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There will not be a Weekly Report next week while we are in Philadelphia for the AFSCME International Convention, nor the following week while Congress is on July 4th recess.
The Weekly Report will resume on Friday, July 14.
Senate Votes to Kill Ergonomic Protections
By a vote of 57-41, the Senate on June 22 voted to prevent the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) from issuing its long-awaited ergonomics standard to protect workers from repetitive injuries. After almost 10 years of fighting industry-backed roadblocks, OSHA is prepared to implement an ergonomics program planned for later this year. However, Sen. Michael Enzi (R-WY), a staunch opponent of efforts to strengthen OSHA's ability to protect workers, offered the Senate measure as an amendment to the Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS) FY 2001 spending bill.
Only three Democrats joined the Republicans in voting for the Enzi amendment: John Breaux (LA), Blanche Lincoln (AR) and Ernest Hollings (SC). One Republican voted in support of the standard, Arlen Specter (PA). The President has said that he would veto the bill if it contained the Enzi amendment. The House has already approved a similar measure.
Truck drivers, nurses, assembly line workers, and computer operators are among the workers most at risk of developing conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome, back injuries and tendinitis. These painful and often times crippling injuries are costly and demonstrate the need for a standard that would prevent these injuries.
GOP Prescription Drug Benefit Passes House Committee, While Senate Defeats Bipartisan Substitute
Following a contentious nine hour meeting, the House Ways and Means Committee approved, 23-14, along strict party lines, the GOP's prescription drug benefit bill. Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA), calling the GOP proposal a "hoax", offered a Democratic substitute bill, which was defeated along party lines. Meanwhile, the Senate defeated, by a vote of 44-53, an amendment sponsored by Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL) which would provide a voluntary drug benefit for all Medicare beneficiaries. GOP Sens. Lincoln Chafee (RI) and Peter Fitzgerald (IL) crossed party lines to support it, while Democrat John Breaux (LA) voted against it.
The House GOP plan does not expand Medicare to offer prescription drug coverage to all beneficiaries. Instead, it seeks to provide coverage through private insurance plans. The benefit package is not defined, and benefits will vary from one plan to another. No subsidies would be provided to beneficiaries above 150 percent of poverty ($12,525 of income for an individual). However, subsidies are provided to the insurance companies as an inducement to provide coverage. There is a $250 deductible, a $40 monthly premium and a 50 percent co-payment for drug costs up to $2,100. Beneficiaries must pay 100 percent of the next $4,700 in costs before the insurance plan picks up the costs.
The GOP leadership has scheduled the bill for consideration next week in the House.
Patients' Bill of Rights -- Stalled Negotiations Continue
Last week, Democrats participating in the conference over patients' rights legislation informed Republican leaders that they would no longer participate in conference meetings that were not open to the public. The call for open meetings was rejected by House and Senate Republicans who stated that they would meet without the Democrats. While Republicans claim to be making progress in their talks, it remains to be seen. House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) has indicated that the House will insist that legislation cover all families in managed care plans. On the other hand, Senate Majority Leader Don Nickles (R-OK) supports covering only those who are in self-funded plans sponsored by private sector employers. These plans are currently regulated solely by the federal government and cannot be covered by state patients' rights laws.
A couple of weeks ago, Nickles floated a proposal to extend federal protections to all families, but then allow governors to shield from these protections those plans which are not self-funded by private employers. Essentially, governors could accomplish through the back door what Nickles has pushed for all along: federal protections which would not apply to two-thirds of all families, including the public sector. Nickles has renewed this offer to the House Republicans who, as of yet, have not agreed to it.
Campaign Finance Disclosure
The House Ways and Means Committee approved legislation that calls for greater disclosure of political activities by tax-exempt groups that seek to influence federal elections. Legislation sponsored by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has already been agreed to by the Senate. That legislation, however, is limited to only so-called 527 groups (Section 527 of the Internal Revenue Code). The House bill applies to a broader list of organizations. It requires 527s, unions and business or trade associations that spend more than $10,000 on political activities such as radio and television ads, phone banks and mass mailings, to disclose their expenditures. It also would require such groups to disclose any money
they funnel to 527s and to file quarterly reports with the IRS on lobbying and political activities. The panel rejected, 14-23, a Democratic substitute that would have matched the GOP bill's 527 disclosure requirements, but limited the requirements for other tax-exempt groups to narrower election-related activities.
