The year-long effort for health care reform entered a critical stage as congressional leaders put finishing touches on versions of the bill that the Senate and House will debate. The White House continued a review of Afghanistan policy. The pay czar clamped down on executive compensation at bailed-out banks. Senator Sanders weighed in on those topics during a busy week that also saw developments on global warming, help for seniors on Social Security, the need to extend unemployment insurance, and help for struggling dairy farmers.
Health Care A new Washington Post-ABC News poll published Tuesday showed that a government-run health care plan to compete with private insurers won a clear majority of support from the public. According to the Post, “57 percent of all Americans now favor a public insurance option, while 40 percent oppose it. If a public plan were run by the states and available only to those who lack affordable private options, support for it jumps to 76 percent. Under those circumstances, even a majority of Republicans, 56 percent, would be in favor of it, about double their level of support without such a limitation.”
Banker Pay The Treasury Department ruled on Thursday that cash salaries paid to the highest-earning executives at seven companies getting the biggest taxpayer bailouts will be capped at $500,000, while the group's total pay level will be slashed in half. "The American people are outraged that the same people on Wall Street who helped cause this major recession are going right back to their greedy and irresponsible ways. I applaud the Obama administration for taking an important step forward in trying to control the obscene compensation packages," Sanders said. To read more, click here. To watch the senator’s comments, click here.
Afghanistan The White House on Thursday forcefully rejected criticism from former Vice President Dick Cheney that President Obama's Afghanistan decision is taking too long. Sanders also had some thoughts on the topic: “It appears that after he helped run one of the worst administrations in American history, former Vice President Cheney has learned nothing. By precipitate and dishonest action, the Bush-Cheney administration got us into a war in Iraq that we should never have gotten into, that isolated us from much of the world community, that cost us the lives of over 4,300 troops and up to $3 trillion in taxpayer costs. That’s precisely what happens when you follow the Cheney approach of rushing into action without understanding the reality on the ground, or having coherent long-term goals or an exit strategy. In terms of Afghanistan, after eight years of the Bush-Cheney doctrine, we ended up in a situation where the Taliban was on the offensive and where the government we helped put into office was widely disrespected by the Afghan people because of the widespread corruption which presently exists. The situation in Afghanistan is enormously complicated and fraught with danger. I applaud President Obama for doing his best to think this through and to hear as many ideas as possible. The Bush-Cheney approach gives us a very clear warning of how we do not want to proceed."
Social Security President Obama’s call for a one-time $250 payment to Social Security recipients who otherwise would see benefits frozen or cut for the first time in decades was scorned by The Wall Street Journal in an editorial. “At least the Journal is consistent,” Sanders wrote in a letter to the editor. “If it's bailouts and tax breaks that help the rich and large corporations, you are all for it. If it's federal support for working families or the most vulnerable members of our society, you're opposed to it. In the midst of the current economic disaster, which was precipitated by the greed, recklessness and illegal behavior on Wall Street, many older Americans have lost value in their homes, savings and pensions. Today, millions of seniors and disabled veterans are struggling to pay for their increased health care and prescription drug costs while trying to keep their homes warm in the winter. President Barack Obama is doing exactly the right thing by supporting a one-time $250 payment to help them get through these difficult times.”
Climate Change “The global warming issue is different than any other issue, in the sense that you cannot simply cut the differences in half, reach a compromise, and pass something that everybody feels okay about. Global warming is not a 'political issue.' It is an issue of science and physics, and according to the most knowledgeable scientists in the world, if we do not act and act boldly, the impact on this planet will be disastrous,” Sanders told a Washington, D.C. conference on climate change hosted by Congressional Quarterly and Roll Call. To read or watch the speech, click here or here.
Dairy Crisis President Obama on Wednesday signed legislation to provide $350 million in emergency assistance for hard-pressed dairy farmers. Senator Bernie Sanders sponsored an amendment that added the dairy funds to the Department of Agriculture appropriations bill. He joined the president at the White House for the Oval Office bill-signing ceremony. The measure provides $290 million for direct support to dairy farmers. Another $60 million will be used to purchase cheese and other dairy products for food banks and nutrition programs. Sanders and Senator Patrick Leahy and Rep. Peter Welch said additional measures are needed to bring price stability to the dairy industry and to help preserve family farms. “Dairy farmers are in desperate need. We must help them as soon as possible,” said Sanders.
Unemployment Sanders called for immediate action by Congress to extend unemployment insurance benefits. He is a cosponsor of legislation that would help the almost 2 million Americans who are in danger of losing their benefits by the year's end by extending jobless benefits for a minimum of 14 weeks in all states and by 20 weeks in states with unemployment rates of 8.5 percent or higher. An estimated 1,860 Vermonters will use up their unemployment benefits by the end of the year, according to a recent report by the National Employment Law Project. “In the midst of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression and at a time when long-term unemployment is extremely high, we cannot turn our backs on jobless Americans by letting their unemployment insurance expire,” Sanders said. “In my view, Congress should pass a reasonable extension in unemployment benefits so that workers who have lost their jobs during this severe recession get the help they deserve while they try to find new jobs to support their families,” the senator added. The Vermont jobless number for September ticked down from 6.8 percent in August to 6.7 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, but the number was substantially worse than the 4.8 percent jobless rate in Vermont during September, 2008. To watch the senator discuss this, click here.
Vermont State Hospital The senator on Tuesday brought together Obama administration officials, Vermont state lawmakers and the state Department of Mental Health commissioner to discuss federal funding for the Vermont State Hospital - the state's only mental hospital. Restoring the hospital’s certification could yield $10 million or more a year in federal reimbursements for the facility that the state now spends more than $20 million annually to operate and maintain. “The quality of patient care must be our top priority, but the state and Vermont taxpayers deserve a reasonable process for correcting problems and restoring the hospital’s certification,” Sanders said. “In these difficult financial times, it is unfair to Vermont taxpayers that the state is losing out on $10 million a year in federal reimbursements.”
Vermonster A small Vermont brewery that makes a beer called Vermonster and the giant beverage maker that markets Monster energy drinks settled a trademark dispute. Some New England stores had pulled the big company's beverages in protest over its attempt to bully the brewery. Sanders weighed in with a letter urging Hansen Beverage Co. to back off. "Any person who would get confused by the two different products and names should probably slow down a bit, and lay off energy drinks," he wrote. "The American people are getting tired of the greed and recklessness of large corporations, which use their size and power to push individuals and small businesses around."