Friday, June 30, 2006

Arkansas to Deploy 150 National Guard to the Mexico Border

About 150 members of the Arkansas National Guard will head to the U.S-Mexico border as part of President Bush's plan to send 6,000 National Guardsman to the border by the end of August. I am grateful that Arkansas is willing to do its part to secure our borders and I feel confident these men and women will do a fantastic job at improving our homeland security.

So far the President has deployed less than half of the 2,500 National Guardsmen it planned to have on the Mexican border by the end of June. As of yesterday, military officials reported there were fewer than 1,000 troops in place. Part of the President's problem is that only 10 states have signed committments to send their guardsmen to help with border security efforts.

While it is critical we do something immediately to solve this problem, securing our border is more complicated than sending 6,000 National Guardsmen to assist federal efforts. We need a serious investment in Border Patrol agents, Immigration Enforcement officers, and new surveillance technologies. Most importantly, we need a strong and effective Department of Homeland Security to enforce our border security policies.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Ford Motor Company Shifts Focus to Biofuels

Ford Motor Company, the first car manufacturer to produce a hybrid vehicle, announced today that it is shifting gears to place a greater emphasis on vehicles that run on fuels other than gaoline like E-85 - a mix of ethanol and gasoline.

The company will still produce hybrid vehicles, but they are more likely to be cars than trucks or sport utility vehicles. This move is a sign that American automakers are increasingly focused on the development of ethanol and other forms of biodiesel as a substitute for traditional gasoline.

William Clay Ford, Jr., the head of Ford Motor Company, said in his message to employees that instead of focusing so heavily on hybrids, the company instead plans to double the number of vehicles it makes that run on ethanol and other more environmentally friendly fuels like biodiesel. "Our strategy going forward is not to wed ourselves to a single technology, but to manage a more flexible approach to meet our goals for customer needs, environmental impact and shareholder interests."

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Berry Introduces Resolution to Honor Fallen Heroes

Several months ago, one of my constituents in Searcy County contacted me with a great idea on how America can pay tribute to our military heroes. He encouraged me to introduce legislation requiring every government building to display the American flag at half-mast when a member of the U.S. Armed Forces is killed in the line of duty. This idea is the perfect way to pay our respect to America's military and ensure that we never forget the loss that comes with freedom.

I am grateful to my friend in Searcy County for passing on this wonderful idea, and am proud to have introduced a resolution in Congress today. The measure encourages the President to issue an executive order requiring all government buildings to display the American flag at half-mast for any fallen member of our Armed Services. By enacting this legislation, we can ensure that America has a visual reminder of our men and women in uniform who are serving their country thousands of miles from home. I hope my colleagues will join me in this effort so that every time we see the American flag flying at half-mast over a federal office building, a post office, or even a national park, we never forget the tremendous sacrifice that makes this country great.

Click Here to Read the Full Press Release.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Berry Joins Democratic Leadership to Unveil New Prescription for America

I joined House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Ranking Member of the House Ways and Means Committee Charlie Rangel, House Energy and Commerce Committee Member Hilda Solis, Chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Rahm Emanuel, and the co-author of my Medicare bill Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky at a press conference to unveil the House Democratic plan for a new prescription drug benefit. As the author of legislation to reform the confusing Republican benefit, I talked about the need to have a Medicare-administered prescription drug plan with price negotiation.

Details on the Democratic Prescription for Change are listed below:
  • Require Medicare to leverage its bargaining power and negotiate lower prices with drug companies
  • Help close the “donut hole” by dedicating the cost savings from price negotiation toward ending the coverage gap
  • Allow seniors to choose a plan administered directly by Medicare
  • Extend the enrollment deadline to December 31st without penalty
  • Stop drug plans from increasing co-payments and creating burdensome administrative hurdles during the year
  • Ensure moderate-income Medicare beneficiaries get the drug coverage assistance they need by eliminating complex barriers

Monday, June 26, 2006

Congress Divided Over Minimum Wage Increase

Over the past few weeks, House and Senate Democrats offered numerous amendments to increase the minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25 an hour. Although Republicans voted down most attempts, Democrats successfully attached an amendment in committee to the Fiscal Year 2007 Labor Health and Human Services Appropriations Bill. After this victory, the Republican leadership pulled the bill from full consideration in the House until further notice. As a supporter of increasing the minimum wage, I would like to see this bill brought to the floor immediately for a fair up or down vote.

