Crisis (Largely) Averted. On the evening of January 22, President Trump signed a continuing resolution that ended the brief weekend government shutdown and that will keep the lights on and trains running until February 8. It was just in time, too. During the three days of the government shutdown, Washington, D.C., descended into a dystopian horrorscape where cannibals walked the streets by day and nomad biker gangs looted burned-out athleisure stores for vinyasa scarves and cutout leggings. Thankfully, everything is back to normal . . . for now.
Undead, Zombie DACA. Of course, the big issue that led to the shutdown maelstrom was the whole Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) matter. Last week, the Buzz pondered the impact of a federal court’s injunction of the DACA rescission on the negotiations to include a legislative fix in any government funding package. Doesn’t that judge’s decision make the need for a fix less compelling? Further, what exactly will happen on March 5—the date on which DACA is supposed to terminate? And, what about the government’s appeal of the injunction? If, like the Buzz, you’re confused about all of this, POLITICO Magazine has a nice play-by-play of the entire DACA saga.
Funding Deal Delivers on Healthcare Policy. Perhaps lost in the political hyperbole surrounding the government shutdown is that the continuing resolution signed on Monday night delivered some significant healthcare policy victories:
- The Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) so-called “Cadillac tax” on high-cost employer-sponsored health plans was kicked down the road for another two years. This means that the tax—which both employer groups and labor unions oppose—won’t become effective until 2022.
- The ACA’s 2.3 percent medical device tax, which had already been delayed, was set to take effect on January 1 of this year. The resolution suspends the effective date for two years to January 1, 2020. The Medical Device Manufacturers Association was obviously happy with this provision.
- Finally, the health insurance tax (HIT), which was suspended in 2017 but became effective this month, was postponed until 2019.
HHS Secretary Confirmed. In other healthcare news, on January 24, the U.S. Senate confirmed Alex Azar as the new secretary of health and human services.
H-2B Changes. The Employment and Training Administration’s Office of Foreign Labor Certification (OFLC) within the Department of Labor (DOL) announced changes this week to the processing of H-2B temporary labor certifications for the April 1 to September 30, 2018, period. Last year at this time, OFLC received about 1,500 applications covering about 27,000 worker positions. This year, those numbers exploded, with OFLC receiving 4,500 applications covering 81,000 positions (and only 33,000 H-2B visas are allotted). Because of the unprecedented volume of applications, OFLC announced that final labor certifications decisions, which will be issued beginning on February 20, 2018, will be issued “in sequential order based on the original calendar day and time the application was filed (i.e., receipt time).” [Emphasis in original.] Previously, OFLC processed applications according to the date filed only, not the time of day on a particular date.
“The lesson [from EFCA] is you don’t wait until the wave hits, you begin to work when times look tough.” So says Bill Samuel, director of government affairs at the AFL-CIO, in this interesting article about worker advocates’ plans for 2018, 2020, and beyond. The article notes the labor movement’s lessons learned from failed reform efforts in 1978 and 2009, and forecasts big labor’s plans for the future. Potential goals include getting rid of employment at-will, banning right-to-work laws, and requiring first contract arbitration, among others.
“Hey Nineteen.” The heated debate in the Senate surrounding both DACA and funding of the federal government had the Buzz wondering if things were going to devolve into Rule 19 territory. Senate Rule 19 governs speech and debate in the Senate and provides, in part, that “[n]o Senator in debate shall, directly or indirectly, by any form of words impute to another Senator or to other Senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator.” The rule originated from a 1902 fistfight on the Senate floor between two Democratic senators from South Carolina over the annexation of the Philippines. The last time Rule 19 was invoked was approximately one year ago, when it was used against Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren during the confirmation debate for Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The Buzz is hopeful that Rule 19 will not have to be invoked as senators continue to debate these significant policy issues.