News May 23

Senator Sanders

Senate to Vote on Food Labels Sen. Bernie Sanders wants to ensure that states may require labeling on foods containing genetically-engineered organisms without fear of litigation from opponents, the Brattleboro Reformer, Bennington Banner and Raw Story reported. Sanders proposed a farm-bill amendment that the Senate is set to vote on today, Congressional Quarterly reported. LINK, LINK, LINK

Monsanto Threats “Fear of litigation should not [stop] more research on how GMOs affect us and paying more attention to which foods we eat contain them. Labeling foods with GMO ingredients would help,” according to a Bennington Banner editorial on Sen. Sanders’ amendment. LINK 

Fed Conflicts Sen. Sanders said Wednesday he would reintroduce legislation to prohibit bankers from serving on the boards of the 12 regional Federal Reserve banks, The Wall Street Journal reported online. Questioning Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke at a Joint Economic Committee hearing, Sanders noted, “We have had absurd situations where Jamie Dimon, the CEO of the largest financial institution in America, sat on the New York Fed… many of us think that is the fox guarding the hen house.” LINK

Sanders and Bernanke Sen. Sanders pressed the Fed chairman for solutions to the perception that some banks are so large they can demand government bailouts in the event of a failure, CNBC and The Street reported. Bernanke told Sanders that re-instating Glass-Steagall “is not the solution.” VIDEO, LINK

Labor Hits Immigration Deal The tech industry fought hard for changes in the Senate immigration bill and largely won them, but organized labor is pushing back on a compromise reached by Sens. Orrin Hatch and Chuck Schumer that eases recruiting and hiring restrictions for temporary worker visas. Labor groups have made it clear they view the Hatch-Schumer agreement as an attack on American jobs. And they have friends in the Senate. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) has expressed support for labor’s concerns and may find allies in longtime labor advocates Sens. Sherrod Brown and Sanders, Politico reported. LINK

LA Votes to Overturn Citizens United The nation’s second-largest city voted Tuesday for a resolution instructing local and state officials to promote the overturning of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, reported The Huffington Post. Sen. Sanders and Rep. Ted Deutch offered a constitutional amendment in March to overturn the decision, noting the ramifications of unlimited special-interest contributions to political campaigns. LINK

Corporate Taxes Former American Express CEO Harvey Golub wants the United States to lower corporate tax rates to zero, reported Opposing Views. Golub’s comments were made in the wake of a hearing with Apple CEO Tim Cook, who argued that despite Apple’s overseas tax avoidance, the company still pays “an extraordinary amount” of taxes. In February, Sen. Sanders introduced a bill to end profit sheltering for companies that ship jobs overseas. LINK 

Oklahoma Tornado and Global Warming Sen. Barbara Boxer took to the Senate floor on Tuesday and invoked the Oklahoma tornadoes in a speech on global warming. “This is climate change,” she said. “This is climate change. We were warned about extreme weather. Not just hot weather, but extreme weather.” She also plugged her bill cosponsored with Sen. Sanders that would put a tax on carbon. “Carbon could cost us the planet,” she said, according to Hardhatters. LINK

F-35s Carmine Sargent, a 69-year-old grandmother living near the Burlington International Airport, is the latest recruit in Vermont’s anti-F-35 movement, according to Seven Days. Sargent complained that the decision to base F-35 planes in Burlington was made without “consulting somebody who actually lives” in the area. Sargent says she has grown disillusioned with Sens. Sanders and Leahy for backing the F-35 basing. LINK

Social Security Many progressives believe that the need for an increase in retirement age can be avoided by raising the current cap on wage income subject to the payroll tax. Sen. Sanders has proposed dramatic increases in the cap on wages subject to the payroll tax as the principal or sole means of restoring Social Security’s solvency. Writing for The (Madison, Wis.) Capital Times, columnist Dan Cornwell said Sanders’ plan would raise $6.5 trillion over 75 years by raising the payroll tax on high-income workers who would receive no additional benefits. That would abandon President Franklin D. Roosevelt's principle that benefits are earned by workers who pay the entire cost of the system.

Medicare for Mass.  The Massachusetts congressional delegation launched an effort to preserve more than $250 million in bonus Medicare payments to the state's hospitals that critics call the "Bay State boondoggle." The Senate voted earlier this year to end the payments which come at the expense of most other states.  In the vote last March, 22 Democrats joined 45 Republicans and independent Angus of King of Maine to kill the provision. Senators Elizabeth Warren and William "Mo" Cowan of Massachusetts were among the 30 Democrats who voted against the amendment along with Sen. Sanders, The Boston Globe reported.

Taste of Vermont Vermont vendors trekked to Washington, D.C. last week to hold a “Taste of Vermont” reception in the Senate’s Kennedy Caucus Room, reported Seven Days. Sens. Sanders and Patrick Leahy attended the popular reception. “People on Capitol Hill go without eating for weeks in preparation,” remarked Sanders. LINK


EU Talks Tax Avoidance Britain, France and Germany lamented the impact of corporate tax avoidance at a European Union summit Wednesday, reported Reuters. After a U.S. Senate report indicated that Apple had paid just two percent in taxes on $74 billion in overseas income, French President Francois Hollande said, “We cannot accept that a certain number of companies can put themselves in sutations where they escape paying taxes.” LINK

Iranian Nuclear Plant United Nations authorites indicated Wednesday that Iran continued to construct a research reactor that could eventually produce plutionium for a nuclear weapon, according to Reuters. Iran’s advancement of its enrichment program is a “blatant violation of its international obligations,” according to top US diplomats. LINK


Drones Killed 4 Americans President Barack Obama’s administration acknowledged Wednesday that CIA drones killed four American citizens in Yemen and Pakistan, The New York Times reported. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy that three Americans who were killed “were not specifically targeted,” although the administration deliberately killed the radical Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. LINK

Tesla Repays DOE Loan Tesla Motors on Wednesday paid off its final debt on a Department of Energy loan that kickstarted the company, reported Los Angeles Times. Tesla Motors’ Model S was rated “Car of the Year” by Motor Trend Magazine. LINK

Bernanke Blames Congress Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke believes Congress is the reason that the American economy is experiencing slow growth. At a Joint Economic Committee hearing, Bernanke blamed austerity policies enacted by Congress for high unemployment and sluggish growth, according to The Washington Post. LINK

IRS Official Invokes 5th Amendment The Internal Revenue Service official who first disclosed that the agency had targeted conservative groups for special scrutiny, and in doing so ignited a controversy that has ensnared the White House, denied on Wednesday that she had ever provided false information to Congress. She then invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and declined to testify at a House hearing on the agency’s actions, The New York Times reported. LINK

FBI Kills Marathon Bombing Suspect’s Friend Ibragim Todashev, a man connected with the Boston Marathon bombing suspect, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was killed by a Federal Bureau of Investigation agent on Wednesday. CBS News reports that Todashev allegedly implicated himself and Tsarnaev in a two year old unsolved triple homicide before he was shot by the agent. LINK

VA Claims Backlog Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki has led a direct attack on the department's 19th century practice of processing claims with paper and stubby pencils. “In a bold move unusual for Washington, where ducking accountability is an art form, Shinseki set himself a public deadline … to demolish the old system and replace it with … digital processing that is light-years ahead in speed and accuracy by the end of 2015,” David Wood blogged for The Huffington Post. LINK


Would-be Health Insurer Denied License Citing evidence of questionable fiscal management and conflicts of interest, state regulators on Wednesday denied a license for the much-ballyhooed Vermont Health CO-OP, Vermont Press Bureau reported. The organization was funded by a $32.8 million loan from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under a provision in the federal Affordable Care Act that called for a nonprofit, member-owned health insurance company in every state. The decision was a sudden fall from grace for an organization that had won praise from Gov. Shumlin. LINK

Welch on IRS and Citizens United Rep. Peter Welch said at a hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that targeting conservative groups compromised the IRS’ credibility and ability to do its job. But he said “this mess” goes back to the “absurd” 2010 Supreme Court ruling — Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission — that allows corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts of money on ads supporting or opposing individual candidates, the Burlington Free Press reported. LINK

Vt. Sues Patent Troll Vermont’s Attorney General sued MPHJ Technology, a company based in Wilmington, Del., for abusing the patent process to extort licensing fees from Vermont small busiensses. At least two of the businesses listed in the suit are nonprofits that assist developmentally disabled people, reported The Associated Press. LINK