Tighten Your Seatbelts – September Legislative Update

If you think the ride has been bumpy so far, take a look at what’s coming up next!

Congress reconvened September 5th.and the State Legislature reconvened September 12th. The following pages detail some of the bills coming up during these floor sessions, and it’s a scary bunch. If you had to choose, what one or two issues are most important to you? What are you willing to do to work on them?


Tell Congress to table the Graham-Cassidy bill

We’ve saved the ACA from repeal and replace – or so we thought. Trump still insists on ACA repeal and replace, and this is the last proposal standing. It would take federal funds for the ACA, cut them by 15%, and hand them over to states as block grants to let state legislatures and governors decide how to use the money for healthcare. It sets an insufficient growth rate to meet future ACA costs, resulting in a 34% funding cut by 2026. It also would take current Medicaid expansion spending from the 30 states that participate in the program and divvy it up among all 50 states – a windfall for Wisconsin but at the expense of many low-income patients in other states. An actual bill for the proposal was not written until Sept. 11 and as of this writing (Sept. 13), it awaits a CBO score before the Senate can bring it to the floor for a vote. In order for the bill to qualify for budget resolution (only 50 votes in the Senate), it must pass both houses of Congress by Sept. 30. The House is scheduled for a home district work period from Sept. 15-27, leaving only three days for passage (including Friday and Saturday – days when the House almost never meets).

Tell Congress to put a stop to ACA sabotage

  •         Tell Congress to enact guaranteed CSR payments through 2018. CSRs are payments that the federal government makes to insurance companies which, in turn, are required to reduce co-pays and deductibles for low-income people. Every month since he was inaugurated, Trump has threatened to stop making these payments to force passage of ACA repeal and replace legislation. This uncertainty for insurance companies has made it extremely difficult to accurately set their prices, and has led to them either raising their prices or just leaving marketplaces altogether. Passage is required by Sept. 30 to allow insurance companies to set lower rates before ACA open enrollment in November.
  •         Tell Congress to tie the hands of HHS. Since Tom Price became Secretary of Health & Human Services he has used his administrative prerogative to create barriers to ACA enrollment. Tell Congress to tie HHS funding to its intended use.

o   Require that the ACA open enrollment period must be 92 days. Price cut it back to just 45 days.

o Require HHS to restore funding for the Navigators program which offered assistance to people trying to sign up for the ACA.

o   Tie HHS public outreach funding to supporting ACA enrollment. Price took the money intended to help people learn about and understand their ACA coverage options and used it instead to produce anti-ACA propaganda videos. Fortunately, very few people actually watched them, but Congress should forbid HHS from using them.

Tell Congress to pass bipartisan healthcare legislation through the normal legislative process

Tell Congress that any legislation which affects Americans’ healthcare must go through the regular legislative process: committee referrals, public hearings including expert witnesses, input from members of both parties, and opportunities to amend. Senate passage must require a filibuster-proof vote of 60 members. Any legislation must not result in anyone losing coverage, must not increase premiums, and must not cut Medicaid.

The Senate Health Committee held public hearings during the first two weeks of September to develop bipartisan legislation which will stabilize the Affordable Care Act (ACA) individual insurance market. If Congress can act by the end of September, it would help keep insurance available at a reasonable cost during 2018.

Tell Congress to pass Tammy Baldwin’s Medicare at 55 Act

This bill provides an option for people between the ages of 55 and 64 to buy into Medicare. People in this age group often have more health problems and face higher health care costs but aren’t yet eligible for Medicare. Not only will these individuals enjoy lower premiums and out-of-pocket costs but by removing some of the sickest people from the ACA insurance pool, it may result in lower rates for those remaining.

Tell Wisconsin state legislators to pass the BadgerCare public option

Under AB 449, Wisconsin residents and small businesses could purchase BadgerCare, the state’s Medicaid plan, at full price as a “public option.” The bill is backed by Citizen Action of Wisconsin which cited a Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimate that in Dane County, a BadgerCare “buy-in” would cost adults $7,224 per year, while the lowest-cost Silver plan on healthcare.gov would cost a 40-year-old applicant $8,350 per year in premiums and deductibles.

