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Political Odds & Ends


Published March 5, 2009 at 5:27 p.m.

Sure, the news this week for us was all about Town Meeting Day and the Burlington elections, but our Congressional delegation has been making some national headlines, as well as palling around with Pres. Barack Obama.

Hey, Gov. Jim Douglas isn't the only Vermont pol on the White House's speed dial.

First off, Rep. Peter Welch was one of a handful of members of Congress to join Pres. Obama in a press conference overhauling government contracting procedures.

The new rules would end unnecessary no-bid and cost-plus contracts, identify and eliminate wasteful and inefficient contracts, and enhance oversight in the contracting process. The changes would save taxpayers $40 billion a year and would make it easier for small businesses and independent contractors to bid on federal contracts.

“It is essential that the American people have confidence that taxpayer money is being spent wisely,” Welch said after the announcement. “I am greatly encouraged by President Obama’s commitment to eliminate waste, inefficiency and lax oversight in our contracting system.”

During the announcement, Obama praised Welch and House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Rep. Edolphus Towns for their work on contracting reform.

“I also want to acknowledge a couple of Congressmen – Congressman Towns and Congressman Welch, who have been working diligently on this issue,” Obama said.

Video of the press conference can be found here.

Rep. Welch is the fuzzy guy on the left in the picutre above, and continiuing righward is: Sen. Claire McCaskill, Sen. Carl Levin, Sen. John McCain, President Barack Obama, and Rep. Towns.

Sen. Patrick Leahy

Sen. Patrick Leahy had his own close encounter of the presidential kind this week, but at least he got a free meal out of it. Leahy joined chairs of all Congressional committees at a special White House dinner last night.

Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has been calling for the creation of a "truth commission" to investigate the secretive legal actions taken by the Bush administration in order to "make sure it doesn't happen again."

The idea continues to spark interest and attention in the nation's capital. As chairman, Leahy convened a hearing yesterday on the truth commission concept. This came one day after the Justice Department released a series of memos outlining how the president could bend the law in order to "fight terrorism."

Hmmm, couldn't be that the growing call for releasing the veil on these legal decisions — Leahy's truth commission being one option — could it?

"I hope today's agreement will help to finally uncover the truth about the firings of U.S. Attorneys and the Bush White House cover up designed to shield from the public view the inappropriate and illegal actions of hte last administration," said Leahy in a statement.

Leahy was a guest on The Rachel Maddow Show last night to kick the truth commission idea around some more, telling Maddow, "Some people want to turn the page, but I'd like to read the page we're on first before we do that."

Good line. Leahy also told Maddow that he would be willing to nix the idea of giving witnesses immunity before testifying. As he recalled, the 9/11 Commission was able to grant people immunity, but never invoked its use.

Sen. Bernie Sanders

Sen. Sanders, long an advocate of single-payer health care, will be one of about 120 people convening in the White House today with Pres. Obama to talk about how to reform the nation's health care system.

"The United States has to join the rest of the major nations of the world and have a national health care program that addresses the enormous waste and bureaucracy in our current situation," Sanders said. 

Sanders is likely to focus on the expansion of Federally Qualified Health Centers as a way to deliver low-cost quality care to people around the country. Sanders has helped expand these centers throughout Vermont. Six years ago there were two, and with this week's addition of Springfield Hospital Vermont now has eight.

Currently, Vermont health centers and 29 satellite locations provide primary health care to some 82,000 Vermonters, or about one-in-eight residents of the state. The addition of Springfield Hospital will boost that number to more than 100,000 patients served.

"I am optimistic that legislation I introduced with Rep. Jim Clyburn has momentum," said Sanders. "A dramatic expansion of health centers would provide primary health care for every American who needs it and save money by caring for people before they become sick and need expensive hospital care.  Our bills are similar to my legislation last year that was cosponsored by Senator Obama."

Sanders is also conducting a poll on his website about the nation's health care system. Click here to add your thoughts.

Vermont's junior senator was a guest on the Mark Johnson Show this morning, where host Mark Johnson asked the former Burlington mayor if he thought he'd be where he was today — a US Senator — if instant-runoff voting had been around in 1981.

At first, Sanders said, "I don't know. It's hard to say."

But, Johnson pressed him again, wondering who Dick Bove's supporters would give their "second-place" votes. The 1981 race was not just a race between Democrat Gordon Paquette and Sanders, which Sanders eked out by a handful of votes.

Sanders then acquiesced, "I doubt it."

* * *

Speaking of Gov. Douglas, there's a new Facebook group devoted to critiquing his, um, pants, and an inside look at what Pres. Obama and the guv really talked about during his White House visit last month.

As we all know, Douglas has received plenty of national ink being one of a handful of Republicans (mostly governors) who stood by the president and backed his stimulus package.

But, some critics see Douglas as offering political double-speak by praising the money and Obama's bipartisanship as a way to help save the states, and then back here in Vermont advocating for deep cuts in the budget. He's also been criticized for failing to reach out to legislative Democrats during budget talks.

The "Just for Fun" group is called "Jim Douglas — What is the deal with your PANTS?" and offers some of the real reasons why members disagree with Douglas' policy. But, the centerpiece is a comic strip that promises to provide readers with, "The Amazing Adventures of Political Jim; Fighting to preserve his political career and promote political amnesia"


The group's creator is Adam Quinn, a liberal activist and long-standing Douglas antagonist. He started the group after someone sent him the first chapter of a possible series poking fun at Douglas. He liked it so much, he decided to start the group — yesterday. It has 53 members as of this morning.

By comparison, Quinn notes, Douglas has 71 "friends" on Facebook and his political page has 755 "supporters".

Click here to check out the group. Click here to check out a larger version of first chapter of the comic strip. Words and the thumbnail pic don't do it justice.