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House Extends Internet Tax Moratorium
The House of Representatives approved a bill to extend for five more years the existing moratorium on new Internet taxes. The legislation was passed as part of a broader Republican agenda, called "E-Contract 2000," which is aimed at assisting the high-tech industry in various ways. The House approved the Internet tax moratorium bill by a vote of 352-75. A substitute, which would have shortened the extension to two years, was narrowly defeated.
The moratorium bill, which was sent to the House floor without a single hearing, would extend for five years a current ban on Internet-specific taxes that expires in October 2001. Sponsors say the bill is designed to prevent states from taxing access to the Internet. However, at the same time, the bill continues the existing non-collection of the sales taxes that are due on Internet and other remote purchases. Although such taxes are already owed on Internet purchases, there is little effort made to collect them. As a result, state and local governments are losing billions in lost sales tax revenue and, if continued, will threaten education, public safety and other services that heavily depend on these revenues.
AFSCME joined with state and local government officials, including 39 governors worried about future revenue losses, in opposing the five-year extension. The White House issued a statement opposing the five-year extension, saying it would ''in effect, enact a hold on any further consideration of Internet tax issues, creating uncertainty in a vital and rapidly growing industry.'' The bill now moves to the Senate for further consideration.
Democrats Take Charge on Medicare Prescription Drugs
At a White House Rose Garden ceremony, President Clinton was joined by the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate to unveil the Democratic proposal for a Medicare prescription drug benefit. The proposal establishes a universal, voluntary Medicare prescription drug benefit, beginning in 2002. Medicare would pay for at least 50 percent of the costs of the drug, up to $5,000 when the program is fully phased in. The monthly premium would be $24 in 2002 and low income seniors, up to 135 percent of the poverty level, would receive full assistance with premiums and cost sharing. Unfortunately, the proposal does not contain any strong cost containment language. Conservative Democrats in the House and Senate balked at what they perceived as "price controls".
Work Begins on the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Appropriations Bill
The annual process to establish funding levels for the largest domestic spending bill got under way last week with simultaneous subcommittee meetings in both the House and Senate. The Senate moved quickly to take its bill to full committee while the House full committee action is not expected for two weeks. By all accounts, this current bill is expected to be vetoed by the President if it can be passed in the House. A second bill is expected to be negotiated later in the summer or early fall.
The Senate subcommittee meeting went smoothly with the bill being approved on a bipartisan voice vote, but the House subcommittee meeting was contentious and partisan. In part, this was due to the fact that the Senate had more money to work with, although, as subcommittee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA) and ranking Democrat Tom Harkin (IA) noted, it still was not enough.
On both sides of the Capitol, health research and education were high priorities, and Department of Labor (DOL) programs were at the bottom of the list. The House in particular underfunded DOL programs, including adult and dislocated worker training, one-stop systems, and employment services and unemployment insurance.
AFSCME, along with the state employment security agencies and other unions, lobbied hard for increased funding for both employment services and unemployment services, focusing much of the effort in the Senate. As a result of AFSCME's lobbying, including contacts by President McEntee to the offices of Sens. Specter and Harkin and a meeting between Iowa AFSCME Council 61 President, Jan Corderman, the Senate approved some modest increases for employment services and part of the administration's unemployment insurance request. The committee also approved a statement acknowledging that more money is needed.
President Takes Patients' Rights Conferees to Task
On Thursday, President Clinton met with the representatives and senators serving on the Patients' Bill of Rights conference committee. The President called the meeting in order to express dissatisfaction with the slow pace of negotiations and to urge the conferees to finalize a strong and comprehensive package of patient protections.
The Republican leadership on the conference stated earlier in the year that a bill would be settled by the end of March. However, concern is growing that the negotiations may drag on through the summer. Important discussions, such as who will be covered by the bill and whether it will have an effective enforcement mechanism, continue to be put off by GOP leaders. This raises fears that the Republicans will take the bits and pieces agreed to by the end of the summer, and package them for a floor vote.
S. 2 (Education) Still Out There on the Horizon
The Senate rejected an amendment to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) (S. 2), dashing the hopes of centrist Democrats that it could bridge the gulf between the two parties. Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), who authored the amendment, garnered just 13 votes.
