What’s Coming Up at the Federal and State Level in the New Year

by Margaret Okuzumi

 Graphic by Cari Templeton

Graphic by Cari Templeton

Happy New Year! While 2017 was painful in so many ways for those of us who hold progressive values, many of us are resolved to make 2018 a year of positive political change in our country.

Here’s some of what’s coming up at the federal and state levels, with a hat tip to Ryan Skolnick.

DACA

Nearly everyone across the aisle is saying they want a fix to DACA. But Republicans will likely leverage a DACA bill to include funding for a border wall. Our task in early 2018 will be to pressure Congress to pass a clean DACA bill that doesn’t hold these US-born children hostage to the building of a wall or other similarly objectionable conditions.

CHIP

Funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) was finally extended but only until March. The “Freedom Caucus” of the Republican Party in particular is attempting to extract further cuts to other social programs in exchange for extending CHIP funding further.

By the way this isn’t how governance is supposed to work, where funding for major programs only gets renewed for a few months at a time instead of at least for a year or more through the budgeting process.

We might have more leverage here to get Congress to do the right thing, because most recipients of CHIP are in red states, so if CHIP funding goes away it hurts their constituents the most.

Net Neutrality

Net neutrality is also popular across the aisle. Chuck Schumer will likely attempt to force a vote on net neutrality using the Congressional Review Act, and Congress may introduce a bill to codify it into law. However, there’s a danger they might pass a highly watered-down bill that claims to do something by attacking strawmen like throttling of speeds that no company was going to implement anyway, but still allows paid prioritization and the creation of “fast” and “slow” lanes. Then even a Democratic-controlled FCC would not be able to reverse that.

We need to prevent Congress from passing a watered-down net neutrality bill and trying to dispense with the issue that way while continuing to allow profiteering by the telecom companies. And we’ll look to the individual states to enact solutions, as states have the power to regulate commerce within their borders.

Immediately after the FCC decision last month, CA State Senator Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco) announced plans to introduce SB822 requiring the CA Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to force telecom companies to adhere to net neutrality. Legislators in New York plan to introduce legislation to deny companies from contracting with the state if they don’t adhere to net neutrality. And CA State Senator Kevin de Leon who is running for Senate against Dianne Feinstein, has just introduced SB460 for net neutrality also. According to his press release, the California Consumer Protection and Net Neutrality Act of 2018 will be heard in the Senate Committee on Energy, Utilities and Communications next week, and on the Senate floor by the end of the month. 

Because De Leon is currently the CA Senate President pro Tempore, no doubt this bill will be expedited and have a strong chance of passage—but we should nonetheless urge our legislators to pass a strong net neutrality bill.

We also need to elect a CA Attorney General who will go to court to defend net neutrality once we pass a strong bill in California. So those of us who are delegates to the state Democratic Party ought to be considering this among other things as we choose whom the party will endorse this February for Attorney General.

The Federal Budget, Defense Spending and Health Care

The federal spending bill is also unresolved. The percent of our budget being spent on the military and defense has continued to be sharply increased by Congress, and yet the “Freedom Caucus” will continue to insist the Democrats agree to still more increased spending in exchange for maintaining funding for social programs.

Democrats have unfortunately historically acquiesced. For example Senator Kamala Harris voted for the last bill that raised defense spending by $70 B more than Trump asked for. We can’t allow that kind of thing to happen anymore.

In the coming year, I hope to share more information about defense spending and the budget to help us all be educated on what’s been happening. Almost invisibly, because of our federal budget, there’s been a silent throttling of funds going to state and local programs that affects our daily lives that most people don’t realize.

Tragically, the GOP Tax Plan puts further strains on the federal budget (officially increasing the deficit by $1.46 trillion) even as it enriches the wealthiest millionaires and billionaires by billions more. The numerous ways that the new law hurts people is appalling. Republicans have stated it’s their priority to cut Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other anti-poverty programs in 2018. The new tax scheme already forces automatic cuts to Medicare and Medicaid if new revenues aren’t found. It eliminates the “individual mandate” penalty for not having health insurance starting in 2019, severely weakening the Affordable Care Act. It reduces the mortgage deduction and limits the state and local tax and property tax deduction to $10,000. Should you suffer damage from a natural disaster like an earthquake or wildfire, you’ll likely no longer be able to write those off on your taxes. It amended the tax code for Puerto Rico in a way that’s likely to create the out-migration of 75,000 of their best-paying high-end manufacturing jobs for pharmaceuticals and medical devices to other countries. It could ultimately cost Puerto Rico as many as 200,000 or 1 in 5 jobs, a manmade, economic disaster far worse than Hurricane Maria. Corporations and get a massive permanent tax cut, while the tax cuts for individuals and families expire in 2025.

At the state level, SB 562, the Healthy California Act (single payer bill) continues to be stalled in a legislature controlled by Democrats. Our own local Assemblymembers continue to put up a litany of excuses for not continuing work on the bill.

As under the Bush administration, the onslaught of awful news and policies out of the current administration continues almost daily, such as yesterday’s announcement that 45’s administration plans to make nearly all offshore federal waters available to oil and gas drillers.

And just today, the administration announced a proposal to further undercut the ACA by allowing insurers to offer cheaper junk plans overseen by the Department of Labor (rather than Health and Human Services) that don’t cover things like chemotherapy, Sickle cell, HIV, Obesity, Maternity.

It’s important that we talk about what’s happening with our friends and neighbors. I hope you’ll join me in 2018 to work towards elevating the public consciousness about what’s happening and encourage others to join us in taking action on these issues this year.