Colorful Commentary

Federal Budget Watch, April 17

Posted April 17, 2017 by Samantha Curran

binoculars-954021_1280The outlook on health care reform in the House remains unclear as Congress enters the second and last week of its recess — yet key Republican leaders have noted that there are ongoing negotiations with the goal of bringing a consensus bill to the House floor soon after recess.

The conservative Freedom Caucus members continue to insist that the underlying House health reform bill (ACHA) be modified to address some of their concerns, e.g., with Essential Health Benefits (EHBs). Press reports this week revealed discussions underway between the Freedom Caucus leaders and representatives of the so-called “Tuesday Group” of moderate Republicans.

However, as this story indicates (http://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/328769-gop-centrists-push-back-on-obamacare-repeal), there’s no indication that moderates are budging from their opposition to anything that undercuts EHBs or pre-existing condition coverage. In fact, some leaders of the moderate Republicans have called for an entirely different approach: negotiating some limited changes to the ACA with Democrats. While this is not likely to happen in the House, it underscores the sharp differences that continue to divide House Republicans over health care reform, let alone between House and Senate Republicans.

We must, however, take seriously the continued push to bring a bill to the House floor soon after the recess. There appears to be a strong consensus among House Republican leaders and many in the Caucus (but not all) that the House simply must pass something on health reform, even if the Senate doesn’t act on it. President Trump said last week that Congress must finish health care reform before moving to tax reform.

When Congress returns next Tuesday, the major and most immediate business will be to avoid a government shut-down with the temporary budget “continuing resolution” (CR) expiring on April 28th. Intense negotiations are expected among Congressional leaders, and we understand it’s quite possible that the April 28th deadline will be extended for another week. This will shift attention from health care to the CR for at least the first week after recess.

House Republican leaders are coming under growing pressure from the Senate and other House Republicans to resolve this issue of health care reform one way or the other so that they can move forward on tax reform, an area that many Republicans think may be easier to pass (even with Democratic support, potentially) than health care.

Contact info for Colorado congressional delegation:

Sen. Cory Gardner – 303-391-5777 Email here.
Sen. Michael Bennet – 303-455-7600 / 866-455-9866 Email here.
Rep. Diana DeGette (CO District 1) – 303-844-4988 Email here.
Rep. Jared Polis (CO District 2- 303-484-9596 ) Email here.
Rep. Scott Tipton (CO District 3)- 970-241-2499 Email here.
Rep. Ken Buck (CO District 4)- 970-702-2136 Email here.
Rep. Doug Lamborn (CO District 5)- 719-520-0055 Email here.
Rep. Mike Coffman (CO District 6)- 720-748-7514 Email here.
Rep. Ed Perlmutter (CO District 7) – 303-274-7944 Email here.

 

Federal Budget Watch, April 10

Posted April 10, 2017 by Carol Hedges

binoculars-954021_1280The two-week Easter/Passover recess is upon us and members are leaving town with only one legislative work-week left before the current continuing resolution (CR) expires on April 28. What does this mean for House Republicans budget and health care plans? Let’s get right into this week’s Federal Budget Watch.

Policymakers will either need to negotiate a final FY17 appropriations measure or, as we understand, they may extend the April 28 deadline by another week or so to give them time to negotiate a compromise.

Constructive bipartisan bicameral negotiations are underway that cover both funding levels and policy riders. The ability of negotiators to reach a bipartisan deal depends more on the outcome of the policy riders than it does on funding levels. Based on press reports, it appears the president’s request for extra FY17 money for defense and preliminary funding for the border wall will not be included in this measure.

Along with health care work looming, we expect Congress to spend the next month wrapping up spending bills for the rest of FY17. We understand that President Trump’s complete budget will be released in mid-May and congressional leaders will begin working on a budget resolution for FY18 with reconciliation instructions expected for tax reform. That said, some Republicans are already expressing some skepticism about whether House and Senate Republicans can come to an agreement on an FY18 budget. If they are unable to reach agreement on a conference report, then they will not be able to use reconciliation to advance tax reform/tax cut.

Both House and Senate discussions on tax reform are heating up. A top priority for the administration and Republicans leaders is a proposal advanced by President Trump during his campaign, which is a much lower top rate for “pass-through” business income. We expect this proposal, often mistakenly described as a tax cut for small business, to be considered. Here’s a new fact sheet from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the first in a forthcoming series of short two-pagers on various tax-reform proposals.

Health Care Roller Coaster

After a whirlwind week of negotiations among House Republicans on their proposal to repeal and replace the ACA, it’s clear that Congress will leave town for the Easter/Passover two-week recess period without any further legislative movement on health proposals. Notwithstanding intense pressure from the Trump Administration, House Republican leaders were unable to forge a compromise between the conservative Freedom Caucus and the moderate Republican so-called “Tuesday group.”

Not to say there wasn’t a little excitement: early Thursday morning, the House made plans for an emergency session of the House Rules Committee to consider a proposal to provide $15 billion for a new Federal Invisible Risk Sharing Program to help insurers with the high-cost patients who have certain health conditions.

This blog from Edwin Park explains why this proposal would have a very modest impact. Moreover, this proposal was designed as an amendment to the original American Health Care Act (AHCA) health reconciliation that Republicans leaders were unable to move on the House floor in late March – meaning there is no improvement in Medicaid or the other flawed aspects of the bill that led to strong opposition to the measure.

Bottom line: we are still talking about the same very harmful bill with deep Medicaid cuts.

So, the outlook for action in the House remains uncertain – and yet it’s clear that Republican leaders have not given up trying to secure agreement on a plan that can pass the House floor which underscore the importance of continued work over recess when members are back home.

It’s still possible that a modified health reconciliation bill will be brought to the House floor in May if the Republican caucus can agree to a plan. As long as a core group of House Republicans remain opposed to the plan given its harsh treatment of Medicaid and the significant loss of health care coverage for millions of Americans, there is a strong chance of continued success in blocking this.

As we have noted in the past, if the House Republicans do rally around one plan and manage to pass it, there will be tremendous pressure on the Senate to take up the measure as long as it comports with the Senate’s strict rules for a reconciliation bill.

If the House fails to reach agreement and can’t pass a comprehensive health repeal and replace reconciliation measure, this does NOT mean the health care battles are over. To the contrary. Last week’s news about the health plans pulling out of Iowa have only served to deepen policymakers concerns about “market stability,” and we could see discrete proposals to address this when Congress returns in late April.

Assuming the House doesn’t pass a bill, the dynamic in the Senate appears to be shifting already to focusing to smaller proposals and whether any bipartisan agreement is feasible.  For example, Senators Alexander and Corker are working to build bipartisan support for their bill, S.761 (Health Care Options Act of 2017), which would allow people in areas without a plan in the marketplace to use premium tax credits for plans outside the marketplace even if the plans don’t meet current requirements for coverage. The bill would not help most people now in the marketplace because the premium credits wouldn’t be payable in advance and there wouldn’t be any cost-sharing subsidies.

There is very little question that the House and Senate will take up at some point other legislation that revises the Affordable Care Act, or will attempt to change the ACA – and possibly Medicaid – on other health measures.

The Senate will consider bipartisan legislation to extend FDA’s user fees this spring, and we are hopeful that ACA-related amendments to the bill will be soundly rejected. Later this year, the House and Senate must act to extend CHIP funding as well as some expiring health provisions. Hence the need for continued strong efforts to protect and preserve the ACA and Medicaid back in members’ home districts.

Contact info for Colorado congressional delegation:

Sen. Cory Gardner – 303-391-5777 Email here.
Sen. Michael Bennet – 303-455-7600 / 866-455-9866 Email here.
Rep. Diana DeGette (CO District 1) – 303-844-4988 Email here.
Rep. Jared Polis (CO District 2- 303-484-9596 ) Email here.
Rep. Scott Tipton (CO District 3)- 970-241-2499 Email here.
Rep. Ken Buck (CO District 4)- 970-702-2136 Email here.
Rep. Doug Lamborn (CO District 5)- 719-520-0055 Email here.
Rep. Mike Coffman (CO District 6)- 720-748-7514 Email here.
Rep. Ed Perlmutter (CO District 7) – 303-274-7944 Email here.

Federal Budget Watch, April 5

Posted April 5, 2017 by Samantha Curran

binoculars-954021_1280We, like you, have been regrouping on the health care front after the House GOP’s efforts to repeal the ACA and gut Medicaid astoundingly imploded. While Republicans found it exceedingly difficult to reach an agreement on their health care repeal efforts, it is clear we are not out of the woods in terms of federal health threats this year.

 The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ legislative team has put together a memo that walks through the legislative and administrative vehicles in which we could continue to see more efforts to move ACA changes and weaken Medicaid and the Medicaid expansion. The operative word for the coming months is vigilance. The full memo can be found here.

It is completely possible that House members try yet again to move the AHCA in the coming weeks, particularly given that many GOP members are feeling nervous about returning home to constituents during the upcoming April recess without having made good on their campaign promises to repeal the ACA. It’s vital that we all keep up the drumbeat against the GOP’s healthcare plans.

