News December 13

Senator Sanders

House Passes Budget The House on Thursday approved a budget bill. The 332-94 vote sent the measure to the Senate, where Sens. Bernie Sanders and Tom Harkin are undecided because the agreement does not include emergency unemployment benefits, according to The Hill. It is unsure that enough Senate Republicans will vote for the budget bill and avoid a government shutdown. Sanders also was disappointed that the measure fails to end corporate tax breaks and subsidies, like one that Rep. Keith Ellison mentioned on MSNBC. “Sen. Bernie Sanders and I have found $110 billion over ten years with of giveaway loopholes to the fossil fuel industry.” LINKVIDEO

Community Health Centers Sen. Sanders met last Thursday with physicians and administrators at the Gifford Medical Center. Its designation as a community health center makes it eligible for hundreds of thousands of federal dollars, The Herald of Randolph reported. “We’re excited at what you’re doing,” Sophie Kasimow, staff director for a Senate subcommittee, said at the end of the hour-long meeting. LINK

Sanders at Middlebury Union High School Sen. Sanders spoke  with students in the Middlebury Union High School auditorium last week. Sanders touched on health care, job creation and sustainable energy during his visit, according to the Addison County Independent. LINK

VA Backlog A senior Veterans Affairs Department official predicted at a Senate hearing chaired by Sen. Sanders that a backlog of almost 400,000 claims for disability benefits will be eliminated by 2015. Sanders said that the backlog can be attributed in part to the department’s slow transition from paper to a digital records system, reported. The chairman asked VA for a report by January on improving the claims appeals process. Fierce Government reported. LINKLINK

Energy Efficiency Brattleboro Town Meeting Representative Michael Bosworth wants the town to invest $3,400 for energy audits of five town-owned buildings. The audits will show what kind of savings the town can expect if it subsequently carries out recommendations to make the buildings more energy efficient. A potential source of revenue is a new round of federal energy block grant money that Sen. Sanders is fighting form, Bosworth wrote in a Brattleboro Reformer column. LINK

District Energy Writing in the Times Argus about a new district heating system in Montpelier., Vt., City Council candidate Dan Jones noted that Sen. Sanders “is so proud of what we have done that he is busy proclaiming the system as a national model of a resilient energy response by a small city.” LINK

White House ’16 “Orthodox liberals” are “desperate” for a candidate to challenge Hillary Clinton, Steve and Cokie Roberts write in a column for the Farmington, N.M., Daily Times. They mention Sen. Elizabeth Warren but say that if she stays out then Sen. Sanders or former Gov. Howard Dean could step in. The go on to say that Democrats from the “loony left” nominated five “northern liberals” for president since 1968 and Hubert Humphrey, George McGovern, Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis and John Kerry all lost. LINK

Book Club Forget Oprah’s Book Club. Sen. Claire McCaskill formed a more exclusive reading group of senators all first elected in 2006. They gather at her apartment every December to eat chili and exchange their favorite books of the year. They each pick one of the wrapped books from a basket and then guess who brought it. One year Sen. Bob Corker, the only Republican, brought “The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World,” by Alan Greenspan, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve. Sanders, a fierce Greenspan critic, happened to pick it. But he may have had the last laugh. Corker by chance chose the book Sanders brought. No one can remember the title, but McCaskill told the Springfield, Mo., News Leader that it was a very liberal pick. LINK


Punishing Iran Aid The Obama administration on Thursday hit some two dozen companies and individuals with punitive measures for aiding Iran in spite of sanctions, The Christian Science Monitor reported. Administration officials emphasized that enforcement of existing sanctions would not waver as sides negotiate a nuclear deal. LINK

Drone Strike in Yemen Fifteen people died Thursday in a U.S. drone strike that mistook a wedding convoy for an al-Qaeda convoy, Reuters reported. LINK

North Korea Ex-Leader Executed North Korea on Friday announced the execution of Kim Jong Un's uncle, calling the leader's former mentor a traitor who tried to overthrow the state, The Associated Press reported. LINK


The Lobotomy Files The Veterans Administration lobotomized 2,000 mentally ill veterans—and likely hundreds more—during and after World War II, according documents unearthed by The Wall Street Journal. The Veterans Administration performed the brain-altering operations, sometimes using ice picks, on former servicemen diagnosed as depressives, psychotics and schizophrenics and homosexuals. The Department of Veterans Affairs said the practice ended “after a few years … as safer and more effective treatments were developed.” LINK

Tempers Flare in Senate If there is a rock bottom in the frayed relationship between Senate Republicans and Democrats, it seemed uncomfortably close as the final days of 2013 on Capitol Hill degenerated into something like an endurance contest to see who could be the most spiteful. Thursday brought the week’s second late-night session — called by Democrats as a way of retaliating for Republicans’ delaying tactics on confirmations — and before the senators headed in for the votes, they were angrily assigning blame. “I think it resembles fourth graders playing in a sandbox,” Sen. Lamar Alexander told The New York Times. Sen. Richard Blumenthal called this week “chaotic and confusing, and a shameful waste of time.” LINK

NSA Spying The National Security Agency chief said Wednesday at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing there is no better way his agency can help protect the U.S. from foreign threats than with spy programs that collect billions of phone and Internet records from around the world. Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy said the present NSA methods are troubling and has proposed legislation to prohibit bulk collection of U.S. phone records, Newsday reported. LINK

Health Program Extension Department of Health and Human Services officials announced the extension of the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan, a transitional Affordable Care Act program that covers over 100,000 sick Americans, to give them more time to sign up for new health plans, Think Progress reported. LINK

Farm Law Extension The House has passed an extension of farm law until the end of January as lawmakers try to finish work on a new five-year farm bill, The Associated Press reported. LINK


Bank of America Sued Attorney General Bill Sorrell is suing Bank of America for alleged violations of Vermont's foreclosure mediation and consumer protection laws, The Associated Press reported. LINK

Guard Set for Massive Training Deployment A brigade of 1,900 Vermont Army National Guard soldiers has been selected as the only Guard unit in the country to participate in a three-week advanced warfare training exercise next year in Louisiana, the Burlington Free Press reported. LINK

Middlebury College President to Step Down The president of Middlebury College announced Thursday that he will step down in 2015, at the end of the next academic year. President Ronald Liebowitz announced his plans at a board of trustees meeting in New York City on Thursday and sent an email to the campus community in the afternoon, the college said, according to AP. LINK

Environmental Watch List 2014 Vermont Law School, the nation’s top-ranked environmental law school, has announced its Top 10 Environmental Watch List for 2014, Vermont Biz reported. This year the entire list focuses on legal and policy actions that hope to address, or prepare us to adapt, to more intense weather-related disasters. LINK

The Vermont Movie The Vermont Movie, a documentary film covering more than 250 years of Green Mountain history, completed premier showings throughout the state, Vermont Public Radio reported. LINK