The sluggish economy kept unemployment rates up in most states in September. The jobless figure dipped in 23 states. Vermont unemployment ticked down to 5.8 percent. The Labor Department report on Friday showed that 15 states had jobless rates above the 9.6 percent national figure. As the mortgage foreclosure crisis worsened, caseworkers in Sen. Bernie Sanders' office heard horror stories about big banks from people struggling to hold onto their homes. To help seniors struggling to pay health care bills, Sanders pressed his case for giving a $250 payment to Social Security recipients facing a second straight year without a cost of living adjustment. And at a suburban Chicago art gallery, an exhibit opened featuring paintings once banned from the U.S. Capitol until a congressman from Vermont did something about the censorship.
Twenty senators - including Majority Leader Harry Reid - on Tuesday asked Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell to support $250 in emergency relief to more than 50 million seniors and disabled Americans facing a second straight year with no increase in Social Security benefits. "We hope that you will agree with us that it is far more important to provide $250 in emergency relief to senior citizens and disabled veterans than it is to provide an average tax break of over $100,000 a year to taxpayers earning more than $1 million a year," the senators reasoned in a letter written by Sanders. To read more, click here.
Fixing the Formula
Social Security benefits are linked to inflation through an outdated formula which does not accurately take into account the budgets of senior citizens who spend a disproportionate amount of their income on health care. "The problem is that for seniors, they purchase products and services very differently than the general population," Sanders told C-SPAN on Monday. "Long-term, I think what we need and what I have fought for is a segregated index for seniors because their purchasing practices are very often much different than the general population."
Rebuild and Recover
The country's roadways, bridges and rail lines have been neglected for decades, earning the nation's infrastructure a 'D' from the American Society of Civil Engineers. In Vermont, nearly 1,000 of Vermont's 2,700 bridges are either "structurally deficient or functionally obsolete." So when Congress reconvenes, Sanders plans to introduce legislation that would end Bush-era tax breaks for the rich and use half the $700 billion instead to rebuild rail lines, bridges and roads. The other half would reduce our national debt. "I think providing $700 billion in tax breaks over the next decade to those who don't need it is absolutely irresponsible," the senator said in a Vermont Bernie Buzz original article.
Republican policies over the last decade, including the cost of two wars, added far more to the deficit than initiatives approved by the Democratic Congress since 2006, The New York Times reported. The $1.1 trillion cost over the next 10 years of the Medicare prescription drug program, passed in 2003 by a Republican-controlled Congress, by itself would add more to the deficit than the bailout, the stimulus and the health care law combined. Sanders has been specific. He has proposed ending tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans, canceling Cold War-era defense programs, and reducing wasteful Pentagon stockpiles of unneeded spare parts. He also sponsored a dramatic expansion of community health centers that, according to a George Washington University study, will save billions of dollars in Medicaid costs be treating patients before they become so sick they end up in hospitals.
President Obama's top housing official said Wednesday that lenders may resume foreclosures while allegations of rampant processing errors are investigated. While Vermont has experienced fewer problems than other states, caseworkers in Sanders' office have fielded more than 100 "horror stories" from homeowners facing eviction. Vermont participants in an administration initiative to let qualified homeowners renegotiate loans told Seven Days the program has been a disaster. Constituents who contacted Sanders' office reported lenders giving out false or contradictory information, losing paperwork, or rejecting legitimate alternatives to foreclosure.
The "most fiscally responsible estate tax proposal" was introduced by Sanders, according to a new report by Citizens for Tax Justice. The Responsible Estate Tax Act would make permanent the $3.5 million per-spouse exemptions that were in effect in 2009. However, it also would establish higher rates for the largest estates. "Opposition to the federal tax on the estates of millionaires is difficult to explain from the perspective of the public's rational self-interest (except for multi-millionaires). The only explanation is widespread misinformation about several key points," the report said.
Paintings by Constance Eger Shneider, who died earlier this year of lung cancer, are the subject of a retrospective at a Chicago-area art gallery. She gained national attention in 1993 when congressional officials banned her paintings from a Capitol Hill exhibit of works by artists who had survived breast cancer. The late Sen. Paul Simon and then-Rep. Sanders offered to show the censored work in their offices. She picked Sanders' office because it was closer to the exhibit space for the other paintings, according to an article published Thursday in the Chicago Sun-Times.