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Impeachment Trial Moves to the Witness Phase
In what many describe as the last gasp of the impeachment trial, senators voted largely along party lines to extend the trial into the next phase by summoning Monica Lewinsky and two administration insiders, Vernon Jordan and Sidney Blumenthal, for depositions and possible testimony. Earlier the same day, senators voted against an early dismissal motion by an identical vote of 56-44, with only Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) crossing the aisle to vote with Republicans. Although it means the trial will drag on, most saw the vote as clear evidence that the two-thirds vote needed to convict the president is not there. Nevertheless, Republican senators continue to talk about censure or approving a "findings of fact" or other so-called compromises to try to bring the matter to a close without further embarrassment to them.
Patients’ Bill of Rights
In the Senate, Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) has introduced the Republican leadership bill on managed care (S. 300) which is similar to the inadequate bill he introduced last year. This follows on the heels of Sen. Edward Kennedy’s (D-MA) introduction of the Patients’ Bill of Rights Act (S. 6). Sen. John Chafee (R-RI) is also expected to introduce a managed care bill soon. The Senate Finance Committee is planning to schedule hearings on managed care shortly, possibly as soon as mid-February.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) is telling Republican colleagues that he plans to schedule a floor vote on managed care legislation sometime between June and September. Rep. Greg Ganske (R-IA), who cosponsored the Democratic bill last year, is now drafting his own bill. Significantly, he plans to include some type of whistleblower protection for health care workers.
The initial reaction to President Clinton’s bold plan, unveiled in his State of the Union address, to guarantee the solvency of the Social Security program for the next 50 years by devoting 62 percent of the projected budget surplus ($2.7 trillion) over the next 15 years to the program, was strong bipartisan support. Less than 48 hours after the president outlined his plan, Ways and Means Chairman Bill Archer (R-FL) and Senate Budget Chairman Pete Domenici (R-NM) committed to set aside the surpluses as Clinton requested. However, by week’s end Archer, Domenici and other key GOP congressional leaders were singing a different tune. Pres. Clinton’s plan was suddenly being criticized as a budgetary sleight-of-hand and counting too heavily on budget surpluses that have not materialized yet.
Could it be that the Republican leadership turned sour because they realized that the president had scored a big victory: Putting forth a sensible plan that saved the budget surpluses for Social Security instead of giving them away in more tax cuts to the rich; insured that the Social Security program was really "saved" and solvent for the next 50 years; and used private investment accounts to supplement Social Security not replace it with a risky costly experiment?
The Bipartisan Medicare Commission continued their deliberation of a plan to reform the Medicare system. Sen. John Breaux (D-LA) led the discussions about his proposed plan to privatize the Medicare system by providing "premium support" payments to Medicare beneficiaries, allowing them to put their own health coverage in the private market. Many members of the Commission voiced concerns about the Breaux plan, particularly the issues of minimum benefits and out-of-pocket cost to beneficiaries. The next meeting of the Commission is scheduled for February 9.
Sens. Paul Coverdell (R-GA) and Robert Torricelli (D-NJ) introduced S. 14 which would expand the use of education individual retirement accounts. It allows parents, grandparents, or scholarship sponsors to contribute up to $2,000 (post-tax dollars) a year per child for educational expenses while at public, private, religious or home schools -- from kindergarten through high school. Under the plan, the accumulated interest in the savings accounts would be tax-free if used for the child’s education. These accounts are another name for "school vouchers" which AFSCME opposes. Pres. Clinton vetoed similar legislation in the last session.
In other action on education, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions approved a bill (S. 280), introduced by Sens. Bill Frist (R-TN) and Ron Wyden (D-OR), that would allow all states to waive any federal regulations and statutory requirements that local education agencies identify as impeding "educational progress." Currently, 12 states participate in the so-called "Ed Flex" demonstration program. The bill would expand Ed Flex authority to all 50 states without a thorough and detailed analysis of the student achievement levels or the resulting impact of waivers in those states where waivers already have been granted.
Federal Student Loans
It is déjà vu all over again! It is rumored that the Clinton Administration is once again going to include a proposal in its annual budget proposal to Congress to cut federal funds which support the work of the state student guaranty loan agencies. AFSCME Local 1000, the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA), represents over 900 employees who work for the New York State Higher Education Corporation servicing federal and state student loan programs. Although details of the president’s fiscal year 2000 budget will not be released until February 1, significant cuts are expected.
Collective Bargaining for Corrections Officers
Efforts to enact a federal collective bargaining law for corrections officers and other public safety officers are already underway. Reps. Dale Kildee (D-MI) and Bob Ney (R-OH) will soon reintroduce a bill to provide state public safety officers, including corrections officers, with the right to join a union, bargain a contract, and seek mediation for labor disputes. Last year, AFSCME, working with other unions, helped attract over 200 co-sponsors for this legislation, but the subcommittee chairman refused to take up the bill. Since then, the leadership of the subcommittee has changed, thereby increasing the chance that the Kildee-Ney collective bargaining bill will make its way through the legislative process.
This week the United States Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, decided against the use of scientific sampling methods for apportioning congressional seats among the states, which jeopardizes the nation’s commitment to equal opportunity for all. However, the Court’s decision does not prohibit the use of scientific sampling for purposes of drawing state or local legislative boundaries or distributing government funds. The civil rights coalition, of which AFSCME is a member, has called on Congress to enact legislation that allows the Census Bureau to employ the most up-to-date, scientific methods to conduct the most accurate and complete census.