LEGISLATIVE PROGRESS REPORT
CONGRESS FIRST SESSION
first six months of the 107th Congress have been busy with
major action being taken on key issues of major importance to AFSCME members
and their families. Listed below are status reports on these issues.
Please make sure that you see the action box at the end of the report for
"What You Can Do" during the August congressional recess.
TAX CUT MEANS RAID ON SOCIAL SECURITY AND MEDICARE AND MORE
BUDGET CUTS - "Honey, I ate the surplus!"
House Republican leaders have reluctantly admitted that just months after
the adoption of the President's reckless $1.3 trillion tax cut they are
eating into the remaining budget surplus and may have to raid Social
Security and Medicare trust funds. An internal GOP memo admits that
Congress is "possibly already into (the) Medicare (Part A) trust fund this
year" and "are very close to touching the Social security surplus in
Year (FY) 2003." When the tax bill passed, many critics predicted just this
scenario - saying the budget surplus estimate was too shaky to be relied
upon. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) forecast due out later in
August is expected to show no available surplus remains and that Congress
will likely dip into the Medicare and Social Security trust funds by nearly
$41 billion in FY 2003. This means bad news for the ability of Congress to
fund government programs and services without deep budget cuts in many
important domestic programs.
PATIENTS' RIGHTS -- House Passes HMO / Insurance Industry Relief Measure
House and Senate have passed widely different versions of patients'
rights legislation (H.R. 2563/S.1052) which will now go to a House-Senate
conference committee to negotiate the differences. Differences in the
enforcement features of the two versions will cause the conference to be
very contentious and put agreement on a final bill in doubt. The Senate
bill provides patients with a more expansive right to sue health plans and
allows states to establish stronger processes for patients to appeal denials
of care than the process provided in the legislation. In the House bill,
the right to sue and the appeals language was significantly weakened by a
last minute deal between President Bush and Representative Charles Norwood
(R-GA), a primary cosponsor of the original House legislation.
> While the enforcement features in the Senate bill are stronger, this
bill was also weakened at the last minute when the Senate approved an
amendment giving states significant flexibility to exclude public employees
from the bill. AFSCME succeeded in fixing this language in the House bill
so that it does cover AFSCME members. Both the House and Senate versions
provide whistleblower protections for health care workers, another key
AFSCME lobbying priority.
BUSH ADMINISTRATION PLAN LAYING GROUNDWORK TO PRIVATIZE SOCIAL SECURITY
President Bush's Social Security Privatization Commission will issue its
final report in the fall. The Commission is expected to recommend that
Social Security should be privatized by permitting workers to divert a
portion of their payroll taxes into private investment accounts, destroying
the Social Security program as we know it. The Bush privatization plan
would transform a small projected budget problem -- that according to the
Social Security Trustees may or may not occur after 2038 -- into a huge
budget shortfall as early as 2008. Any plan to privatize Social Security
would require that the current level of benefits be cut, the retirement age
raised, the Social Security survivors and disability programs gutted and the
budgets of other domestic programs raided.
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES SENDS "CHARITABLE CHOICE" BILL TO THE SENATE
House of Representatives approved President Bush's "faith-based"
initiative, the Community Solutions Act of 2001 (H.R. 7), by a largely
party-line vote of 233-198. H.R. 7 permits religious-based discrimination
in federally funded programs for the first time in over 60 years. It also
undermines existing public and non-profit agencies by allowing federal
agencies to convert social service grants and contracts into vouchers for
individuals and triggering cutbacks in personnel and services.
EFFORT TO ENACT MEDICARE PRESCRIPTION DRUG PLAN STALLS IN SENATE
During the last several weeks, members of the Senate Finance Committee
attempted to come up with an outline of a Medicare prescription drug
proposal. Three hundred billion dollars was set aside in the budget for a
Medicare drug benefit, and committee members have been struggling to craft a
benefit which would be both affordable and comprehensive. Not reaching any
consensus, the panel chairman postponed any action until the fall. Some
conservative members of the committee, including Democrat John Breaux of
Louisiana, want a drastically scaled-back drug benefit, managed by private
ELECTION REFORM BILLS INTRODUCED
Equal Protection of Voting Rights Act of 2001 (S. 565/H.R. 1170) is
the only election reform legislation in the Congress that would adequately
address the problems that many Americans experienced during the 2000
elections. The legislation seeks to strengthen the nation's election
process by requiring uniform standards, a non-discriminatory voting system
and technology standards. The bill also calls for provisional voting and
sample ballots and instructions prior to elections. It is designed to
protect the right of Americans to cast their vote regardless of their race,
economic status or disability.
