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Legislation Department
May 7, 1999

Social Security

President Gerald McEntee spoke at a major press conference representing the labor movement at which leaders of citizen groups and policy experts announced a joint statement of the principles which must guide any possible Social Security reform plan. These principles, which are designed to ensure that Congress and the president do not undermine Social Security and Medicare while claiming to save them, include: support of the president’s plan to devote at least 77 percent of future budget surpluses to Social Security and Medicare, and opposition to using Social Security payroll taxes and trust funds to finance private investment accounts.

Proposals to destroy Social Security are bursting into bloom like May flowers on Capitol Hill. Following the announcement last week of the GOP Archer-Shaw privatization plan, Reps. Jim Kolbe (R-AZ) and Charles Stenholm (D-TX) announced a "sweetened" version of the privatization plan which they presented last year. The key element of the plan is the transfer of two percent of the Social Security payroll tax from the Social Security Trust Fund to establish private investment accounts.

Unlike the Archer-Shaw plan which claims to maintain the current level of guaranteed benefits, the Kolbe-Stenholm plan would clearly reduce benefits for middle-income workers in order to pay for enhanced benefits for lower-wage workers. The retirement age would have to increase to 70 to meet financial targets. The annual cost of living adjustments (COLAs), which make up for losses in real purchasing power due to inflation for Social Security and for all government programs, would be reduced. The consequence of reducing the COLAs would be a hike in personal income taxes because those with rising incomes would be catapulted into a higher income bracket. The only "good news" for AFSCME among the harmful provisions is the abandonment of the mandatory coverage proposal which was in last year’s version.

Patients’ Bill of Rights

Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) has reversed himself and put managed care reform legislation back on the Senate calendar. This action occurred following threats by Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) and Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) that they would attempt to amend the Patients’ Bill of Rights (S. 6) onto other legislation being considered on the floor of the Senate. While reform legislation is now scheduled for consideration in June, it appears that the Senate Republican leadership will have to be pushed to allow a vote to take place.

On May 6, the Employer/Employee Relations Subcommittee of the House Education and Workforce Committee held another hearing on managed care reform, focusing on the effectiveness of external appeal processes in plans. In plans that have such processes, patients may appeal the denial of treatment to a third party. However, in many plans, the third party is not truly neutral or independent of the plan and decisions are frequently not binding on the plan. The committee Republicans are showcasing external appeal processes as an alternative to demands that all plans be made liable for damages when sued by patients injured by denials of care. However, it is clear that the Republican leadership is not willing to impose on plans anything but the weakest standards for appeal processes.

SIGN THE PBR PETITION TO CONGRESS

A petition to Congress on the Patients’ Bill of Rights has been posted on AFSCME’s 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 Patients’ Bill of Rights which includes whistleblower protection for health care workers.

Please sign the petition and urge your members to sign too!

Law Enforcement Officers

This week is "National Corrections Officers and Employees Week." On April 29, the Senate passed a resolution (S.Res. 29) to request that the president observe the week of May 2, 1999 with ceremonies honoring corrections officers and others who work in corrections facilities.

On April 29, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed legislation (S. 39) to provide a national Medal of Valor for public safety officers, including corrections and other law enforcement 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. Similar legislation has passed the House.

On May 4, Rep. John Sweeney (R-NY) introduced a resolution (H. Con. Res. 95) expressing the sense of Congress that states should lift earnings limitations on retired law enforcement officers. Many law enforcement officers are willing to continue to serve even after retirement, though are discouraged from doing so because of artificial earnings limitations.

Bankruptcy Reform

Debtors who look to the government to provide some measure of protection from their creditors would be required to meet a number of income-based criteria before they could enter into bankruptcy proceedings under a bill (H.R. 833) passed by the House on a 313-108 vote this week.

The bill encompasses more detail than a similar Senate measure (S. 625) that may be brought up for consideration on the Senate side of the Capitol later this month. Both versions are facing a Clinton administration veto threat.