Issues / Legislation » Legislative Weekly Reports

Week Ending June 22, 2018

  • House Rejects Punitive GOP Immigration Bill
  • White House Executive Order Fails to Protect Immigrant Children
  • House Passes Harsh Farm Bill; Senate Prepares for Vote on Bipartisan Bill
  • House Approves Delay for Home Care Worker Electronic Monitoring Requirement
  • Senate Blocks the President’s Budget Cuts
  • Funding Bills Advance
  • House Panel Pushes Budget Cutting Billions From Basic Programs to Finance Tax Cuts
  • House Advances Opioid Treatment Package
  • Trump Administration Proposes Cuts, Mergers and Privatization of  Federal Agencies
  • Supreme Court Rules States and Localities Can Collect Sales Tax From Internet Sellers

House Rejects Punitive GOP Immigration Bill

The House of Representatives voted down the conservative immigration plan sponsored by Rep. Robert Goodlatte (R-VA) called Securing America’s Future Act (H.R. 4760) by a vote of 193 to 231 after GOP leadership rejected a bipartisan plan to address Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). The Goodlatte bill would not have protected DACA, DREAMers, Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders, or the thousands of children who have been cruelly separated from their parents and detained due to President Trump’s new zero-tolerance policy. The House postponed a vote on another bill sponsored by House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), The Border Security and Immigration Reform Act of 2018, in order to gain new support.

What You Need to Know:  The Ryan alternative plan attempts to bridge the divide between anti-immigrant proponents and GOP moderates. The bill fails to provide DREAMers with a path to citizenship and focuses on implementing harsh enforcement policies. AFSCME opposes both H.R. 4760 and H.R. 6136, because they do not protect DACA recipients and they fail to address the plight of families who have been separated or detained at the border. AFSCME instead supports the bipartisan DREAM Act. 

White House Executive Order Fails to Protect Immigrant Children

In the face of intense public pressure, President Trump issued an Executive Order (EO) to reverse course on his policy to separate families with children. Instead of ending the “zero tolerance” policy of prosecuting even those exercising their legal right to apply for asylum, the president continues to falsely assert that Congress or the courts are “forcing” the administration to separate families. But with his reversal, family separation will now be replaced with indefinite family detention. Further, the EO does not clarify how families who have been separated will be reunified.  

AFSCME co-signed a complaint to the United Nations Commission for Human Rights in response to the Trump administration’s inhumane policy of separating children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. President Saunders noted, “This inhumane policy is a cruel choice that does not make us safer, and it does not make us great. There is no law that mandates traumatizing children, only the prerogative of this president.” 

What You Need to Know: This is not a humane solution. Family incarceration is harsh, expensive and traumatizing to children. There are better ways to ensure that children and families comply with immigration proceedings without the trauma that comes from throwing them in jail. Congress should act immediately to protect immigrant children and families.

House Passes Harsh Farm Bill; Senate Prepares for Vote on Bipartisan Bill

The House narrowly passed their version of the farm bill (H.R. 2) by a vote of 213-211, with 20 Republicans joining all Democrats in opposition. This was the House’s second attempt to pass the GOP’s controversial bill. The Senate has taken a very different approach, continuing with the farm bill’s long history of bipartisanship, and expects to vote early in the week of June 25 on S. 3042, a bill that protects and strengthens SNAP.

What You Need to Know: The House-passed bill cuts SNAP by nearly $19 billion, takes away food assistance from 2 million people, imposes harsh work requirements and eliminates the merit staffing requirement for SNAP eligibility determination. AFSCME strongly opposes H.R. 2, preferring the Senate’s bipartisan approach. AFSCME urges the Senate to reject any partisan amendments, including one that would end the merit staffing requirement.

