News December 14

Senator Sanders

An Unvarnished Voice Washington suffers from the problem “of people who have money not understanding what it’s like not to have money,” Sen. Bernard Sanders said. “Mr. Sanders intends to make people understand,” a New York Times profile declared. “Sanders represents the majority of our caucus” when he fights cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, Sen. Tom Harkin said in the article. LINK, LINK, LINK, LINK

Sanders Confronts White House Aide At a private lunch meeting on Thursday with members of the Senate Democratic Caucus, Sen. Sanders bluntly told White House economic adviser Gene Sperling to make sure that Social Security benefits aren’t cut and that Obama doesn’t raise the eligibility age for Medicare as part of any deficit-reduction deal. Sanders said such ideas would be a “disaster,” other senators told Politico afterward. Asked if Sperling alleviated his concerns, Sanders would only give a one-word response. “No,” he said. LINK

Rice Withdraws, Kerry Seen as Next Secretary of State U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, a close ally of President Obama, was a frontrunner to replace Hillary Clinton as Washington's top diplomat but withdrew from consideration on Thursday after a row over the administration's reaction to the Benghazi attacks. Sen. Sanders said Rice was treated unfairly. “The Republicans made the Benghazi tragedy and the loss of life into a very partisan political issue, and that's unfortunate,” he told Agence France Presse. Sources said Sen. John Kerry was virtually assured the State Department job. 

Veterans’ Committee Sen. Sanders was appointed to chair of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee on Wednesday by Majority Leader Harry Reid, Paul Heintz blogged for Seven Days. “It is a great honor to be named chairman of the committee, but is an even greater responsibility,” Sanders said. LINK

Disabled Veterans Veterans groups are urging congressional leaders to protect disability and pension payments for veterans as part of any deal to avoid the fiscal cliff. Sen. Sanders, just named chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, told Politico he’s fighting to defeat any cuts. “It’s certainly true that we have to deal with deficit reduction, but you do not do it on the backs of disabled vets who have suffered for this country,” Sanders said. 

Women Veterans The Senate passed a bill to cover military service members’ in vitro fertilization services through the veterans health care system. Sen. Sanders co-sponsored the bill, The Hill blogged. LINK

Crooked Bankers A $1.9 billion fine to settle charges that the British bank HSBC laundered Mexican drug money provoked the Rutland Herald to ask when crooked bankers will pay for their crimes with jail time. “The epic failure of the banking system that caused the financial collapse of 2008 … and the success of bankers in evading responsibility for the havoc they caused has created a current of resentment that populists such as [Sen.-elect Elizabeth] Warren and Sen. Sanders … have been able to tap into,” the editorial added. LINK

Gas Prices The owner of a Vermont gas station bought a TV ad criticizing Sen. Sanders’ support for a low-price Costco gas station in Colchester, Vt. “No one should be fooled; this ad is not about me. The goal here is to suppress competition and to maintain artificially high gas prices in northwest Vermont,” Sanders said. He has accused R.L. Vallee of ripping off consumers by charging 20 to 30 cents more per gallon in northwestern Vermont than in other parts of the state, WCAX-TV reported. LINK, LINK

Gas Prices Vallee personally paid about $1,500 to air the ad three times last night on WCAX-TV. He also challenged Sanders to a debate on Vermont Public Radio, according to a Seven Days blog. "Apparently Mr. Vallee hasn’t gotten the memo that the election is over," Sanders’ spokesman said. “It’s about six years too soon to be starting another campaign.” LINK

FEMA The Shumlin administration official in charge of Irene recovery threatened to go over the head of Federal Emergency Management Agency officials to secure more money for the state. “Vermont will take our appeals to Congress if necessary. With the help of Sens. Leahy and Sanders and Rep. Welch, we intend to make our case that FEMA should follow the letter and purpose of its guiding statute and its own regulations,” Sue Mintner wrote in the Times Argus. LINK

Irene Vermont has been awarded $1.1 million for recovery and development in response from damage still remaining from last year’s Hurricane Irene. Sen. Sanders fought to include funding for Vermont in the federal program that the money is drawn from, VTDigger.org reported. LINK

