Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Stolen VA Records Include Phone Numbers & Addresses

The Veterans Administration (VA) just reported that records stolen earlier this month on 26.5 million veterans not only included Social Security numbers and birthdates but also phone numbers and addresses. The electronic data related to everyone discharged from the military since 1975 according to Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson.
The VA has set up a manned call center that veterans may call to get information about this situation and learn more about consumer identity protections. That toll free number is 1-800-FED INFO (1-800-333-4636). The call center will operate from 8 am to 9 pm (EDT), Monday-Saturday.

All affected veterans should pay close attention to their personal finances and report any signs of suspicious activity or possible identity theft. It is completely unacceptable that any individuals could access this highly personal information. Congress will hold hearings on this issue to prevent future incidients of stolen records.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Berry & 40 Rural Lawmakers Ask Leadership to Protect Agriculture Disaster Assistance

Today, forty of my colleagues and I sent a letter to to House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi encouraging them to retain the $4 billion of agriculture assistance in the Fiscal Year 2007 emergency supplemental bill for Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Gulf Coast Recovery. Although the U.S. Senate voted to include the measure in its version of the bill, President Bush and Republican leadership in the House oppose the assistance, with Speaker Hastert and Republican Majority Leader John Boehner declaring it "dead on arrival."

Instead of passing good public policy, this Administration seems determined to strip our farmers of every hope for disaster assistance. We fought an uphill battle to get this disaster assistance included in the emergency spending bill, and now have to listen to the House Republican leaders dismiss it in such a cold way.

Click here to read the full press release on this issue.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Berry Joins Over 200 Pharmacists on Capitol Hill to Call for Medicare Reform

This afternoon, I joined over 200 neighborhood pharmacists and eleven of my congressional colleagues at a rally in support of H.R. 5182, the Fair and Speedy Treatment (FAST) of Claims Act of 2006. My colleague Walter Jones (R-NC) and I introduced this legislation to protect independent pharmacists from going out of business as a result of the Medicare Prescription Drug benefit.

According to recent surveys, more than 90% of pharmacists say their cash flow is worse since the Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit began on January 1, 2006, and more than 60% have sought outside financial assistance from banks, wholesalers, credit unions or family members to cover the financial shortfalls. Our legislation would protect these pharmacists by ensuring that insurance companies do not provide inadequate and late reimbursement rates under the new Medicare benefit. The bill also promotes greater use of generics, saving taxpayers an estimated $94 for every generic prescription dispensed.

Click here to read the press release from today's event.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Major Automobile Companies Lobby Hill for Renewable Fuels

The head of General Motors Corp, Ford Motor Co, and DaimlerChrysler AG, came to Capitol Hill yesterday to convince legislators that America must invest more in renewable fuels. The executives plan to join a coalition of business and political leaders working to provide 25% of America's energy supply from renewable sources by 2025.

The companies announced they will have 6 million vehicles on the road by the end of the year capable of running on a corn-based fuel called E85. Despite this historic shift, drivers still have no place to get the fuel. Of the 180,000 gasoline stations across America, only 600 sell the E85 ethanol fuel. This will require a significant commitment from our government to help our industries develop new technologies and establish a distribution system accessible to America's energy consumers.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Republican Appropriators Vote Down Border Security Measures

I witnessed some very alarming votes today during the House Appropriations Committee hearing for the Fiscal Year 2007 Homeland Security Appropriations Bill. Despite growing consensus that we need to secure our borders, my Republican colleagues voted down every single attempt by myself and my Democratic colleagues to improve our border security program. We tried to add 800 new border patrols, 500 new detention beds, 800 Immigration Custom Enforcement agents, and $100 million for technologies to help detect radioactive material at our ports.

This is not only irresponsible, but a clear sign that my Republican colleagues are not ready to take border security seriously. Both parties need to come together to pass a budget that prioritizes the needs of our border communities. This is a national security issue that must not be taken lightly.

Click here to read my press release on the committee hearing.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Our Borders Need More Than Rhetoric

President Bush delivered a public address last night on immigration reform, calling for 6,000 National Guard troops to help patrol our border. While he tried to bring a sense of urgency to the issue, his record provides a clear picture of his position on border security.
Despite efforts by Congress in 2004 to add 2,000 new border patrol agents each year for five years, the Bush Administration continues to underfund border security in his annual budget request. Instead of asking for the full 2,000 new border agents authorized each year, Bush asked for just 210 new agents last year, and just 1,500 new agents this year.

