The Senate passed an amendment to a defense spending bill that would shine a spotlight on crooked contractors. Senator Bernie Sanders said rampant Pentagon fraud dwarfed misdeeds by ACORN workers that caused Congress to strip federal funding from the group that helps poor people. Also last week, House and Senate conferees agreed on a Sanders plan to help dairy farmers. Leading senior citizens organizations backed Bernie's bill to make sure Social Security recipients don't lose benefits next year. And the week ended with depressing news that the unemployment rate climbed to 9.8 percent. The lousy American economy is the subject of this week's Sanders Unfiltered Web video. It's called Michael Moore & Me.
Unemployment Hits 9.8 Percent September's unemployment rate ticked up to a 26-year high of 9.8 percent as employers eliminated a net 263,000 jobs. The jobless figure is expected to top 10 percent before the end of the year. Even worse, today 17 percent of working-age Americans are unemployed or under-employed. That number has more than doubled since 2007. More than 27 million Americans are officially unemployed, have stopped looking for work in the past month, or are working part-time for economic reasons. There are 5.4 million Americans who have been unemployed for longer than six months, the highest on record. "There are workers who have been unemployed for such a long period that their benefits are running out," Sanders told nationally-syndicated radio host Thom Hartmann. The senator said he is working on legislation to extend benefits for workers in all 50 states.
Defense Fraud The Senate on Thursday passed a Sanders amendment to the Department of Defense appropriations bill that would require the Pentagon to calculate the total amount of money that goes to companies that have engaged in fraud against the U.S. and make recommendations about how to penalize repeat offenders. "It is absurd that year after year after year, these companies continue doing the same things and they continue to get away with it," Sanders said on the Senate floor. "I hope this study...will be a first step in the process of cleaning up the world of defense contracting," he said. To watch, click here.
Health Care Senate leaders prepared for an historic floor debate on health care reform after the Senate Finance Committee early Friday approved its version of the bill. The panel failed to include a public option as an alternative to private health insurance coverage. "I am disappointed, although not surprised, that the effort to pass a public option failed in the Senate Finance Committee," said Sanders, a member of the Senate health committee. "Fortunately," he added, "there is a public option in the health committee bill and my hope and expectation is that that provision will be part of the final bill. Clearly, if we are serious about cost containment, private insurance companies must have competition from a public plan."
Dairy Crisis Senate and House negotiators agreed to provide $350 million for hard-pressed dairy farmers. The funding was first included in a Sanders amendment to the Department of Agriculture appropriations bill that the Senate passed on August 6 by a vote of 60 to 37. An earlier House version did not include any extra dairy funds. Sanders welcomed the agreement that he said, "came at a time when Vermont's dairy farmers are struggling hard to stay in business with record-low milk prices." He added that "this is a good step forward but we need to do much more if we are to preserve family based dairy agriculture in Vermont and America." To read more, click here.
Social Security Esther Lenett, a 91-year-old Social Security recipient from Bethesda, Md., joined Sanders and Rep. Peter DeFazio at a Wednesday press conference on their bill to provide a one-time, $250 payment next year to more than 50 million seniors. Unless Congress acts, benefits will drop for the first time in decades because there will be no cost-of-living adjustment while Medicare prescription drug premiums, which are deducted from Social Security, will go up. More than 120,000 signatures supporting the legislation were gathered on petitions presented at the Capitol Hill press conference by Barbara B. Kennelly, president of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare. Barry Rand, the head of the nation's largest seniors' organization, called on House and Senate leaders to provide the $250 in emergency relief. "On behalf of our 40 million members nationwide, AARP would like to express our strong support for providing America's seniors with $250 in emergency relief as the appropriate legislative response to the projected lack of a Social Security cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) in 2010." To read more about the bill, click here. To watch excerpts from the press conference, click here.
Global Warming Sen. Sanders was among Senate environment committee members who released a comprehensive climate bill at a rally on the Capitol's east lawn on Wednesday. "Countries around the world have asked, ‘Where is the United States of America in helping us lead the fight against global warming?' Today, we are back. And we are going to lead the offensive," Sanders said at an event staged to roll out the climate change legislation. "We are going to make this bill stronger. People are going to say ‘Thank you America for taking us in a new direction.'" To watch Sanders' speech at the event, click here. To read the bill, click here.
Car of the Future Sanders introduced legislation to promote the goal of having 1 million electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles on the roads by the end of the next decade. The bill would give the Department of Transportation the resources to work with Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy to develop plans for deploying recharging stations along roads and highways by 2020. The measure also would provide funding for pilot projects to demonstrate different types of recharging stations. A large-scale switch to electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles, coupled with a move toward more renewable energy on the electric grid, could dramatically reduce dependence on foreign oil and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. To read the bill, click here.
Help for Kids Sanders on Monday announced $523,000 for four Vermont organizations that are doing an excellent job working with young people. The organizations are reaching out to our youth, teaching them skills and providing them counseling and support that they need to become productive members of our society. "One of the issues that continues to worry me, both for Vermont and our country as a whole, is the large number of young people who slip through the cracks of our society," the senator said. "These are often kids who, for whatever reason, don't do well in school, eventually drop out, and then get involved with drugs or other destructive behavior. The end result is that some of these young people end up in jail and we as a nation lose the potential of them being productive members of our society." For more information, click here.
Vermont Workers Win $1.5 Million in Back Pay Vermont-based immigration workers are getting $1.5 million in back pay. The Labor Department said 272 federal contract workers in St. Albans and Essex Junction worked for SI International Inc. at the Vermont Service Center of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Sen. Bernie Sanders' office said the department cited SI International for misclassifying employees and failing to pay them the proper prevailing wages for the type of work they were actually performing. To read the senator's press release, click here.