Veterans’ Committee Sen. Bernie Sanders was chosen to lead the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced Wednesday. The Vermont independent said his first priority as chairman is to stop a proposal that would slash benefits for disabled veterans, The Associated Press, Burlington Free Press, Rutland Herald, Times Argus, Vermont Public Radio, Fox 44, ABC 22 and Congressional Quarterly reported. “We must do deficit reduction, but we don't do it by cutting programs to people who lost arms, legs and eyesight defending our country,” Sanders said on WCAX-TV. LINK, LINK, LINK, LINK, LINK, LINK, VIDEO, VIDEO
Payroll Tax All three members of Vermont's congressional delegation may be ready to allow the so called payroll tax holiday to expire at the end of the year. The payroll tax is the primary source of money for the Social Security fund. Sen. Sanders is concerned that not raising the rate could hurt the fiscal stability of Social Security. “[M]y view is that we should … find, as the president appears to be open to, another way to provide tax relief for the middle class," he told Vermont Public Radio. LINK
Protecting Seniors Sen. Sanders joined the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare to voice his opposition to cuts to the major retirement and health care programs for seniors, National Journal blogged. Coalition leader Max Richtman met with Senate Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee members before delivering petitions signed by some 65,000 seniors to Sens. Sanders and Sherrod Brown. LINK
A Champion A coalition of liberal advocacy groups has declared Sen. Sanders a champion of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. The groups running the effort, including MoveOn.org, CREDO and others, are urging supporters to pressure Democrats not to cave to Republican efforts to cut benefits during ongoing debt negotiations, Talking Points Memo and Fire Dog Lake reported. LINK, LINK
HELP Committee The Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee, with addition Sen. Elizabeth Warren, is now a very liberal group counting Sens. Sanders, Whitehouse and Franken as members, Fire Dog Lake reported. LINK
Media Monopolies Rupert Murdoch, creator of Fox News, wants the FCC to ease limits on “media cross-ownership” that would allow media moguls to own the daily newspaper, two TV stations and up to eight radio stations in the same market, John Nichols reported in The (Madison, Wis.) Capital Times. “We strongly believe that maintaining robust diversity of media ownership is fundamental to preserving the strength of our democracy,” wrote Sen. Sanders and a group of Democratic senators opposing the changes. LINK
Gas Prices Sen. Sanders announced a new website to help consumers track gasoline prices in Vermont, where prices in the northwestern part of the state are 30 cents above the national average. Sanders also plans to work with Vermont state lawmakers to hold hearings and draft state legislation on gas prices, The Eagle and Green Mountain Outlook in Chittenden and Addison counties reported. LINK, LINK
Irene The Windham Regional Commission and the Bennington County Regional Commission will receive $470,000 in Economic Development Administration funds to bolster long-term recovery efforts in southern Vermont following last year’s Tropical Storm Irene. Sen. Sanders and the rest of the Vermont delegation fought to include the special one-time EDA disaster funding in last year’s disaster recovery bill, the Brattleboro Reformer and The Commons reported. LINK, LINK
F-35s Gov. Peter Shumlin and the mayors of Burlington and Winooski went to Florida to listen to F-35s, a controversial fighter jet that the Air Force is considering basing in Burlington to replace the aging F-16 jets. “It's surprising to me how quiet the F-35 is, the F-16 makes more of screeching sound, the F-35 is a duller roar,” Shumlin said. Sen. Patrick Leahy, whose office was the site of an F-35 protest on Wednesday, and Sen. Sanders both support basing the new generation of jets in Vermont, Seven Days blogged and WCAX-TV and WPTZ-TV reported. LINK, LINK, VIDEO, VIDEO
Commissioner of Reality Sen. Sanders’ close friend Richard Sugarman convinced him to run for mayor of Burlington in 1981, a decision that launched Sanders’ long and storied political career. A religion professor at the University of Vermont, Sugarman later asked Sanders what was in it for him: “He said, ‘You get to be commissioner of reality.’ It was unpaid position,” Seven Days reported. LINK
NOH8 “My money is on Sen. Sanders to be near the front of the line” to become the first senator to have his picture taken as part of an equal rights campaign known as NOH8, Laurence Watts wrote for The Huffington Post. NOH8 is a charitable organization known for advocating marriage and gender equality through photographs of notable people. LINK
The Holidays Sen. Patrick Leahy received a Batman snuggie from Sen. Mike Lee in the Senate’s second annual Secret Santa gift exchange. The present is a tribute to Leahy’s cameos in four Batman films. Sen. Sanders did not participate in the gift exchange but he hosted a holiday party last night for the Vermont delegation, Paul Heintz blogged for Seven Days. LINK