We hope you will continue to put pressure on Colorado’s moderate House Republicans and senators via direct outreach and social media in the next two weeks to get them on the record pledging to:

  • Stand firm in protecting both the Medicaid expansion and the underlying Medicaid program, including by opposing proposals that phase out expansion over time, or cap Medicaid spending via a “per capita cap” that shifts costs and risk to states.
  • Oppose any bill that would result in millions of people losing coverage or face higher costs.
  • Oppose any effort that would destabilize the marketplaces.
  • Move on from this partisan effort to repeal the ACA and instead work together in a bipartisan way to improve our health care system.

The upcoming April recess, the week of April 10, is a particularly vital time to make this public push on members. We need to continue to push those who publicly came out against the AHCA and make sure they stand firm against the principles listed above. Below are the House moderate Republicans who were confirmed NO votes on the AHCA for reference.

In short, we need to do all that we can to ensure that the AHCA is truly dead as dead.

Confirmed NO votes from moderate R’s

FL-27     Ileana Ros-Lehtinen – Press Release  – Thurs. March 23rd
IA-3        David Young – Press Release – Wed. March 22nd
NC-3      Walter Jones – Statement to the Press – Friday March 24th
NJ-2       Frank A. LoBiondo – Press Release – Wed. March 22nd
NJ-4       Christopher H. Smith – Statement to the Press – Wed. March 22nd
NJ-7       Leonard Lance – Statement to the Press – March 14th
NJ-11     Rodney Frelinghuysen – Press Release – Friday March 24th
NV-2      Mark Amodei – Tweet –  Thurs. March 23rd
NY-11    Dan Donovan – Press Release – Wed. March 22nd
NY-24    John Katko – Press Release – March 17th
OH-14   David Joyce – Tweet – Friday March 24th
PA-8      Brian Fitzpatrick – Press Release – Wed. March 22nd
PA-5      Glenn Thompson – Statement – March 18th
PA-15    Charlie Dent – Press Release – Thurs. March 23rd
VA-1      Rob Wittman – Statement – Monday March 20th
VA-10    Barbara Comstock – Press Release – Friday March 24th
WA-3     Jaime Herrera Beutler – Press Release – Thurs. March 23rd

Minority Leaders Pelosi and Schumer Letter to President Trump

Last week, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer sent a letter to President Donald Trump, insisting the administration meet its responsibility to implement the law and not sabotage the Affordable Care Act. The letter also urges President Trump to work with Democrats to strengthen health care and further reduce costs for the American people.

As Leader Pelosi and Leader Schumer write, “Democrats have always been ready to work across the aisle to improve and update the Affordable Care Act. It is our hope that we can work together to prevent the increase in premiums and other health care costs for hard-working Americans, including the soaring cost of prescription drugs — a vital issue you have raised in the past.”

Read the full letter here.

Senate Democrat Letter to President Trump

Also last week, Senate Democrats released a new letter to President Trump urging him and his administration to abandon their efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act and undermine the United States health care system so they can work in a bipartisan fashion to improve the law and lower the costs of health care for all Americans.

The letter, signed by 44 Senate Democrats, also requests — as a first step — that the Trump administration rescind the executive order signed on Jan. 20, 2017, which severely undermined the Affordable Care Act and sparked the efforts to unravel the law, thereby undermining the health care system and increasing costs, hurting patients, providers and families. Senate Democrats also expressed concern with President Trump’s recent statement indicating it would be a good thing to make the ACA “explode” — despite the fact that would mean hurting millions of Americans.

Read the full letter here.

Contact info for Colorado congressional delegation:

Sen. Cory Gardner – 303-391-5777 Email here.
Sen. Michael Bennet – 303-455-7600 / 866-455-9866 Email here.
Rep. Diana DeGette (CO District 1) – 303-844-4988 Email here.
Rep. Jared Polis (CO District 2- 303-484-9596 ) Email here.
Rep. Scott Tipton (CO District 3)- 970-241-2499 Email here.
Rep. Ken Buck (CO District 4)- 970-702-2136 Email here.
Rep. Doug Lamborn (CO District 5)- 719-520-0055 Email here.
Rep. Mike Coffman (CO District 6)- 720-748-7514 Email here.
Rep. Ed Perlmutter (CO District 7) – 303-274-7944 Email here.

Increasing access to driver’s licenses is good for Colorado’s economy

Posted March 31, 2017 by Thamanna Vasan

Today, the House Appropriations Committee voted on House Bill 17-1206, passing the bill out of committee and to the House floor. This bill will broaden the forms of identification that can be used by undocumented immigrants to acquire a driver’s license to include social security numbers. In addition, HB 1206 allows these individuals to renew their valid licenses, reducing wait times for those who have already been through the process once and who retain their driving privileges.

Increasing access for driver’s licenses to immigrants, regardless of documentation status, makes Colorado roads and communities safer. Licensed drivers become more knowledgeable about traffic laws, purchase insurance and register their vehicles, all of which can result in greater savings in automobile insurance premiums for all Colorado drivers.

