News June 25

Senator Sanders


Health Care “I think in Vermont and all of the country, people understand that we have a dysfunctional health care system,” Sen. Bernie Sanders told ABC News. “I think what the president is talking about is giving people a choice, of whether they want to stay with their own private health insurance or if they want to go into a Medicare-like program which would be available to all people regardless of age.  Do I think all people should have that choice?  I sure do.” LINK and VIDEO


‘Oceans Apart’ Vt. Gov. Douglas planned to meet with Rep. Welch but “he's not going anywhere near Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is on a committee crafting the health care bill in the Senate. Safe to say their ideas about who should run health care are oceans apart, while his and Welch's ideas are a mere stream apart,” wrote Terri Hallenbeck on a Burlington Free Press blog. LINK


Oil Prices While Sen. Sanders dropped a hold on Gary Gensler's nomination to chair the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, he has not wavered in his belief that speculators, not supply and demand, are responsible for the movement of energy prices. The day after Gensler was sworn in, Sanders encouraged him to use emergency powers -- such as imposing new speculation limits, increasing margin requirements and even suspending trading in certain funds if necessary -- to ensure that oil prices accurately reflect the forces of supply and demand, Futures magazine reported. LINK


Re-Regulation The Commodity Futures Trading Commission gently regulated the derivatives markets, which have been blamed for wreaking havoc on the global economy. Rather than abolish the agency, Obama proposed strengthening it. Not all reformers are convinced that the plan is comprehensive enough and, more so, doubt the CFTC is capable of recovering from a long legacy of deregulation.  Sens. Sanders and Maria Cantwell held up the nomination of the new chairman because of concerns over his former deregulatory positions, but eventually released their holds, Huffington Post reported. LINK


Fed Secrecy President Obama's financial regulatory plan has created controversy over the role of the Federal Reserve. Rep. Ron Paul, a longtime critic of the very institution of the Fed, recently sponsored a bill that would audit the central bank. “The person who introduced my bill in the Senate is Bernie Sanders, a so-called socialist,” Paul told U.S. News & World Report. “They're opposed to special-interest corporatism. They don't like corporatism anymore than I do. I don't like welfare for anybody, let alone corporations.” LINK


Energy Grants A narrow definition of what constitutes a county government meant counties throughout New England did not qualify for energy efficiency community development block grants in the economic stimulus package. But through an effort by regional planning commissions and the Vermont congressional delegation, the Department of Energy is asking those counties to submit paperwork explaining why they should qualify for funding. The fix could make up to $80,000 in grants available to each county's planning commission through the state, an aide to Sanders told the Brattleboro Reformer. LINK


Leahy Running Again Patrick Leahy will run for re-election in 2010, he announced in an e-mail message to supporters Wednesday. Leahy, who is the fourth most senior member of the Senate, used his announcement to ask supporters for money. The Vermont Press Bureau said Leahy noted that the last U.S. Senate race in Vermont -- between Sen. Sanders and Republican Richard Tarrant -- cost more than $12 million. “We've got to be prepared," he wrote. LINK




Iran Reform Leader Pressure to Drop Challenge Iran's key opposition leader said Thursday for the first time that he is being isolated by authorities and pressured to drop his presidential election challenge, while the declared winner of the vote, hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, sharply criticized President Barack Obama, The Associated Press reported. LINK




Obama Not Closing Door on Health Care Tax President Obama is leaving the door open to a new tax on employer-provided health care benefits. Senior senators said Wednesday the benefits tax could be essential for the complex plan to be fully financed. For Obama, the health care debate got personal during an ABC News town hall at the White House on Wednesday. The prime-time program was the latest in a string of events designed to build public support for his plan to slow the rise in health care costs and expand coverage to the nearly 50 million uninsured, AP reported. LINK


Senate Panel Hears of Health Insurers' Wrongs Health insurers have forced consumers to pay billions of dollars in medical bills that the insurers themselves should have paid, according to a report released yesterday by the staff of the Senate Commerce Committee. The Washington Post said the report was part of a multi-pronged assault on the credibility of private insurers by Commerce Committee Chairman John D. Rockefeller IV. LINK


