Today's Fair Shots - March 24, 2017

1-With Gorsuch Nomination, Shoe Is on Other Foot; AFL-CIO Opposes Confirmation

2-The Resistance Wins a Round, as House Vote on Health Care Bill Postponed

3-Senate Panel Approves School Voucher Bill

4-Bad Unemployment Insurance Bill Gets Skeptical Hearing

1. U.S. Senate Democrats announced yesterday they would filibuster the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court, The New York Times reports.

   The AFL-CIO has opposed Gorsuch's nomination. On issues involving the workplace, Gorsuch's jurisprudence is well to the right of Judge Merrick Garland, who was nominated more than a year ago by President Obama after the unexpected death of Justice Antonin Scalia. 

   (For an example of Gorsuch's siding with an employer unreasonably, see this Think Progress account of the judge's dissent in a case involving a truck driver who nearly froze to death: AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka cited the case in asking senators to oppose Gorsuch.)

   Whether Gorsuch is the best we can hope for from President Trump or not, the score-keeping, foolish consistency-loving devil on my left shoulder easily outpoints the institution-supporting, two-wrongs-don't-make-a-right angel on my right one. At the very least, Gorsuch should be subjected to some of the same treatment Garland received last year.

   Garland was a centrist pick with a great reputation who might well have enjoyed clear sailing in other circumstances. But with the election in sight, Senate Republicans chose not to grant Garland so much as a hearing. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, a champion of Gorsuch, declared last year there is ample historic precedent for a Supreme Court with fewer than nine members and implied that he might have sought to block any nominee had Hillary Clinton won the presidency.

   Under current Senate rules, Democrats have a strong say over the confirmation process. If Democrats cave and provide the votes to confirm Garland on the GOP's schedule, in time for him to weigh in on cases in the current term, it would amount to surrender of the advise-and-consent process in the wake of the Garland fiasco. Today's developments are a welcome signal:

  "He will have to earn 60 votes for confirmation," Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, said on the Senate floor Thursday morning, citing the threshold for breaking a filibuster on the selection. "My vote will be no."

  The announcement came one day after Judge Gorsuch completed his second day of testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, emerging largely unscathed amid a series of bland deflections and folksy digressions.

  Many Democrats are facing dual pressures as they make their decisions: The party's progressive base has pressed them to oppose Mr. Trump at every turn, and many are still seething over the treatment last year of Judge Merrick B. Garland, President Obama's nominee, whom Republicans refused to consider in an election year.

  But several lawmakers face re-election races next year in states that Mr. Trump won, compelling some to weigh supporting Judge Gorsuch. Still, based on interviews and internal discussions, Judge Gorsuch appears to be short - at least for now - of the eight Senate votes he must earn from the Democratic caucus to reach 60 votes. (Republicans hold a majority with 52 seats.)

Read more:

2. If you have taken advantage of the many social media opportunities to resist the spectacularly ill-considered Republican replacement for the Affordable Care Act, congratulations! The House vote - and even Speaker Paul Ryan's news conference - have been postponed. 

   But, as The New York Times reports, the fight to save the ACA and preserve health care for some 24 million Americans, is far from over.

   President Trump has applied all the creativity at his command, including threats of retribution in the next GOP primary, without success as of this afternoon. And the more votes Ryan picks up by changing the bill, the more he subverts the goal of affordable care: 

   House Republican leaders postponed a planned vote Thursday in the full House on legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act as President Trump and his allies struggled to round up votes amid a tide of defections from the proposed replacement bill.

  House Speaker Paul D. Ryan was to address reporters Thursday afternoon, but that too was put off amid signs that legislation - years in the making - to eliminate President Barack Obama's signature domestic achievement was in deep trouble.

  President Trump had agreed to many of the demands that the most conservative House Republicans had made, including ending requirements that health insurance plans provide a basic set of benefits like maternity care, emergency services, mental health and wellness visits.

  Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, announced the change after a late-morning negotiating session that Mr. Trump held at the White House with the Freedom Caucus, the conservative coalition that has strongly disagreed with the measure.

  But it was not enough to lock down the group's votes. Meantime, more centrist House Republicans were peeling away from the bill.

Read more:

   Ex-President Obama weighed in against the dismantling of "Obamacare," saying Congress should instead work to improve ACA:

   "The reality is clear: America is stronger because of the Affordable Care Act. There will always be work to do to reduce costs, stabilize markets, improve quality, and help the millions of Americans who remain uninsured in states that have so far refused to expand Medicaid. I've always said we should build on this law, just as Americans of both parties worked to improve Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid over the years. So if Republicans are serious about lowering costs while expanding coverage to those who need it, and if they're prepared to work with Democrats and objective evaluators in finding solutions that accomplish those goals - that's something we all should welcome. But we should start from the baseline that any changes will make our health care system better, not worse for hardworking Americans. That should always be our priority."

3. The Senate Education Committee yesterday approved a school voucher bill on a 7-3 vote, the Austin American-Statesman reports.

   The United Labor Legislative Committee OPPOSES SB 3:

   Senate Bill 3, which has emerged as one of the most divisive education measures so far this session, won the approval of seven senators in the committee - Eddie Lucio, Jr. of Brownsville was the only Democrat to vote in favor - while three senators - Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo; Royce West, D-Dallas; and Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio - voted against it.

  Seliger told his colleagues that he was concerned that the bill would not hold private schools and other institutions that would benefit from the bill to the same accountability standards as public schools. He also said he was concerned that public money could go to support a Muslim private school that could teach anti-American principles.

  "We must as Americans ardently defend their right do that. What we're not obligated to do is spend public money on indoctrination and curriculum like that," he said.

  Read more:

   Texas AFT sat through the entirety of the Senate Education Committee hearing on SB 3, the private school voucher bill, and offers this summary of the proceedings:

  An all-day, all-evening hearing on the top voucher bill in the Texas Senate has made it plain that even in the pro-voucher Senate there will be serious resistance to the diversion of taxpayer dollars without accountability to private schools. Texas AFT President Louis Malfaro, testifying late in the evening on Tuesday, recapped what scores of educators, parents, civil-rights activists, special-education advocates, and other concerned citizens had said throughout the day:  no to vouchers, in any guise.

 TEXAS AFT - Louis Malfaro

TEXAS AFT - Louis Malfaro

  The voucher vehicle in question is SB 3, which would set up two voucher schemes, one called an "education savings account," the other labeled a "tax-credit scholarship." As Malfaro and other witnesses said, these are just versions of vouchers by another name, despite fitful attempts by pro-voucher witnesses and senators to claim otherwise.

  Malfaro said the senators were hearing testimony Tuesday from a wide array of Texans frustrated that lawmakers are wasting time on schemes to divert public funding to private schools at a time when the real challenge is to provide the resources needed to educate the 850,000-plus students added to enrollments in the past decade. His point was bolstered by an official cost estimate on SB 3 that indicated it could drain hundreds of millions of dollars from the already-underfunded public schools in just the first few years--probably an underestimate, but still a sign of fiscal folly.

  Another Texas AFT witness, Sara Stevenson of Education Austin, noted that the private schools receiving the money would not have to meet financial and academic accountability requirements that the state imposes on the public schools. Nor would educational and due-process safeguards apply for students and their parents--especially of concern to those who would lose extensive rights and protections under federal law for students with disabilities. Malfaro also pointed to recent independent studies of vouchers in Indiana, Ohio, and Louisiana that found those programs actually have had negative academic results for voucher-enrolled students. 

  Texas AFT's Malfaro echoed witnesses from civil-rights groups who recalled the origin of private-school vouchers as a tool to maintain racial segregation after the U.S. Supreme Court declared the "separate but equal" doctrine specious and unconstitutional. Like a number of clergy members who testified, Malfaro also observed that the state has no business funding private schools that can discriminate in admissions on the basis of religion and have as their mission the propagation of particular religious beliefs.

  More than 5,000 letters from Texas AFT members and friends flowed into lawmakers' offices as the voucher hearing approached, and Texas AFT members also made hundreds of phone calls in opposition to SB 3. At the end of Tuesday's hearing, the bill was left pending. Its chances of eventual passage in committee are still good, given the known leanings of a majority of committee members. But in the Senate as a whole it's not so certain after Tuesday's hearing that the bill will have the 19 votes it needs out of 31--and in the House any voucher bill deservedly will face an uphill fight. 

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4. The House Economic and Small Business Development Committee yesterday provided an appropriately skeptical hearing on HB 463 by Rep. Tony Dale, R-Cedar Park. The bill would disqualify from Unemployment Insurance benefits workers who give early notice of resignation only to be fired on the spot by an employer.

   Dale told the committee he was aiming at a case reported to him in which a worker who misbehaved found out he was about to be fired and decided to resign and apply for UI benefits. But under questioning, Dale conceded the bill would also take benefits from working people who have done nothing wrong.

   Texas AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Rick Levy testified that current law enables the Texas Workforce Commission to reject benefits for anyone who resigns voluntarily or for anyone who is fired because of misconduct. In fact, Levy noted, only Texas employees who are dismissed through no fault of their own are eligible for benefits. Levy added that Texas has among the lowest overall rates of eligibility for benefits. 

   Reps. Lina Ortega, D-El Paso, Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin, and Hubert Vo, D-Houston, ascertained through questioning of Dale and a Workforce Commission representative that HB 463 would provide a "blanket disqualification" for employees who offer advance notice and are immediately dismissed.

   As Levy remarked in his testimony, under such a law, why would any employee give any notice of resignation to an employer?

   The committee left HB 463 pending.