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Thursday, September 29, 2016

Vermont Delegation Divided Over Spending Bill Extending EB-5

Posted By on Thu, Sep 29, 2016 at 12:19 PM

click to enlarge Left to right: Congressman Peter Welch, Bill Stenger, Sen. Patrick Leahy, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Gov. Peter Shumlin, Ariel Quiros and William Kelly in Newport in September 2012. - COURTESY: BILL STENGER
  • Courtesy: Bill Stenger
  • Left to right: Congressman Peter Welch, Bill Stenger, Sen. Patrick Leahy, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Gov. Peter Shumlin, Ariel Quiros and William Kelly in Newport in September 2012.
Vermont's typically unified congressional delegation split Wednesday on a key vote to fund the government through December 9. 

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) joined 25 of his peers in opposing the stopgap spending bill, which nevertheless passed the Senate with 72 votes in favor. The veteran Democrat pledged last week to vote against the so-called continuing resolution if it did not include reforms to the EB-5 immigrant investor visa program. Instead, the legislation simply extended it, as written, until December. 

According to Leahy spokesman David Carle, his "nay" vote was "a direct result" of his reservations on EB-5.

Leahy, whose office once called him the Senate's "leading champion" of the program, soured on it last April as federal regulators uncovered a massive fraud scheme in the Northeast Kingdom. Authorities say developers Ariel Quiros and Bill Stenger defrauded hundreds of foreign investors who ponied up more than $500,000 apiece for a series of development projects. Under the EB-5 program, those investors were slated to obtain permanent residency in the U.S.

Congressman Peter Welch (D-Vt.) "agrees with Sen. Leahy that the EB-5 program must be reformed," according to spokeswoman Kirsten Hartman. But Welch was one of 342 House members to vote in favor of the continuing resolution Wednesday. Another 85 opposed it. 

"He voted for the short-term spending bill to avoid a government shutdown," Hartman explained. 

Vermont's third congressional delegate, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) missed Wednesday's votes. The former presidential candidate was campaigning for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire.

A spokesman for Sanders, Michael Briggs, did not respond to requests for comment Thursday about how the senator would have voted. He has largely avoided questions about the EB-5 program since news of the Northeast Kingdom scam broke last spring. 

Sanders was one of just two senators to skip the spending vote. The other was Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who is running for vice president. 

According to the nonpartisan research website, Sanders missed more votes during his run for president than any other candidate — including Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). Between July 2015 and July 2016, he skipped 58 percent of the Senate's roll-call votes, making him the most absent member of the Senate during that period.

Since dropping out of the race this summer, according to GovTrack, Sanders has missed nine of 34 votes, making him the fourth most absent member. 
Leahy and Welch are up for reelection this November. Sanders is not. 

Disclosure: Paul Heintz worked as Peter Welch's communications director from November 2008 to March 2011.

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About The Author

Paul Heintz

Paul Heintz

Paul Heintz is Seven Days' political editor. He writes the weekly column, "Fair Game."

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