In 2o13, Colorado passed the Colorado Road and Community Safety Act, authorizing the issuance of a Colorado driver’s license, instruction permit or identification card to individuals who either cannot demonstrate lawful presence in the U.S. or can only demonstrate temporary lawful presence in the U.S.

However, the current process is riddled with roadblocks that limit funding and access.

The program requires annual reauthorization of funding and is subject to a cap, increasing wait time and reducing access. Currently, there are only three offices in urban areas of the state that offer appointments for undocumented immigrants and appointments are capped at 66,000 in total; even though there are an estimated 142,000 undocumented immigrants that would use this program.

 

Immigration Infograph

What are the benefits of increasing access to driver’s licenses for all immigrants and who else does it?

 

In addition, the forms of identification that can be used to get a license are also limited. Over the years, many immigrants have received social security numbers. While the immigration status that these individuals are under might have expired or changed, the numbers are still valid. Unfortunately, under the 2013 Colorado Road and Community Safety Act, social security numbers were not included as valid identification, further slowing down the process.

The Colorado Fiscal Institute believes that these HB 1206 includes necessary and useful changes to the existing program. The changes will increase accessibility, allowing communities to reap the economic and social benefits of providing driver’s licenses to all immigrants.

 

Want to learn more about the benefits of providing driver’s licenses to all immigrants? Check out CFI’s driver’s license report and infographic to learn more about savings in premiums, economic contributions due to driver’s license programs and much more!

 

impact of immigration screenshot english infograph whole screenshot spanish infograph whole screenshot
The Impact of Allowing All Immigrants Access to Driver’s Licenses  Learn more about the economic benefits (premium savings and additional state revenue) Impact of Allowing All Immigrants Access to Driver’s Licenses (Infograph) El Impacto de Permitirle a Todos Los Inmigrantes el Acceso a las Licencias de Conducir (Infograph)

 

Raise the Sales Tax, Fund Roads, and Provide Affordable Transit; CFI’s Take on HB17-1242

Posted March 29, 2017 by Chris Stiffler

by Chris Stiffler

CFI Economist

commuting trafficHouse Bill 17-1242, which would ask voters to approve a sales tax increase to provide additional funding for roads and transportation, is working its way through the Capitol. If passed by voters, the current state sales tax rate of 2.9 percent would increase to 3.52 percent.

The sales tax increase would generate an additional $651 million for Colorado in 2018. (It’s interesting to note, that the revenue from this sales tax increase is almost equal to the amount of revenue lost this year by cutting the income tax rate from 5% to 4.63%, as the legislature did in the late ’90s.).

If we want more revenue for transportation, raising new revenue is the only option. Cutting from other parts of the state budget is the wrong track. Right now, our state’s constitutional restraints on revenue force us into awkward budget dilemmas. Our economy is growing but our elected leaders can’t use the revenue that comes from normal economic growth to fund the priorities that build thriving communities. Instead we trade cuts for schools for cuts in long-term care for seniors.  We eke out a road budget as we try to keep tuition affordable.

These are false choices that lawmakers have been forced to make for years amid a backdrop of  an outdated tax code coupled with forced tax rebates. This state simply doesn’t have enough revenue to do the things it needs to build thriving communities, and our communities can’t afford to pilfer existing revenue from the general fund to do what we need to do.

An increase in the state sales tax from 2.9 percent to 3.52 percent would be the largest infusion of revenue for transportation in decades. But because it would increase the sales tax, a tax that already falls more heavily on people with lower incomes, we strongly urge that such a tax increase be coupled with a way to offset costs for these families by reserving some of the new revenue to make public transit more affordable for low-income Coloradans

Let’s be clear about something. At this point in Colorado, nearly any tax increase that does not involve a progressive, or graduated, income tax is regressive. This means that it will consume a greater portion of the earnings of lower income Coloradans. But TABOR, specifically forbids Colorado from returning to a graduated income tax, a system we had for decades and one used by all but a few states.

Currently, a Colorado household making $35,000 a year pays 4.6 percent of its income in sales tax, while a household earning $140,000 pays 2.2 percent in sales tax. With a sales tax increase to 3.52 percent, that $35,000 earning household would pay an additional $125 a year in sales tax to help fund roads, while the $140,000 earning household would pay about $290 more in sales tax. Though the higher-earning household pays more sales tax in actual dollars, it’s the lower-earning household that will pay the higher percentage of its income in sales tax.

This biased treatment of taxpayers, should be addressed.

Right now, a typical low-wage transit user in Denver pays about $80 a month in fares or about $960 annually. Increasing the state sales tax from 2.9 percent to 3.52 percent would significantly increase the amount of money that low income transit users contribute for transportation in the state.

