The Week in Review

As the week began, President Obama on Tuesday signed health care reform and student aid legislation.  At week's end, the Labor Department reported on Friday that unemployment was mired at 9.7 percent.  Blaming the worst recession since the 1930s on Wall Street greed and recklessness, Senator Bernie Sanders on Monday outlined his priorities for financial reform legislation the Senate will debate this spring. Among the proposals, he'll make another push for a cap on credit card interest ra

The Great Recession Even after the U.S. economy added 162,000 jobs in March, the official unemployment rate was stuck at 9.7 percent with 15 million Americans out of work, many of them for at least six months. "The government predicts the jobless rate will average 9.8 percent next year and 8.4 percent in 2012 before falling to 5 percent in 2016," according to The New York Times. The rate was 4.7 percent in November 2007, the month before the recession began.

Financial Reform The economy, jobs and financial industry reform are expected to top the Senate agenda later this month. Sanders on Monday outlined his priorities for taking on Wall Street in an e-mail to the tens of thousands of people signed up for the Bernie Buzz. "The major reason we are in the worst economy since the Great Depression is the greed and recklessness of Wall Street," he said. "The same people who caused the problem are now spending billions of dollars on lobbying and campaign contributions to make sure that they can continue to act in the reckless and unregulated manner which led us to where we are today. We cannot allow that to happen." To read about the senator's proposals to reform Wall Street, click here. To take a survey on financial reforms, click here.

Credit Cart Rip-Offs Congress must stop big banks from ripping off consumers by charging credit card interest rates of 35 percent or more.  "That is why I will offer an amendment to stop usury in America and place a reasonable cap on what lenders may charge credit card customers, similar to the limit already in place and working well for credit unions," Sanders said. To send an e-mail about your own experiences with credit card abuses, click here.

Health Care President Obama on Tuesday signed legislation putting finishing touches on health care reform.  Community health centers that provide family doctors, dentists and low-cost prescription drugs got another $2.5 billion in the final piece of legislation. That's in addition to $10 billion approved the week before for Sanders' signature initiative in the bill. All told, the bills will double the number of health centers and double the number of patients who will receive affordable primary health care.  The new law also will encourage more young doctors and other health care professionals to work in underserved parts of the country.   For a detailed summary and analysis of the bill, click here.

College Student Aid To make college more affordable, legislation that will transform how student aid is administered also was signed into law on Tuesday. By making direct loans instead of funneling funds through big banks, taxpayers will save money, student loans will cost less, and Pell grants will go up for students in the growing number of families that qualify for assistance. "Instead of large banks profiting on federally granted loans, what we have done is cut the middlemen out of that process," Sanders told The Vermont Cynic, the University of Vermont student newspaper.

Climate Change Sanders on Monday that outlined "serious concerns" about climate change legislation proposed by Sen. John Kerry and others. In a letter release on Monday, Sanders questioned "provisions that could harm the environment and provide new federal government support for polluters." To read the letter, click here.

Energy Grants Sanders on Monday announced energy efficiency and conservation grants totaling $5.8 million for 147 schools, towns, and cities across Vermont. The state grants were from  $3.2 billion in stimulus funds to create jobs while moving the country toward energy independence and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Sanders, chairman of the Green Jobs and New Economy Subcommittee, authored the provision in the 2007 energy bill which created the block grants program. "I helped write the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grants program because I believe that it is absolutely imperative that we involve citizens at the grassroots level in this effort," Sanders said.  "Over a long-term period, breaking our dependency on fossil fuels and moving to energy efficiency and such sustainable energies as wind, solar, biomass and geothermal can create millions of good paying jobs," he added. To read more, click here.

Vermont Yankee Vermont's congressional delegation asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to reconsider holding a closed-door session in New Hampshire with elected officials about the Vermont Yankee reactor, saying that keeping out the press and public would have undermined confidence in the commission's oversight of the Vernon reactor. The NRC agreed and cancelled the meeting.