Friday, March 31, 2006

Bush Breaks Promise to Rebuild New Orleans "Higher and Better" Than Before

From Today's Washington Post:

"The Bush administration said yesterday that the cost of rebuilding New Orleans's levees to federal standards has nearly tripled to $10 billion and that there may not be enough money to fully protect the entire region."

What happened to President Bush's promise that he will rebuild New Orleans "higher and better" than before Katrina destroyed the area? If the President does not live up to his word, how can we ever expect homeowners and businesses to return to a region that may fall again during the next Hurricane season? Our Administration must do better than this.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

FEMA: Still Dragging Its Feet

During our Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee hearing yesterday with FEMA acting Director R. David Paulison, Committee Chairman Harold Rogers (R-KY) threatened to block funding for any FEMA position that is not filled by the time the budget is prepared. The agency is still only operating at 73% of its authorized staffing level despite significant public criticism over its performance. To top it off, four of the 10 division chiefs and four of the 10 regional directors are serving in an "acting" or temporary capacity.

FEMA needs to stop dragging its feet and take its responsibility to protect this country seriously. Hurricane season is quickly approaching, and the agency simply cannot afford to make any more mistakes.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Arkansan Wesley Clark Joins Democrats to Unveil National Security Plan

Wesley Clark gave a rousing speech during today's event to roll-out the Democratic Real Security Agenda. Clark criticzed the Republican strategy in Iraq, calling the war a "complete blunder compounded by mistake after mistake."

He was joined by Harold Schaitberger, President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright, and Senator Jack Reed (D-RI).

Congressional Democrats To Unveil Real Security Agenda

Today I will join retired U.S. general Wesley Clark and House and Senate Democrats to unveil a new national security agenda that will enhance our military capability, destroy terrorist networks, strengthen homeland security, and free America from its dependence on foreign oil.

I am pleased to see my party stand together with a real agenda for protecting America's citizens. America is tired of seeing its military stretched thin, its ports contracted out to foreign countries, and thousands of citizens forgotten in the Gulf Coast without homes, electricity, or running water. It is time to restore America's faith in its government by making national security a top priority.

Our Real Security Agenda would:

Establish Unparalleled Military Strength

  • Rebuild a state-of-the art military by making needed investments in manpower and equipment.
  • Enact a GI Bill or Rights that guarantees all troops – active, reserve, or retired – and our veterans, adequate pay, health care, and mental health services.
  • Work with our nation's Governors to strengthen the National Guard to ensure it is fully manned and equipped to meet missions at home and abroad.

Destroy Terrorist Networks

  • Eliminate Osama Bin Laden, destroy the al Qaeda terrorist network, and end the threat posed by the Taliban.
  • Double the size of our Special Forces and increase investment in intelligence.
  • Seize all loose nuclear materials by 2010 that terrorists could use to build nuclear weapons or "dirty bombs".

Renew America's Commitment to Homeland Security

  • Implement all the bipartisan 9/11 Commission recommendations including securing our national borders, ports, airports, and mass transit systems.
  • Screen 100% of all cargo that enters the United States.
  • Prevent foreign outsourcing of our national security infrastructure such as ports, airports, and mass transit.

Energy Independence

  • Achieve energy independence by 2020 by eliminating reliance on oil from the Middle East and other unstable regions of the world.
  • Increase production of alternative fuels including bio-fuels and clean coal. Promote hybrid and flex fuel vehicle technology. Enhance energy efficiency and conservation incentives.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Protecting Rural Air Service

Twelve of my colleagues and I sent a letter today to the House Budget Committee Chairman urging him to stop proposed cuts to the Essential Air Service program. The Bush Administration has proposed a 50% reduction in the program which helps rural airports sustain and attract air carriers to the region. These proposed cuts would not only jeopardize rural America's access to the national air system, but make it difficult for air carriers to stay in business at a time when fuel costs are already creating significant financial problems.

Jonesboro Municipal Airport is an Essential Air Service airport and stands to lose $923,456 under the Bush Administration's proposed cuts.

