New Health Care Costs Snapshot Examines Changes in Wages and Benefits

Source: Kaiser Family Foundation, February 2008

This new analysis examines changes in wages and benefits over time, finding that health benefit costs paid by employers have increased from 0.6 percent of GDP in 1960 to 4.1 percent in 2006 as wages have fallen as a share of employee compensation. It is part of Kaiser’s online series Snapshots: Health Care Costs.

Returning Reserve Troops Are Still Being Denied Their Old Jobs, Witnesses tell House Labor Subcommittee

Source: U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Education and Labor, Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions, Press release, February 12, 2008

An increasing number of military service members and U.S. contractors working abroad are being discriminated against on the job and are left with little ability to hold their employers accountable for it, witnesses told the House Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions today.
“If a worker is wronged while on the job, then that employee should have every opportunity to be made whole under the law,” said Rep. Rob Andrews (D-NJ), chairman of the subcommittee. “Unfortunately, there are too many loopholes in the law today and we have the responsibility to not allow any instance of discrimination to go unchecked.”

Reserve troops returning home from active duty in places like Iraq and Afghanistan are finding it difficult to get their jobs back, government statistics show. According to a U.S. Defense Department report, more than 33,000 reserve service members from 2001 to 2005 have complained to the agency that their employers failed to give them their jobs back – as required by law – or received a reduction in pay and benefits.

Witness testimonies from hearing

America At Risk

Source: Democratic Caucus, U.S. House of Representatives, February 2008

In Congressional testimony last week, military officials confirmed America is vulnerable. The U.S. Armed Forces are strained to the breaking point, our National Guard and Reserves are stressed and depleted, and President Bush’s latest budget cuts in half homeland security funds desperately needed by communities across the country. Nearly seven years after 9/11, and five years into a war in Iraq that continues to exhaust our troops with no end in sight, America may be at its most exposed. As Marine Maj. General Arnold L. Punaro said earlier this month, America now faces “an appalling gap in readiness for homeland defense.”

What is a Recession, Who Decides When It Starts, and When Do They Decide?

Source: Brian W. Cashell, Congressional Research Service, Order Code RS22793, January 23, 2008

A recession is one of several discrete phases in the overall business cycle. The term may often be used loosely to describe an economy that is slowing down or characterized by weakness in at least one major sector like the housing market. When used by economists, “recession” means a significant decline in overall economic activity that lasts more than a few months. The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) business cycle dating committee is the generally recognized arbiter of the dates of the beginnings and ends of recessions. As with all statistics, it takes some time to compile the data, which means they are only available after the events they describe. Moreover, because it takes time to discern changes in trends given the usual month-to-month volatility in economic indicators, and because the data are subject to revision, it takes some time before the dating committee can agree that a recession began at a certain date. It can be a year or more after the fact that the dating committee announces the date of the beginning of a recession.

Resolve to Telecommute or Web Commute in 2008

Source: Citrix Online, Press release, 12/18/2008

Escaping the Office to Work Remotely is a Trend-in-the-Making, Says Citrix Study

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. » 12/18/2007 » Some 62% of American workers will ring in the New Year as Web commuter wannabes – best described as those of us who wish we had the freedom to work when and where we want with a little help from Internet technology – reports a new study, “Web Commuting & the American Workforce” from Citrix Online, a division of Citrix Systems, Inc. Easy-to-use online services like GoToMyPC are allowing workers whose jobs require a PC to have full use of their office computer without being at the office. These remote workers, called “telecommuters” in the 1980s and 90s, are today more apt to be “Web commuters” because of their reliance on the Internet.

New Federal Law Could Worsen State Budget Problems: States Can Protect Revenues by “Decoupling”

Source: Nicholas Johnson, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, February 13, 2008

The federal “economic stimulus” package enacted today not only cuts federal taxes, but also threatens to reduce many states’ corporate and personal income tax revenue this year and next year.

The potential revenue loss comes at a particularly problematic time for states, because about half the states are already facing budget shortfalls for the current year, the upcoming year, or both; more states will be in trouble if the economic downturn worsens. Some states are already enacting cuts in K-12 education, higher education, health care and human services, among other areas in order to balance their budgets.

Beyond Justice: Bush Administration’s Labor Department Abuses Labor Union Regulatory Authorities

Source: Scott Lilly, Center for American Progress, December 10, 2007

From the summary:
The problem of unfair and unequal application of the law, however, extends well beyond the Justice Department. Failure by a wide range of regulatory agencies to enforce federal law has benefited some segments of society at the expense of others. There is ample evidence that in recent years the laws protecting the public against air and water pollution, workers against health and safety risks, and consumers against unsafe foods, drugs, and commercial products have all been laxly enforced to the significant financial benefit of certain businesses and at the expense of those whose health and safety those laws were designed to protect.

Lax regulatory enforcement, however, has not been a government-wide policy. In at least one instance, rigorous and in fact pernicious regulatory enforcement was the course chosen by the Bush administration. That instance involved the regulatory authorities of the U.S. Department of Labor under the Landrum-Griffin Act aimed at improving the governance of the nation’s organized labor organizations.

Rather than relax these regulatory responsibilities, the Bush administration shoveled significantly more federal tax dollars into the department’s Office of Labor-Management Services so that key political operatives in OLMS could expand and exercise regulatory authority to:

• Impose costly and confusing new reporting requirements
• Attempt to increase the number of criminal prosecutions
• Disclose the results to the public in seriously misleading ways
• Mischaracterize the published data through a variety of false analyses

The underlying purpose, of course, is to undermine the reputation of the labor union movement through a classic political misinformation campaign–all under the supervision of a lifelong partisan political operative whose career has been dedicated to the destruction of his political opponents.

The Rangel Amt Proposal Versus Unpaid-For Repeal Of The Amt: Which Is Better Tax Reform?

Source: Aviva Aron-Dine, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, February 13, 2008

Republican congressional leaders have sharply attacked House Ways and Means Chairman Rangel’s proposal to replace the Alternative Minimum Tax with a tax surcharge for very-high-income households as a massive tax increase that would seriously damage, even “doom,” the economy. In fact, however, the Rangel plan is not a tax increase. Moreover, it would create a tax system that is simpler, more progressive, and likely better for the economy than either current law or the idea favored by many of the plan’s critics: eliminating the AMT without paying for it.

See also:
Fact Sheet

Administration’s Medicaid Regulations Will Weaken Coverage, Harm States, And Strain Health Care System

Source: Allison Orris and Judith Solomon, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, February 13, 2008

Over the last year, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has issued a series of Medicaid regulations that could significantly affect health care at the state and local level. These regulations, most of which alter longstanding Medicaid policies, do not require congressional approval. In fact, in some cases Congress has expressly declined to enact the very same changes that HHS is now making through administrative action.

In addition, in December the Administration issued an interim final rule to implement a provision of the 2006 Deficit Reduction Act. The new rule goes well beyond Congress’s intent in that legislation, and does so in ways that will jeopardize access to essential health services.

Taken together, these regulatory changes will reduce federal Medicaid spending by close to $15 billion over the next five years. Most of these costs will simply be shifted to state and local governments, at a time when states have less capacity to absorb added costs given the economic slowdown and their weakening fiscal conditions.