Negotiations to extend emergency benefits for the long-term jobless came to a standstill in the Senate on Tuesday. That leaves more than 1.4 million people without federal unemployment aid at least until late January, when lawmakers are likely to resume consideration of the legislation. For more than a week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) kept the Senate focused on restoring expired emergency unemployment benefits, an effort that failed in two separate votes. The chamber voted 52-48 (see tally at http://tinyurl.com/mpk4xgl) to reject a proposal to extend benefits through November and pay for it by extending the sequester’s mandatory spending cuts into 2024. A different measure, to extend aid for three months — without a pay-for — was defeated 55-45 (http://tinyurl.com/mzxoo7d). Republicans fumed that Reid was limiting consideration of amendments. Some amendments would have offered savings by eliminating the ability of the disabled and unemployed to receive both federal disability payments and jobless aid.
“Some amendments, pushed strongly by the Republicans, would have taken away Social Security Unemployment Insurance for the low-income disabled,” said Richard Fiesta, Executive Director of the Alliance. “These amendments would have treated people with significant disabilities who receive Social Security Disability Insurance differently from other American workers, and harmed the economic security of these beneficiaries and their families.”
Reid believes that next week’s holiday recess will motivate Republicans to extend unemployment benefits without strings attached. “Jobless constituents will no doubt be giving Republican Senators a piece of their mind,” said Barbara J. Easterling, President of the Alliance.
Spending Bill: Limited Relief for Some Military Retirees, but Tax Loopholes Remain
Disabled military retirees were given a reprieve from a controversial pension cut, but working age military retirees were not, as the House and Senate passed a $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill this week. The appropriations measure keeps intact a provision from the budget agreement President Obama signed into law last month reducing cost-of-living adjustments for working-age military retirees by 1 percent starting in December 2015. A higher rate would apply again once the former service members reach age 62 (http://tinyurl.com/lp5af2u).
The bill does not close any corporate tax loopholes, or force the super wealthy to pay their fair share. One tax break that still exists lets corporations avoid paying taxes to any nation on their financial income earned by foreign subsidiaries, so long as those profits remain offshore. The “active financing exception,” lets GE and Wall Street banks shift their profits to foreign subsidiaries in order to avoid paying their fair share. All they have to do is claim that their U.S.-based financing income is actually being earned in offshore tax havens. Some call it the “GE Tax Loophole” because it is a primary reason the company has succeeded in getting a tax refund from the U.S. government in at least three recent years, according to the group Americans for Tax Fairness.
“GE and Citigroup like the active financing exception, but the rest of us shouldn’t,” said Ruben Burks, Secretary-Treasurer of the Alliance. “Our country loses $11 billion in tax revenue every two years to it.”
GAO Reports on Drug Companies That Listed the Wrong Prices Online
Last Friday, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report finding that during the first seven months of 2013, 25% of Medicare Part D contracts had one or more plans suppressed from Plan Finder, the Medicare website seniors use to choose their drug plans, due to pricing inaccuracy. The GAO also found that between January 1, 2009 and July 31, 2013, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) had taken more than 150 official compliance actions against plans for pricing inaccuracy- issuing 89 notices of noncompliance and 67 warning letters. The report was requested in April by U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Susan Collins (R-ME), the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, amid concerns over the reliability and usability of the Plan Finder website.
When a plan is suppressed from the Plan Finder website, its pricing information is removed and beneficiaries are unable sign up for the plan on site until the sponsor submits accurate prices. In cases where plan sponsors repeatedly submit false or incomplete information, CMS can take further action. The full GAO report is at http://tinyurl.com/lj452eb.
Koch Brothers Invade Pennsylvania
According to the DailyKos blog, wealthy conservative brothers Charles and David Koch are talking to Republican Governor Tom Corbett to move legislation this winter and spring to outlaw union dues deduction for all state and local public employees. It is the same kind of legislation Governors Scott Walker passed in Wisconsin and John Kasich tried to pass in Ohio. Philadelphia City Paper stated that a likely vehicle for this effort is House Bill 1507. The legislation would make it impossible for public-sector unions to automatically collect dues from their members’ paychecks and eliminate the required “fair share fee” from workers who do not join. The legislation would also make it impossible for unions to automatically deduct optional donations to labor political funds. More from the Daily Kos is at http://tinyurl.com/lx7qf7w.
At NAFTA’s 20-Year Anniversary, an Assessment
In 1993, the U.S., Mexico and Canada signed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Recently, CWA posted an item in their newsletter (http://tinyurl.com/m7nglg3) documenting a string of broken promises since the signing twenty years ago. The U.S. has seen some 700,000 jobs move to Mexico. U.S. employer threats – made during organizing campaigns to close plants if workers voted for a union – rose from 29% in the mid-1980s, to 50% in the two years following the adoption of NAFTA, to 57% during the mid-2000s.
Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and others have all documented worsening conditions and eroding standards for workers both in the U.S. and Mexico. Meanwhile, as corporations took advantage of Mexico’s low wages, Americans have witnessed downward pressure on their own wages. The U.S. trade surplus with Mexico is now long-gone, as well. You can see the rest of CWA’s Broken Promises report at http://tinyurl.com/ly8mkxc. It outlines what happened over the past 20 years and what it means for future trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership.