Government affairs

Legislative Updates

House and Senate clear funding for FY 2017

This week, the House and Senate passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2017 (H.R. 244), which funds government operations through Sept. 30.

The $1.163 trillion measure includes funding for 11 of the 12 agencies for which annual appropriations work was not completed. (Military construction-Veterans Affairs funding was completed last year.) The measure includes $593 billion for defense spending and $535 billion for non-defense spending.

Congress also allocated $1.5 billion in additional funds for border security, but no funds were allocated to build a border wall with Mexico.

Democratic leaders voiced their support for the deal. “Overwhelmingly, we were very pleased with the outcome on issue after issue both on the spending side and on the legislative side, the poison pill side,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said. Following the removal of the remaining “poison pill riders,” Democrats took credit for killing budget riders that called for deep budget cuts to the National Institutes for Health and the EPA and for dismantling Wall Street consumer protections provided by the 2010 Dodd-Frank bill.

Of particular importance to labor, the House and Senate included more than $1 billion in funding to continue health care coverage for roughly 20,000 retired coal miners and widows whose health coverage was in jeopardy after several coal companies filed for bankruptcy. Unfortunately, Congress was unable to come up with a permanent solution for miners’ pensions, and debate surrounding both issues could have brought the government to a shutdown.

“NALC is pleased to see that our brothers and sisters in the United Mine Workers of America can rest a little easier knowing that Congress could help keep the promises made to them on their health care coverage,“ NALC President Frederic Rolando said. “Unfortunately, their pension issue remains unresolved.” (More.)

Also contained in the bill was $295.9 million in funding to address Puerto Rico’s debt crisis, specifically protecting the U.S. territory’s Medicare fund. The territory has over $73 billion in debt and no agreement to restructure it, making it financially vulnerable.

President Donald Trump signed the measure but publicly lamented that the deal was necessary because of the 60 votes required for passage in the Senate. Trump repeatedly called for the end of the Senate’s filibuster rule so that a simple majority would be all that was necessary to pass items on his agenda. The president further suggested the government is a “mess” and that a “good shutdown” might help to fix it come the end of September.

These statements came after the bill allocated $68 million to reimburse local law enforcement agencies for the costs of protecting Trump and his family, predominantly in his homes in New York and Florida.

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