It’s only fair that this additional contribution should be acknowledged and offset. CFI believes that reserving money from the sales tax increase for transit agencies to make fares more affordable for low-income users is the best available way to address the bias built into a sales tax increase. For example, if RTD offered the same half-off fare it currently provides seniors, students and the disabled, to people earning up to 150 percent of the federal poverty level, it could greatly offset the regressive nature of a sales tax increase.

Although the sales tax is a regressive form of taxation, it does have the benefit of generating revenue from tourists.  Twenty three percent of the new revenue would come from out-of-state individuals, so tourists visiting Colorado would help contribute to our roads. A higher portion of Colorado’s gas tax revenue is paid by out-of-state residents at 33 percent, but the gas tax is even more regressive than the sales tax.

It is time to ask voters if they are ready to pay more for a better transportation system and it makes sense that we raise those new funds in ways that don’t make those making the least take on an unfair share of the responsibility for paying for the improvements.

Action Needed NOW to Defeat House ACA Repeal Bill

Posted March 24, 2017 by Samantha Curran

exclamation-point-1421014_640The House will vote THIS AFTERNOON on the House Republican health bill.

We need to do everything we can to keep pressure on the House moderate Republicans – to make sure those who were earlier NOs stay that way.

It is not too late to keep calls and emails flowing into key House moderates’ offices to push Members to publicly oppose the health care repeal bill. We need public statements on the record so wavering Members will be less likely to flip.

Please call Representative Mike Coffman TODAY and strongly urge him to vote no on the House ACA repeal bill.

 

Contact Information for Rep. Mike Coffman:

Rep. Mike Coffman (CO District 6)- 720-748-7514  Email here.

Key messages to convey include that the House health care repeal bill:

  • Increases the number of uninsured by 24 million people
  • Makes coverage unaffordable for millions of Americans – raising premiums and out-of-pocket costs, while raising taxes for many working families
  • Removing Essential Health Benefits means that insurance plans will not cover even the barebones of basic services, even prescription drugs, that people need to treat their conditions to stay healthy.  Women will be charged more than men and lifetime limits are back.

The results could come down to just several House moderates’ positions. How this goes down today will have big ripple effects on whether the Senate has the time to move their legislation next week before the April recess or whether we live to fight another day.

Your voice is needed now. Call Rep. Mike Coffman to share information on why this bill is bad for Colorado.  

Contact info for Colorado congressional delegation:

Sen. Cory Gardner – 303-391-5777  Email here.

Sen. Michael Bennet – 303-455-7600 / 866-455-9866 Email here.

Rep. Diana DeGette (CO District 1) – 303-844-4988 Email here.

Rep. Jared Polis (CO District 2- 303-484-9596 ) Email here.

Rep. Scott Tipton (CO District 3)- 970-241-2499 Email here.

Rep. Ken Buck (CO District 4)- 970-702-2136   Email here.

Rep. Doug Lamborn (CO District 5)- 719-520-0055   Email here.

Rep. Mike Coffman (CO District 6)- 720-748-7514  Email here.

Rep. Ed Perlmutter  (CO District 7) – 303-274-7944 Email here.

March Sadness: HB 1187 should’ve been a slam dunk

Posted March 22, 2017 by Carol Hedges

 

By Carol Hedges

CFI Executive Director

This bill should've been a slam dunk.

How we wish the hearing on Monday would’ve gone

I know, I know. The March Madness analogies are getting stale but please bear with a few more basketball references as I describe the truly “mad” March hearing I was a part of Monday. I am, after all, a born-and-raised KU Jayhawk basketball fan.

The Senate State Affairs Committee, on a 3-2 party-line vote, rejected a very modest measure to ask voters to let the state keep their taxes to use them for schools, roads, health care and colleges. It wasn’t like watching the South Carolina/Duke game where, although the South Carolina victory was a longshot, some people put their money on the Gamecocks. By comparison, this game was fixed from the start. The vote tally going into the committee was a foregone conclusion. No Cinderella story here; the ugly sisters smashed the glass slipper as soon as they saw it.

In the case of HB 1187, it was worse than a No. 16 vs. No. 1 game, a matchup never won by the 16 seed. The other team didn’t even show up and they won. And that is what has become of Colorado’s management of its fiscal affairs.

This measure should have been a slam dunk. There must have been close to 20 witnesses testifying on the bill with just three of those witnesses asking for a no vote from committee members. Their main argument was that the bill was unconstitutional, and that argument was swatted down by Legislative Legal Services like Shaquille O’Neal blocking a lay-up by Danny DeVito.

It was patiently and clearly explained that the bill was merely implementing a component of TABOR.

There was one halftime adjustment to the defense. The chairman asked why legislators had to vote to let the people decide. Why didn’t cities, counties, special districts and school districts just raise the money and lead the effort? Again, missing the mark by failing to acknowledge just how expensive it was to get these measures on the ballot and totally abdicating any leadership role for legislators.