Problem of Needlestick Injuries Highlighted at Hearing
On Thursday, the House Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on Workforce Protections held a hearing on needlestick injuries and the efforts by OSHA to reduce these injuries in health care workplaces. The hearing provided testimony from a member of the American Nurses Association who contracted HIV and Hepatitis C from a needlestick injury. AFSCME provided a statement for the record that included the personal story of a New York City emergency medical technician and member of AFSCME District Council 37, who contracted Hepatitis C as the result of a needlestick injury. The hearing provided valuable exposure to this serious national problem and highlighted the need to address it in a way that protects public sector health care workers who are not covered by federal OSHA standards.
Physician Collective Bargaining Bill on Floor Next Week
The Quality Health-Care Coalition Act (H.R. 1304) is expected to go to the House floor during the week of June 26. With 221 co-sponsors, the bill is likely to be approved. The bill would allow private practice physicians and other independent health care professionals to bargain collectively with managed care organizations over such terms as fees for reimbursement, patient care and administrative procedures.
House Approves Stingy Housing Budget for Fiscal 2001
The House approved, 256-169, funding levels for the fiscal year 2001 Housing bill that are mostly below current levels for federal housing and community development programs. The Public Housing Operating Subsidies program was allocated $3.139 billion, an increase of $1 million over its current fiscal year budget. The Public Housing Modernization program was slashed to $2.8 billion, a cut of $1 billion dollars from the current level. Severely distressed public housing was allocated an additional $565 million, off $10 million from last year's level. The Community Development Block Grant program (CDBG) was funded at $4.5 billion, $295 million below this year's level. The first action in the Senate on the budget for public housing programs could come next in the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Veterans Affairs, Housing and Urban Development (VA-HUD) and Independent Agencies.
Stab-Proof Vests for Corrections Officers
The House Judiciary Crime Subcommittee approved legislation (H.R. 4033) by voice vote on June 15 that would provide more bulletproof vests under the Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant program through 2004 to state and local law enforcement officials, including corrections. Rep. Bill McCollum (R-FL) offered an amendment to allow these grants to be used for the purchase of stab-proof vests for corrections officers.
FAA: Not Without Challenges
The Senate passed its 2001 transportation spending bill on June 15 by a 99-0 vote. Funding for Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Operations, at $6.35 billion, was significantly lower in the Senate spending bill than in its House counterpart – although it does represent an increase from fiscal 2000 levels. The House funded FAA Operations at $6.5 billion. AFSCME met with appropriations staff and FAA funding was described as their number one challenge. The next challenge for FAA Operations funding will come in the conference between the House and Senate where the final figure will be worked out.
Clinton and Senators Maneuver to Expedite Vote on China Trade
Four weeks after the House approved legislation giving China Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR), the business community and PNTR supporters are worried that the Senate leadership has not yet set a date for a vote. This week, President Clinton met with a bipartisan group of senators to lay out a strategy to press the GOP leadership to schedule the vote before the July 4th recess. While there is ample support for PNTR in the Senate, probably in the range of 70 votes, the leadership is meeting with several senators who have expressed interest in offering amendments. The biggest hurdle to passing the same bill as the House did is a potential amendment sponsored by Sens. Fred Thompson (R-TN) and Robert Torricelli (D-NJ) that would provide for an annual review of China's record in trafficking nuclear, chemical and biological warfare and missile technology.
House Adds Dollars to Spending Bill After Republicans Had Taken Them Away in Committee
The House easily passed the Legislative Branch spending bill to pay for its own operations, after it first added more money for Capitol operations. The 373-50 vote on the $1.9 billion spending bill (H.R. 4516) came after a voice vote approving $22.6 million more for the Capitol police. The bill also adds $20.3 million to the House of Representatives budget. Overall, budget writers agreed to add about $95 million, but still bringing it to a total of about $10 million less than the previous year.
The Senate version of the Legislative Branch spending bill has an additional $5 million for the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress where there are two AFSCME locals. We hope to keep that money in the final bill.