In Iraq, the war dragged into its sixth year as the top U.S. general came to Capitol Hill to advocate holding troop levels steady. Senator Bernie Sanders called the war "a disaster." On the home front, the economy was dragged down by the hemorrhaging housing market. The Senate passed a bill designed to help stabilize the situation. Sanders-backed provisions to help disabled veterans and to promote energy efficiency were part of the package. Amid troubling signs that home foreclosures were on the rise in Vermont, hundreds of people emailed the senator to tell personal stories about how they are coping. Sanders took to the Senate floor to read some of the poignant stories that personalized what he called the collapse of the American middle class.
The Iraq War President Bush said Thursday that the senior United States commander in Iraq could "have all the time he needs" before reducing American forces in the war zone. The White House speech followed testimony on Capitol Hill by General David Patraeus, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq. He said gains in the war zone are too fragile to pull out more troops. The news was not welcomed by Vermont's congressional delegation. "The war in Iraq has been a disaster in terms of the number of dead and wounded, the loss of focus on al Qaeda and Afghanistan, and the cost that eventually will exceed $1 trillion. It is unacceptable that we have an administration that refuses to tell us how many more years we will be in Iraq or how many billions of dollars will be added to the national debt. The United States has a moral obligation to support the Iraqi government and military, but we must bring our troops home as soon as possible." Senator Patrick Leahy said the surge last year failed to achieve its goal of keeping violence in Iraq under control. Congressman Peter Welch noted that Bush still has not laid out a path to political reconciliation in Iraq
Housing Stimulus The Senate on Thursday moved to stabilize the battered housing market by approving a bill to provide tax breaks for home builders and other businesses, a $7,000 tax credit for buyers of foreclosed homes, $150 million for counseling borrowers and $4 billion for local governments to buy foreclosed properties. The package, which the Senate approved 84 to 12, included a provision by Sanders to increase by $57 million the amount of federal grants for disabled veterans to adapt their homes. "With so many soldiers coming back from Iraq with disabilities, it is absolutely imperative that we make sure they have as normal a life as possible and that certainly includes adapting their homes to meet their needs," Sanders said. The final bill also included energy tax credits cosponsored by Sanders that would promote renewable energy and energy efficiency. Sanders also cosponsored an amendment by Senator Patrick Leahy that would guarantee Vermont a $20 million share of $4 billion in community development block grants to prevent home foreclosures and to refurbish abandoned homes. Sens. Patrick Leahy and Bernard Sanders helped add a provision to the bill that makes sure Vermont, despite its size, would get nearly $20 million. To read more, click here.
The Collapse of the Middle Class More than 500 emails were sent to Sanders in the week since he posted a video on his Senate Web page asking people for their personal stories. He called the outpouring "powerful and overwhelming." The messages, he added, had an "articulateness that comes from telling the truth." Underscoring the concern voiced by Vermonters and others who wrote to the senator, there was a new report on Friday that Americans' confidence in the economy fell to a new low. Dragged down by worries about mounting job losses, record-high home foreclosures and escalating energy prices, the index sank in April for the fourth month in a row to an all-time low. Mark Vitner, an economist at Wachovia, told The Associated Press. "There are not a lot of happy campers out there." To read some of the emails sent to Sanders, click here. To take our poll on the economy, click here.
Fair Trade One reason the U.S. economy is cratering is the loss of manufacturing jobs, and one reason that manufacturing has shifted overseas is unfettered trade with countries that exploit workers. The House on Thursday thwarted a maneuver by President Bush to force congressional consideration of a new trade deal with Colombia. Sanders is a leading opponent of trade deals that have helped drive up the U.S. trade deficit to $58 billion. "Every member of the Senate is going to have to have the courage to stand up to big money interests, these large multinational corporations who like our current trade policy because they get cheap labor abroad. And I hope my colleagues understand that their job is to stand up for the middle class," he told Vermont Public Radio. To read the report, click here.
The Environment The Senate will take up legislation that would mandate U.S. reductions in greenhouse gas emissions June 2, the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee announced. Sanders has argued for a significant reduction in emissions of the heat-trapping gases that cause global warming. Meanwhile, Vermont's senators are pushing for a bill that they say will ensure federal protection for water quality and biodiversity around Lake Champlain. A bill being debated in the Senate Environment Committee is designed to reverse two Supreme Court rulings that define the Clean Water Act as protecting only "navigable" waterways. A member of the environment committee, Sanders supports a bill to put the waterways back under the law's protection. To listen to the Vermont Public Radio report, click here.