The Week in Review

Congress faces a full workload when it returns on Monday from a Presidents’ Day recess. Health care reform and jobs legislation top the agenda. Senator Bernie Sanders is among those pushing for a public option like Medicare as a way to hold down skyrocketing private health insurance premiums. As Sanders traveled throughout Vermont during the past week, he encountered growing support for innovative energy solutions like solar power and biomass as ways to help the environment and create green jobs. 

Health Care The White House signaled on Thursday that President Obama will put forward comprehensive health care legislation before a summit meeting with Republicans at Blair House in the coming week. Meanwhile, private health insurance companies, already racking up huge profits, drew fire for plans to jack up premiums even more. An alarming new report issued Thursday by the Department of Health and Human Services detailed efforts by insurers in several states to stick customers with outrageous premium hikes. The report also is throwing a spotlight on renewed efforts by Sanders and others to get Congress to pass a public option, like Medicare, to compete with private insurance companies and hold down premiums. To read the new Obama administration study, click here.

Public Option Sanders, a member of the Senate health committee, signed a letter to the Senate majority leader calling for a Senate vote on a public health insurance option. "At a time when there is deep skepticism and mistrust of the private insurance industry, when just last month a major health insurer in California announced it would raise its premiums by a whopping 39 percent in one fell swoop, the American people have made it clear that they want the option to buy their insurance through a Medicare-type, government-run public insurance plan," Sanders said.  To read more, click here.

Yes We Can Sanders has blasted the unprecedented use of obstruction tactics by Senate Republicans to block health care reform and virtually every other major initiative by the Obama administration. Now he has come up with a response to “The Party of No.” The Senate could get around Republican roadblocks and take up health care and education reform using a process that requires 51 votes to pass a bill (instead of the 60 needed to stop a filibuster) so long as the legislative package reduces the deficit. Sanders told Rachel Maddow on Wednesday on MSNBC that to help pay for the reforms we should end Bush`s tax breaks for the rich, eliminate unnecessary Cold War-era military expenditures, and root out corporate welfare. A member of the Senate Budget Committee, Sanders also hopes to use the same parliamentary process known as reconciliation to move energy and jobs measures. Critics of the tactic include some of the same members of Congress who used the same procedures to ram through tax breaks for the wealthy and other measures during previous administrations. To watch Sanders on MSNBC, click here.

Tax Breaks for Rich According to a report  out this past week on by David Cay Johnston, “The incomes of the top 400 American households soared to a new record high in dollars and as a share of all income in 2007, while the income tax rates they paid fell to a record low, newly disclosed tax data show.  In 2007 the top 400 taxpayers had an average income of $344.8 million, up 31 percent from their average $263.3 million income in 2006, according to figures in a report that the IRS posted to its Web site without announcement that were discovered February 16. The figures came at the peak of the last economic cycle and show that widely published reports in major newspapers asserting that the richest Americans are losing relative ground and becoming poorer are not supported by the official income data. Their effective income tax rate fell to 16.62 percent, down more than half a percentage point from 17.17 percent in 2006, the new data show.” To read more, click here.

 Nuclear Energy The U.S. Energy Department on Tuesday agreed to underwrite construction of two nuclear reactors.  Sanders is a skeptic. "It's a heck of a lot of money," he said and added that construction of new nuclear plants “may well be the most expensive way to go."

Biomass Energy On Thursday, Sanders announced that new biomass project will help heat Vermont Technical College and give students at the Randolph Center campus hands-on experience in renewable energy. The senator said the project will make Vermont more energy independent, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and create good-paying local jobs. To read more about the biomass project, click here.

Solar Energy On Friday, Sanders met with Vermont teachers and students in Burlington to discuss their proposals for educational, small-scale solar energy installations through the Sanders-funded “Solar in Schools” program.  For more information on the solar schools initiative, click here.

Veterans A proposed $125 billion budget for veterans - a 20 percent increase since President Obama took office - will improve health care and other benefits for Vermont veterans. The budget for 2011,  which the White House unveiled earlier this month,  also would expedite the processing of disability claims and aggressively address the serious problem of homelessness within the veterans' community. "As a member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, I'm proud to report that, while we still have a long way to go, we are making some good progress in improving the care and benefits that our veterans have earned and deserve," Sanders told a press conference on Tuesday at his office in Burlington. To read more, click here.