Government affairs

Legislative Updates

115th Congress – first session

The first session of the 115th Congress came to a close in December of last year. As we move into the 115th's second session, now is a good time to review all that happened in 2017. The elections of 2016 saw the Republican Party take control of the Executive branch and maintain their majorities in both the House of Representatives and Senate, thereby allowing a single party to determine the vast majority of the legislative agenda.

The big ticket goals for the 115th, outlined by the President, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI), and/or Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell included, among other items:

´       Full repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA, Obamacare)

´       A wall along the Mexican border

´       $1 trillion infrastructure package

´       Increase defense spending, lower spending on social programs

ü  Major tax reform overhaul and cut to corporate taxes

While the House and Senate Leadership did not manage to achieve all of their priorities, they were able to achieve some success after initial stumbles. By prioritizing, lagging, and ultimately failing at their seven-year goal of repealing the Affordable Care Act, the remaining agenda of tackling infrastructure, immigration, the 2018 fiscal year (FY) budget, and other issues was severely hampered. Perhaps the most significant legislative event for the country as a whole however, was left for the very end of the year.

On December 22, following House and Senate passage, the President signed into law a sweeping overhaul to the U.S. tax code (H.R. 1), formerly referred to as the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.” Notably, not a single Democrat or Independent supported the bill in either chamber, with only a handful of Republicans opposing the final measure in the House.

The final version drops the corporate tax rate from the current 35 percent to 21 percent permanently, provides huge incentives for companies to send American jobs overseas and move profits to tax havens, and gives new breaks for “pass-through” businesses whose owners pay taxes on their individual returns. The new law lowers rates for most individuals temporarily, but in the years to follow, those rates gradually increase until 2027 when an estimated 84 percent of Americans will pay more taxes and only those making $200k+ will benefit. Additionally, the bill removes or lowers certain deductions working families rely on, effectively raising their taxes overall despite lowering rates.

Finally, and among other provisions, the bill removes the ACA’s individual mandate, which will raise health insurance premiums for a majority of Americans, could result in up to 13 million Americans losing insurance by 2027, and will add $1.4 trillion to the nation’s deficit. Such a price tag raises concerns among federal employees as to how politicians intend to offset it. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) has already indicated he intends to bring up cuts to Medicare and Social Security next, and feds worry federal pay, benefits, and retirement could be on the table to pay for the deficit expansion just pushed through Congress.

With Republicans in full control of both the Executive and Legislative branches, and prioritizing big ticket items such as healthcare and tax reform, the first half of the 115th Congress saw little time for other legislation. Major issues and debates around the FY2018 Budget, the immigration, the opioid epidemic, infrastructure, further revisions to the ACA, larger labor concerns, and postal reform are now pushed into 2018.

That being said, 2017 did see some action around issues important to active and retired letter carriers, other federal employees, and veterans.

Key Bills and Resolutions

At press, NALC’s priority resolutions continue to enjoy broad bipartisan support, with 218 cosponsors being the minimum to ensure a favorable outcome on any bill addressing such concerns.

  • Maintaining six-day delivery (H.Res. 15) has 244 cosponsors (180 Democrats, 64 Republicans)
  • Maintaining door delivery (H.Res. 28) has 241 cosponsors (184 Democrats, 57 Republicans)
  • Maintaining service standards (H.Res. 31) has 207 cosponsors (162 Democrats, 45 Republicans)

As far as postal reform, two bills have been introduced to tackle it. The Postal Reform Act (H.R. 756) and the Postal Service Financial Improvement Act (H.R. 760) were introduced back in January 2017, but remain stalled in the House following March 2017 passage out of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee (OGR). H.R. 756 still must be taken up by the House Energy and Commerce Committee (which needs to weigh in on the measure’s Medicare Part D provisions) and by the House Ways and Means Committee (which has to consider the bill’s Medicare Parts A and B language). Now that both Committees have completed work on health care and tax reform, they are expected to address other pending issues that have taken a backseat over the last year. Neither Committee has indicated whether they have any interest in waiving jurisdiction (letting the bill go to the floor) or scheduling hearings or mark-up sessions to discuss the relevant provisions. NALC will continue to monitor the progression of both bills and will keep members up to date.

On June 23, the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017 (S.1094) was signed into law, placing arbitrary caps on official time, limiting who can use official time, and thereby ensuring professionals do not receive adequate representation. It also restricts due-process rights for new hires by extending the probationary period from twelve to eighteen months, limits official representation of union members by chosen leadership, and allows members to revoke their membership at any time.

On August 12, the VA Choice and Quality Employment Act of 2017 (S. 114) was signed into law, providing an additional $1.4 billion in funding for the VA and allowing the department to manage non-VA care better than the Choice program. This temporary fix will allow the VA to open 28 new clinics and implement new hiring programs, thereby providing more veterans access to the care they need.

On November 17, the Thrift Savings Plan Modernization Act of 2017 (H.R. 3031) was signed into law, eliminating restrictions on age-based withdrawals from the TSP, allowing for active federal employees older than 59½ to make multiple age-based withdrawals while still working and allowing retirees to make multiple, partial post-separation withdrawals. The new law will allow participants to stop quarterly or annual payments, permit periodic withdrawals to be changed at any point during the year, and save the option to purchase an annuity while recovering monthly benefits.

On November 30, the House of Representatives passed the Ensuring a Qualified Civil Service (EQUALS) Act (H.R. 4182), introduced by Rep. James Comer (R-KY). The bill aims to change the probationary period for federal employees who currently serve a one-year probationary period to two years, and to undercut due-process rights, whistleblower protections, and the very civil service protections designed to protect federal employees against unjust managerial rulings. If it becomes law, the bill would grossly affect employees’ (including veterans’ preference eligible letter carriers) eligibility to appeal any adverse actions to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB). The legislation is now in the Senate for consideration.

This is but a sampling of the legislation important to letter carriers, and while most members of Congress will be busy running for re-election this year, they still will consider legislation that could affect letter carriers. We encourage you to visit NALC’s Government Affairs webpage to keep on top of all legislative updates.

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