Unfinished Business in the 113th Congress: Whose Interests are Your Representatives Working For?
by Jessica Schieder, 9/12/2014
Champions in Congress are pushing for bills that would help millions of people, but industry lobbyists and their allies in the House and Senate are obstructing progress on these commonsense measures. Instead, they're clamoring for more corporate tax cuts, the elimination of environmental protections, and the erosion of worker safeguards.
With only days left for the 113th Congress to address a menu of priorities before the midterm elections, here are some of the issues that everyone should ask his or her representatives to address:
An overwhelming majority of Americans (seven in ten) favor increasing the minimum wage, but some members of Congress have blocked legislation to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10. This includes a gradual increase in the tipped minimum wage to 70 percent of the regular minimum wage. If approved, more than 24 million American workers would get a raise. Nearly nine in ten minimum wage workers are over 20, approximately one third are over 40, and 27 percent have children to support.
The Senate bill, the Minimum Wage Fairness Act (S. 2223), failed a procedural vote on April 30, receiving only 54 votes of the 60 needed to allow the bill to move to a final vote. In the House, the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013 (H.R. 1010) was introduced in March 2013, and the bill has 196 cosponsors. House Democrats are working to force the bill out of committee and onto the floor for a vote, but their discharge petition has only 195 of the 218 signatures it needs to succeed. Despite these setbacks, leadership in both chambers should schedule a vote on these bills before members leave Washington to campaign ahead of the election.
Extended Unemployment Compensation
On April 7, 2014, the Senate passed legislation in a 59 to 38 vote to extend the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program, which would have provided relief to more than 3 million Americans who have been unemployed and looking for a job for more than six months. Of the 9.6 million Americans who were unemployed last month, 31.2 percent had been out of work for more than six months.
A Fox News poll conducted last January found that 69 percent of those surveyed believed unemployment benefits should last at least a year.
In the House, a number of measures to extend the EUC program have been introduced. The two most promising bills are both named the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act of 2014 (H.R. 4415 and H.R. 4970). H.R. 4415 was introduced by Rep. Dan Kildee (D-MI) on April 7 and currently has 155 cosponsors. H.R. 4970 was introduced by Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ) on June 26 and currently has 12 bipartisan cosponsors, including Kildee.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has refused to allow a vote on either bill. Failing to extend the measure will cost the country approximately 240,000 jobs by the end of 2014. The American people need action on this issue, not more excuses from House leadership.
The push for legislation to ensure paycheck fairness – primarily by enacting additional measures to prevent sex discrimination in the workplace – has been led by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) in the Senate and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) in the House. As many as 65 percent of Americans support passing their bill, the Paycheck Fairness Act.
The Paycheck Fairness Act (H.R. 377) was introduced in the House on Jan. 23, 2013 and currently has 197 cosponsors. Bill champions have filed a discharge petition that would force a vote on the bill, but it only has 197 of 218 needed signatures. The Senate bill, numbered S. 2199, failed a procedural vote on April 9, 2014, receiving 53 of the 60 necessary votes. While there are only a few short workdays left before election season kicks into high gear, this priority should be addressed before members head home.
Paid Sick Leave
The Healthy Families Act (H.R. 1286 and S. 631) was introduced by DeLauro in the House and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) in the Senate. The bills have 132 and 20 cosponsors, respectively, but neither chamber has held votes on these bills.
The legislation would require some employers to allow workers to accumulate at least one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked, providing relief to many low-income hourly workers who are not currently guaranteed any paid sick time. The United States is the only industrialized nation that does not guarantee a worker’s access to paid sick leave, even though as many as three-quarters of Americans support providing paid sick leave to workers. It's time for representatives to act quickly on this issue.
