News June 12

Senator Sanders


Senate Votes for Tobacco Regulation More than four decades after the surgeon general declared smoking a health hazard, the Senate on Thursday cleared the final hurdle to empowering federal officials to regulate cigarettes and other forms of tobacco for the first time. Sens. Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders voted for the bill to give regulators new powers to limit nicotine in cigarettes, drastically curtail ads and ban candied tobacco products aimed at young people. The plan now goes back to the House for another vote, The Associated Press reported. LINK


Sanders ‘One-Two Punch’ on Oil Prices Sen. Bernie Sanders this week won Senate energy committee approval of an amendment that would require big oil traders to report reserves in offshore tankers. Sanders also filed a bill to require federal regulators to stop “unwarranted” or sudden changes in prices, the Valley News reported. The Brattleboro Reformer called the legislation “a good start,” but added that “what's really needed is for Congress to restore transparency to the futures market, where energy prices are set.” LINK and LINK


Health Care On CNN’s “The Situation Room,” Sanders said, “I want a national health insurance program which will continue to have privately funded doctors and non-profit hospitals. The fact of the matter is, our current system is disintegrating…and you know what, Wolf? At the end of the day we spend almost twice as much per person on health care as any of the other major countries, all of which have national health insurance programs.” VIDEO


Health Care Saying the health care debate in Washington had kicked off in earnest, USA Today posted a collection of viewpoints, including Sander’ assertion in a Huffington Post column that “most Americans believe that all of us should have health care coverage, and that nobody should be left out of the system. The real debate is how we accomplish that goal in an affordable and sustainable way. The evidence is overwhelming that we must end the private insurance company domination of health care in our country and move toward a publicly funded, single-payer Medicare for all approach." LINK


Health Care U.S. Rep. Peter Welch introduced a bill this week that would create a public health insurance plan. Susan Baker, VPIRG’s health care advocate, was enthusiastic about Welch's bill along with companion legislation introduced by Sen. Sanders, the Vermont Press Bureau reported.


Health Care The Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald took issue with Sanders’ assertion that Americans have a right to health care, saying his “overstatements are a key reason why health care reform in America has sputtered in the past and may do so again this year.” LINK and LINK


Fed Secrecy Fox Business Network’s “America’s Nightly Scoreboard” reported that Sanders wants more transparency on $2 trillion-plus in Federal Reserve loans to financial institutions. “It is time for the Fed to name names. The American people have the right to know who received more than $2 trillion in loans from the Fed, how much each one received and what they're doing with the money.” An analyst agreed and noted an “amazing coalition of forces” by Sanders and libertarian Rep. Ron Paul to force fuller disclosure.  VIDEO


Energy The Senate energy committee yesterday approved an amendment that hands the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission new power to quickly act against suspected manipulation of natural gas and electricity markets. The committee also accepted an amendment by Sen. Sanders aimed at fostering renewable energy development on brownfield sites, The New York Times reported online. LINK


Greener Gardens The Greener Gardens Act, introduced by the three members of the Vermont congressional delegation,  would give a 25 percent tax credit of up to $1,000 to anyone buying power lawn, garden, or forestry equipment that meets certain “green” requirements.  The tax credits would be similar to those offered to homeowners who buy energy-saving doors and windows, insulation, or more efficient furnaces, according to The Christian Science Monitor. LINK


Solar Grant Lyndon State College will receive federal help for a project making use of solar energy, according to the office of Sen. Bernie Sanders.  LSC Dean Bob Whittaker said, “This project will fulfill the mission of our sustainability studies program by educating its students deeply in real world sustainable technology – in this instance, photovoltaics,” according to the Caledonian-Record.


Transportation Stimulus Federal stimulus money on its way to Vermont will help make getting around the state much easier.  Senators Pat Leahy and Bernie Sanders along with Congressman Peter Welch say $3.9 million will be divided up between nine public transportation providers for new vehicles.  The organizations receiving the money are based in Middlebury, Wilder, Burlington, Rockingham, West Dover, Bennington, Rutland, St. Johnsbury and Randolph, WPTZ reported. VIDEO


Town Meeting “We are a small state, but we are one of 50, and other states will learn from our example,” Sen. Bernie Sanders told about 100 people at a recent town meeting in Hardwick.  As if to underscore what would be a minor-key theme of “all politics is local,” attendees dined on locally-made food. Sanders called the economic recovery package “one of the most important pieces of legislation in our lifetimes” and said banks and other greedy entities had helped “bring us right to the brink of a depression,” according to the Hardwick Gazette.




