March Madness: American Health Care Act

“I’m just a bill, sitting here on Capitol Hill..” 

Schoolhouse rock Bill

The American Health Care Act of 2017 was pulled before a probable defeat on the floor of the House of Representatives today. Here’s a recap of its journey.

After months of anticipation and secrecy, the American Health Care Act of 2017 plan was released by House Republicans on March 6th consisting of two bills. One bill was introduced into the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the other to the House Ways and Means Committee.  The bills passed both committees the next day on a party-line vote and without a Congressional Budget Report (CBO) cost analysis.  It wasn’t until March 13th that the CBO released its budget estimates. The CBO report is often used as a tool for debate prior to any votes. On March 16th the bill passed the House Budget Committee with a vote of 19-17.  It’s important to note that three Republicans on that committee joined the Democrats in opposition.  The bill, HR 1628, then went to the House Rules Committee which sets the terms for the final debate when the bill comes to the House floor for a vote.  The committee approved a provision that allows for the “same-day” rule (or often referred to as martial law), essentially allowing the bill to be voted on the same day even as it is still having changes made to it before being voted out of committee.

In contrast to the fast movement of the American Health Care Act, the Affordable Care Act during the Obama Administration underwent months of negotiations, markup, and debate before its final passage.   It was introduced by Speaker Pelosi in July of 2009 and passed in the House November 2009 and was ultimately not signed into law by then President Obama until March 23, 2010.

Here’s a visual recap of its journey:

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Teamsters Local 633 Right to Work Campaign

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This past January, O’Neill and Associates was approached by Teamsters Local 633, a New Hampshire-based labor union of employees in the transportation and delivery industry.  The Teamsters were concerned by the pending passage of “Right to Work” legislation in the New Hampshire State House. The proposed bill was expected to significantly weaken the strength of labor unions in NH. With only a few weeks until a final vote, O’Neill and Associates was able to launch a high-impact, month-long campaign to mobilize the Teamsters’ 4,700 members against Right to Work. O’Neill and Associates, in collaboration with the Teamsters, focused engagement efforts on three areas: traditional media, social/digital media, and member-to-member communication.

O’Neill and Associates helped generate news stories and editorials urging the House of Representatives to vote Right to Work down by targeting outreach to reporters, editors and freelance journalists on the hazards of the bill.

In addition to targeting traditional media outlets, O’Neill and Associates helped Teamsters Local 633 leverage their Facebook account to create and maintain online activism – motivating supporters and providing them with easy-to-understand action items. The Teamsters’ Facebook page was used to post low-dollar paid promotions as well as organic content, and served to amplify the key messages of the campaign and convert awareness into targeted action.

Finally, O’Neill and Associates was able to engage the union’s own members through an internal email campaign.  This campaign provided members with news updates, calls to action and contact information for key legislators.

The energy and enthusiasm throughout this one month campaign against Right to Work paid off.  On the day of the vote, a significant minority of New Hampshire House Republicans joined almost all House Democrats to block passage of the bill, in spite of a last-minute lobbying push by the Governor and Speaker of the House. The final outcome in New Hampshire was an outlier to the national trend of Republicans efforts to successfully implement Right to Work in many states, This campaign can now be a model for other labor unions around the country on how to defeat Right to Work in their communities.

Total Wine & More Shrewsbury Opening

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Attention all wine and beer lovers! On February 23rd, Total Wine & More opened its newest store in Massachusetts, located in the White City Shopping Center on Route 9 in Shrewsbury. The chain’s newest addition is its third store in Massachusetts.

Total Wine & More, the nation’s largest independently owned retailer of fine wine, spirit and beer, opened to the public on Thursday, February 23, but held a sneak peek preview event on Wednesday evening, bringing out more than 300 people to the new store. Customers and guests were encouraged to browse the aisles filled with more than 8,000 wines, 3,000 spirits, and 2,500 beers while enjoying beer and wine samplings.

The grand opening celebration include music, free wine and beer tastings, and catered hors d’oeuvres.  A champagne toast, courtesy of Moet Chandon, was offered as store management celebrated the ribbon cutting, officially opening the store for business.

To celebrate the Shrewsbury store’s grand opening, Total Wine & More partnered with the Worcester performing arts center, Mechanics Hall, which received 10 percent of all wine sales from the store’s opening weekend. Over the past year, Total Wine & More has worked with over 8,000 non-profit charitable organizations across the country, providing nearly $7 million in-cash and in-kind donations that has helped their partners raise more than $35 million for great causes.