The Appropriations Committee will begin to mark-up the Homeland Security Appropriations Bill for Fiscal Year 2007 tomorrow. Although the current bill only funds 1,200 new agents, I can assure you my colleagues and I will do what we can to make sure we provide enough funding for the full 2,000 border agents authorized in the 2004 Intelligence Reform Act.

It is time to start taking border security seriously, and make it a priority in our budget process.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Democratic Rural Working Group Unveils Comprehensive Energy Independence Plan

Today I joined Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Democratic Caucus Chairman Jim Clyburn (D-SC), Co-chairs of the Democratic Rural Working Group Stephanie Herseth (D-SD) and Bob Etheridge (D-NC), and the Ranking Member of the House Agriculture Committee Collin Peterson (D-MN) to unveil a new plan that will help America establish a renewable biofuel source within a decade. Our package would raise the renewable fuels mandate, require automakers to increase the percentage of flex-fuel vehicles, increase investment in biofuels research, and provide federal incentives to help locally-owned biofuel facilities compete with large oil companies.

A biofuels economy is not a far-fetched idea anymore, it is the reality. This proposal will get us there, making sure America meets the goal of energy independence in just a decade.

Our proposal gives American companies the resources and incentives to establish a renewable fuel source domestically. This will create local job opportunities, expand the United States economy, and strengthen our national security. The Democratic proposal stands in stark contrast to efforts by President Bush and leading Republicans in Congress who want to lower tariffs on ethanol imports from countries like Brazil and the Caribbean. Why should we pay other countries for biobased fuels when we can make them right here at home?

Click here for details of our energy independence plan.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Republicans to Raise Debt Ceiling AGAIN?

House Republicans are apparently hoping to sneak by a hidden provision in the Fiscal Year 2007 budget resolution that would raise the debt limit AGAIN to nearly $10 trillion. This provision, which is buried on page 121 of a 125 page document, would mark the fifth time in recent years Republicans have increased the debt-ceiling. When Bush first took office, the borrowing limit stood at $5.95 trillion - nearly half of what Republicans intend to borrow from foreign nations today.

House leaders hope to hold a vote on the budget resolution this week. I can assure you I will oppose any measure that does not attempt to reign in federal spending. Our country will go broke if we continue to spend at this rate, burdening our children and grandchildren with billions of dollars in unnecessary interest payments.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Berry Joins Public Interest Groups to Unveil A Report on How Corrupt Lobbyists Shaped Medicare Part D

I joined two leading public interest groups today to unveil a report on the influence of lobbyists in crafting the Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit. As a member of the conference committee that drafted this legislation, I watched as Republicans worked with powerful pharmaceutical and insurance lobbyists to draft a bill that gives them billions of dollars in excess profits. There were even times when the Republicans on the committee shut the Democrats out of the room so they could conduct deals with these lobbyists.

The report specifically mentioned Rep. Billy Tauzin, who led the conference and later went to run the lobbying shop for the pharmaceutical industry. Here are some alarming facts about Mr. Tauzin:
  • Tauzin now receives $2 million a year in salary, perks, and benefits as CEO of the pharmaceutical inudstry's lobby shop.
  • Drug companies gave $87 million in campaign contributions between 1998 to 2005.
  • Tauzin received $218,000 in drug industry contributions between 1989 and his departure.

Click here if you would like to read the full report.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Leading Democrat on House Agriculture Committee Speaks Out

I would like to draw your attention to an op-ed written today by my colleague, Collin Peterson (D-MN), Ranking Member on the House Agriculture Committee, who is leading the effort to secure disaster assistance for farmers throughout rural America. His piece reflects the frustration in our community and reminds President Bush about the importance of preserving a strong farm economy.

Shifting Priorities: How an Election Year Helps Agriculture Recover From Disaster

By Congressman Collin C. Peterson

Hurricanes, floods, droughts, and other natural disasters don’t respect political boundaries, and when disaster strikes, entire communities are affected. But, when it comes to recovery from natural disasters, politics seem to shape the Bush Administration’s response.

Right now, farmers and ranchers in communities across the country are suffering not only from crop and livestock losses caused by devastating natural disasters, but also from sky-rocketing input costs resulting from the high price of fuel and fertilizer. In disaster-stricken communities in the Gulf Coast and Southern states, across the Midwest into Northwest Minnesota, farmers throughout the country are struggling to stay in business as their needs continue to go unmet.

