Sanders supports stimulus package, even with reduced funding for education

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(Host) Senator Bernie Sanders says he strongly supports the scaled down version of the federal economic stimulus package, because he’s convinced it will still help fund a number of critical programs in Vermont.

The Senate could vote on the measure as early as tomorrow.

VPRs Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) In order to win the support of several Republican senators late last week, Democratic leaders cut the size of their economic stimulus package by roughly 10%.

The new package includes less money for state education programs and it cuts funds to expand access to broadband projects in rural parts of the country.

Despite these changes, Senator Bernie Sanders says the bill is a critical step to help rebuild the national economy:

(Sanders) "At the end of the day you’re going to have billions and billions of dollars going into our states, our cities, our towns to begin to address long term unmet needs and create millions of good paying jobs and that’s what it is about."

The stimulus bill includes $250 million over the next two years for Vermont’s Medicaid program and $130 million for state transportation infrastructure projects. Sanders says the package also includes important tax credits for home energy efficiency programs and the development of renewable energy sources:

(Sanders) "So that states, cities and towns in Vermont and all over the country can be more aggressive about energy efficiency and creating new sustainable energy and creating jobs in the process."

Sanders says he’s disappointed that no House Republicans voted for the bill and that only a handful of GOP senators will end up voting for it:

(Sanders) "I think what you’re hearing on the floor of the senate is the ‘same old same old’ – what these guys believe is the trickle down economic theory give tax breaks to the rich, tax breaks to large corporations, that somehow we’re going to bring prosperity to everybody. You know what? That is the philosophy that failed in the last 8 years and it’s not one that I think the American people want to repeat."

At the beginning of last week, Governor Jim Douglas made a well publicized visit to the White House to announce his support for the stimulus approach. President Obama used Douglas’s visit to demonstrate Republican support for the plan.

By the end of the week, Douglas was supporting the Republican effort to scale the bill back by several hundred billion dollars:

(Douglas) "There are many in the Congress that say it’s excessive and my message to some of the folks that I talked to this week is you’ve got to respect those points of view and recognize that there are some who believe strongly that this is getting too big, that some of these components are not essential to the nation’s economic recovery and come up with a size package that’s more realistic."

Democratic Congressional leaders are hoping to have a bill on the President’s desk in the next 10 days.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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