Total Wine & More is optimistic that its new opening in Shrewsbury will help the community as a whole, bringing more than 50 jobs to the area as well as great offerings for customers including affordability and an unparalleled selection and expertise about beer and wine to Central Massachusetts.

Total Wine & More currently has stores in Natick, Everett, and Shrewsbury, in addition to over 170 stores nationwide.

One Charlestown? Yes, Please

By

My name is Mimi Tovar and for 27 years I have lived in the Bunker Hill Apartments (BHA) or “projects” as it is also referred to. I, along with many other residents of the BHA have been negatively impacted by the crumbling infrastructure of the projects and for many of us, living here has caused many health problems – including anxiety, fear, anti-social behavior, asthma, depression – and much more. But it’s all we can afford.

As we are all aware, Boston is changing and growing. As a result, many low-income families have been relocated because they can no longer afford to stay in their homes – and been pushed out by developers. However, One Charlestown is different. Corcoran-SunCal has made a commitment to residents here. They want to keep current residents and invite new ones, because they understand that a thriving and enriching community is found in diversity. The team has been considerate and involved from day one, seeking opinions and input on the project. They have seen, with their own eyes, the horrid conditions we live in, and they want to change that – for us and for Charlestown. I fully support the redevelopment project and cannot wait until I can finally call it home. And many of my neighbors feel the same way.

One Charlestown will be better for all of Charlestown, not just BHA residents. ‘One Charlestown’ breaks down barriers of class and income, and will help everyone get to know each other as people, and come together as a community.

We’re looking forward to finally raising our children in a safe and united community. A place that we don’t have to worry about letting our kids play outside because of exposure to used needles or what lies in our hallways. We don’t want to fear the next overflow of sewerage water because of old plumbing or worry about mold creeping in our walls because of poor ventilation – while waiting six months to get hot water. We no longer want to be prisoners in our own homes and we don’t want to continue to be pushed aside because we live in the projects.

Like everyone else, we want what is best for our children, for them to live productive and safe lives. One Charlestown will give our children a fighting chance because they will no longer have the stigma of being rejected or judged because of the location they live in. Our children will no longer be known as just the “project kids” and that will open doors for them.

We are eager to be part of the Charlestown community. We believe this is what we have waited for, for many generations. So it is with arms wide open that I welcome, support and encourage the rebuilding of our lives through this new redevelopment project of One Charlestown.

Mimi Tovar is Founder of weROCnews.com and a resident of the Bunker Hill Apartments

President Trumps’ Address to a Joint Session of Congress: Reactions and Unanswered Questions

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By: Jennifer Krowchun

Last night President Trump laid out before Congress and the American people a list of campaign promises and a 50,000 foot view of his vision for our country.  A number of broad ideas were presented, some very partisan and others that could find supporters on both sides of the aisle. With no specific details on the table, the President has left Congressional Republicans with the task of developing realistic legislation within the $4 trillion federal budget and that doesn’t increase the deficit.

Economy

President Trump reiterated his request that Congress draft and pass legislation that would produce a $1 trillion investment in U.S. infrastructure — financed through both public and private capital — focused on creating millions of new jobs and on buying and hiring American.  For Congress to even consider a major infrastructure investment, it will first need to address the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act.

Healthcare

Everyone can support a healthcare plan that calls for cheaper drugs and insurance costs for patients and doctors, coverage for pre-existing conditions and more resources for states to address Medicaid coverage – but the fundamental issue is finding ample funds for these programs if the Affordable Care Act is repealed. Democrats have long championed the need for paid family leave and affordable childcare and President Trump embraced this last night in an effort to portray a message of unity. Still, what is the plan to make this more than a talking point?

On the idea of Heath Savings Accounts, some see these as good policy as they require employees to plan for healthcare expenses in the future.  However these accounts are often tied to high deductible health insurance plans and affect middle class families whose budgets are already stretched thin.

Immigration

The theme of the President’s speech was “the renewal of the American Spirit.”  Immigration is a cornerstone of our country and its vast economic impacts across industry sectors needs to be recognized and addressed seriously.  Corporations, universities, hospitals, financial institutions are already dealing with the consequences of the first executive order that was halted the by federal courts.  Going forward, what will future enforcements look like and what will they cost the economy?  What will they do to our international relationships?

