Category Archives: U.S. Congress

As Syria vote nears, Welch asks for input from constituents

Vermont Congressman Peter WelchStill undecided on the issue of whether or not to approve military strikes in Syria, Rep. Peter Welch is asking constituents to aid later this evening in his deliberations.

Welch tonight will hold a “telephone town hall” in which Vermonters can register their opinions on the President’s plan to launch air strikes in response to the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

“Should we, as the President proposes, strike the Assad regime to deter a reoccurrence of the abomination of raining poison gas on innocent people — and in doing so risk the real potential of being pulled into another Middle East war?” Welch said in a Facebook post announcing the event. “Or should we not attack to avoid that risk when inaction may well be seen by Assad and others as a green light for the use of chemical weapons?”

Welch said “both paths will likely have negative and unintended consequences.”

Welch has said his decision will be influenced significantly by information he’ll receive in a classified briefing, a briefing his staff said the Democratic congressman will be receiving later this afternoon.

To participate in the telephone town hall, call toll-free (877) 229-8493 at 7:30 p.m., and enter the PIN: 13785

Leahy ‘straw purchase’ gun bill advances out of Judiciary Committee

By Edward Donga | For the Rutland Herald and Times Argus

WASHINGTON — Breaking down largely along party lines, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 11-7 Thursday to approve a bill, sponsored by Chairman Patrick Leahy, that would outlaw the so-called straw purchase of firearms.

The committee’s action paves the way for the legislation to come before the full Senate for debate.

A straw purchase involves someone buying a firearm for another individual — such as a convicted felon — who would otherwise be unable to purchase it because he or she cannot pass the required background check.

“The practice of straw purchasing firearms is undertaken for one reason: to get a gun into the hands of someone who is prohibited from having one,” said Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont. “We know that many of the guns used in criminal activities are acquired through straw purchases.”
Continue reading

Leahy declines Appropriations chairmanship

Sen. Patrick Leahy

Sen. Patrick Leahy is reporting that Patrick Leahy has declined the chairmanship of the Senate Appropriations Committee. In a statement issued by email, Leahy said:

“Chairing the Judiciary Committee and maintaining my seniority on the Appropriations Committee will allow me to protect both the Constitution and Vermont.”

The Politico story:

Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy is turning down the powerful chairmanship of the Senate Appropriations Committee, a surprise move in a chamber where senior senators are quick to snag the most influential positions on Capitol Hill, aides said Wednesday.

Leahy began telling colleagues Wednesday he would remain chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee — the panel that oversees the Justice Department, federal courts and hot-button constitutional issues — rather than take over the Appropriations Committee, which holds the purse strings of federal discretionary spending. The Appropriations Committee spot opened up following the death of long-time Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), who had served in the body since 1963.

Leahy to be sworn in as Senate pro tem at 11:30 a.m…

and you can watch the proceedings live on CSPAN2. With the death of 88-year-old Daniel Inouye yesterday, Leahy now ascends to the top of the Senate hierarchy. His appointment as pro tempore puts him third in line for presidency – right behind House Speaker John Boehner – but the title is more symbol than substance. Leahy’s real power will derive from his likely new assignment as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The post is generally the most sought after in the Senate (presidential hopefuls might prefer foreign relations)  and would give Vermont’s senior senator more sway over the way the federal budget is allocated than any other single lawmaker.

What would it mean for Vermont?

The days of federal earmarks are over, so we aren’t in line for our own Bridge to Nowhere. But Leahy would have a heavy hand in devising the formulas used to determine individual states’ shares of appropriations, which could bolster Vermont’s federal health care and transportation revenue.

That’s assuming of course that Leahy assumes the appropriations chairmanship. He reportedly loves his post on the judiciary committe, but most observers say it’s exceedingly unlikely that Leahy would turn down the chance to head the top money committee.

Check out tomorrow’s editions of the Rutland Herald and Times Argus to find out what the experts say Leahy’s new prominence means for Vermont.


Welch, Sanders to discuss budget and deficit

BURLINGTON — Vermont’s lone member of the U.S. House of Representatives is going to be talking about his priorities for the lame-duck session of Congress.
Rep. Peter Welch is planning to discuss the issues in his Burlington office on Monday before he returns to Washington.
The Norwich Democrat will outline his efforts to pass a farm bill and the need to avoid what is being called the looming fiscal cliff of tax increases and dramatic budget cuts.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, fresh off reelection, will also be holding a press conference at his Church Street office at 10:45 a.m. to discuss the budget deficits. Sanders as well will return to Washington in time for the start of ‘fiscal cliff’ negotiations between both houses of Congress and the White House, which are expected to start  Tuesday.

