Congress Heads Out after Funding the Federal Government
By Legislative & Political Director Judy Beard
12/21/2016 - On the heels of the 2016 elections and with the New Year approaching, APWU members should make a resolution to stay engaged on legislation at all levels (city/state/national) crucial to our livelihoods. In that spirit, we should reflect on our successes and failures in building economic justice in order to pave the way for 2017.
On Friday, Dec. 9, the U.S. Senate followed the House and passed a continuing resolution (CR) which provides funding for the federal government at current levels through April 28, 2017. President Obama signed the measure into law early the next morning, averting a government shutdown.
The passage of the CR marked the end of the legislative activity for the 114th Congress. In many ways, the 114th Congress was notable in what it did not accomplish. Although negotiations continued to the final minutes, Congress adjourned without addressing urgently needed postal reform legislation. The APWU worked closely with legislators on both sides of the aisle, staff, sister postal unions, and key stakeholders to craft a reform bill that, although not perfect, addressed our priority issues. Ultimately, another session of Congress failed to secure a robust future for the Postal Service by fixing the congressionally-mandated pre-funding obligation.
There were bright spots as well in congressional inaction. Opposed by our delegates at the APWU National Convention as well as by many in organized labor, congressional Democrats, Freedom Caucus Republicans, and President-Elect Trump, the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal never came to a vote. This is a testament to the hard work and unity of our members and other unions.
Although passed by both Houses and signed by the President, the CR was not without controversy. Language to reverse drastic cuts to mail service standards, which was supported by APWU and endorsed by the House Appropriations Committee, failed to gain inclusion in the final spending bill. Senate Democrats, led by Senator Joe Manchin, (D-WV) sought to provide a full year of funding for health insurance for retired coal miners instead of a four month extension which expires next April. Rallying outside the Capitol, the APWU recently stood shoulder-to-shoulder with miners, demanding Congress “Keep the Promise” of their retirement healthcare benefits.
Unfortunately, Senate Republicans blocked Senator Manchin’s efforts and would not approve a full year for miners’ healthcare. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) agreed to discuss the issue further next year. Senator Manchin was supported in his efforts by Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Bob Casey (D-PA) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO).
Among other items included in the year-end funding bill, the CR provided funds to fight opioid abuse and support cancer research. The measure contains funding to help Flint address its contaminated water supply, as well as Hurricane Matthew and Louisiana flooding disaster relief.
Beginning on Jan. 3, 2017, the 115th Congress will feature Republican majorities in both chambers. Because the CR expires next April, as opposed to the end of the fiscal year in September, lawmakers must move quickly early next year to pass a government funding bill – all while working to confirm the new president’s cabinet nominees, a possible Supreme Court nominee, repealing Obamacare, and enacting tax and regulatory reform.
As we move into 2017, we all must all make an effort to be informed on the issues affecting the labor movement and our personal lives. I encourage you to attend union meetings and local meetings on issues affecting your communities. Engage on the local level and remind your legislators who they are supposed to be serving.