Here are some alarming facts about the minimum wage:

1) After adjusting for inflation, the federal minimum wage is at its lowest point in 50 years.

2) Congress has not raised the minimum wage in a decade, the longest time Congress has ever gone without raising the minumum wage.

3) A minimum wage employee working full-time all year will earn just $10,700.

4) Of the 6.6 million people who would benefit from an increase in the minimum wage, 1.6 million are parents with children under the age of 18.

5) 86% of Americans support an increase in the minimum wage (Pew Research, 2005).

Friday, June 23, 2006

Senate Makes One More Push For Agriculture Disaster Assistance

Senate appropriators successfully attached $4.2 billion of emergency agriculture assistance to the Fiscal Year 2007 Agriculture spending bill, despite repeated threats from the Bush Administration and House Republicans to strip the language. Senator Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) offered the same agriculture assistance package that was attached to the FY06 war supplemental appropriations bill and eventually cut-out in conference. Although the committee approved the amendment by voice vote, Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Budget Chairman Judd Gregg (R-NH) went on record against the measure.

Dorgan also secured another amendment that would license farmers to travel to Cuba to sell their products. A general license would allow farmers and exporters to travel to Cuba to promote farm sales as easily as journalists, official government travelers, and academics. Right now, farmers and ag exporters need to apply for specific licenses that are granted on a case-by-case basis and can often take several months to process. President Bush has issued numerous veto threats in the past on this issue.

While these amendments are good news for our farmers, they one again face stiff opposition from the Administration and Republican leaders in Congress. As long as the President continues to issue veto threats against agriculture interests, it is likely Republican leaders will back down and remove these important provisions before the bill is signed into law.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Berry Responds to Reports of Rising Prescription Drug Costs

I renewed my push today for a Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit with price negotiation after reviewing two reports released this week by the groups AARP and Families USA. The reports show significant price increases in the prescription drugs most commonly used by seniors since the enactment of the Bush Administration's Prescription Drug Benefit.

The first report, released by AARP, found that pharmaceutical companies charged 3.9% more for brand-name prescription drugs during the first quarter of this year. That increase is four times the rate of inflation during the first three months of the year and the largest quarterly price increase in six years.

Families USA echoed these findings in a similar report, showing that the median price for the top 20 prescription drugs used by seniors rose an average of 3.7% from mid-November 2005 to mid-April 2006. Those same 20 drugs were offered by the Veterans Administration (VA) at prices 46% below the lowest price charged by any Medicare Part D plan.

Click here to read my full reaction.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

GOP Puts Immigration Bill On the Backburner

It appears Republican leaders are giving up on an election year immigration bill, deciding instead to hold hearings across the country this summer on the Senate proposal. The broad legislation passed by the Senate would provide a path to citizenship for most of the 12 million illegal immigrants living in the United States. The summer tour will include public hearings in various towns and cities throughout July and August.

By holding these public hearings, the Republican leadership will have to postpone any conference discussions on the competing House and Senate bills until at least the Fall. This will jeopardize any chance of passage by the end of the 109th Congress.

This delay is a clear sign that Republican leaders are struggling within their own caucus over what to do on immigration. Instead of waffling back and forth over what to do, these leaders should pass a strong border security bill that will help America better account for the people entering this country.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Berry Secures $6 Million for Jonesboro in Defense Appropriations Bill

I was able to secure $6 million in the House version of the Fiscal Year 2007 Defense Appropriations Bill for critical research and development projects in the Jonesboro area. The measure, which is set to pass the full House today, includes $5 million for Arkansas State University (ASU) and $1 million for Bates Uniform Footwear in Jonesboro to develop an advanced mountain climbing boot for the U.S. special operations forces.

There are many exciting projects happening right here in Jonesboro that are essential to our national security. I am pleased to see my colleagues in the U.S. Congress support these projects, and give our university and industries in Jonesboro the opportunity to play a leading role in our national defense.

Click here to read the full press release.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Berry to Speak at the Arkansas Pharmacists Association Annual Conference

I will travel to Little Rock tomorrow to speak at the Arkansas Pharmacists Association Annual Conference. I am hoping to see many familiar faces from the 1st Congressional District and learn more about the challenges facing our neighborhood pharmacies since the enactment of the Bush Administration's Prescription Drug Benefit.