Student Debt / Student Aid
Despite the outrage that the more than $1 trillion in cumulative student debt has stirred in many Americans, legislation to ease the burden has stalled in both the House and Senate. Approximately 87 percent of Americans under age 31 support lowering interest rates on student loans.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has become one of the most vocal advocates of addressing the student debt crisis. She most recently introduced the Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act (S. 2432), which has 44 cosponsors but failed a procedural vote in June. The bill received 56 votes of the 60 needed to move forward. In the House, the Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act (H.R. 4582) was introduced on May 6, 2014 and currently has 138 cosponsors, but it has been stuck in committee.
Approximately 62 percent of Americans believe undocumented immigrants should be allowed to continue living in the United States and be granted some legal status. Last June, the Senate passed the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act (S. 744) in a bipartisan 68 to 32 vote. The bill would provide a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants currently in the United States, establish new categories of visas, create a strong employment verification system, and improve the system for future immigrants. A similar bill in the House by the same name (H.R. 15) also provides a path to citizenship. The House bill, however, has stalled in committee. House champions launched a discharge petition to force the bill out of committee; it currently has 192 of the 218 necessary signatures.
Obstructing these priorities is a series of agenda items that House leadership intends to debate and vote on in the coming days. These bills would reduce taxes for corporations, eliminate worker protections, and erode environmental safeguards.
Reducing Taxes for Corporations
Earlier this summer, the House voted to make permanent several tax cuts for corporations. The House is expected to vote on the same provisions within the next week and a half as a package. The majority will call this vote despite the fact that 82 percent of Americans favor “reform[ing] the tax system by closing corporate loopholes and limiting deductions for the wealthy” in order to “reduce the budget deficit and make new investments,” according to an Americans for Tax Fairness poll.
These provisions include: the bonus depreciation tax credit (previously passed by a vote of 258 to 160), the research and development tax credit (previously approved 274 to 131), an expensing tax credit for small business (passed earlier this summer by 272 to 144), and the a tax credit for S corporations (previously passed 263 to 155). Together, these provisions, which would overwhelmingly benefit large corporations, would cost more than $500 billion, money that could be better spent helping those in need and on infrastructure investments that would create jobs.
Industry allies in Congress fail to recognize – or choose to ignore – the valuable protections that standards and safeguards provide to workers and their families. Whether it’s keeping poisons out of drinking water, dangerous chemicals out of children’s toys, or protecting workers from unsafe conditions, generalizations about regulations often undersell the role they have played in elevating the American standard of living.
Bills, including the REINS Act and the ALERRT Act, are likely to reappear in the course of the next week and a half. These bills take direct aim at our system of standards and safeguards by delaying the rulemaking process, placing redundant and excessive hurdles to developing more protective rules, and undermining transparency.
Endangering the Environment
A legislative package weaving together several bills would increase environmental degradation, and the House is expected to approve it in the next week and a half. Many of the provisions have been passed by the House at least once before. For example, bills supporting the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline and a bill to hinder the federal government’s ability to regulate fracking are expected to be reconsidered. These bills would likely increase greenhouse gas emissions and put communities’ drinking water at risk. Like the anti-regulatory bills, many of these provisions passed the House the last time members voted on them, contradicting the 70 percent of Americans who support reducing carbon pollution and the 65 percent of Americans who want greater protections against fracking risks.
A majority of Americans consistently say they want Congress to jump start job growth and to provide more help to working people. They also say they want to close corporate loopholes not make them permanent.
When your representative and senators come home this fall to ask for your vote, ask them if they voted for working Americans or for corporate giveaways. Then choose the person you send to Washington accordingly.
For Further Reading:
House Majority’s Last-Ditch Effort to Undermine Public Protections, Award Corporate Giveaways, The Fine Print blog, Sept. 15, 2014
Valuing Labor Means Helping Workers, Especially When There Are No Jobs, The Fine Print blog, Aug. 31, 2014
"Flexibility" for Whom? Irregular Schedules, Other Practices Wreak Havoc on Workers, The Fine Print blog, Aug. 19, 2014
Unemployment Insurance: A 79-Year Old Promise to American Workers That Needs Renewing, The Fine Print blog, Aug. 14, 2014