Without Congressional action over the next several months, our national rail passenger system - Amtrak - is in danger of being liquidated. Strained Amtrak finances are reeling under the weight of additional terrorism-related expenses, and without an infusion of cash by the U.S. Congress most long-distance inter-city train service could end by October 1st. In recent years the federal government has provided Amtrak with annual subsidies of $521 million dollars.
UE Political Action Updates
In what is probably the first positive outcome of the Enron scandal, the U.S. Senate has passed a final version of the "campaign finance"; bill. The Senate passed the landmark bill on Wednesday by a 60-40 margin. The same version of the bill passed the House of Representatives by a 240-189 margin last month. Recognizing the popularity of the bill, President Bush has indicated his willingness to sign the bill into law.
A paltry one-count indictment was handed down yesterday by federal prosecutors against the Arthur Andersen auditing firm. The Andersen firm was charged with one count of felony "obstruction of justice."; Andersen staff participated in both document shredding and computer hard drive "sanitizing"; in the wake of the gigantic Enron swindle. The indictment is the first, and so far only indictment in the Enron case.
Both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate have passed a bill to extend unemployment compensation. The extension is for "up to"; thirteen additional weeks of benefits, with limited provisions for additional extensions in states with the highest unemployment rates. President Bush signed the bill into law on Saturday, March 9, ending months of wrangling over this basic worker-fairness issue.
A just-released report has exposed the activities of the "American Legislative Exchange Council" (ALEC), a corporate front-group with major operations in every U.S. state capitol. Produced by the Defenders of Wildlife and the Natural Resources Defense Council, the report is entitled; "Corporate America’s Trojan Horse in the States: The Untold Story Behind the American Legislative Exchange Council."
The Bush Administration decision to slap 30% tariffs on certain imported steel products this week was welcomed by America’s battered steelworkers. The news comes not a moment too soon; the steel industry has been so utterly undermined by the dumping of low-wage imported steel that a total of 31 major steel companies are in bankruptcy, with more than one hundred thousand steelworkers on the unemployment line. The Bush decision is the first relief - however small and temporary - for manufacturing workers in many years.
The recent collapse of LTV Steel and Enron, among others, have placed incredible strains on the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC), the federal agency that insures defined-benefit pensions for U.S. workers. The LTV pension shortfall is the largest in PBGC history, more than $1 billion dollars. The Enron tab is estimated at more than $125 million dollars. The PBGC takes control of pension plans when companies declare bankruptcy, are grossly underfunded, or where mismanagement threatens the solvency of the plan.
Despite the Enron fiasco, President Bush and the Republican leadership have renewed their push to liquidate the Social Security safety net. In back-to-back speeches yesterday and today, President Bush tried to revive the thoroughly discredited idea that Social Security assets should be invested in the stock market through "personal accounts.";
The Interim National Council (INC) of the Labor Party met on February 15th, and laid plans for the coming Constitutional Convention to be held July 25 - 28 in Washington, D.C.
The INC meeting was convened at the headquarters of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), where Labor Party National Organizer Tony Mazzocchi laid out plans for the coming convention. INC members representing all major affiliates took part in the discussions about the coming convention, as well as discussions and exchanges about ongoing Labor Party work and prospects.
The House of Representatives, after an all-day and all-night session, finally passed the Shays-Meehan campaign finance bill (HR2356) by a 240-189 margin. The bill would drastically reduce the amount of money that could be given to political parties directly, and would also ban broadcast advertising within 60 days of an election if the ad specifically mentions one of the candidates in the respective election race. The bill would not take effect until after the November elections later this year, and contains several other small changes to election finance laws.