Fighting Intensifies in Syria Syrian forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad have fired Scud missiles at rebel fighters in recent days, Obama administration officials announced, representing a significant escalation in fighting which has already killed more than 40,000 civilians. The now nearly two-year-old Syrian civil war threatens to destabilize the region, with the Obama administration fearing Mr. Assad’s military could use Scud missiles to attack Turkey, The New York Times reported. LINK
Poll: Strike a Cliff Deal Now After weeks of dire warnings and media hype about the supposed perils of going over a “fiscal cliff,” Americans now solidly back compromise to solve the biggest budget challenges facing the country, a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll finds. About two-thirds of Americans of all political stripes would like Congress to strike a deal to reduce the federal budget deficit, even if means cutting Social Security and Medicare and boosting some tax rates, the survey released Wednesday found. LINK
Spending-Cut Proposals Drawing Democratic Flak One big question in Washington's budget talks is whether Republicans will make more concessions on taxes. This week, the counterpoint has started to come into play: What will Democrats swallow on spending cuts? The prospect of cuts to Medicare and other entitlement programs is making many Democrats anxious. Of particular concern is Republicans' call for increasing the eligibility age for Medicare from 65 to 67, an idea that could split Democrats, The Wall Street Journal reported. LINK
Boehner’s Right Wing Chafes Speaker John A. Boehner moved Wednesday to maintain Republican unity on deficit reduction talks as lawmakers on the far right openly chafed at his leadership and some pragmatists pressed for quick accommodation on tax rate increases on the rich. Other lawmakers and aides to the speaker maintained that Republicans, both in the leadership and in the broader Republican conference, remain strongly unified behind Mr. Boehner as he tries to reach a deal with President Obama to stave off a potential fiscal crisis less than three weeks away. LINK
Christmas in Washington Signs of progress for the "fiscal cliff" negotiations came to a screeching halt on Wednesday when House Speaker John Boehner signaled that he and the White House remain far apart, ultimately warning his fellow lawmakers that they might have to work through the Christmas holidays, CBS News reported. LINK
Fed Ties Stimulus to Jobs The Federal Reserve will take steps to bolster the economy until the unemployment rate falls to 6.5 percent or inflation looks likely to exceed 2.5 percent, the central bank said Wednesday in a historic move that for the first time specifies the Fed’s goals for the nation’s economy. The Fed also said it would buy $45 billion in Treasury bonds a month, on top of $40 billon a month it is already buying in mortgage bonds, in an effort to flood markets with money and reduce interest rates on a wide range of loans. LINK
New Gulf Spill? CBS News has learned that BP is set to embark Thursday on the fifth day of a little-known subsea mission under Coast Guard supervision to look for any new oil leaking from the Deepwater Horizon disaster. The BP oil rig exploded in 2010, killing 11 workers and sending more than 7 million gallons of oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico for three months before it was capped. In September, a new oil sheen was spotted about 50 miles off the Louisiana coast. Tests confirmed the oil came from the infamous Macondo well underneath the Deepwater Horizon. LINK
Climate Change As temperatures rise due to climate change, analysts predict that scores of the nations of the nation’s ski centers, especially those at lower elevations and latitudes, will eventually vanish. Under certain warming forecasts, more than half of the 103 ski resorts in the Northeast will not be able to maintain a 100-day season by 2039 and that no ski area in Connecticut or Massachusetts is likely to be economically viable, with similarly disastrous predictions throughout the Northeast and West, The New York Times reported. LINK
Carris Stepping Down The majority leader in the Vermont Senate is resigning from the Legislature due to health reasons. Sixty-eight-year-old Sen. Bill Carris, a Democrat representing Rutland County, says health problems will prevent him from fully doing his job at the Statehouse during the session set to start next month, AP reported.
Vermont Yankee A federal appeals court is going to hear oral arguments next month on the Vermont case that tests the limits of a state's authority to regulate nuclear power.The case that will be heard by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York involves the long-running attempt by the state of Vermont to close the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant.
Healthiest State Good pre-natal care and active lifestyles are among the factors allowing Vermont to rank as the healthiest state, its sixth first place finish in a row, The Associated Press reported.
Graying State In 2030, one out of every four Vermonters will be over the age of 65. This will present numerous problems for employers, medical care providers and traffic engineers seeking to incorporate older drivers into their plans, the Burlington Free Press reported. LINK