Liberals Draw Hard Line on Health Reform House liberals are warning the Senate, Democratic leaders and President Obama that a government-run insurance option must be included in any health reform bill, or else the powerful bloc will vote it down. “Usually, we work behind the scenes to strengthen legislation,” said Rep. Lynn Woolsey, co-chairwoman of the 80-member Congressional Progressive Caucus. But she made it clear that she and many of her colleagues will vote to kill a health care plan if it leaves patients at the mercy of private health insurance companies, Roll Call reported. LINK


Bernanke Faces House Panel Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke likely will face hostile questions from a House committee investigating whether he and other government officials pressured Bank of America Corp. into a "shotgun wedding" with Merrill Lynch that cost taxpayers $20 billion. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has scheduled a hearing Thursday as it probes whether federal officials urged Bank of America CEO Kenneth Lewis to keep quiet last fall about Merrill Lynch's financial problems and stick with the plan to combine the two financial powers, AP reported. LINK


On Promise Of Upswing, Fed Holds Rate Steady The Federal Reserve issued a vote of confidence in the economy yesterday, saying it would take no new action to combat a recession that, while still severe, appears to be loosening its grip. The Washington Post reported that recent economic data suggest the recession is closer to bottoming out. LINK


Majority Ready for a Long Year With Republicans attempting to throw roadblocks in front of almost every piece of Senate business these days, Democratic leaders say they are willing to keep the chamber in session into late fall if necessary to complete their ambitious agenda. Majority Whip Dick Durbin indicated Wednesday that Democrats are committed to finishing health care reform, a climate change bill, Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the Supreme Court, an immigration bill, financial regulatory reform and 12 regular appropriations bills before year’s end, Roll Call reported. LINK


VA Urged to Reform Claim Procedures Citing a fast-growing backlog of unresolved disability claims, veterans groups and members of Congress are calling for an overhaul of Department of Veterans Affairs procedures for handling cases. The number of unprocessed disability claims has grown by nearly 100,000 since the beginning of the year and totaled 916,625 as of Saturday, a rise driven in part by increasing numbers of veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Rep. John Hall said the department needs "a cultural and management sea change," The Washington Post reported. LINK


Speed of Stimulus Less than one-half of 1 percent of the money set aside for highway repair and construction has been distributed since President Obama signed the $787 billion stimulus package in February, Transportation Department figures show, according to USA Today. The top Republican on the House Transportation Committee, John Mica of Florida, says stimulus funding is trickling to states too slowly because of excessive federal regulations. "There should be no reason why, with the economy in dire straits, that we can't get the money out there. It's tied up in red tape." LINK




Governors at White House A bipartisan group of governors told President Obama yesterday that they share his urgent desire to restructure the nation's health-care system but warned that any changes should not place more burdens on strained state budgets or eliminate innovative programs they already have in place. The president met at the White House  with Republican governors Jim Douglas of Vermont and Mike Rounds of South Dakota, and with Democrats Jim Doyle of Wisconsin, Jennifer Granholm of Michigan and Christine Gregoire of Washington, AP reported. LINK


Douglas on Stimulus Gov. Douglas reports that he delivered evidence to Vice President Joe Biden today of the completion of Vermont's first stimulus-funded project. He said he gave Biden a copy of Wednesday’s Burlington Free Press with stories and photos of the Richmond Bridge Street bridge, which is open and corrosion-free. LINK


Douglas Slashes Agency Staff The number of people working at the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources is down almost 10 percent over the last six months. Gov. Douglas has eliminated 58 positions within the agency. The reductions include one third of the solid waste management staff, an assistant director of the Air Quality Division, two natural resources planners and a wetlands specialist, whose salary was mostly paid with a federal funds. The agency released a list of the cuts to the Burlington Free Press. LINK


Parlez vous shopping? In another bid to lure Canadian shoppers, a "French conversation tent" aimed at helping French-speaking visitors navigate Vermont's biggest city opened Wednesday -- St. Jean Baptiste Day in Quebec -- and will return to the Church Street Marketplace every Saturday through the summer.