In spite of this dismal reality, the White House warned Congress this week that the President will veto emergency agriculture disaster assistance if it is sent to him.

Recognizing the need for disaster aid, last fall, Democrats on the House Agriculture Committee proposed emergency disaster assistance for agriculture. Our effort was defeated by a party-line vote. My colleague, Congressman Marion Berry of Arkansas also offered a disaster assistance provision in the Appropriations Committee, and that amendment was defeated by House Republicans as well.

As time passes, some Congressional Republicans have joined our efforts to provide relief. I have joined with Congressman Jo Bonner of Alabama for a strong, bipartisan push to get disaster assistance for agriculture. We introduced the Emergency Disaster Assistance Act of 2006 (H.R. 5099), which now has 44 co-sponsors in the House, including 18 Republicans.

Last month, a Senate committee included an amendment to provide agriculture disaster assistance in the emergency supplemental bill. We thought we were finally making some progress in our effort to bring some relief to farmers and ranchers hit hard by disasters.

The President issued a Statement of Administration Policy for that bill opposing the amendment to provide emergency disaster assistance. The statement says that when you look at agriculture on a national level, production levels have been strong for many crops this past year. But, we all know that nationwide facts and figures don’t tell the story of the communities where production was devastated, and farmers and ranchers have seen little relief from the 2002 Farm Bill or crop insurance.

The Bush Administration’s response to recent farm disasters could not be more different than the response to disasters in 2004. In that year -- when the President was after Florida’s electoral votes -- the Administration’s efforts to help that State’s hurricane victims were swift and decisive. The hurricane victims in the Gulf are no less worthy.

Farmers and ranchers in the Gulf Coast region have waited more than eight months now for the Bush Administration to respond to their desperate need for disaster relief. In the aftermath of the hurricanes that struck Florida in 2004, the U.S. Department of Agriculture did not wait for Congress to pass disaster assistance, and after only 2 months, they had a program in place to get the first payments for the Florida Hurricane Agricultural Disaster Assistance Fund to affected farmers. On top of that, in 2004 Congress also passed disaster relief for agriculture, and that bill was signed into law by the President in October.

In the same document that the President used to announce his opposition to agriculture disaster assistance, he also expressed his strong support for $2.3 billion in funding to prepare for a possible bird flu pandemic that has not even reached our nation’s shores. Although I recognize the need to prepare for potential future emergencies and applaud efforts to strengthen our public health infrastructure, it only makes sense that we need to address the disasters that are hurting our communities now, even as we prepare for future threats.

President Bush seems out of touch with the realities of what disasters can do to farmers in our country. Apparently, the only way to put the President back in touch with reality is to hold an election.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Senate Republicans Abandon Proposed $100 Gas Rebate

Senate Republicans learned the hard way just how frustrated Americans are with rising gas prices when constituents across the country called in to protest their proposed $100 gasoline rebate. Even House Majority Leader John Boehner criticized the proposal saying, "The really insulting part of this whole proposal was that somebody would offer $100 to every American family over this. That is not going to solve the problem." Senate leaders now admit the proposal is inadequate and are working on an energy package that will hopefully do more than cover a couple tanks of gas.

Meanwhile, my colleagues in the House just passed legislation that would ban gasoline price gouging and set penalties for any oil or gas company caught using deceptive tactics to reap excess profits. It is great to see both parties come together in the House to do something about our gas crisis, but it is only the beginning of what we must do to end America's addiction to oil.

Click here to read my press release on the price gouging bill.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Berry Introduces Biofuels Bill

After watching gas prices climb to an average of $2.92 a gallon this week, I introduced legislation that will help America transition from an oil-based economy to one that also relies on biofuels. My bill would require the Administration to develop an action plan for America to obtain a certain percentage of its ground fuel from biobased sources.

We cannot solve today's gas crisis without a serious investment in the fuels of tomorrow. We have an abundance of resources in rural America. We just need the federal government to help our farmers turn these crops into an affordable fuel source. My bill demands action from the Administration and sets clear, long-term goals. It would direct the Administration's Biomass Research and Development Board to prepare a biobased fuel action plan within one year of enactment. The detailed plan must ensure that by 2016 at least 10% of the country's ground transportation fuel supply comes from biobased sources and that by 2021 at least 20% comes from biobased sources.

Click here to read the full press release.