CAMPAIGN FINANCE BILL STALLS IN HOUSE
early April, the Senate approved S. 27, campaign finance reform
legislation introduced by Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Russ Feingold
(D-WI). The bill is opposed by AFSCME because it reduces the ability of
state and local parties to conduct grassroots voter mobilization activities
aimed at promoting federal, state and local candidates. A similar bill
(H.R. 2356) has been introduced in the House by Representatives Christopher
Shays (R-CT) and Martin Meehan (D-MA). The House GOP leadership attempted
to steam-roll its alternative through the House, but Republican moderates
balked, forcing Republican leaders to remove the bill from floor
consideration. Proponents of the Shays-Meehan bill are making a strong push
to bring it to the House floor shortly after the August recess.
EDUCATION REFORM BILLS UNDER CONSIDERATION IN SENATE - HOUSE CONFERENCE
House and Senate have passed their respective versions of legislation
reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the largest
source of federal funding for educational programs. The bills are now being
considered by a House-Senate conference committee. The Senate version of
the bill contains full funding for Title I, the most critical of federal
the House version of the bill, there is a provision which places a
hiring freeze on local education agencies from expanding their
paraprofessional staff, jobs in which thousands of AFSCME members work. The
Senate bill does not include such a hiring freeze, and AFSCME is working in
support of the Senate version of the bill.
ERGONOMICS REGULATION KILLED IN CONGRESS
Both the Senate and the House approved legislation killing the long
awaited ergonomics standard that was designed to protect workers from
crippling repetitive motion injuries. Ergonomic-related injuries are the
biggest workplace safety and health problem in the county. President George
Bush signed the legislation killing the ergonomic standard, marking the
first substantive legislation signed by President Bush since he took office
this year. And, it marks the first time that a Congress and a President
have taken away a major workplace protection in the 30-year history of the
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). We are working to
pressure the Administration to come up with a new ergonomics standard.
CORRECTIONS AND LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICERS - FAVORABLE TAX TREATMENT FOR
SURVIVORS/COLLECTIVE BARGAINING RIGHTS
> On June
5, 2001, legislation was signed into law strongly supported by
AFSCME that provides equitable tax treatment for survivor benefits for
corrections and law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty. Before
passage of this law, only survivors of officers killed in the line of duty
after December 31, 1996 were eligible for annuity benefits excluded from
taxable income. Currently, legislation that would require states to provide
minimum collective bargaining rights for corrections and law enforcement
officers is gaining support in both houses of Congress.
1475, the Public Safety Employer-Employee Cooperation Act of 2001 and
S.952 enjoy wide bipartisan support. This bill would establish minimum
collective bargaining standards for public safety officers, and AFSCME is
seeking to expand the number of cosponsors in both chambers.
LIMITING CONTRACTING-OUT OF FEDERAL EMPLOYEE JOBS MOVES FORWARD
> In a
34-25 vote, the House Armed Services Committee approved an amendment
by Representative Neil Abercrombie (D-HI) that would impose new
contracting-out requirements on the Department of Defense. The amendment is
a modified version of H.R. 721, the Truthfulness, Responsibility and
Accountability in Contracting Act (TRAC Act), supported by AFSCME. The
amendment which is strongly opposed by the Administration and federal
contractors prevents work performed by federal employees the chance to
compete for at least a fraction of a new work; ensures that contractors will
be subject the same degree of public-private competition as civil services
workers; and establishes an inventory to tract the cost and size of the
Defense Department workforce. It also calls for a report on the wages and
benefits paid by Defense Department contractors. A major fight on the House
floor is expected in September.
AND COPORATE ALLIES SEEKING TO PUSH "FAST TRACK" TRADE BILL THROUGH
President Bush and large corporations are seeking enactment of a special
Fast Track bill so they can steam-roll trade agreements, through Congress
with no changes and little debate. This measure is worse than the bills
Congress rejected in 1997 and 1998. It would move more American jobs
overseas, give too much power to the president and allow devastating air and
water pollution. Congress is expected to vote soon on Fast Track.
YOU CAN DO
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your Senators and Representative and urge him/her to support a final
patients' rights bill, which covers all Americans and holds health plans
fully accountable for their decisions.
your Senators and ask them to oppose any charitable choice
legislation that will undermine social agencies by creating vouchers or
undermine worker and civil rights protections in federally funded programs.
your Senators and ask him/her to support the Senate version of the
education reform bill.
your Senators and Representative and ask them to cosponsor S.565/H.R.
1170, the Equal Protection of Voting Rights Act of 2001.
your Senators and Representative
> Rights for Public and ask them to cosponsor S.952/
> Safety Officers: H.R.1475, the Public Safety Employer-Employee Cooperation
Act of 2001
your Senators and Representative and tell them working families need
fair and balanced trade that protects people and the environment -- not fast