As UE members and their families are adversely impacted by the avalanche of red budget ink at the state and local level, two recent tax policy studies by respected Washington, D.C. research organizations provide some startling facts on the situation.
UE Political Action Updates
The United States Senate and House of Representatives have convened the 108th Congress in Washington D.C. One of the first orders of business will likely be the extension of unemployment benefits for hundreds of thousands of unemployed. The benefit cut-off was due to the refusal of the Republican House leadership to extend exhausted benefits last December. The political heat on Congress to right this wrong has been intense, and passage of an extension of benefits is predicted.
The flood of phone calls demanding that the U.S. Senate amend or reject the big business "Fast Track" scheme have helped slow the progress of this job-killing legislation. The anti-worker U.S. Chamber of Commerce (CoC) and National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) have mobilized an army of business lobbyists to bribe and threaten Senators who do not yet support "Fast Track" in its most destructive form.
The House of Representatives passed a bill yesterday that would place some limits on how employers handle 401(k) plans for workers. The bill passed by a 255-163 margin, after Democrats gave up attempts to improve the bill with amendments. The bill was promoted as a "pension reform" bill in the wake of the unraveling Enron fiasco. In reality - something in short supply in our big business-dominated Congress - it was merely a mis-named bill to provide some minimal protections and rights to holders of 401(k) accounts.
Corporate America celebrated two anti-labor decisions issued last week, one by our illustrious "Supreme" Court and the other by the Bush Administration. On Wednesday, April 3rd, the Supreme Court ruled that immigrant workers fired by their boss for trying to organize a union were not entitled to back pay. The 5-4 decision involved the cases of several workers at the Hoffman Plastic company in California who were fired from their jobs in 1989 after trying to form a union.
Anti-labor Republicans in the House of Representatives have renewed the push to repeal overtime pay and paid time-off. The so-called "comp-time" bill (HR1982) is the same bill that was passed by the House of Representatives in 1995 and 1997, but died - thankfully - due to lack of any action by the Senate.
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.
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.