Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Joe Biden blocks US childhood obesity, disability bills

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Joe Biden has largely held a low profile as his sons have struggled with drug problems

Two pieces of legislation that Joe Biden personally worked on as US vice-president, which are aimed at combating childhood obesity and discrimination in the workplace, have been torpedoed by senior Democratic members of Congress.

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Family Medical Leave Act were signed into law by Mr Biden in 1993 and 1996 respectively.

Both bills aimed to end discrimination against people with disabilities.

Pushed by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the ADA changed how people receive federal funds and how long their benefits can last.

The Family Medical Leave Act made it easier for employees to take unpaid leave to care for a seriously ill spouse, child or parent.

Mr Biden’s campaign also called for paid family leave for new parents and for sick pay to be guaranteed if time away from work is needed for an illness.

But the legislation, backed by progressive Democrats and health advocates, were previously moved through the House of Representatives and now appear in danger of being passed over again.

Photo: AFP PHOTO / JONATHAN ERNST

Perhaps the most surprising turn of events came at a committee hearing on the American Health Care Act (AHCA), the Republican effort to dismantle former President Barack Obama’s health care reform, in late June.

Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vermont) requested a stop-gap budget bill for bills already voted on and blocked by the House, but was told it would have to pass both houses of Congress before being added to the spending agreement.

The subcommittee then moved to approve this legislation, but put off any further action after deciding the two previously enacted bills should be adopted, even if the bill making them laws never makes it to the president’s desk.

While the Republicans on the panel said it was possible both of Mr Biden’s bills could be included in a final agreement, Democrats felt it was unlikely to happen without further delay and were taking it as an indication that the AHCA has no chance of passing.

Since the AHCA is likely to fail to pass in its current form, it raises the question of whether Democratic lawmakers will ultimately return to the table to try to add protections for people with disabilities and others who have been affected by Republican proposals.

Joe Biden’s legacy

For Mr Biden, the issue of changing the way people in the workplace are treated is something that has haunted him for years.

Three of his four sons have struggled with substance abuse problems and many saw the late Sen Joe Biden (D-Delaware) as a father figure.

The senator had talked about the need to change the laws that meant some people had to pay for their illnesses and had had to downsized work so that they could continue working at school, reducing their income.

He took up the cause in the aftermath of the death of his son Beau.

In 2009, the vice-president spoke at the law firm Steptoe & Johnson’s 50th anniversary party and a few days after, the firm’s chairman Mike Novogratz got him to sign the bill making all children in public housing eligible for government healthcare.

When the legislation passed in 2000, he wrote on his blog that it was a dream come true.

In 2011, Mr Biden travelled to Togo, a remote village in West Africa, to join in the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Disability Rights Act of the US.

You can read full coverage of what is going on in Washington here.

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