In the end this address was good for the President’s base as they continue to feel that they are being heard. The coming weeks should be interesting and informative as policy details emerge and budget implications become clearer.

CEO’s Corner: American Activism

220px-Thomas_P_O'Neill_III“We the People…” From our very founding, activism has been a fundamental element of the America’s DNA. Our Constitution not only declares, but protects our rights to activism—to assemble, to speak openly, to have a free press, and to choose our government. The activist spirit runs deep in Massachusetts. Colonial patriots in Boston and its suburbs rose up in 1775 to fight for freedom. Abolitionists like Amos Adams Lawrence expanded that fight in the 19th Century. Suffragists like Julia Ward Howe gave it additional meaning in the 20th Century.

In the past several decades, grassroots movements for civil rights and voting rights, worker protections, environmental protection, disabled and LGBT rights have inspired generations of Americans and changed our country for the better.

More recently the growth of the Tea Party movement and the 2016 presidential election energized  constituencies that rekindled American activism, and in turn have energized a force in response, as seen in the historic Women’s Marches in cities across the US and the world– and just last week in the response to the Trump Administration’s travel ban. I am very proud that Massachusetts continues to be a leader in so many of these initiatives.

While elections and marches are defined by messaging and voter turnout, successful movements also recognize the need to engage directly with Congress, and to seek opportunities to shape policy at the state level. The Trump Administration is only two weeks old but there has already been a flurry of executive actions and even a Supreme Court nomination. While every newly-elected President promises change, every Congress has a responsibility to vet that agenda.  And in an activist democracy every citizen has responsibility to express their support for or opposition to the direction the country is going.

Lawmaking is intentionally complex. The Founding Fathers and the legislative leaders that followed them recognized there is a purpose to process. The Congressional committee structure and House and Senate rules ensure time for thoughtful deliberation and adequate public input. Legislative delays are not always the enemy to progress, but rather an opportunity for debate. There will be votes and points of order at every turn as Congress considers repealing the Affordable Care Act, re-writing the tax code, increasing infrastructure investments, and perhaps radically amending regulations on immigration, banking, the environment, health care, and higher education. As these policy priorities are considered, legislative relationships will be critical and the voices of voters, industry and other stakeholders will be paramount.

I believe we will see a lot more American activism over the next four years. It’s what gave birth to our country and what for more than 200 years has made our country great.

H-1Bs are in the news right now. So, what are they?

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By: Carlos Iturregui

H-1B work visas may see a major overhaul in the near future. At last week’s news briefing, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said that possible executive action on work visas “is part of a larger immigration effort” under consideration by the new Administration.

Proponents see H-1B holders as beneficial to American industry, especially companies in the technology and science sectors. Opponents see the program as a way to displace American workers with lower-paid H-1B visa holders.

H-1Bs are championed by not only by tech/engineering industry but also academic and medical communities, all of which are vital to the Massachusetts economy. This category of visas applies only to highly skilled workers with degrees. Another category of visas – the H-2B – applies to seasonal non-agriculture workers (such as hospitality).

Industry should keep a watchful eye for changes to either visa type.

Historically, increasing H-1B visas has been a bipartisan issue. H-1Bs are subject to a Congressionally-mandated annual quota cap. Raising the annual cap and increasing resources for approving H-1B visas are regularly included in both Republican and Democrat bills.

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services received over 236,000 petitions for the 65,000 H-1B FY 2017 quota during the standard five day filing period between April 1st and April 7th, 2016. That was the highest number of petitions that USICS has ever received for H-1B quota cap since its inception. 2016 was the fourth consecutive year that the visa cap was reached in five days

Some general facts about H-1Bs:

  • H-1Bs are capped annually at 65,000 visas (of which 1,400 are reserved for Chile and 5,400 for Singapore – pursuant to Trade Agreements)
  • An additional 20,000 are exempt from the cap providing that the visa applicant has completed master degree in an approved institution or higher grade
  • H-1Bs are valid for three years and renewable/extended for an additional three
  • H-1Bs are the only visa with expedited processing
  • Visa holders are employer sponsored
  • Families of visa holders can come to the US, but they cannot work. Accordingly, most of these visa holders enter the country alone and remain separated from their friends and families
  • In FY 2015 70 percent of H-1Bs went to Indian immigrants with an average age of 25-34 years old and a median salary $70,000s/annual

Q/A with Jimmy O’Brien, President of the Boston Carmen’s Union

carmens-union-local-589In December 2016, the Carmen’s Union Local 589 and the MBTA came to agreement on an unprecedented contract that protects the jobs of the 4,100 Carmen’s members, while identifying essential cost savings for the MBTA. The agreement came after months of public disagreements prompted by the MBTA’s plans to begin privatizing the work of the Carmen’s Union and fellow MBTA unions.  Both Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s State of the City and Governor Charlie Baker’s State of the Commonwealth applauded the Carmen’s Union Local 589 and the MBTA for coming together to reach an agreement.