Fiscal Year 2018 budget and tax cuts

Tell Congress to oppose any budget resolution which allows cuts to critical programs that help families afford the basics in order to pay for tax cuts.

Once Congress passes the 2018 budget, they can use reconciliation to pass massive tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations through the Senate with only 51 votes. Reconciliation requires that any legislation must not increase the deficit over the next ten years, so Congress is likely to cut critical programs like Medicaid, Medicare, and food assistance — either now or in the future – to balance the ledger. The details are appalling:

  • $1 trillion cut from Medicaid over ten years (that’s 20% of Medicaid’s budget)
  • Over $150 billion cut from SNAP (that’s 22% of SNAP’s budget)
  • Nearly $500 billion cut from Medicare—and it’s turned into a voucher system
  • $3.3 billion cut from Pell grants—and they’d be harder for students to use
  • Billions in cuts to education, the environment, housing, and worker training

The budget resolution doesn’t mean that all of these cuts would happen immediately, but it sets them up for action in another reconciliation bill that requires only 50 Senate votes. If Republican tax cuts for the wealthy are allowed to increase deficits, those deficits would give Republicans an excuse to keep cutting these critical programs in the future.

Tell Congress to oppose these tax cut proposals which benefit corporations and the rich.

  •         Reduce the corporate tax rate from 35 to 15%. More than half the benefits from this cut would flow to the top 1 % of households.
  •         Eliminate taxes on the foreign profits of U.S. corporations, giving them a major incentive to move more jobs and profits offshore.
  •         Eliminate the alternative minimum tax, which is intended to ensure that the wealthy pay at least some taxes, no matter how many loopholes they exploit.
  •         Eliminate the estate tax which only applies to estates worth over $5.5 million. Already 99.8% of estates are exempt from the estate tax, so the Republican tax plan would only help the remaining wealthiest 0.2% of estates.
  •         Restrict itemized deductions outside of the charitable and mortgage interest deductions.
  •         Cut the top individual tax rate. Under Trump’s tax plan, the middle class would see a 1.5% tax cut—but the wealthy would get a 14.1% tax cut. The benefits would flow almost entirely to the top 1%, delivering them average annual tax cuts of more than $50,000 apiece.

Tell Congress to refuse action on any tax plan until President Trump releases his tax returns.

The American people want to fully understand how his proposed tax plan will personally benefit him and his businesses.

Hurricane relief, National Flood Insurance, and climate change

Tell Congress to provide an inclusive aid package with adequate funding to help individuals recover and to make sure that the public services communities rely on every day are rebuilt fully and promptly.

Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma have devastated parts of the southern United States. Congress approved $15 billion in aid, but it really is just a downpayment to meet short term needs like food, water, and shelter, as well as longer-term needs like rebuilding homes and public infrastructure that was destroyed during the storms. Disaster relief must also take into account that communities of color have been the hardest hit.

Tell Congress to reauthorize the National Flood Insurance Program by September 30.

Privatization would make flood insurance unaffordable to many. Members of Congress must oppose privatization of the National Flood Insurance Program.

Tell Congress to act on climate change

Hurricanes like these should convince doubters that oceans and the atmosphere are warming and that heat is propelling storms into superstorms. Yet EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt says it’s insensitive to discuss climate change in the midst of recovery efforts.

Tell Congress to demand EPA enforcement of current laws to preserve the environment.

When the president withdrew the U.S. from the Paris climate accord, he said he wanted to negotiate a better deal, but it’s clear that countries which support the accord will never agree to U.S. terms. It’s up to the American people to elect a different president in 2020. Meanwhile, Congressional Democrats must demand that the EPA enforce current laws until those laws are changed. Lacking 60 votes in the Senate, it would be difficult for the GOP to change those laws anytime soon.