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) has temporarily set the bill aside, allowing Republicans to avoid casting votes on gun control amendments that Democrats planned to offer this week before the Million Mom March for tougher gun control on Sunday.
"National Correctional Officers and Employees Week" Activities
A hearing on collective bargaining rights for corrections officers and other public safety officers was held May 9 in the House Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on Employer-Employee Relations. AFSCME Corrections United (ACU) members attended the hearing and were publicly recognized by ranking subcommittee member Robert Andrews (D-NJ). For the complete text of AFSCME's Statement For The Record on H.R. 1093, please visit our web site, www.afscme.org
Earlier in the day, the Congressional Correctional Officers Caucus hosted a Correctional Issues Forum that focused on the danger to public safety posed by private prisons. President Gerald McEntee testified and commended the co-chairs of the Caucus for introducing legislation (H.R. 979) to prohibit further privatization of prisons. The speakers presented compelling evidence that public safety is compromised by private prisons and that taxpayers end up subsidizing prison privateers.
ACU members, and other corrections officers attending the week's activities, met with their representatives to urge them to support the prison privatization bill (H.R. 979), and the collective bargaining bill (H.R. 1093).
Count Down: May 25th China PNTR Vote Too Close To Call
With the vote less than two weeks off, neither side has the 218 votes needed to pass or defeat legislation in the House to grant China "Permanent Normal Trade Relations" (PNTR). The House GOP leadership is making the China vote a "leadership" vote, which means that they will be urging their members to vote in favor and will be using leadership perks to be rewarded or denied based on the votes of members of the Republican caucus. Majority Whip Tom DeLay (TX) issued a warning saying, "We're going to have to do our traditional hand-to-hand combat" to get the needed votes.
Arguments being advanced by the opponents of PNTR of increased job losses if PNTR is approved were boosted when a new study was released showing that investment by U.S. multinational corporations will rise with PNTR. This will push the huge trade deficit with China even higher, causing an additional 800,000 jobs to be lost over the next 10 years. Opponents were also given a helping hand by Hollywood actress Goldie Hawn who appeared at a hearing, "Women in China, Women in Chains," which described the women in forced labor camps who produce goods for import into the U.S. market.
In an effort to garner votes for PNTR, Rep. Sandy Levin (D-MI) formally released a legislative proposal to help wavering lawmakers by creating a joint congressional-executive committee to bring attention to human rights abuses in China. The proposal is opposed by labor because it has no enforcement power and is merely a fig leaf to cover the inadequacies of the deal. And, as the business-led, pro-PNTR lobby keeps working House members, the Senate Finance Committee is planning to consider the bill next week.
Legislative Branch Spending Cuts Approved by House Panel
After a lengthy and sometimes heated discussion about the effects of a $94 million budget cut on the legislative branch, the House Appropriations Committee reported a $1.8 billion draft fiscal 2001 congressional spending bill that falls 5.5 percent below last year's level. The measure was approved on a party-line vote of 31-23.
Democrats objected to the measure's deep cuts in the budgets of the Capitol Police, the Architect of the Capitol, the Government Printing Office, the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress, the Congressional Record Service and others, chiding Republicans for slashing priorities to facilitate a tax cut. Ranking Appropriations Democrat David R. Obey (WI) pointed out that the bill, "is a reckless attack on the quality of service that we are supposed to provide to our constituents and it is a reckless attack on the Capitol itself."
House Spending Bill Funds FAA Operations for FY 2001 Above FY 2000 Level
Dire predictions of cuts to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) operations funding did not materialize when the House Appropriations Transportation Subcommittee approved $6.544 billion for FAA Operations on May 8. The spending bill increased FAA Operations funding by $644 million over this year's level.
House Subcommittee Approves Huge Increase In Transportation Spending
On May 8, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation approved a record $55.236 billion spending bill for FY 2001. The measure includes significant increases in spending on highways, transit, aviation, the Coast Guard, and other federal transportation programs. The bill represents a $5 billion increase over FY 2000.
Physician Collective Bargaining Bill Scheduled for a Vote
The Quality Health-Care Coalition Act (H.R. 1304) has been scheduled for a vote by the House of Representatives during the week of May 22. This AFSCME-backed bill, introduced by Reps. Tom Campbell (R-CA) and John Conyers (D-MI), would allow private practice health care professionals to collectively bargain with managed care organizations over the terms of their service contracts.