House Approves Delay for Home Care Worker Electronic Monitoring Requirement 

The House easily passed H.R. 6042, which delays for one year the electronic visit verification (EVV) requirement for personal care attendants and home care workers.  Home care workers and their clients are concerned that the EVV requirement in Medicaid will endanger privacy, because it requires providers to identify the location and time of services, as well as other details.  The specificity of details required by law in an EVV system could inadvertently turn it into a tracking-like system that would be an invasion of privacy for consumers.  

What You Need to Know: AFSCME supports this delay because it will give home care workers, consumers, states and other stakeholders additional time to work with Congress and the administration to address important privacy considerations.  AFSCME is urging the Senate to pass this legislation swiftly. 

Senate Blocks the President’s Budget Cuts

The Senate voted 48 to 50 to oppose a package of budget cuts to programs previously approved by Congress, known as “rescissions.” Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Richard Burr (R-NC) joined Democrats to oppose the cuts proposed by the administration. The $15.3 billion rescissions package would reneg on the Bipartisan Budget Act (BBA) of 2018 passed earlier in the year. The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) would have taken the biggest hit, absorbing nearly half of the cuts. Yet Congress just enacted a long-overdue 10-year reauthorization of CHIP.

What You Need to Know: AFSCME strongly opposed the rescissions budget cut package. Too many years of funding delays and high stakes budget battles have needlessly complicated state and local budget decisions. Adding new cuts now would be a disaster. Unfortunately, the administration has plans to submit an additional package of cuts in the fall.

Funding Bills Advance 

The House and Senate have yet to complete action on the annual spending bills for fiscal year 2019. The full House has passed three of the regular 12 bills and the Senate is nearing completion on the same three: Military Construction and Veterans’ Affairs, Legislative Branch, and Energy and Water bills. The Senate wants to pass as many funding bills as possible before the end of the fiscal year on September 30 with bipartisan support. 

Meanwhile, House Republican Budget Committee Chairman Steve Womack (R-AR) introduced a  partisan budget resolution for FY 2019 that was approved in committee along party lines. AFSCME’s letter opposing the plan was read into the record by Ranking Member John Yarmuth (D-KY). The budget resolution isn’t really needed since Congress  already set annual funding levels and the appropriations process is well underway. The Womack budget, like previous GOP budgets, makes deep cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and other investments that benefit middle-class and working families in order to pay for additional tax cuts for the wealthy.

The FY 2019 budget resolution would make massive cuts totaling $6.5 trillion over 10 years, with $5.4 trillion in cuts to mandatory programs. The budget proposes to extend and make permanent recent tax cuts that overwhelmingly benefit the wealthy and large corporations. The budget would cut non-defense discretionary (NDD) from $597 billion in 2019 to $555 billion from 2021-2028, a 29% cut. Overall, the budget would slash $923 billion from mandatory income security programs funding SNAP, TANF, unemployment compensation, federal civilian and military retirement programs, and tax credits that support families and low-income individuals.

The House FY 2019 budget resolution goes after the very programs working Americans rely on the most. The budget would turn Medicare into a voucher system, raise the eligibility age to 67 from 65, and cut the program by $537 billion, which is financed by increasing out-of-pocket costs on seniors.  The budget cuts $1.5 trillion from Medicaid, leaving cash-strapped states and sick workers on their own. It would also dismantle the Affordable Care Act (ACA), cut $157 billion from SNAP and impose harsh work requirements, eliminate Temporary Aid for Needy Families’ (TANF) contingency fund by cutting $6 billion, cut student financial aid programs by $231 billion, and eliminate the Social Services Block Grant.

The budget also proposes to increase the minimum retirement age under the Federal Employee Retirement System to 60. And it would cut $4 billion from Social Security Disability benefits, which it describes as “a first step” to Social Security reform, and calls for an expedited process to fast-track additional cuts. The budget also calls for individual House committees to identify a minimum of $302 billion of cuts in an attempt to set up an expedited process in the Senate that could be used to repeal the ACA, further cut programs, and pass additional tax cuts.