Tell Congress to save DACA

On Sept. 6, the president sent Jeff Sessions to announce the rescission of DACA – the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program – in six months (March 6, 2018). DACA beneficiaries were brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents when they were age 6 or younger. The United States is the only country they have ever known. Tell your MoCs to co-sponsor the “DREAM Act” (S.1615 / H.R.3440), including Tammy Baldwin who has not signed on. It would give DACA recipients and others who arrived in the United States as children a path to permanent lawful status and eventual citizenship. The national Indivisible Project insists that the provisions of this bill be attached to any must-pass legislation. However, Congress missed the opportunity to tie it to lifting the debt ceiling. No matter how it is passed, it must not be tied to building a border wall.

Tell Congress to oppose the Muslim ban

The fate of the Muslim ban will be decided by the Supreme Court sometime this fall. Meanwhile, H.R.1503 – called the Statue of Liberty Values Act (SOLVE) – would nullify the president’s most recent (second) executive order barring refugees and people from six Muslim-majority countries and would prevent US tax dollars from funding implementation of the executive order. Mark Pocan is one of 176 cosponsors.

In the Senate, S.608 would rescind the Muslim ban, and S.549 would declare that the Muslim ban is illegal under the Immigration & Nationality Act (INA) and unconstitutional for violating Establishment Clause. Like H.R.1503, it would withhold funding for implementation of the president’s order. Tammy Baldwin is a cosponsor of both bills.


Tell Congress to unite and fight privatization of infrastructure

Rather than invest directly in updating the bridges, roads, airports, water, and school systems that we all depend on, Trump’s plan would sell off America’s infrastructure to Wall Street billionaires, political cronies, and even foreign governments—allowing them to double tolls, create new fees, and put billions of our dollars in their pockets even if they don’t make a single improvement.

He’s also proposing tax breaks to further entice investors – as much as 82 cents of reimbursement for every dollar they spend on infrastructure. However, there’s no requirement that it be spent on new projects.

The package includes rollbacks of environmental protections, prioritizing pipelines over clean energy jobs; repeal of worker safety and wage protections; and failure to direct funds to disenfranchised communities—like Flint—that need it most.

Trump also refuses to invest in 21st century projects like clean-energy jobs, expanding broadband Internet, and high-speed rail.

Trump will need Democratic support to pass an infrastructure bill, especially in the Senate, where Trump needs enough Dem votes to break a filibuster, so Democrats have leverage here. Like they did to fight TrumpCare, Democrats must stay united to hold fast against this bad bill and demand real public investment to rebuild and expand our infrastructure. Few Democrats have staked out a position yet, so our first task is to ask them to endorse the principles that divide a good bill from a bad one.

Wisconsin’s call for Constitutional Convention

Tell state senators to oppose the call for a Constitutional Convention.

On June 14th, the Assembly passed a set of three resolutions which together call for a Constitutional Convention (“Article V Convention of the States”). They say it’s to add a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution, but there’s nothing to limit a convention to the balanced budget. There is the potential to take up amendments to alter or eliminate Constitutional protections for citizen rights: voting rights, civil rights, women’s rights. They could even limit or eliminate free speech, freedom of assembly, or freedom of the press. A convention like this has never been called and assembled before in our nation’s history. It could be a very destructive and dangerous event.

It takes two-thirds of state legislatures (34) to call a Constitutional convention. Wisconsin could become number 30. The resolution now awaits scheduling for a vote in the State Senate. We must tell our State Senators to vote NO.

State abortion restrictions

Tell state legislators to oppose these restrictions on access to abortions.

Assembly Bill (AB) 206/Senate Bill (SB) 154 would block University of Wisconsin OB-GYN residents from learning to perform abortions. Passage could jeopardize accreditation of the OB/GYN residency program at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, ultimately reducing the number of practicing OB/GYNs in Wisconsin.

AB 128/SB 81 would prevent the state from providing insurance plans that cover abortion, except in cases of rape, incest or to preserve the life of the mother. Democrats argue that the measure is unnecessary because as it stands now, state health plans will pay for an abortion only if a doctor has determined it is medically necessary. The bill’s author said he had written the legislation because he believed that policy needs a tighter definition.

Madison State Representative Chris Taylor said the legislation would make it harder for public workers who are victims of sexual assault to get abortions. They could get their abortions covered under their health plans only if they reported their assaults to police — something many victims choose not to do.