Friday, April 28, 2006

Berry Calls for Immediate Resolution to Russian Poultry Ban

I sent a letter today to the President, the United States Department of Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns, and U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman demanding an immediate resolution to Russia's ban on foreign poultry imports. The ban, which was announced yesterday, would significantly harm Arkansas' poultry industry.

Poultry accounts for 40% of Arkansas' agriculture industry and makes up a substantial part of our economy. The Administration must act immediately to end this ban and protect American farmers. Ignoring or delaying action will bring a significant financial blow to the poultry industry. It is time for the Bush Administration to keep its promise to American farmers.

Russia issued the ban without prior notice or consultation, citing veterinary regulation violations as the reason for its unexpected decision. Russia imported about 1.2 million tons of poultry last year, with more than 80 percent of the imports supplied by the United States. Arkansas is a major contributor in the international poultry market, with the largest exports of any state in the nation, and roughly 7,000 farms across the state tied to the industry.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

House Finally Set to Debate Iraq

The new House Majority Leader, John Boehner (R-Ohio), told his Republican colleagues yesterday that he will hold a full floor debate on the Iraq War. This announcement represents a change of course for House Republicans who repeatedly turned down Democratic calls for such a debate. Although Boehner has not released details on exactly what the House will debate, he does seem committed to having a lengthy discussion about our progress and future intentions in Iraq.

I welcome this debate and hope my colleagues on both sides of the isle will come together to decide the best direction for our military operations in Iraq. So far we have lost 2,391 American troops, failed to establish an Iraqi government, and are spending $10 billion a month of taxpayer dollars to sustain military operations. Our constituents and those serving in our military deserve some clear answers about the future of military operations in Iraq. Our entire country has sacrificed so much over the past three years and need reassurance from our elected leaders that we will do what is right for America and the families in the Middle East.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Bush Puts Agriculture Assistance on the Chopping Block

President Bush issued his first formal veto threat last evening against the Fiscal Year 2006 emergency supplemental spending bill, demanding that lawmakers cut at least $14 billion of assistance including $4 billion in agricultural relief. The President said he would reject any version of the bill that exceeds his original request of $92.2 billion.

The veto threat is bad news for Arkansas' farmers who suffered significant losses during the 2005 crop year. If lawmakers bow to the President's threat and strip the agriculture assistance from the bill, we will lose our last great chance to secure agriculture assistance for the 2005 crop year.

Here is what the President wrote in his formal statement to Congress:
"The Administration strongly opposes the Committee's
agricultural assistance proposal totaling nearly $4 billion. The 2002 Farm Bill was designed, when combined with crop insurance, to eliminate the need for ad hoc disaster assistance. In 2005, many crops had record or near-record production, and U.S. farm sector cash receipts were the second highest ever. Furthermore, the proposed level of assistance is excessive and may over-compensate certain producers for their losses."

Click Here for the President's full veto report.

Berry Introduces Pharmacy Relief Bill

Last night my colleague Walter Jones (R-NC) and I introduced H.R.5182, the Fair and Speedy Treatment (FAST) of Claims Act of 2006, which would give pharmacists some relief from the Administration's Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit. Our bill would protect pharmacists from going out of business by ensuring timely reimbursement and claims processing, and save taxpayers an average of $94 for every generic prescription dispensed.

The Medicare prescription drug benefit placed an overwhelming and unnecessary burden on our pharmacists. This legislation will not only ensure pharmacists get reimbursed in a timely manner, but will save taxpayers billions of dollars in excessive drug costs. The current leadership forced this expensive and complicated benefit on the American people and must enact some commonsense reforms to provide relief.

Click here to read the full press release.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Building a Case for Biofuels

Biofuel production is a hot topic all across America, including the halls of Congress. The Senate Agriculture Committee will hear from a panel of biofuel experts tomorrow about the need to ramp up biofuel production. These biofuel supporters will argue that the next Farm Bill should become the vehicle for transforming products like ethanol and biodiesel into affordable alternatives to gasoline.

Domestic biofuel production will not only reduce our dependence on foreign oil, but open new markets for farmers and citizens in rural America. An area like the First Congressional District of Arkansas, with our fertile soil, central location to the Mississippi River, and our innovative spirit, is a perfect place to expand biofuel production. It would be nice to see the tens of billions of dollars spent annually on Middle Eastern oil go into the pockets of citizens in the First District.

Just two years ago, biodiesel sales were a mere 25 million gallons. That figure is projected to hit 150 million gallons this year.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Agriculture Report: Fuel Prices Up 113%, Fertilizer Up 70%

A new report from the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute (FAPRI) shows just how much planting costs have risen the last four years. Since 2002, fuel prices have more than doubled, up 113% while fertilizer prices are 70% higher.