A lot has been made of the recent deal struck between the Carmen’s Union and the MBTA. You still had two years left on its contract, why did you open it to negotiations?

The MBTA needed to identify cost savings, and we wanted to be a part of the solution. With raised fares, riders had done their part and we knew it was our responsibility to do our part, too. We proposed an initial cost savings plan in June 2016, and after months of conversation that led to formal negotiations, we were able to reach an agreement that provides the MBTA with cost savings it needs, while protecting the work of our members– which was our highest priority.

We all know that the MBTA is in need of investment. The buses, subway trains, trolleys, and tracks are in need of repair and replacement but the MBTA can’t make the necessary investments without also identifying cost savings. For us, it was vitally important that we protect the livelihoods of our 4,100 members. Our members take a tremendous amount of pride in their work. Our members go to work each day to help the T’s riders get where they need to go. The knowledge and expertise they bring to the MBTA is unparalleled. We knew that privatization, while devastating for our members, would be equally devastating to the operations of the MBTA.

What do MBTA riders need to know about Local 589?

The Boston Carmen’s Union represents the men and women who drive and maintain the MBTA buses, subway trains, trolleys, and tracks. We are committed to our work, and we come to work every day, committed to putting riders first.

Our workers share riders’ frustration and anger when the system breaks down. The winter of 2015 was terrible for all of us, we try our hardest to keep things moving every day, but we can’t cure infrastructure failures and the malfunctions of a 100-year-old system that suffers from a lack of investment.

There are a lot of misconceptions out there about our members. People should know that the average shift of a Carmen’s Union member is 10-12 hours a day, often while getting paid for 8 hours of work. Whether it is a weekday, weekend or holiday — there is always a member of the Carmen’s Union hard at work.

What’s next for the Carmen’s Union and the MBTA?

This was a great win for both sides, but the real winners are our riders. We hope that with this cost savings, we will see a concerted effort from MBTA leadership to invest in the tracks, the signals, and equipment. It’s what the system needs.

With this contract, we have shown that you can identify cost savings without privatization of jobs, and we hope that is something the MBTA will take into consideration going forward.

I don’t know what else is next, but I hope it isn’t a lot of snow.

About the Boston Carmen’s Union Local 589
Founded in 1912, the Boston Carmen’s Union Local 589 is the largest of 28 unions with members employed by the MBTA. Over 4,100 MBTA employees are members of the Carmen’s Union, including: Bus Divers, Train (Subway) and Trolley Operators, Maintenance of Way and Repairmen, Money Room Employees, and Automated Fare Collection (AFC) Technicians, Customer Service Agents (CSA), Dispatchers, and Clerks. Local 589 is part of the Amalgamated Transit Union, comprised of over 197,000 transit workers across the United States and Canada.

MassAccess Backs Legislation to Support Community Access Television

MassAccess is a nonprofit trade group representing local community media stations throughout Massachusetts. We are the voice of the over 200 community cable access channels here in Massachusetts.

Currently, we are working with the Massachusetts legislature to promote a Bill that would allow viewers greater access to community cable access channels while improving the quality of the stations as well.

‘An Act to Support Community Access Television’, a bill filed by Senator John Keenan as well as Representative Ruth Balser and Representative Antonio Cabral proposes that community cable access channels, also called “PEG channels,” have access to Electronic Programming Guides, allowing viewers to access information about programs airing on PEG channels, as they would for broadcast channels. It would also provide PEG channels with better signal quality, making it comparable to larger local broadcast stations. If passed, the Bill would state that cable companies must allow PEG channels to broadcast in HD format. These changes would have a large and important impact across the state. Local access cable TV provides a wide range of programs and services, keeping citizens connected to local news and government activities as well as local events, athletic games, and public notices. However, their offerings to Massachusetts cities and towns aren’t limited to what can be seen on TV.

