Vermont Representative Peter Welch and Senator Bernie Sanders were in northwestern Vermont this week to meet with constituents during the two-week Congressional Easter recess. They briefly spoke about some issues of concern to them and voters.
On Monday, judge Neil Gorsuch was sworn in as a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. The U.S. Senate approved his appointment only by changing the rules to a majority vote rather than the 60 -vote threshold usually needed. Democratic Congressman-at-large Peter Welch says he is not only concerned about the ideological direction of the court but the process in the Senate. "It was really quite appalling as I see it that an elected president, Barack Obama, was denied the opportunity by Senator McConnell to even have a vote on the person that he nominated. And of course fast forward we've now eliminated the filibuster when it applies to a Supreme Court justice. So it's a further erosion of the mutual effort that both Republicans and Democrats have to try to achieve if we’re going to get our country back on track.”
Independent Senator Bernie Sanders says the conservative skew on the court endangers a number of issues. “I'm concerned about the issue of Roe versus Wade. I am concerned about Citizens United. And the fact that Republicans will want to do away with all campaign finance law. I'm concerned about voter suppression. There are a lot of very important issues coming before the court and I fear very much with this right wing majority that the decisions will not be good for working families or for the American people.”
A number of fiscal issues will be priorities when Congress returns including reviewing the proposed federal budget, which Sanders roundly lambasts. “Trump's budget is one of the most inhumane and obscene budgets in the modern history of this country. The idea that we would greatly expand military spending, that we would be giving huge tax breaks to billionaires and then cut back on the Meals and Wheels program, afterschool programs, education, health care, the needs of working people is priorities that are absolutely backwards.”
A fiscal plan, either the budget or a stopgap measure, must pass by April 28th or Washington faces a government shutdown. Welch says the idea is being pushed by ultra-conservative Republicans. “I am very concerned that we're even thinking about it. There should never be a possibility of a government shutdown. And essentially what you're seeing is a small group in the House - the Freedom Caucus - make demands: they don't want Planned Parenthood funding or they want to repeal Obamacare and they're saying they won't allow for the debt ceiling to be raised to meet obligations that we've already incurred unless they get their way on their particular agenda item. And a great and confident country doesn't threaten to renege on its bills. It's a really bad idea.”
While concerned, Sanders appears more optimistic. “Frankly I don't think that it's going to happen. I think there are people on the appropriations committees who are working reasonably well together and I think most sane people know that a government shutdown helps nobody and it would be a disaster for the American people.”
Congressional representatives return to Washington on April 25th .