It is a sad day indeed when one extreme segment of the political world can hold the entire rest of the state hostage to its self-serving world view. As more people clamor for a voice in our political decision making, the actions of a slim majority of the Senate State Affairs committee reinforced the deepest fears and disappointments of many — that too many of our elected officials are more worried about staying in power than they are about the views of the people.

HB 1187 represented a centrist approach to a vexing problem in Colorado, how to keep up with the demands of a growing economy. It had bipartisan support in both chambers. It had the support of the Denver Chamber of Commerce, the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce, C3, Club 20, Colorado Farm Bureau, Progressive 15, Colorado Nonprofit Association, AARP, Interfaith Alliance of Colorado, Colorado Catholic Conference, Bell Policy Center and CFI and lots of members of Indivisible Colorado.

Yet a small group of extremist interests locked arms to block its consideration even by the full membership of the Senate, where it very well could have passed.

All this bill would have done was ask Colorado voters if they wanted to adopt the same playing court for economic growth used by the majority of other states with revenue limits — instead of the one we have now that simultaneously results in cuts and tax rebates. All this bill would have done is give Coloradans the chance to choose what to do with their dollars.

The valuable lesson learned was that the handful of extremists who support the false choices presented by our current fiscal system support the idea of asking voters only when the proposal benefits their narrow interests.

Unfortunately, Coloradans will not get a win for public schools and affordable higher education or even a chance for a win just now. But, in the spirit of a true sports fan, sometimes we have to take solace in the sentiment, “wait ‘til next year.”

Federal Budget Watch, Mar. 20

Posted March 20, 2017 by Samantha Curran

binoculars-954021_1280Last week was truly a week of March Madness. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its score of the Republican-led House “repeal and replace” health reform bill, and as of now, we expect the bill to be considered by the full House this Thursday, 5/23 — the anniversary of the ACA. In addition, President Trump released his “skinny” budget last Thursday, laying out his spending priorities for the upcoming fiscal year.

President Trump’s Skinny Budget

As noted in a new blog post from CBPP, Trump’s “skinny” budget “contains substantially less detail than “skinny” budgets of the last five administrations going back to Ronald Reagan. The Trump budget includes only estimates for fiscal 2018 and only for its proposed changes to discretionary programs (those funded through the annual appropriations process) — even though discretionary programs make up less than one-third of the federal budget.”

unnamed (2)

 

CBPP President Bob Greenstein’s Commentary on the Trump Budget

CBPP President posted a commentary to Trump’s “skinny” budget laying out how the budget request would do severe damage to an array of investments that help many of the very people that President Trump has said would be his priority — people who have been left behind by today’s economy or live in distressed urban or rural communities.

As noted in the commentary, the cuts in programs for individuals and communities that the President has promised to help include:

  • cuts to job training that helps workers upgrade their skills;
  • cuts to Labor Department funding that likely would seriously weaken federal actions to ensure that factories and mines are safe, workers are paid what they have earned, and minimum-wage and other laws to protect workers are complied with;
  • cuts to student aid and work-study programs that help low- and moderate-income students afford college;
  • cuts to economic development funding for both cities and rural communities;
  • cuts to housing assistance for hard-pressed families struggling to pay the rent; and
  • elimination of the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which helps low-income households, including many poor seniors, pay for heat, especially in cold winter months.

Read the full commentary here.

Republican Health Bill Heads to the House Floor

The House Budget Committee approved 19-17 a motion last Thursday to send the Republican health bill, The American Health Care Act, to the full House for consideration.

Three conservative Republicans — Reps. Sanford (SC-1), Brat (VA-7) and Palmer (AL-6) joined all Committee Democrats in voting against the motion.

The panel also approved four other “motions” offered by GOP lawmakers that directed the House Rules Committee to allow certain amendments to the bill – all of which move the measure further to the right. Those include allowing states to switch to federal block grant funding for the Medicaid program and immediately freezing enrollment in the health law’s Medicaid expansion. The other two would authorize states to impose work requirements on able-bodied adults without children in the Medicaid expansion and restructure the tax credits to provide more funding to lower-income individuals.  These motions are noteworthy for one reason:  they may augur the specific changes the House Republican leadership is considering making to the legislation to win over more conservatives and have the votes to pass the bill.

The process: The legislation will now go to the Rules Committee where Republicans hope to make several changes to the bill, though conservative and moderate factions of the party remain divided on what direction those changes should take. After the Rules Committee, the legislation heads to the floor for debate and vote(s), though there are growing concerns from Republicans about the bill and it’s possible that action on the bill will slip. However, we must continue to work as if the House will act next week and the Senate will take up the bill the following week.

