In a big win for the environment, the Obama administration on Thursday put the brakes on a proposed oil pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. Sen. Bernie Sanders led opposition in Congress to the Tar Sands pipeline project. In a big win for workers' rights, Ohio voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly rejected a state law curbing collective bargaining. It was "one of the most significant working-class victories in years," Sanders said on Friday during in his weekly radio and Free Speech TV program hosted by Thom Hartmann. On Capitol Hill, there were developments in the Senate on a jobs bill and a highway bill. And late on Thursday, Sanders introduced legislation to strengthen the Postal Service.
Tar Sands Pipeline
The State Department announced on Thursday that it was delaying its decision on whether to allow construction of a controversial oil pipeline from Canada's tar sands region to refineries in Texas. The announcement by the Obama administration effectively pushed any action on the proposal well past the 2012 election. On Monday, the State Department inspector general agreed to a request by Sanders to conduct a special review into allegations that the department tilted its environmental impact study to favor the pipeline developer, TransCanada Corp. Sanders had asked President Obama to put off any decision until the review is completed. "I strongly believe that the more the American people learn about this project, the more they will understand that it would be disastrous for our environment and for our economy," Sanders said in a statement. He also talked about the development with reporters outside the Senate chamber. "This project would be a disaster in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and would make a mockery of the president's pledge to have America be a leader in combating global warming," he said. The State Department is involved because the proposed pipeline would cross the U.S.-Canada border.
A Victory for Workers
There was a tremendous backlash in Ohio to a law that stripped workers of collective bargaining rights. Forty-six percent of registered voters turned out for Tuesday's election. That was an all-time high turnout for an off-year general election. "When the working class and the middle class stand together and fight for their economic rights, you know what, there`s no stopping them," Sanders told Ed Schultz on MSNBC after the landslide vote to repeal the law limiting collective bargaining. Watch.
Saying that Congress must reduce deficits, Sanders said a powerful deficit-reduction panel must not balance budgets on the backs of working families and the elderly. It must not cut Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid. As the panel faces a Thanksgiving deadline for agreeing on a plan, Sanders noted that that a surtax on millionaires, a proposal he introduced in March, enjoys widespread support in public opinion polls. Even Republicans and those who identify with the Tea Party movement support raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans to help balance federal budgets. "Listen to the American people," Sanders said in a Senate floor speech addressed to the 12-member panel of lawmakers from the House and Senate. Watch excerpts from the speech.
On the eve of Veterans Day, the Senate on Thursday passed a bill to help unemployed veterans find jobs. The measure was a small slice of President Obama's jobs agenda. "It was a good bill, but in truth, it was a pretty modest bill. Unemployment in this country in real terms is 16 percent. For veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, the numbers are even higher ... This bill is helpful but, in my view, you`re not going to solve the unemployment crisis among veterans until we solve it for all Americans," Sanders said in an MSNBC interview after the Senate vote. Watch.
A Senate panel on Wednesday approved and sent to the full Senate a two-year transportation funding bill to repair crumbling roads, bridges and railroads and fund other transportation projects. Sanders, a member of the Environment and Public Works committee, said the bill would boost Vermont's overall share of highway funds and increase the state's return on the federal gasoline taxes that Vermonters pay. A Sanders amendment would lift a $100 million per state cap on an emergency road funds for states recovering from natural disasters like Tropical Storm Irene. He also worked on an amendment to require the U.S. Department of Transportation to improve nationwide access to electric charging stations for motorists who drive pollution-cutting hybrid vehicles.
Saving the Postal Service
On Sunday, about 350 people crowded a town meeting Sanders hosted at Montpelier High School on how to save the Postal Service. Sanders blamed the Postal Service's money troubles largely on accounting issues, including a law requiring it to set aside retiree health and retirement benefits far in advance. He also criticized Postal Service management for not focusing on smarter ways to solve their financial problems. Then on Thursday the senator introduced his Postal Service reform bill. "While we all understand that USPS is experiencing financial problems today and that changes need to be made as the Postal Service adjusts to a digital world, we believe that these issues can be dealt with in a way which strengthens the Postal Service, rather than initiating a series of cuts that could eventually lead to its ultimate demise. We also believe that in the midst of a horrendous recession it makes no sense to terminate the jobs of 100,000 workers - many of whom are veterans," Sanders wrote in a letter to colleagues summarizing the bill. Watch a short video on the town meeting. Read the bill or read a summary of the legislation.
The Federal Reserve
"As difficult as it was to lift the veil of secrecy at the Federal Reserve, it will be even harder to reform it so the system serves the needs of all Americans and not just Wall Street, but, that is exactly what we have to do." In a column first published by The Huffington Post, Sanders laid out specific areas that he has asked some of the country's leading economists to address. The advisory committee he formed conferred on Wednesday to begin discussing legislative options to reform the Fed.