News June 17

Senator Sanders


Financial Industry Regulation  President Obama today is scheduled to outline a regulatory reform program that will call for strong federal oversight of derivatives such as credit default swaps. Fortune magazine reported that Sen. Sanders earlier this month introduced legislation to force the Commodity Futures Trading Commission to invoke emergency powers to stop speculation, saying Wall Street was being allowed to "jack up oil prices through price manipulation and outright fraud." LINK


Oil Prices Some $5 trillion in daily trading on commodity futures and options exchanges, including crude oil contracts, are regulated by the federal trading commission. Sen. Bernie Sanders recently proposed legislation to address excessive speculation in energy markets, Bloomberg reported. “I support…use of the agency's broad and flexible emergency authority,” Commissioner Bart Chilton wrote in a McClatchy op-ed. LINK


Limiting Hedge Funds The Managed Funds Association just hired a heavyweight lobbying firm as Congress mulls how to rein in the $1.5 trillion hedge fund industry. Richard Baker, president and chief executive of the MFA, recently testified in favor of stricter regulation, although tepidly. It’s unclear if Baker’s testimony swayed opinions, but Crain’s reported that two dissident senators—Sanders and Cantwell – were persuaded to drop objections to former Goldman Sachs partner Gary Gensler becoming chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. LINK


Health Care Senator Bernie Sanders says the debate over health care reform is one of the fiercest that he's seen. "What we're seeing here on Capital Hill is the insurance companies fighting back…They don't want a level playing field," he told Vermont Public Radio. “Most Americans believe that all of us should have healthcare coverage, and that nobody should be left out of the system. Sanders wrote in a column published by The Christian Science Monitor. LINK and LINK


Health Care “In his Sunday opinion piece, Vermont Sen. Bernard Sanders was correct in saying, ‘Health care is more than a privilege.’ In spite of spending more per capita than any other nation in the world, the United States continues to lag in quality of health care for our citizens. There are millions uninsured and millions more underinsured. The overall situation is getting worse day by day, Jerry Northington wrote to The (Wilmington, Del.) News Journal.  LINK


Defense Contractors KBR Inc., the largest U.S. contractor in Iraq, should be pressed to return part of $27.6 million the Pentagon paid for the company’s war insurance premiums in 2003, according to Pentagon auditors.  The Defense Contract Audit Agency recommended contracting officials begin withholding payments on future contracts if KBR doesn’t provide paperwork documenting that the insurance premium billings were reasonable. Senator Bernie Sanders said, “It’s about time the Pentagon hold KBR and other defense contractors accountable.” Bloomberg reported. LINK


Stimulus Funds Gov. Douglas and Vermont's congressional delegation are urging the Obama administration to move faster to release money to promote the development of broadband and smart-grid technology. In a letter to Vice President Joe Biden, Douglas, Sens Leahy and Sanders and Rep. Peter Welch say the current plan to release the money in December will miss this year's construction season in the state. Vermont is seeking money that is part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, The Associated Press reported. LINK


Travel Expenses Sens. John Cornyn and Chuck Schumer each spent more than $140,000 in taxpayer money on travel in the first half of the fiscal year — roughly 10 times as much as some of their thriftier colleagues. Sen. Sanders spent $27,936 and Leahy $19,198, according to a Politico chart of transportation expenditures paid out of Senate official expense accounts, the $2 million to $4 million each senator gets annually to cover the cost of travel, staff payroll and other expenses related to members’ official duties. LINK


In the Line of Duty Bennington Rescue Squad Paramedic Supervisor Dale Long, 48, died on Monday after an ambulance he was driving hit a tree. Long met with Sens. Leahy and Sanders last May in Washington, D.C., after winning the Star of Life award from the American Ambulance Association, the Rutland Herald and Bennington Banner reported. "Dale Long represented much of what is best about Vermont…assisting others in need, serving the community, dedicating his life to the well-being of others," Sanders said. LINK and LINK