Fuel and Fertilizer Costs Per Acre:

Corn - $124 per acre
Soybeans - $38 per acre
High-yield cotton - $70 per acre
Rice - $99 per acre

The way to prevent fertilizer costs from rising this high is to give nations like Russia and Ukraine access to our nation’s fertilizer market. These two countries experience an abundant supply of natural gas at low prices, are export oriented, and are currently expanding fertilizer production. Estimates suggest that monthly domestic nitrogen fertilizer prices would drop by 50% or more if the U.S. allowed imports of Urea and Ammonium Nitrate fertilizers from these nations.

I have testified before the International Trade Commission to express my strong support for opening our markets to fertilizer inputs from nations like Russia, and I plan to introduce two pieces of legislation to eliminate tariffs on these critical agricultural products. These measures would increase the supply of affordable fertilizer and help preserve the economic livelihood of our farm families.

I also continue to push for legislation that would provide supplemental direct payments to farmers who suffered economic losses due to high fuel and fertilizer costs during the 2005 crop year.

Click here to read the full report.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Bush Exaggerating His Medicare "Success"

You may have heard President Bush touting the success of his Medicare Prescription Drug plan in recent days, claiming that 30 million people are now receiving prescription drug coverage, with an additional 5.8 million receiving drug coverage from the Veterans Administration (VA), a current employer, or other miscellaneous sources.


What the Bush Administration fails to mention, is 75% of these beneficiaries ALREADY had prescription drug coverage before the President's prescription drug plan.

That means of the 35.8 million people the President is trying to take credit for, 26.8 already had coverage before the January 1st enrollment period even began. These groups of individuals include:
  • 10.3 million through an employer or union plan
  • 5.8 million through Medicaid
  • 4.9 million through their Medicare Advantage plan
  • 5.8 million through the VA, their current employer or other miscellaneous sources.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Report Gas Price Gouging

I want to remind all consumers they can report any incidents of possible price gouging at local gasoline filling stations by visiting: or calling 1-800-244-3301.

Price gouging, price fixing, and other forms of collusion by suppliers or retailers may violate federal or state law, and may be subject to prosecution by federal or state enforcement authorities. According to the Department of Energy, nearly 35,000 people visited the site last year to report possible incidents of gasoline price gouging.

DOE offers the following tips to help you save money on gas:

  1. Slow down. Each 5 miles per hour an individual drives over 60 is like paying an additional $0.15 per gallon for gasoline.
  2. Keep your car properly maintained and running smoothly. Tune-ups, clean air filters, properly maintained tires, and the proper grade of oil can all save you money at the pump.
  3. Use your engine wisely. Avoid excessive idling and use cruise control when possible.
  4. Be smart about driving. Conduct errands in groups, join a carpool, or use mass transit if available.
  5. Keep your car light. Too often cars become long-term storage facilities for sporting equipment or household items.

Iraq War Costs Double Those of Vietnam

The United States government is spending twice as much on military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan as it did to fight the Vietnam War. The Army Chief of Staff defended these costs during a recent Armed Services Committee hearing, claiming the military did not predict heavy equipment repair and rebuilding costs, the need for heavily armored vehicles, or the extent of battle losses.


Iraq & Afghanistan = $10 billion/month
Vietnam = $5 billion/month

The Senate will address these costs next week as it takes up the largest emergency spending bill in history. The bill would give the military $72.4 billion for the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, just six months after Congress approved $50 billion for military operations in that region.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The Price of Oil Sets New Record High

With the summer driving season quickly approaching, oil prices hit a record high of $72 a barrel this week. The only time in history the price of oil hit comparable highs was when it hit $80 a barrel following the gas crisis and Iranian revolution of the late 1970s and early 1980s. To make matters worse, the Energy Department said gasoline supplies fell by 5.4 million barrels last week, far exceeding their predictions of a 2.5 million barrel shortage.

If our leaders do not do something soon to prevent price gouging and diversify our fuel supply, our country is going to face another economic crisis. Many of our rural communities are already struggling to get to and from work and our farmers have seen their input costs shoot through the roof.

Fortunately, Arkansas is doing its part to help increase our ground transportation fuel supply. Eastman in Batesville opened the state's first biodiesel production facility last year, converting soybeans into a fuel source for automobiles. On Friday, Patriot Biofuels will also open its doors in Stuttgart to become the first biodiesel plant in Arkansas County.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Bush Appoints New U.S. Trade Rep

President Bush announced today that he has nominated his current U.S. Trade Representative, Rob Portman, for director of the Office of Management and Budget. He also plans to promote Portman's deputy, Susan Schwab, to fill the position. Although both positions require a confirmation from the U.S. Senate, once confirmed, Schwab will have full responsibility for negotiating trade agreements and opening international markets.

