Senator Bernie Sanders announced his opposition to President Bush's nominee for attorney general. Legislative action heated up on global warming. A Senate panel took a hard look at how American toymakers' run sweatshops in China. Community health centers got a big boost, and lawmakers renewed an effort to help lower prescription drug prices.
The Department of Justice Michael Mukasey's nomination to be attorney general ran into trouble. Sanders questioned his commitment to civil liberties. "Of course the United States government must do everything that it can to protect the American people from the dangerous threat of terrorism," Sanders stressed, "but we can do that effectively consistent with the Constitution and the civil liberties it guarantees. We need an attorney general who does not believe the president has unlimited power. We need an attorney general who understands that torture is not what this country is about, and we need an attorney general who clearly understands the separation of powers inherent in our Constitution," Sanders added. "Unfortunately, it is clear that Mr. Mukasey is not that person" By week's end, two top Senate Democrats said their votes on the Mukasey nomination will hinge on whether he will say on the record that an interrogation technique that simulates drowning is torture. "It's fair to say my vote would depend on him answering that question," Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy told reporters late Thursday. "This to me is the seminal issue," said Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois, a member of the Judiciary Committee.
Global Warming A Senate panel on Wednesday took up global warming legislation. To Vermont's own Bill McKibben, it was about time. "Long after the Nobel-winning reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, long after Hurricane Katrina, long after ‘An Inconvenient Truth, they're finally taking up the single biggest question that the planet faces," wrote the Middlebury College visiting scholar and nationally-known environmentalist. Senator Bernie Sanders, the sponsor of the strongest legislation on climate change, is on the subcommittee that held the hearing and is set to vote on a compromise bill next Thursday. "Let me be as blunt as I can be in telling you where I am coming from on this bill," he said. "On most issues, Congress goes through the time-honored tradition of working out compromises which both sides can end up accepting…That's not the dynamic we face today. The issue today is one of physics and chemistry and what the best scientists in the world believe is happening to our planet because of greenhouse gas emissions." A writer for the environmental publication Grist declared that Sanders' legislation on global warming is "the strongest bill" and "the one basically every enviro would choose to implement if given the keys to the American political system for one day." To read more, click here.
Chinese Sweatshops A Senate subcommittee on Thursday held a hearing on Sweatshop Conditions in the Chinese Toy Industry. Americans spent $22.3 billion on toys and sporting goods last year, and China accounted for 86 percent of U.S. toy imports, according to Charles Kernaghan, director of the National Labor Committee. "Many parents in America would be shocked and disturbed if they knew of the abusive sweatshop conditions under which their children's toys are being made in China," he testified. Senator Bernie Sanders is a cosponsor of the Decent Working Conditions and Fair Competition Act that would make it unlawful to sell, trade, or advertise sweatshop goods. American companies like Mattel have exploited cheap labor while the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has lobbied the Chinese Communists to block humanitarian labor standards. "The United States Chamber of Commerce is telling the authoritarian Chinese government that they are giving workers too many worker rights," railed Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders. "Can you believe that?" To watch Senator Sanders at the hearing, click here.
Community Health Centers The Senate on Tuesday passed the largest increase in the history of the Community Health Center Program. Sanders, a member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, is a leading advocate for the program and fought for the $250 million increase in funding. "In Vermont in recent years, we have expanded the number of health centers from two to six, and my hope is that we can add an additional three or four more centers in the next three years. These centers now serve over 86,000 Vermonters. They provide quality health care, quality dental care, low cost prescription drugs, and mental health counseling in some 23 different locations around the state of Vermont. The centers are the medical home for 24 percent of Vermont's Medicaid beneficiaries and serve 19 percent of our uninsured," said Sanders. The increased level of support the Senate approved would finance roughly 500 new or expanded health centers, serving an additional 2 million people nationally. More than 16 million Americans currently benefit from these health centers. For an average federal grant expenditure of $124 per patient, per year, the centers offer comprehensive medical, dental, and mental health services to all, regardless of their ability to pay. The Office of Management and Budget has cited the program as one of the most efficient in the use of taxpayer dollars. The health center funding was included in an appropriations bill for the Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services.
Prescription Drugs Legislation that would require the federal government to negotiate prices directly with pharmaceutical companies for medications under the Medicare prescription drug benefit was introduced on Tuesday, Congress Daily reported. According to a report released the same day by Consumers Union and the Medicare Rights Center, private insurers do not negotiate significant savings for Medicare beneficiaries. Senator Sanders has been fighting to lower prescription drug costs since he became the first member of Congress to take his constituents across the Canadian border to buy their medicine at a fraction of the price they were forced to pay in the United States. He has stood up to the drug industry's powerful lobby that spent more than 900 million dollars during the past decade trying to influence Congress to keep drug prices high. Earlier this month, he introduced legislation that would eliminate market exclusivity for new drugs, but give developers large cash rewards from a "Medical Innovation Prize Fund" when products improved health outcomes. By eliminating monopolies and allowing generic competition, prices on drugs would fall dramatically, saving taxpayers, employers and consumers more than $200 billion per year. For a look at how prescription drug prices affect Vermonters, watch the new Vermont Profile slide show here.