Week of November 26-30, 2018

Lame Duck Congress begins as Pelosi is nominated to be the next Speaker

  • Pelosi Nominated Speaker for New Congress
  • President Holds Remaining Seven FY 2019 Bills Hostage to $5B Border Wall Demand
  • Possible Farm Bill Deal on the Move
  • House Delays $53B Package of Mostly Business Tax Breaks
  • Senate GOP Sinks Trump Judicial Nomination

Pelosi Nominated Speaker for New Congress

House Democrats met in a closed-door session to select their leaders for the new Congress, nominating Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to be speaker. The final votes of the full House of Representatives for all leadership positions will take place Jan. 3 when the 116th session of Congress convenes.

Pelosi won the party’s nomination to reclaim the speaker position by a vote of 203 to 32. The vote in January will be a choice between Pelosi and the Republican leader, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). In other races, both Reps. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and James Clyburn (D-S.C.) ran unopposed to retain their positions as No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, behind Pelosi, Hoyer as the new Democratic majority leader and Clyburn as majority whip.

Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.) ran unopposed for assistant Democratic leader, a position created to allow broader representation in party leadership. Lujan led the successful Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in the last election.

Also, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y,) was selected to chair the Democratic Caucus, defeating Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) by a vote of 123 to 113. Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) was elected the House Democratic Caucus Vice Chair, defeating Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.), Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) was elected chair of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee, and Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.) was elected to lead the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. 

What You Need to Know: This week’s House leadership vote included the 39 newly elected Democratic members. The 40th new House Democrat candidate, T.J. Cox, has also been declared the winner over incumbent Rep. David Valadao (R) in the 21st District of California. This will bring the number of seats flipped by Democrats to the largest since the Watergate scandal in 1972. (Ed Jayne- ejayne@afscme.org)

President Holds Remaining Seven FY 2019 Bills Hostage to $5B Border Wall Demand 

In September, Congress postponed final decisions on the remaining seven fiscal year 2019 budget bills until Friday, Dec. 7. These remaining bills fund transportation and housing projects, border and homeland security programs, law enforcement, national parks, financial services and more. While these programs are mostly noncontroversial, President Donald Trump has been trying to leverage support for $5 billion in funding for a controversial border wall by threatening to shut down all remaining unfunded agencies and programs. Currently, the Senate bill allocates $1.6 billion for border security, not enough for the president, prompting the possible shutdown.

Funding for labor, health, human services and education programs was finalized prior to the elections, and those programs will be unaffected by a possible shutdown. Additional issues of concern include attaching protections for Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, additional funding to ensure the 2020 Census is prepared, and removing a controversial citizenship question from the Census form because it could lead to significantly undercounting minority groups.

What You Need to Know: Once again, Trump is playing a dangerous game of chicken over the federal budget and the many people it impacts. Even though 75 percent of government programs have been funded, a shutdown would be very disruptive to thousands of federal, state and local workers and would interrupt important government functions. AFSCME strongly opposes playing politics with people’s access to important public services. (Becky Levin- blevin@afscme.org) 

Possible Farm Bill Deal on the Move

House and Senate Agriculture Committee leaders say they have reached an agreement on a farm bill. Bill language is not available but could come together quickly and be voted on early next week. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) noted the “draconian changes to the nutrition program” included in the House bill have been scrapped in favor of the Senate nutrition language.

What You Need to Know: AFSCME pushed hard against efforts to remove the onerous new merit staffing requirements for SNAP eligibility determination proposed by the House, which have reportedly been dropped from the final deal. (Becky Levin- blevin@afscme.org)

House Delays $53B Package of Mostly Business Tax Breaks

The House of Representatives abruptly delayed a vote on yet another $53 billion package of tax giveaways that mostly benefits corporations and businesses and even provides tax breaks to wealthy special interests like race-horse breeders, NASCAR race-track owners and movie producers. The bill was rushed to the House floor bypassing committee debate and considerations and had been scheduled for a vote before it was delayed. Democrats complained they were left out of negotiations and raised numerous policy concerns. Some Republican opposition was also voiced over adding to the deficit.

AFSCME opposes these tax giveaways because their $53 billion cost would provide conservatives with more excuses to propose cutting Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, education and other vital public services. Furthermore, this tax package fails to provide meaningful assistance to working families or to create new jobs. It also fails to repeal the new tax loopholes created by the Trump-Republican tax break package (TCJA) enacted in December 2017, including the newly increased $22 million estate tax exemption; decreased top tax rates for millionaires; and reduced special tax rates for pass-through business income. 

What You Need to Know: Most working families and AFSCME members would receive nothing from this tax package. Most working families received little or nothing from the December 2017 tax package and public opinion polls demonstrate most Americans opposed it. Given the Senate’s 60-vote threshold, which requires Democratic support, and the Senate’s different tax priorities, this bill is not expected to advance there, even if it eventually passes the House. Nonetheless, there is some chance the key provisions could be attached to the year-end must-pass appropriations legislation to keep the federal government funded and avoid a shutdown. (Marc Granowitter- mgranowitter@afscme.org)

Senate GOP Sinks Trump Judicial Nomination

In a sign of heightened tensions between GOP Republicans and Trump, GOP senators raised objections to one of Trump’s conservative judicial nominations, forcing his rejection. In the face of widespread opposition, Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) along with others objected to the consideration of Thomas Farr to be a District Court judge. It’s the second judge Scott and others have rejected this year. Scott said he has “lingering concerns about issues that could affect [Farr’s] decision-making process as a federal judge.” Among other things, Farr is alleged to have connections to former Sen. Jesse Helms’ intimidation campaigns against black voters. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) also publicly opposed the nomination, as part of his efforts to force a vote on a bill to protect special counsel Mueller.

Other Republicans who had endorsed Farr earlier indicated they were reconsidering in the face of mounting opposition and evidence about Farr’s voter-suppression activities. All Democrats indicated opposition to the nomination. Democrats opposed Farr for defending a North Carolina voter ID law that an appellate court struck down for targeting African-American voters and criticized Republicans for keeping the seat open for 12 years by blocking two of President Barack Obama’s judicial nominees for the seat.

What You Need to Know: AFSCME, along with the AFL-CIO, NAACP, LCCHR and other organizations, strongly opposed and lobbied against the nomination. AFSCME will continue to speak out and lead efforts to oppose stacking the courts with conservative judges with extreme political views and any record of violations of fundamental rights and freedoms. (Ed Jayne- ejayne@afscme.org)

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