New Jobs for the 1st Congressional District

According to the Stuttgart Daily Leader, Lennox Industries will expand its Stutttgart facility to include new manufacturing space and about 350 more jobs. The company was waivering between an expansion in Stuttgart or in Monterey, Mexico where wages and overhead costs are considerably lower. The company decided on the Stuttgart facility after heavy lobbying from local and state leaders as well as a demonstrated committment from local employees. Lennox will recruit employees with specific skills including knowledge of blue prints, basic shop math, and a mechanical aptitude.

The Jonesboro Sun reports that an aircraft dismantling business will expand its Pocahontas operation to open a new FAA repair station with 40 new jobs. The facility, which will be called Universal Air Repair LLC, hopes to complete the hiring within the next 12 to 18 months. Company executives will begin construction on the new facility the first week of April and hope to move into the 10,000 square foot building by the first of September. The new facility will have highly sophisticated equipment for testing of aircraft hydraulic and jet fuel system components.

Bush Chief of Staff Resigns

In a major shake up in the West Wing, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card resigned his post as President Bush’s top aide, handing over the position to Office of Management and Budget Director Joshua Bolten.

Card’s resignation comes as Bush’s approval rating is at an all time low, Americans are concerned about the U.S. mission in Iraq, the Administration continues to come under fire for its handling of Hurricane Katrina, seniors are increasingly frustrated with the Republican-passed Prescription Drug benefit, and Bush suffered serious embarrassment over a deal to contract out U.S. seaports to an Arab-owned company. Over the past few weeks, top Republican advisors have encouraged Bush to make a number of staff changes to salvage what is left of his Presidency coming into the mid-term elections.

U.S. Fails Port Security Test

The General Accounting Office (GAO) just announced that undercover investigators were able to smuggle radioactive material - enough to make two dirty bombs - across U.S. land ports during tests in December of last year. They actually purchased the radioactive material in the United States posing as a fake company, took the material outside of the United States, and brought it back in through two ports, one at the U.S. Canadian border and the other at the U.S. Mexican border. Failure to catch the radioactive material exposes serious flaws in our port security program. Only 40% of our seaports have equipment in place capable of detecting radioactive material and many port operators have resisted installing such equipment, especially for screening cargo put on rail cars.

This new study raises more concerns as the Bush Administration plans to give a Hong Kong-based company rights to screen cargo in the Bahamas (65 miles from Florida's coast) for illicit radiactive and nuclear material. Fortunately the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affiars Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations intends to monitor the deal to make sure the company is operating properly and in the best interest of America's national security.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Drug Benefit Will Cost Arkansas Taxypayers $8.8 Billion

A new report released by the Institute for America's Future shows that Arkansas taxpayers will spend $8.8 billion over the next decade because of specific provisions inserted in the Republican-passed Medicare Part D Prescription Drug benefit at the request of pharmaceutical and insurance companies.

Click here to read the full report.

This report only reinforces the need to pass legislation like my bill, H.R. 752, which would create a Medicare-administered drug plan and require the Secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate for lower prices on behalf of all the seniors enrolled. This would cut seniors prescription drug bills by as much as 40% and prevent the pharmaceutical and insurance companies from having complete power over this benefit.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Berry to Deliver Democratic National Radio Address on Medicare Reform

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Congressman Marion Berry (AR, 1st) will deliver the Democratic Radio Address tomorrow to reaffirm his party's commitment to providing a simplified, low-cost prescription drug benefit for America's seniors. Since the benefit was enacted on January 1, 2006, many seniors across America have lost drug coverage, seen their drug prices increase, or had difficulty selecting a plan from the dizzying array of options offered by competing insurance companies.

WHO: Congressman Marion Berry (AR-01)

WHAT: Weekly Democratic Radio Address

WHEN: Saturday, March 25, 2006 -- 11:06 a.m. (EST)

WHERE: Major radio networks, including ABC, AP, AURN, CBS, CNN, C-SPAN, NPR, American Forces Radio, Voice of America, BBC, CBC, and Australian Broadcasting Corporation