WASHINGTON — Every December, it seems, Congress turns into one word: Crunch.
After hesitating, blocking and filibustering for months of traffic jam, it will happen again by December 31.
Until then, lawmakers must vote on controversial legislation. The key elements include:
Keep the government running. Otherwise known as “continuous resolution” or CR. This is the basic bill that keeps the government running as lawmakers haggle over the details of what should be in regular money bills for fiscal year 2022, which began on October 1. The last RC keeps the government in place until December 3.
This funding is at last year’s levels, not the higher 2022 numbers proposed by Democratic President Joe Biden and approved by the Democratic-led House.
There have been three government shutdowns during the rule of former GOP Oval Office occupant Donald Trump. It inspired the longest, 35 days, from December 22, 2018 to early February 2019, when Congress resisted Trump’s request to include $ 5.7 billion for his racist Mexican wall in the RC. He vetoed the CR. The workers went six weeks without pay, and Trump forced many of them, like airport screening officers, to work anyway.
Extension of the debt limit. The debt limit pays for past borrowing, despite the GOP’s lies that it will allow the nation to keep spending on its credit card. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told lawmakers in mid-November that by December 16, her department would exhaust all of its backup methods to allow the government to pay its bills.
“Although I have a high degree of confidence, the Treasury will be able to fund the US government until December 15 and complete the Highway Trust Fund investment, but there are scenarios the Treasury would end up in. with insufficient remaining resources to continue funding US government operations beyond that date, ”Yellen wrote.
“To ensure the full confidence and credit of the United States, it is essential that Congress raises or suspends the debt ceiling as soon as possible. “
The Republicans in the Senate, who as usual want to screw things up, or worse, poo-poo that. Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, who as a former financial executive should know better, says the crisis won’t really come until mid-January. GOP Senate Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky threatened to use his 50 votes – exactly half of the Senate – to trigger a default, plunging the US and world economies into massive depression, costing millions of jobs .
The man who really wants to put the United States at fault, however, is former GOP Oval Office occupant Donald Trump, to whom Congressional Republicans bow. His message to McConnell was direct:
“If he (McConnell) doesn’t capitalize on Democrats’ spending, especially when we look at the Build Back Better bill possibly passed by the Senate in one form or another, it’s going to be embarrassing,” he said. he adds. “The debt limit is the only leverage Republicans have throughout Congress. If they give it away and get nothing in return, it will be a huge embarrassment.
President Biden’s Build Back Better Act. Bringing home the greatly reduced expansion of the frayed and flawed US social safety net was only half the battle. The 50-50 Senate – again – will be a major hurdle. So will renegade Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. Seems familiar?
Build Back Better is officially a “reconciliation” bill, which is supposed to deal only with fiscal and budget issues, but it contains many key provisions to help workers and families. The two main ones are to dramatically increase fines for labor violations and to extend legal protections, even outright citizenship, to most of the 10 to 11 million undocumented migrants in the United States.
The workers’ rights provisions would increase fines for labor law violators, including violators of the Occupational Safety and Health Act and the National Labor Relations Act. Taken from the Right to Organize Protection Act (PRO), the fines would also extend NLRA penalties to board members, CEOs and other high-level executives, making them easier to control. impose and expand the range of offenses considered to be breaches of labor law. Among the new offenses: Captive court meetings.
The fines could bring tens of millions of dollars into federal coffers since they are said to be for civil offenses, wrote Harvard law professor Benjamin Sachs in the OnLabor blog earlier this year.
“Since the Supreme Court has limited the NLRB to the granting of compensatory measures, companies which illegally dismiss their employees” during organizing campaigns “are at worst responsible for what they would otherwise have paid to their former workers,” minus what the illegally dismissed worker earns while waiting for the Council to act) – or, in the case of undocumented workers, nothing at all, ”he noted.
Such a violation of employer labor laws occurs in 41.5% of all organizing campaigns, notes Economic Policy Institute President Heidi Shierholz.
“When companies refuse to negotiate with unions, their main punishment is being sent back to the bargaining table, where they can again refuse to negotiate. For other violations, the remedy may consist of a simple order to post a sign in the break room stating that the employer has broken the law, ”added Sachs.
“In light of current remedies, the civil penalties regime of the PRO Act would transform the nature of the NLRA remedies regime. For many employers, fines of $ 50,000 could deter malpractice in a way that posting notices and backpayment packages never do. “
Fines for OSHA violations would also increase their current limits tenfold, from the current maximum of just over $ 13,000 for a serious and willful violation to a maximum of $ 130,000.
Immigration reform. It’s in the BBB bill, but it’s not quite the big picture of reform workers, civil rights groups, and organizations for Spanish speakers like UnidosUS and the Labor Council. for Latin American advancement.
The legislation “grants temporary status – known as parole – to about two-thirds of the unauthorized immigrant population. This status will protect those who meet the conditions from expulsion and allow them to work legally. The BBBA also includes provisions to recover unused green cards and help clear green card backlogs, which will provide certainty and permanence to hundreds of thousands of immigrants, keep families together and increase the power of workers, ”he said. Shierholz said.
There are two potential adjustable wrenches to squeezing immigration into the BBB bill, although supporters of both civil rights groups and BBB Senate author Bernie Sanders, Ind-Vt., Note that immigration reform would add more money to federal coffers. One is Senate MP Elizabeth McDonough, an unelected public servant who ruled out immigration from a previous reconciliation bill. The other is Sinema, whose border state, Arizona, is divided over the impact of immigration.
And Manchin is another adjustable wrench. His vote and Sinema’s vote are needed for Democrats to bring together all 48 of their senators, along with the two independents, to create a tie that Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris can break.
Corn Call reports that the West Virginian, having already forced a 50% cut in initial spending on the BBB bill, is now opposing four weeks of paid family and medical leave. The so-called “moderate” Democrats in the House forced this provision to drop from 12 weeks. Manchin also always opposes any spending on “green” provisions.
Prescription drugs. The BBB bill passed by the House also includes new sections allowing Medicare to downgrade the prices of certain prescription drugs, although these cuts do not take effect immediately. More harsh language has been drawn by lawmakers influenced by contributions to the Big Pharma campaign.
“We are calling on Congress to pass President Biden’s Build Back Better law and include a provision allowing Medicare to negotiate the cost of prescription drugs in the package and reduce the amount that beneficiaries pay over the counter. pharmacy. The savings from these negotiations should be used to add Medicare-guaranteed dental, hearing and vision benefits, ”says the Alliance for Retired Americans.
The military money bill. The Senate will resume debate on December 2. There are two issues: Sanders and other progressives want to downsize – it’s a lot bigger than last year’s already gigantic version – and it will be crammed with sections, a few good and a lot of bad. , which have nothing to do with the military.