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There have been several reports that the administration is considering, as part of their Medicare reform plan, the inclusion of a means testing for the Part B premium. Currently $45.50 per month for all Medicare beneficiaries, the White House is considering establishing a sliding scale which would require higher income seniors to pay higher premiums.
AFSCME has registered our strong opposition to this proposal with the White House, including Chief of Staff John Podesta. We have also mobilized other unions and senior organizations to contact the White House to outline their opposition. House Democratic leaders have also expressed their concerns about the proposal.
The President is expected to unveil his plan next week.
Teacher Assistants and Aides Threatened
Washington policymakers are raising questions about the future use of teacher assistants and aides in school classrooms. President Clinton recently sent to Congress a proposal to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) which in part requires teaching assistants and aides working in programs supported by Title I funds (aimed at helping disadvantaged children) to have completed two years of college by July 1, 2002. Some members of Congress, including the Chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, William Goodling (R-PA), would like to go even further, and prohibit federal funds from being used to help pay the salaries of teaching assistants and aides in the classroom.
These efforts pose a very serious threat to tens of thousands of dedicated school employees who have worked for many years in our nationís classrooms. They are a crucial part of the educational team and make real contributions in the schools where they work. They should not be made scapegoats in the rush to improve educational quality.
AFSCME is leading the effort in Washington, D.C. to oppose these arbitrary new requirements. We have been lobbying both the White House and members of Congress in opposition to these proposals.
Congress currently is in the process of rewriting the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Please call your Representative and Senators today at 1-877-722-7494. Tell them you strongly oppose efforts to take teaching assistants and aides out of the classroom and you oppose new arbitrary education requirements, which many existing teaching assistants and aides cannot meet.
Patientsí Bill of Rights
In the House -- This week, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce postponed consideration of a package of managed care reform bills assembled by Rep. John Boehner (R-OH). Concern by House Republican leaders that some moderate Republicans on the committee would propose their own amendments and support some Democratic amendments has caused the committee chair to postpone the mark-up. The mark-up may take place next week. At AFSCMEís request, Reps. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY) and Rob Andrews (D-NJ) will lead the fight for an amendment to add whistleblower protection for health care workers to legislation considered by the committee.
Democrats in the House have also filed a "discharge petition" in order to force the House leadership to hold a debate and vote on the Patientsí Bill of Rights on the floor of the House. Approximately 170 Democrats have signed the petition. Importantly, Rep. Michael Forbes (R-NY) has also signed the petition, the only Republican yet to do so. A total of 218 signatures are needed to force a vote.
In the Senate -- On Tuesday, Democrats tried to attach the Patientsí Bill of Rights (S. 6) as an amendment to an agriculture spending bill. The amendment was tabled by a vote of 53 to 47, with Sens. Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Peter Fitzgerald (R-IL) crossing party lines to join Democrats to keep the amendment alive. Republicans and Democrats are now mired in a procedural battle over their competing managed care bills with slim prospects for an immediate breakthrough.
Please call your senators at 1-877-722-7494 and urge them to support S. 6, the real Patientsí Bill of Rights. Calls are also needed to representatives to urge them to sign the discharge petition to allow a debate and vote on the Patientsí Bill of Rights (H.R. 358) in the House.
Talk of a bipartisan deal on Social Security continues. President Clinton held a press conference where he called on the Congress to take action on his administrationís domestic agenda including Social Security. The president said that there is still plenty of time remaining this year to give the American people what they want on major domestic programs. Earlier, House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) told reporters after a closed door meeting with members of the Ways and Means Committee, that chances for a bipartisan deal were better now than they had been a few months ago. Ways and Means Chairman Bill Archer (R-TX), along with ranking member, Charles Rangel (D-NY), also stressed the need to try to reach a bipartisan compromise this year with the participation of the White House. It is impossible to predict whether there will be action after all the rhetorical smoke clears.