As the only licensed pharmacist in Congress, I am doing everything I can to reform the benefit and ensure that our pharmacists are being reimbursed in a timely manner. I am especially trying to enact my bill, H.R. 5182, the Fair and Speedy Treatment (FAST) of Claims Act of 2006 which would require insurance companies to reimburse pharmacists within 15 days for an electronic payment and 30 days for any other payment.

Click here to read the press release on my bill.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

War Debate Misses the Point

The U.S. House of Representatives debated a resolution today regarding the U.S. War in Iraq. The resolution states that it is not in the national security interest of the United States to set a date for the withdrawal or redeployment of U.S. forces in Iraq, and that United States is committed to completing the mission of securing a sovereign, free and united Iraq.

Our military faces many challenges in stabilizing Iraq and rebuilding a country divided by bitter factions. We owe those brave men and women an open and honest debate focused on a strategy for success. We are all grateful to our men and women in uniform, and look forward to the day when they return home victorious.

The best tribute we can provide our military heroes is a plan for victory in Iraq. The President and the Secretary of Defense have mismanaged this war from the start, making numerous mistakes that have cost more lives and limbs than our country should have to endure. We can achieve victory and bring our men and women in uniform home if our leaders put politics aside and work together with the best military experts on a new strategy for success.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Congress to Begin Debate on War

The House of Representatives will begin debate tomorrow on a resolution about the U.S. War in Iraq. As we discuss our achievements and the challenges that lie ahead, let us always take time to remember our men and women in uniform who have sacrificed everything to serve their country.

Here are some important facts about the U.S. sacrifice in Iraq:

1) Approximately 2,500 service members have been killed in Iraq.

2) More than 18,000 have been wounded with nearly 8,500 of those unable to return to duty.

3) There are 133,000 U.S. troops currently in Iraq.

4) 100% of Army’s available active duty combat brigades have served at least a 12-month tour in Iraq or Afghanistan.

5) 50% of those combat brigades are on or have completed their second tour in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Berry: Farmers Unfairly Left Behind in Emergency Supplemental

The House approved the $94.5 billion emergency supplemental spending bill for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and Gulf Coast Recovery today. The final version provides just $500 million for emergency agriculture disaster assistance, instead of the $3.9 billion proposed by the U.S. Senate. The $500 million in assistance will go only to Gulf Coast farmers directly impacted by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. As a result, Arkansas farmers will not receive the critical assistance they desperately need after the 2005 crop year.

While this emergency spending bill funds many important priorities, it neglects thousands of farmers across rural America who may have no other choice but to go out of business. The 2005 crop year was exceptionally difficult, hitting farmers with severe drought, high input costs, and one major storm after the next. I am appalled that our Republican leaders in Washington continue to ignore this fact, pretending that hard times are confined to the Gulf Coast region. Our farmers are no strangers to hardship, and deserve better leadership in Washington.

My rural colleagues and I worked hard to secure agriculture disaster assistance. We introduced legislation, offered amendments, and wrote repeated letters to the President and the Secretary of Agriculture. We gave this movement a voice, but unfortunately, could not overcome the hard anti-agriculture stance of this Administration. I only hope farmers across the country hear this message, and return to the voting booth this Fall to support leaders who understand the priorities of rural America.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Terrorist Leader Al-Zarqawi Killed

Last night, the U.S. military conducted an air strike north of Baghdad that killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the mastermind behind hundreds of bombings, kidnappings and beheadings in Iraq. I am grateful to the U.S. military for its impressive leadership and diligence in defeating Iraq's most violent terrorist - Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. This is a significant development in the fight against terror, and one that brings us closer to our goal of a peaceful and free Iraq.

Although this operation was a success, we must not lose sight of the great challenges that lie ahead. Daily violence continues to erupt in the streets of Iraq, violent factions refuse to coexist, infrastructure lies in disrepair, and a new government struggles to maintain order. These challenges will take time, but I am confident the Iraqi people and our men and women in uniform will prevail.

Let us take this opportunity to thank the brave military heroes who carried out this important mission. They are thousands of miles away from their families, yet continue to accomplish amazing acts that remind us of why the U.S. military is the most powerful force in the world. We must always remember our men and women in uniform during these dangerous times, and pray they return home safely after providing the people of Iraq with a secure and peaceful nation.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Agriculture Disaster Assistance - Outlook Not Good

Conference negotiations are coming to a close on the emergency supplemental bill for military operations and the Gulf Coast recovery, and it does not look good for Arkansas farmers. Republican leaders appear to be doing just what President Bush asked them to do in his official Statement of Administrative Policy when he threatened to veto a bill containing nationwide agriculture assistance. Instead of retaining the $4 billion of agriculture assistance from the Senate bill, I am hearing reports that the bill will only provide $400-$500 million of agriculture assistance to those farmers in impacted Gulf Coast states. Unless something unexpected happens before the bill is brought to the floor later this week, it appears as if Arkansas farmers will not get the assistance they need for the 2005 crop year.

