Issues / Legislation

Week Ending February 14, 2020

AFSCME calls on Congress to reject cruel budget cuts and assault on working people

President’s Fiscal Year 2021 Budget Proposal

President Donald Trump has released his $4.8 trillion budget proposal for fiscal year (FY) 2021. Instead of investing in vital public service programs that help improve the lives of millions of Americans and their communities, this proposal calls for a 5.1% cut to domestic nondefense discretionary programs, for a total of $590 billion for nondefense programs while maintaining military funding at $740.5 billion. Last year, the president and Congress agreed to the FY 2021 topline discretionary funding level at $632 billion for nondefense as part of the 2019 Bipartisan Budget Agreement. The president’s proposed cuts to nondefense discretionary programs goes against what was signed into law and will be deeply harmful to working families, seniors, those on disability and many more. AFSCME President Lee Saunders called on Congress to reject Trump’s cruel budget cuts.

What You Need to Know: This week, the House Committee on the Budget held a hearing on Trump’s budget proposal where Acting Director of Office of Management and Budget Russell Vought testified. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Budget Committee Chair John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) have both stated that they will comply with the spending caps that were agreed on last year despite Trump’s proposal, which ignores the spending caps and calls for devastating cuts. Although Congress will likely disregard the president’s proposal, the ideas outlined need to be taken seriously because the administration is going to try to implement them through administrative actions.

House Panels Tackle Surprise Medical Bills

Two House committees advanced different, yet bipartisan versions of legislation to stop out-of-network health care providers from billing insured patients directly for more than the same in-network rate. The House Education and Labor Committee adopted the “Ban Surprise Billing Act” (H.R. 5800) by a vote of 32 to 13. The House Ways and Means Committee adopted the “Consumer Protections Against Surprise Medical Bills Act” (H.R. 5826) by voice vote. Last year, the House Energy and Commerce Committee adopted its bipartisan bill and revised it to secure bicameral support from a key Senate committee.

What You Need to Know: AFSCME supports the use of a market-based benchmark payment rate, which will keep overall health care costs in check and not lead to hikes in premiums or out-of-pocket costs for working families. Two bills would have out-of-network providers accept a benchmark rate for bills under $750 and the option to use arbitration in disputes over bills higher than $750. This approach is not as inflationary as the Ways and Means Committee bill, which resolves all payment disputes through arbitration. 

Brasher Confirmed for Historic Eleventh Circuit

This week, the Senate voted 53 to 43 along party lines to confirm Andrew Brasher to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit. Brasher’s confirmation boosts conservative presence on the court.

 What You Need to Know: Democrats and civil rights groups opposed his nomination. AFSCME sent a letter to all members of the Senate urging them to vote no on his confirmation. The 11th Circuit includes jurisdiction over the states of Alabama, Florida and Georgia, each of which have introduced and enforced measures that disenfranchised eligible voters in the past.

AFSCME School Employees Champion Public Education and Labor Rights

This week, AFSCME classified school employees from Washington, D.C., Florida, Maryland, Ohio and New York went to Capitol Hill to advocate for public education funding and urge Congress to advance legislation to guarantee the freedom of public employees to unionize. 

What You Need to Know: In addition to increased funding, AFSCME members lobbied for collective bargaining because it is essential for school employees to negotiate for fair pay and benefits but also for student needs. Recent contract negotiations have included and won benefits for students, including access to medical and mental health services and increased funding for after-school programs.