What You Need to Know:  As the spending bills move, AFSCME will continue to monitor and advocate for new investments that benefit working families, including public services delivered by states and local governments. AFSCME will oppose any policy riders to weaken worker protections and labor unions. The House budget resolution is not binding, but it provides a blueprint of the cuts GOP leaders want to make in the future to pay for yet another round of tax cuts for the rich. 

House Advances Opioid Treatment Package

By an overwhelming vote of 396 to 14, the House passed The Substance Use-Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment for Patients and Communities Act (SUPPORT  Act, H.R. 6).  This bipartisan bill consolidates over 60 bills. Most provisions are limited to incremental changes to address the opioid crisis, however, a number of provisions will make significant changes to improve the capacity of behavioral health care professionals and increase access to treatment and recovery support for substance use disorders.

Specifically, the bill expands the number of health professionals who can treat patients with Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT).  It also creates a new program for the federal government to repay loans, of up to $250,000 per person, for those working full-time for at least six years in direct substance use treatment and recovery support. This AFSCME-backed program will cover a broad range of professions. H.R. 6 creates a $256 million Medicaid demonstration over 10 years to increase substance use provider capacity and authorizes $509 million for an enhanced federal Medicaid matching rate for health homes that treat individuals with substance use disorder. It ensures coverage for former foster youth up to the age of 26 and supports state efforts to ensure continuity of coverage for formerly incarcerated individuals with substance use disorders. The bill also expands Medicare benefits for substance use disorder treatment.

AFSCME is urging the Senate to adopt these provisions but reject another provision which increases costs for employer group health plans by $344 million. This provision is unrelated to the opioid crisis and would shift the high costs from Medicare onto employer health plans for the coverage of individuals with end-stage renal disease. 

What You Need to Know: The Senate will likely vote on opioid legislation in July, and then the House and Senate will need to reach a compromise agreement between their two versions.  AFSCME will continue to press for provisions that address the retention and recruitment problems in the behavioral health care industry, increase provider funding under Medicaid, and oppose provisions that shift costs onto employer health plans.

Trump Administration Proposes Cuts, Mergers and Privatization of  Federal Agencies 

The Trump administration released a sweeping proposal to significantly change the federal government, consolidating multiple agencies and shuffling human services programs in a way that would make them easier to cut or eliminate. Some of the controversial proposals include merging the Departments of Education and Labor into one agency, consolidating and relocating health and social safety net programs into a “welfare” department that would also house the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), selling off the Tennessee Valley Authority, shrinking the staff who respond to public health emergencies, limiting government-backed mortgages, possibly privatizing the Post Office, and privatizing air traffic control of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Most of the proposals would require congressional action to enact. The proposal does not address how the cuts and shifts to the private sector will reduce public services and accountability.   

What You Need to Know: Congress will need to approve most of the proposals, and many members of Congress have expressed opposition. The proposed changes are backed by the conservative Heritage Foundation and Koch-related entities and would advance corporate interests over the needs of working families and vulnerable Americans.

Supreme Court Rules States and Localities Can Collect Sales Tax From Internet Sellers 

The Supreme Court decided in a 5-4 ruling on South Dakota v. Wayfair that states and localities can require firms that sell goods via the internet (“e-tailers”) to collect sales tax from the buyers of these goods. Since 1992, the prevailing standard authorized a state or its localities to collect sales taxes only if the seller had a direct physical presence in that state. This decision will help so-called “brick and mortar” local businesses compete for sales against internet, catalogue, and other remote sellers by reducing the incentive for buyers to shop online.  

What you Need to Know:  AFSCME has strongly supported bipartisan legislation that would require internet and remote sellers to collect sales taxes, including the Marketplace Fairness Act (S. 976) and the the Remote Transactions Parity Act of 2017 (H.R. 2193).  This ruling is expected to add a cumulative $8 to $23 billion in annual sales tax revenue to state and local governments, including many employers of AFSCME members.

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