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WASHINGTON WATCH: March 7, 2023



 

THE LONG GAME: Biden to issue first veto; FY24 budget to be unveield in Philly

President Biden is choosing when—and when not—to use his veto pen for the first time in his presidency. Biden told Senate Democrats last week—to the surprise and chagrin of many in his party-- that he will not veto a bill passed by the House that would overturn parts of a recently adopted District of Columbia criminal code. The DC code, in part, decreased penalties for carjackings and some robberies. Many progressives and proponents of statehood for the district voiced criticism over Biden’s decision, with Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) saying she was “very disappointed in it.” Many observers say that Biden’s move was intended, to some degree, to avoid handing Republicans a 2024 campaign issue. Meanwhile, the White House announced that Biden plans to issue a veto of another bill: legislation passed by the Senate blocking a new Labor Department rule that would allow retirement plans to take into account environmental, social and corporate governance (or “ESG”) considerations. Two Democratic senators representing states with large fossil fuel industries, Joe Manchin (WV) and Jon Tester (MT), joined Republicans in voting for the measure.

President Biden will unveil his FY2024 budget proposal during a trip to a Philadelphia union hall on Thursday, which will set up a clear distinction between the White House and Republicans in Congress, as well as with Biden’s rivals on the campaign trail. Last week, the White House budget director, Shalanda Young, highlighted four themes in the forthcoming budget: expanding the economy, lowering costs, protecting Social Security and Medicare, and reducing the deficit. Indeed, during his State of the Union address, Biden said that his budget would lower the deficit by $2 trillion over the next decade. The budget will also extend the life of Medicare by two decades and pay for proposals such as a child tax credit. To pay for his plan, Biden will seek to impose higher taxes on wealthier Americans, saying during a speech in Virginia last week that “no one…making less than $400,000 is going to pay a penny more in taxes.”



Washington Watch is published weekly when Congress is in session. Published monthly during extended recess or adjournment.



 



Spotlight on Puerto Rico



HHS Secretary Becerra proposed policy changes reduce $800 million on Medicare benefits for Puerto Rico poor seniors

Several Puerto Rican elected officials along with stakeholders sent letters to Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra requesting him to delay proposed changes to the Medicare Advantage program covering the majority of seniors residing in Puerto Rico. According to the letters, Fortaleza and others are requesting that Secretary Becerra and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) delay the implementation of policies until further analyses are conducted on the unintended consequences of the move on poor patients with chronic diseases. The highest ranking elected official is particularly troubled by CMS’s proposal to change the MA Hierarchical Condition Category (HCC) Risk Adjustment Model, including the removal of more than 2,000 ICD-10 diagnoses codes from the CMS-HCC model. Advocates for low-income seniors in Puerto Rico say that the CMS Advance Notice for payment year 2024 represents policy changes that have not been tested to determine the full impact on these individuals.


Puerto Rican labor law reform overturned in federal court

Judge Laura Taylor Swain of the Federal District Court for the Southern District of New York struck down the 2022 Labor Reform bill, called Law 41. The reform was passed last year to reinstate some employee rights that were removed by Law 4, the Labor Transformation and Flexibility Act passed in 2017. Law 41 changed the maximum legal probationary period for employees from 12 months to 3 months, as had been the case prior to 2017, in addition to changing licensing requirements, sick leave benefits, vacation leave, emergency pay, and other guaranteed benefits. The court struck down the law on the grounds that the Puerto Rican government had failed to share the full impact of the 2022 law with the Financial Oversight and Management Board (FOMB), despite the board's requests for information. The law is now null and void, but the Puerto Rican government has the opportunity to appeal to circuit courts to request restoration. It can also work with the FOMB to pass a new law that complies with the FOMB's requests for information and requirements for labor legislation.


Puerto Rican government to pay $25 million in police back pay

The Puerto Rican government announced last week that it will pay $25.6 million in accumulated back pay to 402 civilian employees of the commonwealth police department. The money is due because of a salary hike authorized by a 2004 law that was never delivered. The payments will cover a period stretching from 2004 through June 2022. The Financial Oversight and Management Board (FOMB) is on board with the payments and approved $11.7 million toward police overtime payments. Additionally, the Puerto Rican government announced $4.7 million to pay for classified personnel and staff accumulated comp time, all part of the government’s pledge to make law enforcement financially whole.


GW University receives grant to study food insecurity and climate change in Puerto Rico

Professor Uriyoán Colón-Ramos of the Miliken Institute of Public Health at George Washington University has received a $750,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to lead a study exploring food insecurity and climate change in Puerto Rico. She will be leading a team of researchers to measure food systems in Puerto Rico and determine whether Puerto Ricans have access to healthy food. Puerto Rico imports 85% of its food, much of this due to the damage from the 2017 hurricanes still not being completely addressed. The overall objective is to figure out how Puerto Rico can ultimately build a self-sustaining and healthy local food ecosystem.




 

View From The White House



  • During a visit to Selma, Alabama to commemorate the 58th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday,” President Biden said that voting rights were “under assault” due to Republicans’ efforts to restrict voter access.

  • Following recent media reports detailing the use of migrant children in industries such as agriculture and food processing, the Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services announced the creation of an interagency task force to crack down on child labor.

  • President Biden announced that Julie Su, the current deputy secretary of Labor, would be nominated to serve as the department’s secretary replacing Marty Walsh.

  • The administration announced on Thursday that the Department of Justice would launch 10 “strike forces” to go after individuals suspected of COVID-relief fraud, part of a $1.6 billion initiative to prosecute scammers, prevent fraud and help victims of identity theft.


 



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