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Legislative Update December 2006

H.R. 5483

            The assurance by Senator’s Enzi’s office that H.R. 5483, the Railroad Retirement Disability Earnings Act, would be considered in the lame duck session following the mid-term elections seems to have been empty. While H.R. 5483 passed the House on the 27th of September, it has become apparent that the 109th Congress will adjourn sine die, with many loose ends.  Since there was not a lot of opposition to the bill, it will probably be re-filed.  With the change in leadership in the upcoming 110th Congress, it should not meet with as many obstacles for passage.  If and when the bill is re-filed, we will advise of the new bill number and when we need your help in contacting your elected representatives.  As a reminder, the purpose of the legislation is to bring those on disability under railroad retirement up to the same earning cap as those collecting Social Security disability – from $400 maximum to $700 maximum earnings per month, and allowing for adjustments for inflation.  The cost of this bill is negligible in the scheme of things, about $400,000 per year.  The American Association of Railroads is just being stinky about this bill just on general principles.

Election 2006

            Apparently there were some sore losers who returned for the 109th Congress lame duck session.  So soured that 9 out of the 11 appropriations bills needed to keep the country running in the budget year that began October 1, 2006, will likely not be considered, leaving that order of business for the 110th Congress.   It has been reported that Senate Republicans will try to extend a number of the popular tax breaks rather than see Democrats get credit for restoring them next year.  Among those tax breaks are:  higher education expenses, state sales tax in states with no income tax, classroom expenses for teachers, employer tax credits, and research and development tax credits.

            As reported last month, a renewed effort to secure our nation’s transportation sector, not just aviation, will be back on the table in the new Congress.  With Mr. Oberstar (D-MN), a long time advocate for rail safety and security, as well as labor issues, chairing the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, we should see an improvement in the consideration of all transportation modes when it comes to security, before a catastrophic event occurs.

            Again, we will be keeping close tabs on the new 110th Congress, and hope that the Carrier’s blatant influence over the leadership of Congress will have come to a screeching halt, forcing them to exercise good faith in their negotiations with Rail Labor.

Medicare

            The reimbursement rates paid to doctors has again been cut by Medicare.  These types of cuts directly effect all of our members and families because with each cut, more doctors are refusing to treat patients covered by Medicare.  Talk to your doctor about how he feels, and even coordinate or participate in an effort to force Congress to be realistic when it comes to paying doctors for services rendered.  Perhaps if they discontinue the corporate welfare to pharmaceutical companies, they could afford to adequately reimburse doctors.

            The new leadership has put the Medicare Drug Program as one of its top priorities to allow for Medicare to negotiate drug prices.  They will not make negotiations mandatory, but they will be encouraged, which should result in lower drug prices.  They have also pledged to revisit the “doughnut hole” which has caught so many seniors off guard.

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