Issues / Legislation

Week Ending January 4, 2019

Democrats Take Control of the House: Pelosi Sworn In as Speaker

As expected, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was elected the new speaker by the full House on the first day of the 116th Congress after Democrats formally gained control of the chamber. Pelosi defeated the Republican nominee, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), winning with a majority of 220 votes. McCarthy becomes the minority leader and leads House Republicans. Pelosi was reelected to the same position she held when she served as the first and only female speaker from 2007 to 2011. Just 13 Democrats voted against Pelosi and three voted “present.”

As she assumed the speakership, Pelosi said, “We enter this new Congress with a sense of great hope and confidence for the future and deep humility.” Underscoring that the House is more diverse than it has ever been, Pelosi said it is a “privilege to serve with over 100 women members of Congress, the largest number in history.” There will be more women, women of color, LGBT members and millennials serving in the House than ever before.

Pelosi said her immediate priority is to reopen the parts of the federal government that have been shut down for more than two weeks now over President Donald Trump’s demand for $5 billion for building a wall on the southern border. Democrats wasted no time advancing a plan to fund government services without new money for a border wall. The House plan is not expected to be considered by the Republican-controlled Senate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has indicated he will not hold a vote on the House-passed plan because the president has said he would not sign it into law. 

Speaker Pelosi spelled out other priorities of the Democrats, including climate change, income inequality and sweeping ethics reforms. The ethics reform package, introduced as H.R. 1, includes proposals for campaign finance reform, restore voting rights and make a series of new ethics changes. It also includes a provision requiring Trump to release his tax returns.

What You Need to Know: Democrats also passed a sweeping series of procedural rule changes. The package also includes a provision to allow the House to intervene in Texas v. United States, a lawsuit that challenges the legality of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and seeks its repeal. The House under Pelosi’s leadership plans to defend the ACA. This is especially important since the Trump administration has refused to defend the law and has argued that key ACA protections are unconstitutional.

Shutdown Extends Through Second Week

On Dec. 21, Trump followed through on his threat to shut down nine federal departments and a number of independent agencies unless Congress provides $5.6 billion for a border wall. Millions of Americans are being denied critical public services and nearly 800,000 public service workers and their families are affected by the shutdown, including many AFSCME members. None of these dedicated employees will be paid until the shutdown ends, and many federal workers are facing the frightening prospect of not being able to pay their mortgages or rent, car loans and other obligations. The shutdown is also jeopardizing state employees working in positions funded by federal grants, who may be furloughed if their employers are unwilling or unable to cover the loss of federal funds.

AFSCME is calling on the president to accept two bills passed by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives on Jan. 3 that would end the shutdown. The first bill would provide full funding through the remainder of the 2019 fiscal year for all the agencies unrelated to the dispute over border security at levels negotiated on a bipartisan basis. The second bill would fund the Department of Homeland Security through Feb. 8, allowing federal employees to get back to work while negotiations continue over border security. The bills include language originally drafted and advocated by AFSCME ensuring that any federally funded state and local workers furloughed during the shutdown are provided back pay. Unfortunately, the president has threatened to veto the bills because they do not include money for a wall.

What You Need to Know: While the president has stated that he is “proud to shut down the government,” AFSCME will continue to support legislative proposals to end this reckless shutdown, which is harming public service workers and the Americans who rely on the critical services that these workers provide.

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