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Welch pitches prescription bill to Trump

MONTPELIER — Rep. Peter Welch met with President Donald Trump Wednesday to pitch legislation aimed at lower prescription drug prices. The Oval Office meeting inside the White House was attended by Welch, Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and Dr. Redonda G. Miller, president of the Johns Hopkins Hospital. The trio met with Trump to pitch a bill that would allow the secretary of the Agency of Health and Human Services to negotiate lower drug prices for Medicare Part D beneficiaries. Current law prohibits the federal government from doing so under a provision known as the “non-interference clause.”

Welch, a Democrat, said the legislation would eliminate the non-interference clause and direct the secretary to negotiate lower prices with drug manufacturers and create a formulary to further leverage the purchasing power of the federal government. “President Trump promised lower drug prices for Americans getting crushed by unjustifiable and exorbitant increases in the price of prescription drugs,” Welch said following the White House meeting. Continue Reading →

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Scott administration concerned with GOP health care bill in Washington

MONTPELIER — Vermont’s top health care official says the Scott administration is working quickly to assess the impact a GOP health care plan in Washington would have on the state if enacted. Agency of Human Services Secretary Al Gobeille said his team is reviewing the Republican plan to replace the Affordable Care Act, widely known as Obamacare. At first glance, Gobeille said, the plan could have significant negative impacts on Vermonters. After years of failed attempts to repeal and replace Obamacare during former Democratic President Barack Obama’s tenure, the GOP now controls both chambers in Congress and the presidency. President Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress campaigned on dumping the sweeping health care reform law Democrats enacted early in Obama’s presidency, and now the GOP has put forth a plan to do so. Continue Reading →

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Donovan offers advice on immigration issues

MONTPELIER— Vermont Attorney General T. J. Donovan issued guidance to local municipalities Monday aimed at helping them address legal issues regarding immigration that have emerged since Republican President Donald Trump issued a series of executive orders dealing with immigration and border security earlier this year. The memo to Vermont cities and towns released by Donovan on Monday provides background information on existing state and federal laws and explains the consequences of violating them. A number of towns across the state will consider new immigration policies Tuesday at their Town Meeting Day gatherings. Adopting so-called sanctuary status, meaning local communities would flout federal immigration law, could have consequences, he said. One of the president’s January executive orders threatens to eliminate federal money for localities that violate federal immigration law. Continue Reading →

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Revised immigration order still draws criticism

MONTPELIER— Republican President Donald Trump’s revised executive order on immigration has failed to win over Vermont’s congressional delegation, while Gov. Phil Scott says he is encouraged that it is more narrowly crafted but remains concerned with other elements of Trump’s immigration policy. The president signed a new executive order at the White House on Monday without fanfare — or the press — that replaces another one signed in late January that was part of a series of orders dealing with immigration and border security. The original executive order prevented citizens from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the U.S. for 90 days and prevented all refugees from entering for a period of 120 days. The original order singled out Syrians for an indefinite ban. That original order was challenged in federal court and stayed by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, essentially preventing the administration from carrying out the goals of the order. Continue Reading →

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Listen: Capital Beat Podcast 3.3.17

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April McCullum of the Burlington Free Press joins Vermont Press Bureau chief Neal Goswami and Vermont Public Radio political reporter Peter Hirschfeld this week to discuss the state budget and other topics. Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes for fresh episodes each week. Continue Reading →

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House budget plan reduces gap to $18 million

MONTPELIER — House Speaker Mitzi Johnson and the chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee say they have found ways to reduce the state’s projected budget from $72 million to about $18 million, but many tough decisions must still be made to bring the 2018 fiscal year budget into balance. Johnson, D-South Hero, and Rep. Kitty Toll, D-Danville, briefed reporters on the status of their budget work Friday as lawmakers prepared for the annual week-long Town Meeting Day break. Republican Gov. Phil Scott’s proposed budget called for increased spending in early and higher education. It called for funding the increase by moving some general fund obligations to the education fund, level-funding local school district budgets and requiring teachers to pay at least 20 percent of their health care premiums.

But the governor’s education proposals were rejected almost immediately by the Democratic-led Legislature. Toll said her committee has been “really slugging it out” during the first two months of the legislative session and has essentially shelved the governor’s entire budget proposal and is working off of the current budget to craft the 2018 fiscal year spending plan. Continue Reading →

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Vermont delegation pressures Sessions

MONTPELIER — Vermont’s congressional delegation joined a growing chorus of Democratic voices Thursday raising questions about U.S. Attorney General Jeff Session’s meetings with a Russian diplomat during last year’s presidential campaign. Sessions, a former senator from Alabama, told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this year during his confirmation hearings that he did not have contact with any Russian government officials. But Sessions has since acknowledged meeting with the Russian ambassador to the United States twice during the presidential campaign when he served as a surrogate and adviser to President Donald Trump. Sessions was already under fire from Democrats over his refusal to recuse himself from a Department of Justice probe into Russian meddling in the presidential election between Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Late Thursday afternoon, after top Republican lawmakers joined the call for recusal, the attorney general complied. Continue Reading →

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Welch to bring Iraqi interpreter to Trump’s address to Congress

MONTPELIER — U.S. Rep. Peter Welch is planning to bring an Iraqi national who served as an interpreter for the U.S. military to Republican President Donald Trump’s address to a joint session of Congress Tuesday. Trump will deliver his first address to Congress — and the nation — inside the U.S. Capitol Tuesday night as his immigration policies continue to reverberate in Washington and across the country. Welch, a Democrat, has invited Ahmed Alsaeedi, an Iraqi from Baghdad who served as an interpreter for the U.S Army and now lives in Burlington, to be his personal guest at the speech. Many of Welch’s colleagues in Congress are also extending invitations to former interpreters and others who assisted the U.S. in Iraq and Afghanistan. Welch said he thought to invite Alsaeedi after a recent meeting they had and “my horror at the executive order, including in its original form, that it would have cut off access to safety” for people like Alsaeedi. Continue Reading →

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Lawmakers unfazed by White House comments on marijuana

MONTPELIER — A White House official warned last week of a possible crackdown on federal marijuana policy but officials in Vermont say the discussion about whether to legalize the drug here will continue. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer responded to questions at the White House’s daily briefing last Thursday with vague warnings about potential enforcement of the federal government’s policy. “I do believe that you’ll see greater enforcement of it,” he told reporters. Former Democratic President Barack Obama’s administration’s policy was to largely look the other way as states moved forward with state-level legalization. But Republican President Donald Trump may change all of that, putting states like Colorado, where there is a large, regulated marijuana retail market, in the Trump administration’s bullseye. Continue Reading →

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Scott: Trump looking to tone down immigration rhetoric

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott said he believes Republican President Donald Trump is looking to walk back his rhetoric on immigration after attending meetings with the president on Sunday and Monday. Scott was in Washington, D.C., over the weekend and into Monday for a National Governors Association meeting. Scott attended the annual Governor’s Ball at the White House on Sunday evening, as well as a meeting at the White House with the president Monday morning. The White House events were a first for Scott, who told reporters last week that he had never before visited the famed building, even as a tourist. Scott has emerged as one of the president’s most vocal critics when it comes to immigration policy among the Republican governors. Continue Reading →

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