News February 10

Senator Sanders

Veterans Benefits The Senate will vote Monday on legislation from Sen. Mark Pryor, who faces a tough reelection race, to reverse $6 billion in cuts in military pensions included in the recent budget agreement. If the bill fails, as expected, the Senate is likely to proceed to a broader package from Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, National Journal reported. Majority Leader Harry Reid also is looking for an opening to bring up a proposal by Sanders to expand veterans’ health care, repeal the military-retiree COLA change and cut overseas contingency operations funds, Congressional Quarterly reported. LINK, LINK 

VA Family Care The number of veterans who have their reproductive organs damaged in combat is growing, leading a top senator to propose legislation that would make fertility care a bigger part of Veterans Affairs hospitals' missions. Under legislation by Sen. Sanders, wounded male veterans' spouses would be able to get artificial insemination at VA hospitals, and wounded women could designate surrogate mothers who would be able to receive fertility treatment at the VA, The Washington Times reported.  "Starting a family is a two-person job," said Tom Tarantino, chief policy officer at Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. LINK

VA Management Congressional committees that oversee the Department of Veterans Affairs increasingly are frustrated with the agency in the wake of incidents ranging from a patient's death after an altercation with a nursing assistant in Louisiana to a deadly outbreak of Legionnaires' disease in Pennsylvania. Congress now appears likely to impose legislative penalties on the VA. The House last week unanimously passed a bill that included a five-year ban on bonuses for senior VA executives. The Senate is considering less severe restrictions on performance pay. Sen. Sanders, one of the agency's biggest allies on Capitol Hill, said most veterans are satisfied with VA care but he expressed some concern about the VA's response when things go wrong, The Wall Street Journal reported. LINK

UPSP Banks The post office could provide banking needs for everything from loading up a debit card to taking out a small personal loan. The idea floated by the U.S. Postal Service's inspector general is supported in theory by Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. It could yield $8.9 billion a year for the post office by offering limited banking services to the tens of millions of people locked out of the current banking system due to geography or relative poverty and who often rely on payday lenders, pawnshops, and title loans for their cash, National Journal reported. LINK

Wall Street The political mainstream in the United States has aligned itself with Wall Street with the exception of “a small handful” of senators such as Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown, Jeff Merkley and Sanders, Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi said in an interview on WBUR-FM in Boston. AUDIO


Low-Wage Workers The number of American workers who are low-wage and low-income earners jumped 94 percent from 1979 to 2011, reaching 20.9 million workers, according to a new study from University of Massachusetts Boston economists Randy Albelda and Michael Carr. That means that 1 in 7 U.S. workers lives in a household whose main source of income is a low-paying job, such as working as a retail sales clerk or a fast-food restaurant cashier. The findings may go some way to explain why fewer Americans today identify as middle class, while those calling themselves lower or lower-middle class has jumped to 40 percent, up from only one-quarter in 2008, CBS News reported. LINK

Minimum Wage In the dispute over whether increasing the minimum wage by nearly 40 percent to $10.10 an hour by next year would reduce poverty or further it, conservative and liberal groups are working in opaque ways to shape the debate through organizations with benign-sounding names that can mask the intentions of their deep-pocketed patrons. They do it with the gloss of research, and play a critical and often underappreciated role in multilevel lobbying campaigns, backed by corporate lobbyists and labor unions, with a potential payoff that can be in the millions of dollars for the interests they represent, The New York Times reported. LINK

Debt Limit House Republicans return to Washington on Monday still struggling to find a path to raising the Treasury Department’s borrowing authority, but the normally raucous caucus is in unusual agreement that the best option is to put the white-knuckle confrontations of recent fiscal wars behind them. Facing a timeline that leaves no room for trial and error, some party leaders were advocating a debt-ceiling solution that would wrap several popular, must-pass items around a provision to extend the federal government’s borrowing authority beyond the November midterm elections, The Washington Post reported. LINK

Fix the Senate Liberal groups are agitating for another round of filibuster reform after Senate Majority Harry Reid’s controversial triggering of the nuclear option last year has done little to alleviate Senate gridlock.  A coalition of labor and liberal groups have pressed Reid to make additional changes to the Senate rules this year, something that senior Democratic aides say is very possible. The coalition, known as Fix the Senate Now, includes Alliance for Justice, the Communications Workers of America, Common Cause and the Sierra Club, The Hill reported. LINK 


Climate Change Winter sports are capturing the attention of Olympics spectators, but climate change is making some environmentalists worry about the future of sports like skiing and snowboarding. Last week, Vermont Law School hosted a panel discussion about how climate change continues to jeopardize the winter sports industry both nationally and in New England, Vermont Public Radio reported. LINK

Vermont Clamps Down on Internet Sales Tax Vermont taxpayers are finding a new line on their tax forms this year, part of an effort to collect the use tax due on out- of-state and online purchases. Tax Commissioner Mary Peterson an estimated $39 million in these taxes go unpaid annually, The Associated Press reported. LINK