Since President Bush has been in office, his trade representatives have implemented a trade policy that has jeopardized the economic security of rural America. Over the last five years, this Administration has entered into numerous unfair trade agreements, weakened our agricultural safety net for little in return, and failed to enforce existing trade agreements. These trade policies have sent countless jobs overseas, led to a record trade deficit, and placed our national food security at risk.

America can do better. Our domestic producers and manufacturers desperately need someone to stand up for their interests and the economic security of this country.

RX Drug Plan Fails to Attract Healthy and Low-Income Seniors

According to today's USA Today article, the Bush Administration's prescription drug plan is unpopular among Medicare beneficiaries with few health problems or low incomes. The two groups have the lowest enrollment of all beneficiaries coming into the final weeks of the free registration period. Any senior who choses to enroll beyond the May 15th deadline will have to pay the Bush Administration prescription drug tax.
  • HEALTHY SENIORS – Seniors with low monthly prescription drug bills are hesitant to enroll. This is problematic since healthy people spread the insurance risk and hold down the cost of the program. Low enrollment among healthy seniors will only add to the skyrocketing price tag of the Bush Administration's prescription drug pan.
  • LOW INCOME SENIORS - Only 1.6 million of the 8.2 million low-income seniors eligible for the benefit have enrolled.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Experts Call for Rumsfeld to Step Down

Five retired senior generals have come out in recent days to criticize Defense Secretary Rumsfeld's mismanagement of the war in Iraq and to call for his resignation. The most recent critic, Maj. Gen. Charles H. Swannack Jr. commander of the Army's 82nd Airborne Division in 2004, said "I do not believe Secretary Rumsfeld is the right person to fight that war based on his absolute failures in managing the war against Saddam in Iraq."

Rumsfeld's refusal to listen to top military experts is dangerous and a clear threat to the safety of our troops. I have repeatedly called for his resignation and will continue to do so until we have a plan for success in Iraq. We simply cannot continue with low troop morale and leaders who are unwilling to heed the advice of military experts.

As we work to bring democracy and peace to the Iraqi region, we must remember the men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice. I have a memorial outside my Washington, DC office that lists the names and photos of every Arkansan who has lost his life in Iraq and Afghanistan. This serves as a constant reminder of Arkansas' sacrifice in the War on Terror.

Copy of Presidential Disaster Declaration

Thursday, April 13, 2006

FEMA Assistance Available

FEMA has recognized the level of devastation in the seven Arkansas counties that were devastated by severe storms and tornadoes 11 days ago. The President issued a major disaster declaration today for Conway, Cross, Fulton, Greene, Lawrence, Randolph, and White Counties. Residents and business owners from these counties who suffered damages from the storms are now eligible to apply for federal relief from FEMA.

If you sustained damages in the designated counties, you may apply immediately for relief at or by calling 1-800-621-FEMA (3362), or 1-800-462-7585 (TTY) for the hearing and speech impaired. The toll-free numbers are in operation from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. (local time) seven days a week. You may also call my office toll-free at 1-800-866-2701 for any additional assistance in applying for federal relief. My staff is working to ensure that all individuals receive the assistance they need for housing and repairs.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Personal Share of the National Debt

I have a sign outside of my office in Washington, DC that lists the daily total of the national debt. Every day, when I come into the office, I see the numbers rising. Part of the sign also lists your share of the National Debt. When I first posted the sign, the personal share was $26,000. It rose to $27,000 last year. And, once again, it has increased. The number is now $28,000.

Not too long ago, the national debt ceiling was limited to $8.18 trillion. But the federal government continued to borrow money and did nothing to bring spending under control. So, Congress raised the debt limit to $9 trillion. Congress should be acting to reduce the spending of the Federal Government, not raising the limit so we can spend more.

The U.S. House of Representatives is currently debating the FY2007 budget that is projected to add an additional $3 trillion of debt over the next five years. We must act now to reign in the out-of-control federal spending so that future generations are not paying off the $28,000 that each one of us now owe.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Federal Disaster Declaration Needed Immediately

It's been a week since the storms damaged several counties in Northeast Arkansas. Over 1,000 homes and buildings were destryoed in 7 counties in Arkansas, and yet FEMA has not been able to provide any federal assistance to these victims. The lack of a federal disaster declaration is frustrating to those affected by the severe storms and tornadoes.

I have contacted the President, Governor Huckabee, and FEMA Acting Director R. David Paulison requesting expeditious consideration of the disaster declaration. It is time for FEMA to step up and provide assistance in order to help those affected. FEMA must act immediately.