Majority Leader Sen. McConnell’s goal is to complete action on the health reform bill during the week of March 27th.  Just 20 hours of debate are allowed under reconciliation, providing a very limited debate for such a consequential piece of legislation.  Numerous senators have voiced their opposition to the House health plan.  At this point, it appears that the Senate will NOT vote on the House plan (however that is modified); instead it appears that a revised measure – a substitute – may be offered by Sen. McConnell.    This substitute might address purely technical drafting issues – or it might include substantive changes sought by key Republicans whose votes are needed to pass the Senate.

McConnell wants to finish the health bill that week, allowing the first week of April (which is the last week before the spring recess) to be used to reconcile differences between the House and Senate health bills.

Here’s a good new resource:
Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), Ranking Member of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, released a 50 State Report detailing the impacts of TrumpCare on older Americans.

Factsheets for each state: https://www.aging.senate.gov/press-releases/the-american-health-care-act-will-harm-older-americans-in-each-state

CBO Releases a “Score” (or Estimate) of the House Plan

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has released its score on the House Republicans’ health plan (the legislation adopted by the Ways and Means and Energy and Commerce Committees). The CBO report confirms the path Congressional leaders are on to dismantle the Affordable Care Act and end Medicaid as we know it.

The CBO estimates find that the House Republican health plan would cause 24 million people to lose insurance coverage by 2026.  It would not only effectively end the ACA’s Medicaid expansion but go further by ending Medicaid as we know it – shifting costs to states, hurting local economies, and putting quality coverage for seniors, people with disabilities and families with kids at risk.

Key points:

  • 24 million people would lose health coverage under the House Republican health plan by the end of the decade.
    • 14 million people would lose coverage next year and 21 million would lose coverage by 2020.
    • CBO finds that the House plan would eventually eliminate allof the coverage gains expected under the ACA and the uninsured rate among non-elderly would be at or above the rate prior to the ACA.
  • The House Republican health plan will end the Medicaid expansion and end Medicaid as we know it – slashing federal Medicaid spending by $880 billion over the next 10 years and causing 14 million people to lose Medicaid coverage.
  • The House Republican plan takes away coverage from millions of people to help pay for $600 billion in tax cuts primarily for the wealthiest Americans, as well as drug and insurance companies.
  • Millions will pay substantially higher premiums due to large cuts in tax credits that outweigh the slight decrease in average premiums.
    • The premium decrease that Republicans are citing is the average change in the sticker price of health insurance, without accounting for the House plan’s large reductions in tax credits.
    • That means consumers will pay a considerably greater share of total premium costs than under current law — so even if average premiums fall, what many people actually pay will rise.

 

CBPP Blogs on the House Republican Health Bill

 

Contact info for Colorado congressional delegation:

Sen. Cory Gardner – 303-391-5777 Email here.
Sen. Michael Bennet – 303-455-7600 / 866-455-9866 Email here.
Rep. Diana DeGette (CO District 1) – 303-844-4988 Email here.
Rep. Jared Polis (CO District 2- 303-484-9596 ) Email here.
Rep. Scott Tipton (CO District 3)- 970-241-2499 Email here.
Rep. Ken Buck (CO District 4)- 970-702-2136 Email here.
Rep. Doug Lamborn (CO District 5)- 719-520-0055 Email here.
Rep. Mike Coffman (CO District 6)- 720-748-7514 Email here.
Rep. Ed Perlmutter (CO District 7) – 303-274-7944 Email here.

CFI’s Forecast Five: March Madness Edition

Posted March 17, 2017 by Carol Hedges

Note: It’s time again for the quarterly state revenue forecast. We couldn’t help but try to tie it to basketball.

By Carol Hedges

CFI Executive Director

Basketball game

“Your income must be this high to benefit from rebates.”

  1. Winning brackets: The folks with the winning brackets in terms of the March revenue forecast will Coloradans in the highest income brackets. That’s because the size of the TABOR surplus of $264 million will trigger a temporary income tax cut from the current 4.63 percent to 4.5 percent for one year. So, that means folks earning under $39,000 a year get about $8 while someone making about $221,000 will get back $511.

 

  1. “Chronic” pain: There is still talk of increasing taxes on recreational marijuana to help bridge the shortfall. The governor’s proposal would raise the current special sales tax rate on recreational marijuana from 10 percent to 12 percent, raising an estimated $41.9 million. Will this help drive more Coloradans to buy medical marijuana, which is only subject to the regular state sales tax of 2.9 percent? Will we see a sudden epidemic of back pain sweep across our state?

 

  1. Halftime adjustment: With a significant budget shortfall to fill, lawmakers are still considering cutting the Senior Homestead Property Tax Exemption, which now costs the state $140 million a year.