An important new study of Social Security reform plans from the Employee Benefits Research Institute (EBRI) confirmed that privatization plans which require that a portion of a workerís Social Security payroll tax be diverted from the Social Security Trust Fund into a private investment account would have a devastating impact on benefit levels. Among the conclusions, the privatization plans authored by Sens. Judd Gregg (R-NH), John Breaux (D-LA) and Bob Kerrey (D-NE) and Reps. Jim Kolbe (AZ) and Charlie Stenholm (D-TX) could not provide the same benefit levels as Social Security to anyone. For example, the study shows that a male with average earnings born in 1976 would see his annual benefits cut by over $4,100 a year from $21,956 to $17,790 (in 1998 dollars).
On Wednesday, June 23, the House Education and Workforce Committee approved legislation (H.R. 987) introduced by Rep. Roy Blunt (R-MO) that would undermine efforts to protect workers from ergonomic hazards. The so-called "Workplace Preservation Act" would prohibit the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) from issuing an ergonomics standard until the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) completes a study and submits its findings to Congress. This would delay the issuance of an ergonomics standard for over 18 months, when a new administration will be in office. This bill now awaits a vote of the full House.
Juvenile Justice Workers
In another victory for AFSCME juvenile justice workers on June 18, the House passed juvenile justice legislation (H.R. 1501) that included a reauthorization of important protections for juvenile justice workers. These protections prohibit the federal government from administering juvenile justice programs in a manner that would interfere with existing collective bargaining agreements, negatively impact wages, or displace workers. The Senate passed similar legislation (S. 254) in May. These two bills are now scheduled to be conferenced, and one common bill will be sent to each chamber for final passage.
Antitrust Exemption for Physician Bargaining
This week, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the "Quality Health-Care Coalition Act of 1999" (H.R. 1304), a bill which would change antitrust laws in order to allow private practice physicians and other health care independent contractors to collectively bargain contracts with managed care insurers. Dr. Robert Weinmann, President of the Union of American Physicians and Dentists (UAPD), an AFSCME affiliate, testified at the hearing in favor of the bill. The bill would allow health care professionals to negotiate collectively over patient care, reimbursement for services and other terms of these contracts. The primary sponsors of the bill are Reps. Tom Campbell (R-CA) and John Conyers (D-MI). In total, there are over 120 cosponsors.
Corrections and Law Enforcement Officers
Last week, Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-CA) secured adoption of an amendment to the House gun control bill (H.R. 2122) which would exempt qualified law enforcement officers, including corrections officers, from state concealed weapons laws. This amendment was identical to legislation (H.R. 218) Rep. Cunningham introduced earlier in the year. On Friday, June 19, the overall gun control bill was defeated. However, H.R. 218 is still pending as a separate piece of legislation.
Labor Law "Reform": Gutting the FLSA
On the House side of Capitol Hill, right-wing members took another swipe at workers pay. The Education and Workforce Committee voted 26-22, on strict party lines for a bill (H.R. 1381) to amend the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to permit employers to omit gainsharing and other productivity bonuses from being included in calculating overtime pay. Since the passage of the FLSA over 60 years ago, employers had been required to include bonus pay when determining a workerís base hourly and overtime pay. Some AFSCME councils and locals have negotiated gainsharing plans. If H.R. 1381 were to become law, the amount of the gainsharing bonus would not be counted in calculating overtime rates.
The Senate delivered a major defeat to the efforts of steelworkers and steel companies to curb U.S. imports of illegal cheap foreign steel. The bill (S. 395), which would have imposed limits -- "quotas" -- on steel imported into the United States, had passed the House earlier this year by a 2-1 margin. The bill fell 18 votes short on a motion to end debate which requires 60 votes. President Clinton had threatened to veto the bill if it had passed the Congress, arguing that it violated international trade rules and risked retaliation by other countries against U.S. exports. Over the past two years, 10,000 American steelworkers have lost their jobs while thousands more have seen their work hours and paychecks cut and four major steel companies have gone bankrupt.
After several weeks of delay, the House overwhelmingly approved the fiscal year 2000 Transportation spending bill on June 23 by a vote of 429-3. Consideration of the bill has been slowed by disputes over the total amount of the bill, with fiscally conservative Republican members, led by Rep. Jim Coburn (R-OK), threatening to offer a long list of amendments to the bill. In the end, the total cost of the bill was reduced by $6 billion to $44.5 billion. Important for AFSCME, funding increases of $2.2 billion for highways and $407 million for transit which were established by last yearís Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century were retained.