The Week in Review

Congress and President Obama this week wrapped up over a year of work on health care reform legislation.  The president signed the bill into law Tuesday and Congress finished work on a package of improvements on Thursday.  The health care law will extend coverage to 32 million uninsured Americans and reduce federal budget deficits by $143 billion in the coming decade.  Included in the package was a change in the federal student loan program.  The change removes the middle man role played by private banks and instead gives the funds directly to students and schools.  Sen. Sanders successfully included a provision which maintains an important role for Vermont's non-profit loan organization.

Health Care Congress on Thursday gave final approval to a package of changes to sweeping health care overhaul. Another $2.5 billion was added to the $10 billion boost Sanders already won for a dramatic expansion of community health centers and physician training.  Altogether, 8,000 new Federally Qualified Health Centers will be opened across the country over five years, more than double the number now. “We will be doubling the number of Americans with access to community health centers from 20 million to 40 million nationwide in every region of this country,” Sanders said. “That is a huge step forward in providing basic health care to millions of Americans who today cannot access that care.” The health care changes also gradually close a gap in coverage for prescription drugs for Medicare recipients. It will increase assistance to help low-income people afford health care. Medicaid payments to states will go up while Vermont and other states that already covered more people than the federal government required will be treated fairly. “The bill is not as strong as I wanted and I will work to improve it, but it begins to move this country toward the long-time goal of providing comprehensive, affordable health care for all Americans,” Sanders said. To watch the senator's floor speech, click here.

Student Aid More college students will have access to bigger Pell grants, and future borrowers of government loans will have an easier time repaying them, under a vast overhaul of higher education aid that Congress passed Thursday. “At a time of soaring college costs, increasing Pell grants for students is a smart investment in their future and ours,” said Sanders, a member of the Senate education committee. “With many young people not able to afford college or graduating deep in debt, this is an important step forward in making sure all of our people, regardless of income, have a better opportunity for a higher education.” The legislation changes the federal student loan program from one in which private banks distribute aid into a direct-loan program that eliminates the middle-man costs. A Sanders’ provision preserves a role for the nonprofit Vermont Student Assistance Corp so it may continue offering counseling and other assistance that it has provided for generations of Vermont students and their families.  

Denmark Bernie hosted the Danish ambassador to the United States on a visit to Vermont. Friis Arne Petersen spoke 200 people on Sunday in Montpelier. He also appeared Monday at a well-attended meeting with business leaders.  He spoke later in the day to students and faculty at the University of Vermont Medical School and St. Michael’s College. Discussing health care, Sanders told Fox's Neil Cavuto, "I had the ambassador from Denmark in Vermont a few days ago. They cover all of their people, better outcomes than we have, and they're spending about half as much per person on health care as we do." To watch the UVM Medical School meeting, click here.