Air America Comes to D.C. Air America Media will debut the new 1050 AM throughout the Washington, D.C. region on Wednesday. The station will feature several prominent, Washington, D.C. personalities on programming throughout the day on Wednesday, including Helen Thomas, Chris Matthews, Senator Bernie Sanders and others, according to Radio Business Report. LINK




Iran Iran's opposition announced a third day of street demonstrations Wednesday as the country's most powerful military force warned of a crackdown against online media in its first pronouncement on the deepening election crisis, AP reported. LINK




Obama Sought Consensus on Finance Rules President Obama’s plan to reshape financial regulation, which he will unveil on Wednesday, is the product of weeks of meetings among government officials, financial experts, lawmakers, industry executives and lobbyists, many of whom were invited to help the White House draft the proposal. Obama told reporters on Tuesday that a “lack of oversight” allowed what he called “wild risk-taking. LINK


Senate Committee to Craft Health Care Bill Eye-popping new cost estimates for President Obama's plan to overhaul the U.S. health care system are forcing majority Democrats to scale back their plans to subsidize coverage for the uninsured. The $1 trillion-plus estimates come as the Senate Health Committee prepares to meet Wednesday to begin crafting a bill around Obama's top legislative priority, The New York Times reported. LINK


Sotomayor Defends Female Club Defending her membership in an elite all-women's club, Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor told senators that the group doesn't discriminate unfairly by gender and includes men in many of its activities. Her explanation, in a letter submitted Monday evening to the Senate Judiciary Committee, responded to Republican questions about her membership in Belizean Grove, a group of prominent professional women, because federal judges are bound by a code that says they shouldn't join any organization that discriminates by race, sex, religion or nationality, AP reported. LINK

E Mail Surveillance Renews Concerns in Congress The National Security Agency is facing renewed scrutiny over the extent of its domestic surveillance program, with critics in Congress saying its recent intercepts of the private telephone calls and e-mail messages of Americans are broader than previously acknowledged, current and former officials told The New York Times. LINK


House Approves War Funds The House narrowly approved a $105.9 billion wartime spending bill Tuesday evening, capping a two-month march that has sorely tested President Obama’s ability to navigate between warring forces on the political left and right. Overshadowed by the health care and climate change debates, the measure has nonetheless provoked the grittiest legislative battle yet seen in this Congress, according to Politico. LINK


Some Transit Aid May Be Freed Up for Operating Costs For some public transit systems, the federal stimulus program seemed like an O. Henry gift. Washington sent them billions of dollars for new equipment and construction, but nothing to operate the systems they have, even as many are cutting service or raising fares. Now Congress may be providing some relief. A provision tucked inside the latest war spending bill would allow transit agencies to spend up to 10 percent of their stimulus money on operating expenses, The New York Times reported.     LINK


Senator Questions AmeriCorps Firing Sen. Claire McCaskill on Tuesday joined Republicans in questioning President Obama's firing of the internal watchdog for the federal AmeriCorps program. Gerald Walpin was dismissed over his handling of an investigation of the mayor of Sacramento, Calif., Kevin Johnson, an Obama supporter during the presidential campaign. McCaskill said the president failed to follow a law she sponsored, which requires that he give Congress 30 days advance notice of an inspector general's dismissal, AP reported. LINK




Maple Syrup Record According to federal data, Vermont produced 920,000 gallons of maple syrup this year. That's a 30 percent increase over 2008 and the highest since the U.S. Department of Agriculture began tracking production in 1944. Vermont produced a third of the nation's maple syrup in 2009, AP reported. LINK


Nuclear Power The companies that own almost half the nation's nuclear reactors are not setting aside enough money to dismantle them, and many may sit idle for decades and pose safety and security risks as a result, an Associated Press investigation has found. The Vermont Yankee plant license is set to expire in 2012, and its decommissioning fund has less than half the money expected to be needed.  The fund now it stands at about $384 million -- a rebound from where it stood a few months ago but not even close to the estimated $932 million it will eventually cost to dismantle the plant. LINK