Inflation Reduction Act: We’re not there yet. Let’s keep fighting!
The House of Representatives is expected to vote Friday, August 12 on a tax and investment plan that taxes large profitable corporations, reins in Big Pharma’s price gouging, lowers carbon emissions, and provides billions of dollars to keep health care affordable for millions of Americans. With the Senate’s passage of the bill this past weekend, the House vote is the last step before President Biden can sign it into law.
TANF Reauthorization Debate Heats Up
House action on the reauthorization of the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families Program (TANF) culminated on May 16 with the passage of the Personal Responsibility, Work, and Family Promotion Act of 2002 (HR 4737). Approved by a 229 to 197 vote, the House bill closely resembles President Bush’s reauthorization proposal, including a “superwaiver” provision that would grant sweeping authority to the Executive Branch to allow states to waive federal rules that govern a range of low-income and other domestic programs.
Finance Committee Debates Marriage and TANF
On May 16, the Senate Finance Committee held its third welfare reauthorization hearing. Originally slated to focus on family formation policies, the hearing was expanded to include testimony by Senators Dodd (D-CT), Santorum (R-PA), Bayh (D-IN), and Carper (D-DE) to more broadly cover welfare issues.
Senate Subcommittee Holds Hearing on Low-Wage Workers
On Thursday, May 16, the Senate Subcommittee on Employment, Safety, and Training of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) held a hearing focused on job training for low-wage workers. The hearing, chaired by Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-MN), was specifically targeted at exploring the intersection of programs funded through the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant.
Kennedy Minimum Wage Bill Resurfaces With the support of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD), Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) announced plans on Wednesday, May 22 to get a floor vote on his Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2002 (S 2538) before the August recess. The measure would increase the federal minimum wage incrementally by $1.50 – from $5.15 to $6.65 per hour – by January 1, 2004. On the Senate floor Wednesday night, Daschle requested unanimous consent to bring the bill up for debate with a time limit and rules for amendments by June 24. Senator Phil Gramm (R-TX) blocked this request, stating that the best way to get money into the hands of low-wage workers would be to provide the President with fast track trade negotiating authority. It is unclear whether the Democratic majority will be able to fit the minimum wage floor debate into an already packed legislative calendar before August, but a floor vote is expected sometime this year. It has been over six years since Congress last voted to increase the minimum wage.
Senate Passes Health Provisions in Trade Bill The omnibus trade package (HR 3009), granting the President broad trade promotion authority, passed the Senate on Thursday, May 23 with a 66-30 vote. The bill expands of the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program for workers who lose their jobs as a result of federal trade policies and import competition. The measure includes $1.2 billion annually for TAA, which creates a new tax credit to cover 70 percent of displaced workers’ health insurance premiums. For the first time, the assistance would also cover workers who are indirectly affected by trade policies. The House passed its version of the trade bill (HR 3005) last December, which did not include any expansion of the TAA program. The bill will now go to conference where House and Senate members must come to an agreement on substantially different versions of the bill.
President Bush Signs Farm Bill
On Monday, May 13, President Bush signed into law the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 (HR 2646). The legislation includes a six-year reauthorization of agricultural, commodity, conservation and nutrition programs, in addition to providing federal farm subsidies. The Farm Bill provides $6.4 billion in nutrition funding over ten years. Also included in the nutrition title is the reauthorization of the Food Stamp Program, as well as several program improvements such as the restoration of food stamp benefits to eligible legal immigrants who have been in the country for five years.
House Passes Social Security Benefits for Widows
On May 14, the House unanimously passed the Social Security Benefit Enhancements for Women Act of 2002 (HR 4069). Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee Chairman E. Clay Shaw Jr. (R-FL) and Ranking Member Robert Matsui (D-CA) co-sponsored the bill, which would ease social security eligibility rules. The measure would allow some disabled and elderly widows and divorcees to access the Social Security benefits of their deceased spouses before reaching age 60. Under current law, widows who are at least 50 years old, and who become disabled after the death of their spouse, must wait seven years before collecting Social Security benefits. While the American Association for Retired People (AARP) supported the legislation, Democrats criticized Republicans for passing the bill under suspension of rules. Under suspension of the rules, amendments are not considered. This discussion is part of a broader Social Security debate, which includes President Bush’s proposal to privatize the system by creating individual Social Security investment accounts.