Republicans Lurch Right An analysis of votes during the 112th Congress shows Republican extremism in Congress doesn’t have a Democratic analog. As Republicans have lurched to the right, the analysis found that Sen. Sanders, “the most liberal member of the Senate,” was more conservative than 38 members of the House. Furthermore, nine Republican senators were more conservative than Sanders was liberal, according to AMERICAblog. LINK

Occupy “Ron Paul personally expressed a measure of support for the (Occupy) movement earlier than most any national U.S. politician – aside from Sen. Bernie Sanders or Rep. Dennis Kucinich…” Brian Doherty blogged for Reason online. LINK

World

U.S. Moves Missile to Turkish Border with Syria Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has signed an order to send two U.S. Patriot missile batteries to Turkey, along with about 400 troops to secure and operate them along the country's southern border with Syria, he told CBS News on Friday. LINK

Russia: Assad May Fall Russia’s top envoy for the Middle East said that Syrian President Bahasr al-Assad’s government was losing control of the country and might be defeated by rebel forces. “Unfortunately, it is impossible to exclude a victory of the Syrian opposition,” said Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov – the clearest indication to date that Russia believed that Mr. Assad, a longtime strategic ally, could lose in a widening civil war that has claimed tens of thousands of lives, The New York Times reported. LINK

Casualties Climb in Afghanistan More than half of the nearly 460 Americans who lost multiple limbs to combat in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001 suffered those wounds in Afghanistan in just the past two and a half years. Even as U.S. forces draw down in Afghanistan, the military is ramping up medical resources to counter this wrenching pattern of wounds in the waning months of this war, USA Today reported. LINK

Senate Panel Faults Detainee Interrogations The Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday approved a highly critical, classified report on the Central Intelligence Agency’s detention and interrogation program, the most comprehensive review of the brutal treatment of al-Qaida prisoners in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, The New York Times reported. LINK

National

Obama and Boehner Meet With time running short to work out a deal to avert a year-end fiscal crisis, President Obama called Speaker John A. Boehner to the White House on Thursday evening to try to move talks forward even as pessimism mounted that a broad deal could be struck that bridges the substantial gap between the parties on taxes and entitlements like Medicare. Obama and Boehner met for less than an hour, not an encouraging sign, with Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner joining the talks, The New York Times reported. LINK

Anti-Union Battle to Spread The devastating anti-union law enacted by Michigan this week was pushed by conservative groups that are looking to see similar legislation enacted in other states. “If Michigan can do it, then I think everybody ought to think about it,” said the president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. Alaska, Missouri, Montana and Pennsylvania were listed as the most likely places for so-called “right to work” legislation to be  before the end of the year passed, The Washington Post reported. LINK

DeMint: Obama Will ‘Get His Wish’ Sen. Jim DeMint declared President Obama the victor in recent budget negotiations over the so-called “fiscal cliff” in an interview on CBS. “He’s going to get his wish,” DeMint said. “I believe we’re going to be raising taxes and not just on top earners,” The Washington Post reported. LINK

Dissatisfaction in Federal Agencies Job satisfaction among federal workers has hit its lowest point in almost a decade, according to a recent nonpartisan report. The Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Veterans Affairs were found to have the most dissatisfied workers, The Washington Post reported. LINK

Vermont

Leahy on Pot Laws Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy said Thursday that his panel will examine new options for federal marijuana policy following recent passage of state laws legalizing the drug for personal use, the Burlington Free Press reported. LINK

Road Funds A special panel appointed to look at the fiscal woes facing Vermont's transportation system is nearly done with a report to lawmakers on how to fix the problems. The committee, which meets Friday, was set up by the Legislature to study what to do about the fact that gasoline tax revenues are declining because less gasoline is being sold, AP reported. LINK

Flu Season The flu has come to Vermont early this year, prompting state health officials to remind Vermonters to get vaccinated, the Burlington Free Press reported. LINK

No. 1 in Peace Corps Peace Corps officials say Vermont remains the top-ranked state in volunteers per capita, outdone only by Washington D.C. A Peace Corps representative says the New England region and Vermont in particular have a culture of involvement and community engagement, the Rutland Herald reported. LINK