Friday, April 07, 2006

FY07 Budget Vote Postponed

Last night, the House was scheduled to vote on the Republican-backed Budget Resolution for FY2007. But, as debate proceeded, support was weaker than they had anticipated, so the vote was postponed until after the Spring District Work Period. The House Majority cannot agree on the priorities in the Budget.
"Despite strong economic growth and robust increases in federal tax receipts, the budget deficit is expected to reach about $370 billion this year, near a record high. With their leaders still loath to raise taxes, Republican conservatives are demanding deeper spending cuts to bring the deficit under control, but GOP moderates say the cuts to domestic programs, especially in education and health care, have gone far enough." (April 7, 2006, Washington Post)

As a member of the Blue Dog Coalition, I support a plan to pay down the growing national debt and passing a balanced budget. Last year, we unveiled a 12-Step Reform Plan as an alternative to the out of control Republican Budget. It calls for a balanced budget, strict spending caps, a return to pay-as-you-go rules, the establishment of a rainy day fund, and justificiation for earmarks.
  1. Require a balanced Budget
  2. Don't let Congress buy on credit - Pay As You Go
  3. Put a lid on spending
  4. Require federal agencies to put their fiscal houses in order
  5. Make Congress tell taxpayers how much they're spending
  6. Set aside a rainy-day fund
  7. Don't hide votes to raise the debt limit
  8. Justify spending for pet projects
  9. Ensure that Congress reads the bills it's voting on
  10. Require honest cost estimates for every bill that Congress votes on
  11. Make sure new bills fit the budget
  12. Make Congress do a better job keeping tabs on government programs

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Bush Allegedly Authorized National Security Leak

We just learned of a major development in the case involving Vice President Dick Cheney's former Chief of Staff, I. Lewis Libby, who was indicted for leaking national security information to a New York Times reporter in 2003.

"Vice President Dick Cheney's former top aide told prosecutors President Bush authorized the leak of sensitive intelligence information about Iraq, according to court papers filed by prosecutors in the CIA leak case. Before his indictment, I. Lewis Libby testified to the grand jury investigating the CIA leak that Cheney told him to pass on information and that it was Bush who authorized the disclosure, the court papers say." (April 6, 2006, Associated Press)

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

We Need to Stop Cutting Critical Homeland Security Programs

Here is something to think about as we begin to debate the Budget Resolution for Fiscal Year 2007:

A recent GAO report indicates that DHS is not telling the truth when it says it is identifying all high-risk cargo that enters the United States. According to the report, Customs and Border Protection has missed multiple deadlines for putting key screening controls in place. Security officials even failed to identify a container used last year to smuggle Chinese immigrants into the port of Long Beach. (April 5, 2006, Congress Daily AM)

Despite this alarming report, the Republican Budget Resolution would actually cut funding for port security grants, the Container Security Initiative which inspects high risk cargo bound for the United States, and the procurement of radiation portal monitors that help identify nuclear materials inside shipping containers. I am convinced our Republican leadership is out of touch with the needs of its own national security agencies.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Great News For Arkansas Farmers

The Senate Appropriations Committee approved an agriculture disaster package offered by U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) this afternoon, clearing a major hurdle in the effort to provide assistance for farmers and ranchers in Arkansas and across the country.

The legislation, which is similar to the agriculture assistance package I offered in September of 2005 (H.R. 3702), would provide a 30% supplemental direct payment, assistance for crop and quality losses, and livestock assistance for the 2005 crop year.

Senator Dorgan attached the agriculture disaster package as an amendment to the emergency supplemental bill (H.R. 4939) that will fund the Iraq war and hurricane relief. The measure will likely reach the Senate floor for a vote following the two-week Easter recess.

While this is great news for our farmers in Arkansas, we still have a long way to go before this measure is signed into law. Fortunately we have a lot of great allies in both the Senate and the House who are working hard to make this a top priority.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Storm Damage: Arkansas Needs Immediate Federal Relief

After spending most of the day surveying the storm and tornado damage in Cross and Greene Counties, I have sent a letter to the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) requesting his immediate assistance in the recovery process.

The destruction is significant, with damage spanning over a quarter-mile wide in some places. Many residents are displaced and have only begun to assess the property loss from damaged homes and businesses. I am asking FEMA to send temporary housing immediately, particularly the mobile homes located in Hope, Arkansas that the agency never used to assist victims in the Gulf Coast. I have also asked the President to issue a disaster declaration for this region so individuals and business owners can apply for government assistance.

Federal Spending is Out of Control

The U.S. House of Representatives will debate the $2.8 trillion budget for 2007 this week which will add an additional $3 trilllion of debt over the next five years. The Bush Administration has already borrowed more money over the past four years than the United States borrowed during the country's first 200 years. We fought the Civil War and two World Wars during that time and still didn't manage to run up this large of a debt.