I have done everything I know to do to get this assistance passed. I have introduced legislation, offered amendments, written the Administration, and worked with colleagues on both sides of the isle. But sadly, the President and Republican leaders in Congress were determined to kill the measure. This is yet another reason why we need to strengthen our efforts to elect leaders who recognize the importance of our agriculture communities.

Berry to Offer Amendment That Prioritizes American Companies for Government Contracts

During today's full committee mark-up of the Fiscal Year 2007 Transportation, Treasury, and Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Bill, I intend to join my colleague Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) in offering an amendment that would make sure the U.S. government prioritizes American companies in the contracting process. Our amendment would specifically prevent the federal government from contracting with companies that locate overseas to avoid paying U.S. taxes.

In America we play by the rules and should not reward those who renounce their citizenship for private gain. It is simply un-American to reward companies with billions of dollars in contracts who put up a mailbox overseas to avoid paying U.S. taxes. This policy not only rewards dishonest business practices, but puts American companies at a disadvantage for government contracts.

Under the current tax code, some U.S. corporations have established subsidiaries in tax haven countries like Bermuda to avoid tax liability. This loophole gives foreign subsidiaries a cost advantage in the competitive bidding process for government contracts. Delauro and I secured legislation last Congress that prevents the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) from issuing future contracts to companies headquartered offshore for the purpose of avoiding tax liability. Today’s amendment would extend that ban to future contracts within key agencies including the Department of Transportation, the Department of the Treasury, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Student Loan Consolidation Deadline - July 1st

I strongly encourage students and parents to consolidate their federal college loans before July 1, 2006 to save thousands of dollars over the life of your loans. Each year the U.S. Department of Education adjusts interest rates on outstanding college loans, with this year's rates expected to rise just over 7% for students and to 7.8% for parents. This will be the highest rate in six years.

With the cost of tuition rising by 40% in just five years, students and parents must take advantage of every opportunity to decrease their education debt. I strongly encourage Arkansans to consolidate their student loan debt immediately and not miss the chance to save thousands of dollars on loans that would otherwise take years to pay off.

Student borrowers who consolidate their outstanding loans before July 1 would be eligible to lock in an interest rate as low as 4.75 percent, which would save an average of nearly $3,500 over the life of the loan. Parent borrowers who consolidate before July 1 would be eligible to lock in a rate as low as 6.1 percent over the life of their loan.

Read the press release to find out how to consolidate your loans.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Video: Walter Cronkite Discusses Problems and Solutions of the Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit

Families USA released a great 14-minute video this week anchored by Walter Cronkite, exploring the problems with the new Medicare prescription drug benefit. Mr. Cronkite talks first-hand with retirees across the country about the troubles the new drug benefit has generated, from the headaches of sorting through dozens of plans to the financial tolls the program will take on so-called beneficiaries. A dedicated community pharmacist also shares his insights on the roll-out of Part D and knowledgeable consumer advocates analyze the politics at the core of the creation of the Medicare drug program.

The veteran journalist offers three key prescriptions: simplify the program by offering it though Medicare; allow Medicare to bargain for lower drug prices; and close the wide gap in coverage that is so expensive for seniors.

Click here to watch the video.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Arkansas Homeland Security Funds Cut in Half

Yesterday the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued awards for its Homeland Security Grant Program (HSGP) - giving states and urban areas funding to prepare for and respond to terrorist attacks and natural disasters. Unfortunately, Arkansas' share of the funding dropped by 49% from $21.6 million in 2005 to $10.9 million for 2006. Only Wyoming, Minnesota, and Mississippi experienced equal or greater cuts under the comprehensive homeland security grant program.

It is deeply troubling that the Administration in Washington is putting critical security programs on the chopping block to finance billions of dollars in tax cuts for the wealthy. While I recognize the need to make tough decisions during difficult fiscal times, we need to make the right decisions. And I can assure you, sacrificing our safety is not a decision most Americans feel comfortable with.

Click here to read the full press release.