News November 29

Senator Sanders

Budget Talks Some Democrats are joining Sen. Bernie Sanders in fighting proposed cuts to important safety-net programs. While more and more Democrats are vowing to keep Social Security off of the negotiating table as the so-called “fiscal cliff” approaches, Sanders has pledged to protect Medicare and Medicaid as well. He sent an email blast to supporters saying just that on Wednesday afternoon, David Goodfriend reported for MSNBC. VIDEO

Sanders and Dean A group founded by former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean is joining forces with Sen. Sanders in calling for people to sign a petition against cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. They're also urging Senate Democrats to reject any deal that extends the Bush-era tax cuts for households earning more than $250,000. DFA says it hopes to collect 50,000 signatures on a petition to present to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, The Associated Press, WPTZ-TV and WCAX-TV reported. LINK, VIDEO, VIDEO

Do Not Cut Social Security House and Senate Democrats remain divided over changes to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. During a rally earlier this month, Democratic lawmakers vowed to oppose any cuts in benefits, Congressional Quarterly reported. “We are here today to send a very loud and very clear message to the leadership” in Congress and the White House, said Sen. Sanders. “Do not cut Social Security, do not cut Medicare, do not cut Medicaid and do not provide more tax breaks to the top 2 percent, who are doing phenomenally well and, in many cases, have never had it so good.” LINK

Social Programs Sen. Sanders has taken a strong stand against a so-called “grand bargain” along the lines of the Simpson-Bowles deficit-reduction plan that would cut benefits for programs like Medicare and Medicaid while keeping tax rates low, Thom Hartmann and Sam Sacks wrote for Truthout. “We’re going to send a loud message to the leadership in the House, in the Senate and President Obama: Do not cut Social Security, do not cut Medicare, do not cut Medicaid,” said Sanders. LINK

A Simpson-Bowles Toady “Debt fighters Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson” along with “the few voices on Capitol Hill pleading for compromise … have been isolated [and] harassed by extremists. As Bowles met privately with House Republican leaders Wednesday, Sanders sent a letter to colleagues and issued a press release with the title ‘Simpson-Bowles Must Not Shape Deficit Debate,’” Dana Milbank wrote in The Washington Post. LINK

Budget Cuts Republicans and Democrats alike have told the public it’s time to “get real” about government finances. Their only disagreement has been over what and how much to cut, Sen. Sanders being a notable exception to the fiscal madness, professor of economics John Weeks blogged for The Real News. LINK

Filibuster Reform Sen. Sanders has been an increasingly vocal advocate for making changes that would restore real debate to the chamber, instead of allowing Republicans to continue to abuse it as a tool for obstructionism, John Nichols blogged for The Nation. Sanders in 2010 conducted the closet thing the Senate has seen in recent years to actual filibuster when he took the floor for several hours to protest the extension of Bush-era tax cuts. LINK

Gas Prices Sen. Sanders blames high gas prices in the Burlington area on greedy fuel dealers. Sanders says he's soon going to call the major dealers to get answers, ABC-22 and FOX 44 reported. The Federal Trade Commission has declined to investigate why gas in northwestern Vermont is typically 15 to 20 cents more per gallon than in other parts of the state, WCAX-TV, reported. LINK, VIDEO, VIDEO, VIDEO, VIDEO

Irene Recovery The Federal Emergency Management Agency has determined the Vermont State Hospital is not eligible for 90 percent reimbursement to replace it because the building was damaged but not destroyed by Tropical Storm Irene last year. “We are coordinating closely with the Shumlin administration,” Vermont’s congressional delegation said in a joint statement to vtdigger.org. “We are pleased with the significant federal resources brought to Vermont to date, and we will continue to work hard to ensure that Vermont receives every tool needed to complete the long recovery from Tropical Storm Irene.” LINK

USPS The US Postal Service faces a manufactured financial crisis, Warren Gunnels, senior policy adviser to Sen. Sanders, told the Russian news agency RIA Novosti. Sanders proposed legislation that would lift the burdensome prefunding mandate, recover at least $50 billion in overpayments to retiree pension funds, and remove a ban preventing the USPS from making money on services unrelated to mail—such as notary services and shipping wine and beer. If these measures were enacted, Gunnels said, the USPS could be operating in the black. LINK

More to Do President Obama and progressives have reformed health care, passed a stimulus, enacted the Dodd-Frank financial regulations, ended “don’t ask, don’t tell” and undertaken a host of other worthy initiatives. But there is still more to do for “change-makers all across the line” and Vermont voices are needed more than ever, especially Sen. Sanders’, wrote Alan O. Dann in a letter to The Commons. LINK

Financial Regulation Gary Gensler, head of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, has been criticized by Sen. Sanders for his lax regulation of credit default swaps. Sanders also tried to block Gensler’s appointment to the CFTC, Michael S. Rozeff wrote for LewRockwell.com. LINK

World 

Senate Votes to Increase Embassy Force The Senate voted Wednesday to authorize a 1,000 person increase in the size of the Marine Corps to provide additional protections for U.S. embassies and consulates, a direct response to the September attack on a diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, which resulted in the death of a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans, USA Today reported. LINK 

Syria Violence State media reported that 34 people and possibly many more were killed in car bombings in a suburb of Damascus, the country’s capital, in a sign of the higher casualities that have come to mark the Syrian civil war. Rebels were also reported to have used missiles to shoot down two Syrian aircraft in recent days, evidence of their increased military capabilities, The New York Times reported.  LINK

National

Brand-Name Drug Prices Soar The price of brand-name drugs has been soaring, but at the same time generic prices fell. A new report by pharmacy benefits manager Express Scripts says prices for widely used brand-name drugs rose more than six times the rate of inflation from September 2011 to September 2012. The increase was more than 13 percent while generic drug prices dropped by nearly 22 percent, ABC News reported. LINK

Obama Flexible on Tax Rates President Barack Obama signaled he wouldn't insist tax rates on upper-income Americans rise to Clinton-era peaks as part of a deficit-reduction deal, showing new flexibility as he tries to accelerate talks with congressional Republicans. The new clarity of the White House position marks a potentially important moment in Washington's effort to figure out how to handle tax rates that are due to snap higher next year, one of the thorniest elements of the so-called fiscal cliff, The Wall Street Journal reported. LINK

Economic Growth The U.S. economy got an early holiday gift Thursday when the U.S. Commerce Department announced that growth in the third quarter was 2.7 percent, topping a previous forecast, CBS News reported. LINK

Filibuster Reform Senator Harry Reid knew he would anger Republicans when he threatened to change the rules of the Senate to make it harder for the minority to gum up legislation. But he is also running into resistance from fellow Democrats about the way those rules would be changed — essentially by ramming the changes through with 51 votes, rather than with the agreement of two-thirds of the Senate, The New York Times reported. LINK

Romney and Obama President Obama and his defeated Republican foe, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, will have lunch Thursday in the private dining room at the White House, a show of bipartisan comity three weeks after the conclusion of a tough and often nasty election campaign, The Washington Post reported. LINK

Vermont

Bulletproof Vests Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy and law enforcement representatives on Tuesday commemorated the one-millionth bulletproof vest funded by a grant program that is awaiting reauthorization by Congress. The legislation, written in 1998 by Leahy, requires that state and local jurisdictions receive at least half of the federal money appropriated each year to buy bulletproof vests, the Times Argus reported. LINK

District Heat The Montpelier City Council Wednesday voted 4-1 in favor of a $3.7 million construction contract for construction of a project that will heat some of Montpelier's downtown buildings from a central wood-chip fired heating plant. The state and city will work together on the project that also will to supply heat and hot water to state facilities, AP reported. LINK