Mostly all local access cable centers are private non-profit organizations or municipal departments. As part of their mission, they are providing education, equipment and training for people interested in production or wanting to pursue careers in TV and Media. For example, Boston Neighborhood Network (BNN), provides month long workshops on how to create and edit your own TV program. Norwood Public Access Television (NPAT) has a similar program which allows Norwood High School’s LEAD Students to come to NPTA studios once a month and record their own show. LEAD is a program for students with special needs that provides them with job training and life skills. Their talk show “LEAD Update” provides information on what students are currently doing while also covering local events and stories. MassAccess hosts a statewide program sharing server where centers, individual producers and even Massachusetts state departments can share informative or entertaining programs across the Commonwealth with a simple upload and download process.

The passage of ‘An Act to Support Community Access Television’ is important to providing PEG channels and centers with the support they need to continue serving their communities. MassAccess proudly supports this legislation and we are optimistic that this Bill will provide local cable access channels with the equal footing they require to stay relevant in a time of ever-changing media technology.

Bill Nay

President, MassAccess

Reconciliation: the Capitol Hill buzzword that might just yield legislation

By: AmyClaire Brusch

There is a lot of discussion in Washington and in the news about “reconciliation.” The process is being touted as the Republicans’ key to passing all sorts of legislation including measures to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. So what is reconciliation? How does it work? Can Republicans use reconciliation to make good on the many promises that were made during this long campaign?

President Trump, along with members of the new Congress, campaigned on a platform that called for large policy changes. Some of these changes will be difficult to achieve through the normal legislative process. Getting something like tax reform or the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act would be nearly impossible under regular order. Legislating is a complex art and, when traditional methods stall, Congress looks deeply into its rulebook. In this case, the Republican majority will likely turn to the budget reconciliation process (“reconciliation,” for short) to advance top agenda items in 2017.

The budget reconciliation process was first used in the 1980s as a means of enacting spending, tax, and entitlement reform measures that the then-Senate minority would have filibustered. Under Senate rules, it only takes one Senator to hold up a piece of legislation with a filibuster (think: Ted Cruz reading Green Eggs and Ham). The only way to place a time limit on debate is with a supermajority (three-fifths of the Senate). Today, the Republicans control the Senate but only narrowly. At 52 seats, they are nowhere near the 60 needed to break a filibuster. However, some bills, namely budget resolutions, are filibuster-exempt. Since budget resolutions are protected from the Senate filibuster, so, too are budget reconciliation resolutions.

Okay, but what’s a reconciliation resolution?

At its heart, a budget reconciliation bill “reconciles” some aspect of spending, revenue, or the national debt. Because it is a budget resolution, reconciliation has no force of law but outlines what changes authorizing committees should make to the issue at hand in order to meet that year’s budget targets. Those committees then have to pass legislation detailing those changes. Finally, since that legislation is under the directive of reconciliation, it is not subject to typical House and Senate rules. As a result, it is very difficult for the minority party to hold it up with procedural moves.

So are the Republicans going to run roughshod through this Congress?

The short answer is: No. There are checks on the reconciliation process. It does not give the majority party free reign. First, the very nature of reconciling the budget offers limited possibilities to do so. There are three applications eligible for budget reconciliation – spending, revenue, and debt limit – but each of those applications can only be used once per budget. Once Congress has taken each of those three bites at the apple, it cannot continue to “reconcile” the budget. That is one reason the process is usually saved for big items. Second, the president can always veto a reconciliation bill, as President Clinton did with the tax relief act in 1999. Given that congressional Republicans are not necessarily in line with President Trump, they will need to be careful with what reconciliation bills they send to his desk. Finally, the Senate’s “Byrd rule” prevents the majority from throwing everything but the kitchen sink into reconciliation bills. The rule stipulates that the items within the bill must actually reconcile some part of outlays or revenues and be within the jurisdiction of the authorizing committee receiving the reconciliation instructions.

Why doesn’t this process come up more often?

The budget reconciliation process is not often used. That’s partly because, in order to ensure its success, the House, Senate, and presidency really need to be occupied by the same party. Otherwise, one chamber could simply ignore the legislation or the president could veto it. The aforementioned restrictions also make the process challenging to wield. Reconciliation is, by its very nature, not easy. Though a congressional staffer for over a decade, I only saw the reconciliation process used successfully a few times (including the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts and Affordable Care Act).

Part two of this post will focus on reconciliation and specific legislation.

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