News from the Hill – February 2011 – First Edition

Feb 15, 2011

House Preps Big Cuts in Domestic Spending

House Republicans are preparing legislation funding the government for the remainder of the current fiscal year and finishing up appropriations legislation deferred late last year when Democrats lost control of the House. The “continuing resolution” or CR is necessary to fund the government for the last seven months of the current fiscal year, beginning on March 4. Separately, Congress must also soon begin consideration of legislation funding the next fiscal year beginning on Oct. 1. This means Congress will consider two separate years of agency funding.

Last week GOP leaders failed to persuade their rank and file members to support smaller cuts in the CR that Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers R-KY described as “the largest reduction in discretionary spending in the history of our nation.” Instead, congressional leaders increased their cuts and are now seeking a $100 billion cut in the current year budget. Greatly complicating their task is the decision to remove from consideration most categories of federal spending, including entitlements, national defense and homeland security. The relatively small portion of spending left under the budget ax will therefore suffer a large reduction, particularly because the federal fiscal year is already nearly half over. Among the activities cut in their new plan are job training, Women, Infants and Children (WIC), community health centers, federal family planning support, NIH, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Democrats in the House and Senate are expected to strongly oppose the large cuts, but it is unclear how the large partisan differences will be bridged with relatively few legislative days left until the March 4 deadline. House leaders have announced an open amendment process for the CR on the floor, which they hope will reduce conservative resistance to higher spending levels. The CR is scheduled for consideration on the House floor later this week.

GOP Strategizes to Cut Funding for Health Reform

GOP opponents of the health care reform law, “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act,” (PPACA) continue their efforts to topple the new landmark law. Their current strategy is to amend the CR legislation coming to the House floor by barring the federal government from implementing PPACA. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) vowed that funds to implement health reform will be cut from legislation funding government operations. Inclusion of such a provision in the House CR will force a key battle with the Senate and President over the future of the new law.

In other developments concerning health care reform, Jonathan Gruber, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor, in conjunction with the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank, released a new study on how health reform would work without an individual mandate. The study will be useful to advocates in analysts in defending the structure of the current law.

Gruber’s study found that replacing the individual mandate, as suggested by many opponents of the law, would significantly erode the coverage gains from the law and raise premiums for health care consumers. Representatives of the health insurance industry separately backed up Gruber’s conclusions, stating that alternatives proposed in Congress will be expensive and unsustainable. Gruber’s study found that removing the mandate would significantly lower the “bang for the buck” of health reform, reducing the number of covered persons by 50 percent to 75 percent while only lowering cost savings by 25 percent to 30 percent, far less than current law projections. Gruber stated, “There is not an alternative to the mandate that would give us close to comparable results.” Any alternative would impose much higher costs on those buying insurance in the new health insurance exchanges because the healthiest would opt out, and the less healthy would confront increased premiums. To view Gruber’s study, see: Center for American Progress Health Care Reform without the Individual Mandate.

NASW Meets with the Department of Education to Discuss Loan Forgiveness Program

NASW legislative staff and some of our coalition partners recently met with the U.S. Department of Education to discuss the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) implementation process and strategies to enhance borrower awareness of the program. The Public Service Loan Forgiveness program was established in 2007 to encourage individuals to enter and continue in public service employment by forgiving the remaining balance of their Direct Loans after the borrower has made 120 qualifying payments (beginning anytime after October 1, 2007), while employed full-time by a public service organization. October 2017 is the earliest date an eligible borrower could receive loan forgiveness. , Therefore,   the Department’s application process will be unveiled at the end of the year.

“Public service organization” is broadly defined to encompass a wide range of employers, including any federal, state, or local governments and most charitable nonprofit organizations. Social workers in a public child or family service agency are eligible to apply as well as individuals who work in emergency management, public health, and other careers. NASW lobbied tirelessly to secure passage of this bill and you can read the update here For additional loan forgiveness resources, go to our website, NASW will link to the PSLF application when it becomes available.

Child Welfare Lawyer to Head First Lady’s Office

Tina Tchen, Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of the Office of Public Engagement and Executive Director of the White House Council on Women and Girls, has been promoted to the position of Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff to the First Lady.  She will continue to serve as Executive Director of the Council in her new position.

Some advocates in the child welfare community know Tchen from her time at the Chicago law firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom, where she worked in corporate litigation, representing public agencies including the Illinois Department of Child and Family Services, the Illinois Department of Public Aid, and the Chicago Housing Authority.

NASW will continue to partner with the Administration and members of Congress to create and advance policies that protect our nation’s most vulnerable children and families.

Social Work Bills Introduced in Senate

On the first legislative day of the 112th Congress, Sen. Inouye (D-HI) introduced a number of social work bills. NASW is working for passage of S. 41, the National Office for Social Work Research Act and S. 42, the Strengthen Social Work Workforce Act. S. 41 seeks to create a national office of social work research at the National Institutes of Health. The purpose of the office is to conduct and support, and disseminate targeted research concerning social work methods and outcomes related to problems of significant social concern. S. 42 works to ensure that social work students or social work schools are eligible for support under programs that assist individuals in pursuing health careers or for grants for training projects in geriatrics, and to establish a social work training program.

Political Climate

With each passing election cycle, candidates for Congress seem to declare progressively earlier for the next year’s campaign.  Whether it’s to build up name recognition or to raise money early on and stave off potential competitors, we are already hearing about people around the country contemplating a run for the House or Senate in 2012.

However, this particular cycle poses an uncommon challenge: the redrawing of Congressional districts following the 2010 Census.  Many incumbents are uncertain whether their districts will still exist next year.  Others are wondering how their districts might shrink or grow, and what implications could result from those changes.  Still other potential candidates are uncertain whether they should run or not, depending on how promising their district looks after the redrawn borders are applied.

A post-Census election cycle poses new challenges for NASW’s Political Action for Candidate Election or PACE as well.  We need to determine a candidate’s viability based on information that may now be outdated, since the 2010 campaign was based, in many instances, on a completely different district.  Even though our analysis will be based on a new and evolving set of information, we will strive to endorse as many candidates and incumbents who are both viable, and supportive of a social work agenda.

Advocacy Blog Roundup

Congressional Briefing: Implications of Health Care Reform on the Social Work Profession, Feb 16, 2011

Join NASW, Half in Ten and Sens. Sherrod Brown and Al Franken for a Webinar on Antipoverty Advocacy in the 112th Congress

Immigration Comments in the State of the Union Address

New Report Shows Military Suicides Increase; How You Can Help

NASW to hold Health Care Reform and Beyond: Limits and Possibilities of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act Teleconference

Advocacy Listserv Activity

In the month of January, 1,281 activists sent 1,311 advocacy messages to Congress through Capwiz. The most active alert was about health care reform repeal.  Thanks to all of you who took the time to take action!