With real unemployment still in double digits, jobless benefits for 1 million Americans expire Sunday. "It's a modern tragedy," Senator Bernie Sanders said. A marathon meeting on health care hosted by President Obama might have helped chart a course for Congress to move ahead with or without Republicans. A new credit card law took effect that protects consumers from some abuses, but still lets lenders charge loan-shark interest rates. In Vermont, the state Senate voted to shut down the Vermont Yankee nuclear reactor in 2012, a development Sanders saw as "a moment of tremendous opportunity for Vermont to become a world leader in the transformation to a cleaner, smarter and safer energy future."
Unemployment Sanders and Senate Democrats fought on Friday to spare unemployment benefits that run out this weekend for about 1 million people struggling to find work, but Sen. Jim Bunning blocked a vote on the legislation. Sanders argued that on top of the 17 percent rate of unemployment and underemployment nationwide, the rotten economy has left people without work for longer stretches of time. "We have never seen in modern history the length of time in which people are unemployed as is currently the case," Sanders contrasted Republican efforts to lavish more tax breaks on the wealthiest American with the Bunning blockade to deny help for people "hanging on by their fingernails."
Credit Cards A new law reining in some of the worst abuses by credit card issues took effect on Monday, but it still lets loan sharks in three-piece suits slap customers with outrageous interest rates. "What we have right now are millions of Americans who are paying 20, 25 or 30 percent or even more on interest rates on their credit cards, and frankly that is immoral. That is usury, and that is something that we have to end. The middle class is hurting in America, and it's just unfair to ask people to pay these outrageous interest rates," Sanders told CNN. To watch, click here.
Health Care President Obama strongly signaled after a televised policy marathon on Thursday that Democrats will move forward on a health care overhaul with or without Republicans. Interviewed on MSNBC, Sanders said that "the truth of the matter is the Republicans don't have a whole lot to say...I really don't think they have any significant ideas." He also split with the White House decision not to seek a public insurance option, like Medicare, in his health care legislation. "The president is wrong... I think we should go forward and I think we could get the 50 votes that we need." To watch the interview, click here.
Community Health Centers Sanders was awarded the 2010 "Distinguished Community Health Champion" award from the National Association of Community Health Centers. He also conferred in his Washington office with representatives of some of the eight health centers in Vermont that provide affordable primary care, dental care, mental health counseling and low-cost prescription drugs. When Obama on Monday detailed his own health care proposal, it included $12.5 billion for health centers and training for primary care doctors and other professionals. The White House proposal mirrors a Sanders provision for community health centers in a bill that the Senate passed late last year. To read more, click here. To watch the meeting with Vermonters, click here.
Majority Rules Sanders is leading calls for the Senate to forge ahead with health care and education reforms using a process that lets the majority rule instead of requiring 60-vote supermajorities needed to stop filibusters. Sanders talked about it in a floor speech. "I do a national radio show every week and every week on that program somebody is calling me up and saying, ‘I don't understand it. When the Republicans were in control of the Senate, they were able to bring forth sweeping proposals. They didn't have 60 votes. What is going on?' It is a good question. The answer is to use the reconciliation process, which is simply a parliamentary procedure which enables us to pass legislation with the end result of saving taxpayers' money and lowering the deficit. The beauty of that approach is you can go forward with 51 votes, not the 60 votes we are having a very difficult time obtaining. Some people say, ‘Well, this reconciliation approach is unfair. This is a radical idea. Why are you bringing it forth?' The answer is that this has been done time after time after time, mostly, in fact, by Republicans." To watch the speech, click here. To read more, click here.
Vermont Yankee The Vermont state Senate on Wednesday voted to block the Vermont Yankee nuclear reactor from operating after 2012. Sanders, a member of the U.S. Senate energy and environment committees, agreed with the state lawmakers. "When Vermont Yankee was built, the promise and expectation was that the plant would operate for 40 years and shut down. Today the Vermont Senate reconfirmed that long-established understanding. This is a moment of tremendous opportunity for Vermont to become a world leader in the transformation to a cleaner, smarter and safer energy future. Along with aggressive efforts to achieve even greater energy efficiency, we also can take better advantage of our natural resources to develop sustainable technologies such as wind, solar, geothermal and biomass. And as we move forward, I believe we also can create thousands of new, good-paying jobs in Vermont," Sanders said.
Mercenaries Rep. Jan Schakowsky and Sanders on Tuesday introduced legislation that would phase out private security contractors in war zones. The United States last year employed more than 22,000 hired guns in Iraq and Afghanistan. They protected diplomats, trained military and police officers, repaired and maintained weapons systems. Contractors also were involved with interrogations and intelligence gathering. "The American people have always prided themselves on the strength, conduct, and honor of our United States military. I therefore find it very disturbing that now, in the midst of two wars and a global struggle against terrorism, we are relying more and more on private security contractors - rather than our own service members - to provide for our national defense," Sanders said. To watch the press conference, click here.