Iran Votes Iranians packed polling stations from boutique-lined streets in north Tehran to conservative bastions to choose Friday between keeping hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in power or replacing him with a reformist who favors greater freedoms and improved ties with the United States. The fiery, month-long campaign unleashed passions that could bring a record turnout, The Associated Press reported. LINK


Obama Bows on Detainees The Obama administration has all but abandoned plans to allow Guantanamo Bay detainees who have been cleared for release to live in the United States, administration officials said yesterday, a decision that reflects bipartisan congressional opposition to admitting such prisoners but complicates efforts to persuade European allies to accept them, according to The Washington Post. Four Chinese Muslims incarcerated at the U.S. military prison in Cuba for more than seven years arrived early yesterday in Bermuda, where they will become foreign guest workers. LINK




Health Care Lobbyists Spend More The largest medical insurers and drug companies spent 41 percent more on lobbying this year as Congress began debate on an overhaul of health care, which may include a public insurance plan the industries oppose. Despite an overall decline in lobbyist spending this year, a USA Today review of disclosure reports found 20 of the largest health insurance and drug companies and their trade groups spent nearly $35 million in the first quarter of 2009, up more than $10 million from the same period last year. LINK


War Spending Deal Struck Congressional negotiators reached tentative agreement on Thursday on a $105.9 billion spending measure that would provide money for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan through September but would drop a ban on the release of photographs showing abuse of foreign prisoners held by United States forces. The deal was concluded after Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, went to the Capitol to assure Senate Democrats that President Obama would use all administrative and legal means to prevent the photos’ release, The Washington Post reported. LINK


Spike in Interest Rates Could Choke Recovery Rising long-term interest rates are making it more expensive for home buyers, corporations and the U.S. government to borrow money, threatening to further stifle an already weak economy. In just the past two weeks, the rate on a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage has risen to 5.6 percent from 4.9 percent, ending a boom in refinancing and working against a budding recovery in the housing market, according to The Washington Post.  LINK


Calls Resume for Single Banking Regulator The Obama administration is facing new pressure from key lawmakers to centralize banking oversight in a single regulator, a proposal the White House had seriously considered before shelving it as widespread opposition grew. The Washington Post said Sen. Charles E. Schumer urged Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner in a letter yesterday to propose a single banking regulator and dispense with the alphabet soup of agencies that now oversee banks. LINK


Tax Man's Target: The Mobile Phone The use of company-issued mobile phones could trigger new federal income taxes on millions of Americans as a "fringe benefit." The Internal Revenue Service proposed employers assign 25 percent of an employee's annual phone expenses as a taxable benefit. Under that scenario, a typical worker could see $105 in additional federal income tax, The Wall Street Journal reported. LINK




Property Crimes Rise Property crimes in Vermont were up in 2008 and the official who assembled the statistics partly blames the weak economy for the spike. The 2008 Vermont Crime Report, released Thursday, found that burglaries were up 11 percent and thefts up 10 percent, said Max Schlueter, the director of the Vermont Criminal Information Center, The Associated Press reported. LINK


Health Insurance Premiums Vermont's state-subsidized Catamount Health insurance program may soon get more expensive. The Rutland Herald and Barre-Montpelier Times Argus report that Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont and MVP Health Care -- two companies that manage the Catamount program -- told lawmakers earlier this year they were likely to ask for premium increases by July 1, according to AP. LINK


Emergency Drill A drill aimed at gauging emergency preparedness in the area around Vermont Yankee nuclear plant got a reality check when a telephone line failed. Brattleboro Town Manager Barbara Sondag says the glitch -- which interrupted service to homes and businesses with a 251 exchange -- was an eye-opener because it allowed emergency responders to practice situations in which they have limited communication, The Associated Press reported. LINK