 

  1. Technical Foul: Our constitutional revenue limits mean less money today to invest in our transportation system. Yet a bipartisan group of legislators has recognized the need to raise new money to build the sustainable transportation system we need. Intentional or flagrant?

 

  1. Rebound: U.S. News and World Report rates Colorado’s economy as the best in the nation. The two-year slump in the oil and gas industry is ending, and rig counts are up. Consumer spending “remains robust and employers continue to add jobs at a moderate rate, further lowering unemployment,” according to Legislative Council. However, because of TABOR, our schools face more cuts and our savings account will remain depleted.

Capitol Gains: What the fiscal just happened?

Posted March 16, 2017 by Ali Mickelson

By Ali Mickelson

CFI Director of Legislative and Tax Policy

Photo by Alex E. Proimos

How Ali felt after the hearing. (Photo by Alex E. Proimos)

Once every session, a hearing comes along that completely flabbergasts me. The comments in the hearing are so contrary to how I see things, I am left completely dumbfounded by the discussion.

Well, Christmas came early this year, and I experienced my annual bafflement when the Senate Finance Committee heard SB17-149 last month.

SB17-149 was a bill that would have allowed a taxpayer to deposit his or her income tax refund into multiple accounts instead of just one as current law allows. This change would be incredibly helpful if, say, you had more than one child and you wanted to contribute to multiple 529 college savings plans, or if you would like to have some of your refund reserved in a savings account but the rest in a checking account to pay off bills. In short, this bill was a common sense measure to allow taxpayers to automatically set aside money for college savings or other long-term priorities.

This bill is especially important in Colorado because of the implementation of the Earned Income Tax Credit. Starting in the 2015 tax year, more than 350,000 Colorado families saw a boost in their tax refund as a result of the Colorado EITC. This increase could be more than $600 for some working families.

Many EITC recipients use their tax refunds on their family’s current household needs. In 2012, 84 percent of EITC recipients used part of the tax refund to pay off debt or cover bills, 61 percent used a portion to cover child-related expenses, and 33 percent used at least part of their refunds to purchase or repair a car. BUT nearly half — 47 percent — also directed part of their refund toward savings for future expenses, such as a security deposit on an apartment, a down payment on a home or a fund for emergencies. A tax refund can be an opportunity to put aside hundreds of dollars that a family may struggle to save during the year. This bill would have increased the likelihood that a family would set aside that money and save for their future.

SB 17-149 would have provided low- and middle-income families a convenient and automatic mechanism for saving. Creating savings and building assets is a critical step toward reducing poverty and creating economic security.  Studies have demonstrated savings and assets provide families with numerous important social and economic benefits, including improved household stability, reduced economic stress and enhanced welfare of children. Additionally, children with a college savings account are six times more likely to attend college than those without an account.

No-brainer, right? Of course not. The Senate Finance committee saw it quite differently. One senator who voted against the bill was very concerned about the government’s role in this bill and the attempt to “micromanage people’s personal decisions.” In a rather confusing question to the Bell Policy Center’s Rich Jones, who was testifying in support of the bill, the senator asked about the government “employing behavioral economics” to get people to do what they want them to do and whether this is the appropriate role of government.

The problem with this argument, as Jones and the sponsor, Sen. Daniel Kagan, also addressed in his response, is that we weren’t trying to get taxpayers to do anything with this bill. There is no incentive to save or split your refunds, certainly not any more than there is to spend your tax refund on a new TV the day after you get the refund.

We merely wanted to give taxpayers the opportunity to choose what they want to do with their money.  I simply can’t even understand the idea that allowing taxpayers to choose where to spend their money is any kind of government direction or manipulation.

Another senator who voted against the bill acknowledged that it provided convenience for taxpayers, but said he was bothered that retirement savings programs weren’t included in the refund direct deposit process. This, of course, is an important policy question, but it has nothing to do with this bill and the convenience provided for taxpayers. In fact, it is an acknowledgement that directly depositing your tax refund is a great option for Colorado families who want to be thoughtful stewards of their family budgets.

Yet another senator who opposed the bill explained his opposition as government trying to manage people’s lives. He agreed with the economic theory behind the bill but stated it’s not the role of government to make choices for people, and when government does, people don’t learn to make choices on their own. He then explained how he learned to save money growing up, arguing the bill would create more dependency.

I couldn’t make this stuff up.

Go back and read what this bill would have done. I’ll wait. Now, how we have gone from allowing people the convenience of choosing what to do with their money to creating more government dependency is beyond me, but again, Christmas came early this year, and I must have been really good.

Needless to say, this bill died on a party-line vote. I hope we will see it again next year because common-sense policy is what I would like to create dependency on. There’s a behavioral economic theory I think we can all agree with.

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