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Sanders promotes human infrastructure bill

A COTERIE OF activists, politicians and thinkers joined Sen. Bernie Sanders at the gazebo on the Middlebury Town Green on Labor Day to address a crowd of around 650 who came to hear the progressive icon talk about world-changing legislation he is working on. Independent photo/Steve James

We’re not going to build bridges for people to sleep under.
— Sen. Bernie Sanders

MIDDLEBURY — Vermont’s junior U.S. senator is the senior legislator on the U.S. Senate’s Budget Committee, which makes him a very powerful man in Washington, D.C., these days.

On Monday Sen. Bernie Sanders came to Middlebury — with a band of notables including Vermont Congressman Peter Welch, environmental luminary and writer Bill McKibben and several other local activists. Sanders told a crowd of more than 600 that Vermont’s Congressional delegation is working hard to improve the lives of people in the Green Mountain State, as well as in all of the United States.

Through his leadership of the Budget Committee, Sanders helped shepherd a $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill through the Senate this summer. And he is working to deliver a $3.5 trillion human services infrastructure bill, which he said he had a phone call about after Monday’s rally.

He urged the crowd of around 650 people — the largest of five town hall gatherings he hosted this weekend — to help him convince others around the country to embrace a vision of America that would build community from the bottom up.

“If we stand together — not let the demagogues divide us by race or economic circumstance — we can move this world to a much better place,” Sanders said.

After passing the American Rescue Plan Act for pandemic recovery, “we said we have dealt with the emergency in a reasonable way, but now we have to look at structural changes for some things that have not been addressed for decades.”

Sanders said Congress is addressing the needed structural changes in two ways: through the bipartisan infrastructure bill that funds building of hard assets like roads, bridges, water systems, public transit and broadband internet; and through a human infrastructure bill that will fund programs to help common people live better lives and prepare them to contribute to society.

“The (bipartisan infrastructure) bill got the votes of 19 Republican senators,” Sanders noted. “That’s good.”

But Republican senators have not backed Sanders’s human infrastructure bill yet, and he promised to work hard to get the bill passed. 

“We’re not going to build bridges for people to sleep under,” he said.

Sanders highlighted several areas that his human infrastructure bill would address, including:

•  The high cost of childcare (“In Vermont childcare costs $15,000 per child … in my bill no family would pay more than 7% … and we’re adding free preK for three- and four-year-olds.”

•  The cost of higher education, making community college free and offering more Pell Grants for four-year colleges so that people can improve their skills to earn a higher income.

•  “The strongest expansion of Medicare since Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society,” including new coverage of dental, hearing aids and eyeglasses. “That’s a big deal for seniors,” Sanders said.

•  Paid family leave.

•  Expansion of funding for low-income housing.

•  Provision for in-home health care to enable seniors to stay in their homes longer.

•  Spending “hundreds of millions of dollars to transition away from polluting fossil fuels to renewable energy,” including support of weatherization of homes and businesses, adoption of electric vehicles, expansion of solar power and implementation of green agriculture.

•  Creation of a Civilian Climate Corp., or CCC, to create jobs that tap the energy of young people and veer us away from the worst affects of climate change.

OTHER SPEAKERS

When Sanders introduced U.S. Rep. Welch, he noted that Vermont’s lone Congressman has to deal with a number of “fruitcakes” in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“That’s something for Bernie to make such an understatement,” Welch began his address, referencing Republican representatives who have often made extreme remarks. “Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz only fruitcakes?” Welch asked, to the crowd’s approbation.

He went on to imagine a world the that would move the United States away from a 40-year trend of government favoring entrenched, moneyed interests and toward the collective good. He noted that 1981 was the year when Ronald Reagan took office as president, which led to attacks on unions (trying to wear down the people who do the work”), reduction of regulations to make corporations more profitable, and $5.6 trillion in tax cuts for the wealthy.

“You know what they are after now? Your right to vote,” Welch said.

He contrasted Reagan’s rise to the election of Bernie Sanders as mayor of Burlington in 1981. He used an example of the difference in tone, Sanders’s effort in the early ’80s to develop the Burlington waterfront not for the benefit of corporate landholders but for the general public good. He also lauded Bernie for his tireless work in the U.S. House and Senate to champion causes that now have become mainstream.

“It’s about restoring confidence in ourselves,” Welch said. “We’re entitled to a government that pursues policies to help us build a stronger community.”

In his remarks, McKibben, a Ripton resident, said he called Sanders’s human infrastructure legislation the “Give Us A Break Bill.”

“For 20 years we have been giving a break to the richest people in America, and as a result they have built up a pile of money that is so high that they can jump off of it and on to Mars,” McKibben said. “The U.S. Congress for 30 years has done nothing about climate change. Zero! Zilch!”

He could not explain how companies like Wal-Mart and Amazon could advocate against policies that would fight the warming climate.

“For some reason they think they can make money on a broken planet,” McKibben said.

He urged the assembled throng to support those who were working for the “compassionate side of this country.”

Health care reform advocate Deb Richter urged people to tell their Vermont legislators to support bill H.276, which she said would extend publicly funded health care to all Vermonters within a decade.

Community activist and Bridport resident Jubilee McGill congratulated people for their efforts to help each other during the pandemic.

“We saw it during COVID-19, when we all put aside our differences and neighbor helped out neighbor,” she said.

Monday afternoon’s event included a walk-in COVID-19 vaccination clinic, which a Rescue Inc. worker said administered a handful of Pfizer shots.

As he was leaving, Sanders was asked how he would mark his 80th birthday, which was Wednesday, Sept. 8.

“I will celebrate it quietly,” he said. “There has been too much damn drama lately.”

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