Senate Budget Plan Includes HR-Related Surprises

Several amendments that were approved could have wide-ranging impacts on the workplace and HR professionals if enacted by Congress

By Bill Leonard Apr 1, 2015
The Senate approved a budget plan after a marathon session began on March 26, 2015, and ended at 3:30 a.m. the following day. The 52-46 vote to approve the plan went largely down partisan lines with two Republican senators voting against the nonbinding budget resolution and two Democrats abstaining. The debate on the budget plan became what some senators called a “vote-a-thon” as they cast ballots on dozens of budget amendment proposals.

Paid-Sick-Leave Provision

Several of the amendments that were approved could have wide-ranging impacts on the workplace and human resource professionals if enacted by Congress. For example, one amendment would set aside funds for legislation that would allow all U.S. workers to earn paid sick leave. Surprisingly, the paid-sick-leave provision passed easily with the support of 61 senators. Sources familiar with the issue said the amendment gained strong bipartisan approval because several GOP senators who voted for the measure could face tough re-election challenges in 2016.

The Senate-approved budget resolution will not become law and essentially sets the direction and blueprint for how Capitol Hill will debate federal government spending, which, according to several sources, makes the paid-sick-leave measure and other amendments ways for members of Congress to make political statements. The congressional budget plan is typically viewed as a countermeasure to the White House budget proposal, which President Barack Obama submitted to Congress in February.

The GOP-backed Senate plan would attempt to balance the federal budget over the next 10 years. Republican leaders claimed that their plan would create a $3 billion budget surplus. The House passed a similar resolution on March 25, 2015.

After the two budget plans were passed, Congress adjourned for a two-week spring recess. When Congress reconvenes in April, the House and Senate will work to hammer out differences between the two budget proposals. Congress has not approved a comprehensive budget plan since 2006.

Efforts to Repeal the PPACA

The two budget plans would fund efforts to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). The Senate plan raises the possibility that both houses of Congress could approve a repeal of the controversial health care reform law. While the House has passed dozens of repeal bills, the full Senate has yet to vote on repeal legislation.

If approved, the congressional budget plan would use the Senate’s budget reconciliation voting procedures for any measures to repeal the PPACA. Budget reconciliations require only a simple majority approval in the Senate and cannot be filibustered.

Since Republicans gained control of the House and Senate following the 2014 elections, a repeal of the health care reform law could finally gain full approval from Congress, sources agree. However, Obama has repeatedly said that he would veto any repeals of the health care reform law. Political observers say a repeal passed by both houses of Congress could make a strong statement for candidates who are looking for political edges in the 2016 presidential election.

Other HR-related amendments approved in the Senate’s budget plan included provisions that would establish reserve funds for providing reasonable accommodations to pregnant workers and for promoting equal pay initiatives.

“Senate approval of this balanced budget demonstrates that Congress is doing its part to deliver a healthy economy for everyone,” said Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, in a written statement. “The important steps we have taken this week will help deliver a government that’s more efficient, effective, and accountable, which is absolutely essential for strong economic growth and job creation.”

While the budget plan drew praise from Republican leaders, senators from across the aisle warned that the plan was designed to help wealthy Americans and would only broaden the nation’s growing income gap.

“At a time of massive wealth and income inequality, the Republicans apparently believe that the richest people in America need to be made even richer,” Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., ranking minority member of the Senate Budget Committee, said in a written statement. “It is apparently not good enough that 99 percent of all new income today is going to the top 1 percent. Clearly, in Republican eyes, the wealthy and the powerful need more help.”

Bill Leonard is a senior writer for SHRM.

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