Peter Welch speaks with the Times Argus and Rutland Herald

Vermont Congressman Peter WelchPeter Welch was in Rutland today to speak with the editorial board of the Rutland Herald and Times Argus. We asked him what the highlights of this congress have been for him.
He spoke about the effort in the last year working on federal waivers for FEMA funding after Irene, and said that several Republicans and their floor staffs ended up being very helpful in this regard, including Eric Cantor, the House Majority Leader, and Chip Gibson of New York.
Welch was part of a “Group of 10″, a bipartisan effort to come to some agreement on the budget and debt.
“I was asked, because I’m seen as somebody who does good work, that’s what it boils down to,” he said.  “It’s just my way of operating. And I spend a fair amount of time on the floor on the other side.” Continue reading

Sanders, Leahy outline changes to USPS legislation

BARRE – In a letter sent on Tuesday, Sens. Bernard Sanders and Patrick Leahy outlined changes they would like to see implemented to a bill that would reform the United States Postal Service.
The Vermont senators were joined by 25 other senators, all Democrats, who signed the letter, which proposes that the postal service be prohibited from closing facilities or slowing down first class mail delivery.
“We believe that this financial crisis can be solved in a way that does not substantially slow down the delivery of mail and harm rural America,” wrote the senators in the letter. Continue reading

Derby joins Leahy’s staff

Diane Derby, a former political reporter and press secretary for Sen. James Jeffords, is joining Sen. Patrick Leahy's staff.

Derby will be a field representative based in Montpelier, where she lives, Leahy's office announced Friday.  

Leahy called Derby “a talented professional” and said he has admired “her work, her decency and her sense of humor” for as long as he has known her.

Derby covered Vermont politics in the 1990s. 

Most recently, Derby was a communications manager with the Regulatory Assistance Project, a Montpelier-based nonprofit focused on energy policy. 


As heating oil subsidy cuts fuel concerns, House committees to meet

MONTPELIER – Worries over heating oil subsidies for low-income Vermonters haven't cooled off, and three House committees are planning a hearing Dec. 13 to tackle the issue, a lawmaker said Tuesday.

Reduced federal aid through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, rising oil costs, and greater need are combining to create the potential for a tough winter for low-income Vermonters, said Rep. Tony Klein, chairman of the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee.

The hearing will be a way to make sure the state programs related to heating, such as home weatherization, are coordinated well so the state is getting the most bang for its limited bucks, said Klein.

“My understanding is these programs don't coordinate very well with each other, and that just seems silly to me,” Klein said, a Democrat from East Montpelier. Klein said he may be corrected on that point during the hearing.

Gov. Peter Shumlin announced earlier this month he was transferring $2.5 million from a weatherization program to help with fuel oil subsidies.

Klein was critical of that move.

“That doesn't make sense to me,” Klein said. “You take it from the program that helps you use less.”

Shumlin said the money would be paid back, but Klein said he's “not going to hold is breath” on that one.

The three House committees scheduled to meet are Natural Resources and Energy, Human Services, and Ways and Means, said Klein.

The tax committee is involved “because we're going to have to look at revenue raising to supplement” cuts in LIHEAP, said Klein.

– Thatcher Moats

Dollar bills falling like snowflakes; $15M headed to Vt. for road repairs

Vermont's congressional delegation announced $15 million in emergency aid for the Green Mountain State…. 

From the announcement:

BURLINGTON, Vt., Nov. 22 – The U.S. Department of Transportation will release $15 million in emergency funds to help Vermont rebuild and repair roads and bridges destroyed or damaged by floods, Vermont’s congressional delegation announced today.

The Federal Highway Administration emergency grant includes $14 million for repairing damage caused last August by Tropical Storm Irene, according to Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.).

Another $1 million will help cover repair costs for highways and bridges washed out during heavy spring flooding.

The funding was released less than a week after Congress approved and President Barack Obama signed legislation funding emergency relief for Vermont and other states recovering from natural disasters like Tropical Storm Irene.

U.S. Senate okays Irene help for Vermont

The U.S. Senate just passed a transportation bill that, if enacted into law, would solve some of the state’s chief post-Irene fiscal dilemmas. The bill to repair damage to the state system alone could hit $250 million. That’s down drastically from the $620 million officials initially projected, but still a significant chunk of money in a state where yearly transportation spending totals just more than $500 million.

If approved, the Senate transportation bill would see the feds cover 80 percent of all Irene-related repairs above $100 million (the federal government, by statute, is already responsible for the first $100 million).

The bill additionally waives the 180-day time limit usually imposed on federally funded emergency repairs. In Vermont, where things like ice and snow tend to complicate the road work season, the six-month time limit could prove problematic.

Sens. Patrick Leahy and Bernard Sanders are leading the charge on Vermont’s behalf, though it’s still unclear whether the proposed legislation will make it through the U.S. House. The emergency funding provisions, which would also help other Northeast states pummeled by Irene, would require an additional $1.9 billion in transportation funding.