AUCD Legislative News In Brief

December 20, 2010

AUCD Legislative News In Brief
 
  December 20, 2010   |  Vol. X, Issue 51
  
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Congressional Schedule
The Senate remained in session through the weekend to work on FY 2011 appropriations, policy regarding gays in the military, and the nuclear weapons treaty.  This week, the Senate could take up bills to provide health care and compensation for September 11th rescue workers who were exposed to debris and a stripped-down version of the FY 2011 defense authorization bill.  The House returns Tuesday to take up any appropriations bills the Senate produces.

Appropriations
In an unfortunate turn of events, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) pulled the omnibus funding bill Friday after several Senators, who had originally indicated they would vote for it, withdrew their support.  This is very bad news for AUCD and other disability advocates as the omnibus bill contained modest increases for network programs as well as for many other health, education, and employment programs that impact people with disabilities.  Without enough votes to pass the House-passed, year-long continuing resolution (CR), Congress will now focus on passing a short-term CR to keep the government operating into early next year when the new Congress will decide on the annual funding amounts for the remainder of the fiscal year.  House and Senate Republican leaders say they want to reduce non-security discretionary spending back to 2008 levels, which would mean a cut of about 22 percent.  (See previous issues of In Brief for more background information).

Tax Cuts
The House voted to clear a Senate-passed compromise tax package Thursday that extends many existing tax cuts that were about to expire and extends unemployment benefits for an additional 13 months.  The package includes an extension of the Work Opportunities Tax Credit that benefits many lower-income citizens.  It also reduces every worker's Social Security payroll tax by two percent for one year (referred to as a "tax holiday").  Although President Obama considered the compromise necessary, many liberal Democrats were upset to see tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans extended.  The debate on these tax cuts is likely to continue into the 112th Congress, as they will expire at the end of 2011.

Autism
On Friday, Senators Chris Dodd (D-CT) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) introduced the Combating Autism Reauthorization Act (S. 4044).  If enacted, the bill would reauthorize the 2006 law and add several new provisions that focus on services for children, youth, and adults, including a provision similar to the TRAIN Act (H.R. 5756) passed by the House of Representatives on September 23.  The bill also repeals the sunset provisions that would end the newly authorized programs by September of 2011. Although it is clear that there would not be enough time in these last few days of the 111th Congress to enact the bill, Sen. Dodd wanted to introduce a bill to build support and provide momentum for the next Congress.  Sen. Dodd is retiring at the end of this Congress.  AUCD sent thank you letters to Dodd and Menendez and issued a press release.  Visit AUCD's Autism Policy page for more information, including the bill text.

Health Reform
A federal district judge in the Eastern District of Virginia ruled last Monday that the so-called "individual mandate" in the Affordable Care Act - a provision requiring almost all Americans to carry health insurance beginning in 2014 - is unconstitutional.  The ruling was only a partial loss, as the court did not agree with the Attorney General's request to find the entire statute unconstitutional.  Other courts have ruled differently, however.  A federal judge in Michigan upheld the individual mandate on constitutional grounds in October, and a federal judge in the Western District of Virginia dismissed another challenge to the law.  Additionally, there have been at least 12 procedural rulings in favor of the Act.  Because of these split decisions, the question of the law's constitutionality is expected to reach the Supreme Court.  In the meantime, the Administration has announced that implementation of the Affordable Care Act will continue and that it expects the law to be upheld in the end.

On Wednesday, President Obama signed into law the Medicare and Medicaid Extenders Act of 2010 (MMEA).  This new law prevents a scheduled payment cut for physicians who treat Medicare and Medicaid patients from taking effect.

National Council on Children
AUCD signed onto a letter to Senators Dodd and Bob Casey (D-PA) to thank them for introducing the Children's Act of 2010 (S.3968). The bill would establish a National Council on Children that would be responsible for annually assessing the state of American children's health, education and overall well-being, and would be tasked with making recommendations to Congress on how to improve policies that impact children's lives.  If the bill is enacted, AUCD will advocate that the Council include children with disabilities in its assessments. 

Social Security
The Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities Social Security Task Force has developed a new webpage -
http://disabilityandsocialsecurity.org/ - explaining how Social Security impacts people with disabilities.  The webpage is part of a public education and outreach campaign to help educate the public about the critical importance of the Social Security disability, survivor and retirement insurance programs for people with disabilities and their families.  The recent reports released by the President's Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform and other groups have targeted the Social Security program as a way to reduce the deficit even though it has not contributed to the current deficit.  In fact, the Social Security Trust Fund currently has a surplus of funds, and advocates are urging Congress and the Administration not to cut benefits as a way to reduce the deficit.

Joint Legislative Goals
AUCD once again joined with The Arc/UCP Disability Policy Collaboration in developing legislative goals for the 112th Congress that begins on January 5.  The other partners are ANCOR, AAIDD, and NACDD.  Legislative Affairs Committee Co-Chair Bill Kiernan represented AUCD along with legislative staff at an all-day meeting to develop the priorities.  The priority goals include health and long-term care (including implementation of the Affordable Care Act), employment, training, housing, family support, and transportation. AUCD feels strongly that collaborating
with the other organizations creates a strong impression that "the field" is together and focused and, collectively, more powerful. AUCD's Legislative Affairs Committee will be using its next monthly meeting to begin developing AUCD's own legislative goals for the 112th Congress.  The final joint goals will be made available early in January and will be used on the Hill when these organizations join forces visiting Members of Congress during the 2011 Disability Policy Seminar (see below).

Disability Policy Seminar: New Champions Needed!
Register today for the 2011 Disability Policy Seminar at
www.disabilitypolicyseminar.org! Early registration ends January 11.  Make hotel reservations by Jan. 11 online or call 1-888-421-1442. The Seminar takes place February 14-16 at the Grand Hyatt in Washington, DC.  This two and one-half day event provides you with all the information you need to be an advocate for yourself or the people and programs you represent.  Join hundreds of disability advocates from around the country at the Seminar to discuss a wide range of public policy issues affecting people with disabilities and their families, and visit your representatives on Capitol Hill!  For more information, see the seminar event page or email kmusheno@aucd.org.


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