loeffler, the Senate will be split 50-50 and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris would cast the deciding vote and enable Democratic control. That would mean McConnell could no longer block comprehensive COVID aid or other Democratic priorities. These runoff elections are critical opportunities to unlock needed aid and pave a smoother path for the incoming Biden administration, and a real path for a working families’ agenda.

What You Need to Know: Call your senators and urge them to pass a comprehensive COVID aid package with significant aid for states, cities, towns and schools. Also, please volunteer to get out the vote in Georgia. The special election could swing the Senate majority in favor of Democrats who will support President-elect Joe Biden’s agenda and a robust COVID aid package as early as possible next year, along with other critical legislation and funding to support working families. (Becky Levin – blevin@afscme.org) 

Senate Control Hangs in the Balance

As you know, the balance of power in the U.S. Senate is at stake with two Georgia seats headed to runoffs. If we win both seats, it will be a 50-50 Senate, giving Democrats effective control. We know that the Senate is key to ensuring that President-elect Joe Biden can deliver on a bold agenda that puts AFSCME and working families first.

To help make calls in Georgia, sign up here.

House and Senate Leaders Re-Nominated

Democrats nominated Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to be speaker in the new 117th Congress that will convene in January 2021. Pelosi, along with House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), are all expected to be approved for their posts when the House votes in early January. 

  • Senate Leaders Also Selected – Senate Republicans approved Sen. Mitch McConnell (Ky.) as their party leader and Democrats approved Sen. Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) as their leader, although it will not be clear which party will be in the majority until after the Georgia Senate runoff elections in January. 

What You Need to Know: When the House elects the speaker, Pelosi will need the majority of votes cast by both parties but is expected to receive the votes needed since Democrats still control the House chamber. Republicans also nominated Reps. Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) to again be minority leader, Steve Scalise (La.) as minority whip, and Liz Cheney (Wyo.) as Republican Conference chair. (Ed Jayne – ejayne@afscme.org)

The National Apprenticeship Act

Members of the House of Representatives voted to reauthorize the National Apprenticeship Act of 2020 (H.R. 8294), which makes significant new funding investments over five years in workforce programs by expanding opportunities for front-line and other workers, including for employers amidst COVID-19. The House passed H.R. 8294 Friday by a vote of 246-140 (click here to view the vote.)

  • Skills Training and Employment – As our nation is experiencing record unemployment, creating more career pathways through apprenticeships is critical to fighting this pandemic. Statistics show that 90% of apprentices are employed after concluding their programs. The programs also enable them to gain the specialized skills required for many front-line jobs. H.R. 8294 authorizes nearly $4 billion in funding to establish more than 1 million new opportunities to access registered apprenticeships, youth apprenticeships and pre-apprenticeships.

What You Need to Know: AFSCME has a long history of supporting registered apprenticeship programs that make it easier for job seekers and workers to access the training they need to get and keep good jobs. Apprenticeships can help overcome some of the challenges that will be required for retraining workers for new jobs and crucial skills to meet critical public needs as the pandemic rages on. H.R. 8294, which AFSCME supports, will help reduce barriers to employment and provide equal opportunity for all workers to participate in programs under the national apprenticeship system, which is paramount during these challenging times. (Katie Smith – ksmith@afscme.org) 

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