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House and Senate Approve FY 2000 Budget Conference Report: Massive Tax Cuts Instead of Saving Social Security and Medicare and Domestic Investments
The House and Senate rushed through a conference report on a final $1.74 trillion federal budget resolution paving the way for a year-long battle with President Clinton over the size of future tax cuts and spending for critical domestic programs including Social Security and Medicare. The measure, which does not require the presidentís signature, sets overall totals for tax and spending bills that Congress will consider later this year.
The GOP leadership plan calls for a 10-year tax cut totaling at least $778 billion and extra money for defense and education. It leaves the tight budget caps in place which will require major cuts in major domestic programs. And, since the Republican leadership plans to give the Pentagon an increased share of the discretionary spending pot, cuts in domestic programs will be steep unless the caps are raised later in the year. The budget resolutionís non-defense discretionary budget is set at $246.3 billion or $43.7 billion less than last yearís spending, including last minute "emergency" spending.
And, while the resolution declares the Social Security surpluses "off-limits", the resolution does nothing to set aside any extra funds to extend the life of the Social Security and Medicare programs as the presidentís budget did.
The major change which the conferees made to the budget resolution, which had been passed earlier by the Senate, was to cut nearly in half the funds which had been earmarked for child care. The Senateís budget resolution had included an amendment offered by Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CT) to divert $10 billion of the $778 billion GOP leadership tax cut over 10 years to child care block grants. The conference report calls for an extra $6 billion for child care over 10 years, but Congress would have to come up with the money because it could not come from the pot allocated for tax cuts.
In an era of economic prosperity and budget surpluses, it is a disgrace that Congress would be considering massive budget cuts to programs that serve working people and would ignore the future needs of the Social Security and Medicare programs in favor of massive tax cuts to the most well-off in our country.
Patientsí Bill of Rights
The House Commerce Committee has held one hearing on managed care reform and is planning to hold three or four more, although none are yet scheduled. Committee consideration of managed care reform legislation will take place after the hearings, possibly at the end of May.
Sens. William Roth (R-DE) and Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY) continue to work on drafting their own managed care reform bill. Rather than a comprehensive bill, their effort has a more narrow focus, centered on an appeals process for patients who are denied treatment by their insurer. A preliminary draft does not include whistleblower protection for health care workers. Assuming that Roth and Moynihan do finalize their bill, it would be considered in the Senate Finance Committee where the senators serve as the Chair and Ranking Democrat.
SIGN THE PBR PETITION TO CONGRESS
A petition to Congress on the Patientsí Bill of Rights has been posted on AFSCMEís home page at www.afscme.org. By clicking on the petition site, AFSCME members can sign this electronic petition urging Congress to pass a real Patientsí Bill of Rights which includes whistleblower protection for health care workers.
Please sign the petition and urge your members to sign too!
Tax Hikes Constitutional Amendment
The House killed a proposed constitutional amendment (H.J.Res. 37) that would have required a two-thirds majority vote of both houses to increase federal taxes. The 229-199 vote fell 61 votes short of the supermajority needed for passage of a constitutional amendment.
Bitter partisanship marked the latest round in the ongoing congressional battle about how to conduct the 2000 census. The House endorsed, 223-206, a measure (H.R. 472) that would require the Census Bureau to allow local officials to check head counts post-census, before numbers are made official. The vote was along party lines and underscored the partisan tensions over what Democrats are calling "the civil rights issue of the decade." Democrats assert that GOP leaders do not want minorities to be counted and that the post-census review bill actually would reduce the accuracy of the census.
Democrats and the Administration favor a plan to use statistical sampling, an estimating method that would raise counts in hard-to-reach areas, such as inner cities. Commerce Secretary William M. Daley will urge the Administration to veto H.R. 472.
USA Savings Accounts
President Clinton unveiled his USA savings accounts proposal, which is designed to provide incentives for low- and moderate-income wage earners to increase their retirement savings. The plan would make approximately 124 million individuals eligible for what the White House describes as a progressive tax subsidy. Under the proposal, the administration would provide an automatic government contribution of $300 in the form of a refundable tax credit deposited directly into the account of joint filers earning less than $40,000.
Regulatory Reform/Worker Safety
On March 24, the House Subcommittee on National Economic Growth, Natural Resources and Regulatory Affairs held a hearing on the Regulatory Right-to-Know Act (H.R. 1074). This legislation would require the Office of Management and Budget to annually estimate the "efficiency" of federal regulations by calculating the overall costs and benefits. By forcing worker safety requirements to be valued in dollars, this legislation could serve to weaken worker safety protections in the future. Full committee consideration of this legislation is expected later this month.
Public Safety Officers
On March 24, the House Judiciary Committee approved legislation (H.R. 46) that would provide a national Medal of Valor for public safety officers who act with extraordinary bravery above and beyond the call of duty. This legislation would establish a Medal of Valor Review Board, composed of 11 individuals appointed by Congress and the president, who would recommend to the president up to 10 candidates a year for this medal. The Public Safety Medal of Valor would be the highest national award for valor by a public safety officer. This legislation is now pending further consideration on the House floor. Similar legislation (S. 39) was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK).