News December 11

Senator Sanders 

Medicare Sen. Bernie Sanders said he’ll oppose any effort to raise the age when people become eligible for Medicare health coverage. Republicans in Congress have proposed raising the eligibility age from 65 to 67. They also want to reduce cost-of-living adjustments for Social Security recipients, according to an Associated Press report published by the Times Argus, Rutland Herald, Brattleboro Reformer and Bennington Banner.  “We are close to I think having a $4 trillion agreement, but we have got to be strong and say we will not balance the budget on the backs of some of the most vulnerable people in this country,” Sanders said on WPTZ-TV. LINK, LINK, LINK, LINK, LINK, VIDEO

Social Security Sen. Sanders invited advocates for the elderly and veterans to help him shine a light on the spending cuts he’s fighting as congressional Republicans and President Obama negotiate a deal to avoid the looming “fiscal cliff.” Sanders objects to a plan to change the formula used to calculate cost of living increases for Social Security and disabled veterans’ benefits. Adopting what is known as the chained CPI formula would result in Social Security income shrinking by $560 by the time retirees reach age 75 with continued reductions as they age, the Burlington Free Press reported. LINK 

Deficit Deal The fiscal cliff talks are being conducted almost exclusively in backroom meetings between House Speaker John Boehner's office and White House advisers such as congressional liaison Rob Nabors. Not all members of Congress have been thrilled with how the White House has handled the high-stakes negotiations. “I speak for a number of members in the Senate who say, 'Hey, we want to be involved in this discussion,’ ” Sen. Sanders told The Washington Post. LINK

Disabled Veterans Sanders said disabled veterans would be affected by a change congressional Republicans want in the way inflation is calculated. "As a member of the veterans’ committee I will do everything I can to make sure we don't do deficit reduction on the backs of disabled veterans," he said on Vermont Public Radio. LINK

Veterans’ Affairs Committee Sen. Sanders, an independent with a long history of advocating for the expansion of veterans programs, is expected to succeed Sen. Patty Murray when she steps down as the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee chairwoman to take over the Senate Budget Committee, Army Times reported. Sanders, 71, did not serve in the military and protested against the Vietnam War, but he’s had a seat on the committee since he came to the Senate in 2007 and gets high marks from veterans groups, Politico reported. LINK, LINK

Gas Prices Sen. Sanders unveiled a new website that will help consumers in northwestern Vermont locate cheaper fuel, the Burlington Free Press reported. Gas in the Burlington area was 31 cents above the national average yesterday. “The reason, we have concluded, is pretty simple,” Sanders said, “Distributors are keeping prices artificially high because they can,” WCAX-TV reported. “What we have seen is that nationally, these gas stations rank at the very highest level of profit margin," Sanders said on VPR. Sanders said he is working with Vermont lawmakers to see if more can be done, Fox 44 and ABC 22 reported. LINK, LINK, LINK, LINK, VIDEO, VIDEO, VIDEO, VIDEO

Gas Prices Gasoline magnate Skip Vallee, the owner of nearly 40 Vermont Mobil stations, has produced a 30-second political attack ad accusing Sanders of siding with “big business” to damage the state's environment, Seven Days blogged. Sanders accused Vallee and other distributors of unfairly bilking cash-strapped Vermonters. The senator also urged environmental regulators to "expedite the process" of deciding whether to allow Costco to put gas pumps in Colchester store. LINK

F-35s Opponents of F-35A fighter planes being based in Burlington are describing an upcoming trip by Gov. Peter Shumlin and others to Florida to listen to the planes as a “junket” that will produce predictable support for basing the expensive new fighter at Burlington’s Air National Guard station. The noise of the F-35s has been a sticking point for opponents of the basing, who are squaring off against Sen. Sanders and the rest of the Vermont delegation, the Burlington Free Press reported. LINK

Media Monopolies Some senators are calling the FCC’s recent push to allow greater media consolidation in the county’s largest media markets the most serious threat to democracy facing the nation today, wrote Angelo S. Lynn, editor of the Addison County Independent. Sen. Sanders, along with nine other senators, wrote a letter opposing rule changes that would allow large corporations to own newspapers, TV and radio stations, and the local Internet provider in the top 20 markets in the country. LINK

Liberal Icons NAACP Chairman Benjamin Todd Jealous was honored last week at the Nation Institute's annual gala. “He found himself in the midst of a fawning crowd of liberal icons that included former TV talk show host Phil Donahue, Nation magazine publisher Katrina Vanden Heuvel, Sen. … Sanders and Perry and Gladys Rosenstein, whose Puffin Foundation has championed more liberal causes than Al Sharpton,” DeWayne Wickham wrote for USA Today. LINK

Citizens United In the Senate, independent Sen. Sanders is working overtime to overturn Citizens United. His bill to undo the Supreme Court decision that authorized unprecedented levels of campaign spending is languishing in the Senate Judiciary Committee, headed by Patrick Leahy, according to The Buffalo News. LINK

State of the Union Sen. Sanders is hosting his third State of the Union essay contest for Vermont’s high school students. Sanders says the contest is meant to engage students on the major issues facing the country, the Rutland Herald reported. It's just an effort to get young people to start thinking about important issues facing our country and what Congress might be doing,” Sanders told WPTZ-TV. LINK, VIDEO

Secret Santa Sens. Al Franken and Mike Johanns held the second annual Senate Secret Santa on Monday. This year, 60 senators turned out for the name-drawing in November -- 40 Democrats and 20 Republicans. The invitation joked that they "considered the possibility that Independent Sens. Sanders and [Joe] Lieberman could simply gift each other but decided once again that would ruin the suspense so crucial to any successful Secret Santam" Politico reported. LINK

World

U.S. No. 2 A new intelligence assessment of global trends projects that China will outstrip the United States as the leading economic power before 2030, but that America will remain an indispensable world leader, bolstered in part by an era of energy independence, The New York Times reported. Russia’s clout will wane, as will the economic strength of other countries reliant on oil for revenues, the assessment says. LINK

Japan Falls Into Recession Japan's economy shrank for the second quarter in a row in the three months through September, revised government data showed Monday, indicating that the world's third-largest economy has entered a recession, The Wall Street Journal reported. LINK

National

Americans Nervous About Safety Net As President Obama and congressional leaders race to avert the fiscal cliff, Americans remain concerned that whatever budget deal they strike will cut too much from Medicare and Social Security, according to the latest United Technologies/National Journal poll. More of the Americans surveyed (35 percent) are worried about such cutbacks than seeing their tax bill rise (27 percent). Lagging behind in the public prioritization is the fear that a budget accord would fall short of deficit-reduction targets (15 percent) or that it will allow the federal government to spend too much in coming years (13 percent). LINK

Debt Deal Senior aides involved in recent negotiations say that elements of a debt deal needed to avert the looming automatic spending cuts and tax increases known as the “fiscal cliff” are coming into focus. A potential deal would likely limited tax deductions and a modest rise in top rates; cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, including a switch to the chained CPI; and various other spending cuts. If an agreement isn’t reached, some senior Republicans have suggested conceding higher tax rates on the top 2 percent, The Washington Post reported. LINK

Obama Pushes for Higher Taxes on the Richest Using a German-owned truck factory as a grease-stained backdrop, President Obama on Monday pressed his case for higher tax rates for the richest Americans, declaring that his economic program would cut the deficit without crimping the job market, The Washington Post reported. LINK

Health Insurance Marketplaces Approved in 6 States The Obama administration gave conditional approval on Monday to health insurance marketplaces being set up by six states led by Democratic governors eager to carry out President Obama’s health care overhaul. The six are Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Oregon and Washington. At the same time, the administration rejected pleas from other states that want to carry out a partial expansion of Medicaid, to cover fewer people than the president and Congress originally intended, The New York Times reported. LINK

Feds Nix Partial Medicaid Expansion The Obama administration said Monday states will have to expand their Medicaid programs all the way, or not at all, as part of a key element of the federal health law aimed at extending insurance coverage to millions of low-income Americans. Around half of the 30 million people expected to gain coverage from the law as it was passed were to gain it through the growth of Medicaid, The Wall Street Journal reported. LINK

Vermont

HUD Fraud Federal prosecutors in Vermont say a Burlington man has been sentenced to 18 months in prison for defrauding a federal Department of Housing and Urban Development by lying about his income to receive rental subsidies. Robert Goldsmith also was ordered on Monday to pay more than $18,000 in restitution, AP reported. LINK