Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Berry and House Democrats Attempt to Force Vote on Disaster Assistance

I joined House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN), Congressman John Barrow (D-GA), Rural Working Group Co-Chair Congressman Bob Etheridge (D-NC), and Congressman Mike Ross (D-AR) in filing a discharge petition (H. Res. 998) that would force the House to consider agriculture disaster assistance legislation before we adjourn this week for the elections. 218 members must sign the petition in order to force a vote on the bill.

A coalition of more than 30 farm and allied organizations, including the National Farmers Union, American Farm Bureau Federation, Independent Community Bankers of America and others have recognized the critical need for disaster assistance and are urging Members of Congress to sign the discharge petition.

More than 71 percent of all U.S. counties have been declared primary or contiguous disaster areas by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) this year, and last year, 78 percent of counties were primary or contiguous disaster areas. Farmers have waited long enough for relief, and our rural communities are counting on Congress to provide this desperately needed assistance.

This country will be in a lot of trouble if our elected leaders continue to ignore the agriculture industry. Our government must heed this warning and recognize that farmers need immediate relief from the 2005 and 2006 crop years. Unless our government does something to help the agriculture industry shoulder skyrocketing production costs, America may have little choice but to rely on other countries for a safe and secure food supply.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Democrat House Leadership's Top 5 Legislative Priorities

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Whip Steny Hoyer, Caucus Chairman James Clyburn, and Caucus Vice-Chairman John Larson sent a letter to Speaker Hastert today urging him to act on five key issues before the House adjourns this week until after the November election.

Below is the text of the letter:

September 25, 2006

The Honorable J. Dennis Hastert
United States House of Representatives
H-232, The Capitol
Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Speaker Hastert:

More than three weeks ago, we wrote to you requesting action on key issues facing the American people. Though we have yet to receive a response from you, the urgency to act remains: from national security to economic security, from the cost of health care and college tuition to the price at the pump, our country is heading in the wrong direction.

Based on the concerns of all Americans, Congress must act on five key issues that have an immediate impact on the lives of the American people before adjourning for the November election. As Majority Leader Boehner continues to say that Congress will adjourn by Friday, September 29th, this leaves less than one week in which to act. We reject assertions that the people’s business can wait until after the November election, and therefore, unless you address the following issues, Democrats will actively resist adjournment.

Five years after 9/11, our nation is not as safe as it should be. We must do a better job at protecting Americans at home and abroad. Glaring deficiencies exist in our homeland security – as evident in the federal government’s response to natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, and the failure to secure our ports and airports. The urgent recommendations of the independent and bipartisan 9/11 Commission have not been passed or fully implemented. Our first responsibility is to keep the American people safe. Before we recess, Congress must pass legislation to implement the 9/11 Commission recommendations.

As several reports continue to make clear, wages have not kept pace with rising costs, resulting in a decline in real wages that worsens the middle-class squeeze. Lower-income workers are suffering even more because Congress has failed to raise the minimum wage for nine years. Before Congress adjourns, we must have a straight up or down vote on increasing the minimum wage, free from the usual Republican efforts to attach tax cuts for the wealthiest few that doom these bills. Democrats will not support a Congressional pay raise until we give 7 million American workers a raise by either passing H.R. 2429, Congressman George Miller’s Fair Minimum Wage Act, or the Hoyer Amendment to the Labor-HHS appropriations bill that increases the minimum wage.

Hundreds of thousands of seniors and the disabled are falling into the "Donut Hole" of the flawed Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit, which requires them to continue to pay premiums while receiving no benefits. Before Congress recesses, we must give the Secretary of Health and Human Services the authority to negotiate for lower prescription drug prices for seniors and people with disabilities.

Students returning to college continue to confront skyrocketing tuition costs, and yet the Republican Congress recently cut $12 billion in student aid. Before Congress recesses, we must restore the massive cuts in college tuition assistance imposed by the Congress and expand the size and availability of Pell Grants by passing an improved Labor-HHS appropriations bill.

This year, Americans have been paying soaring gas prices, increasing the bottom line for oil companies that already enjoy historic profits. Taxpayers should not be forced to give tax breaks to Big Oil companies. Democrats insist on an energy agenda that works for all Americans, not just the oil industry. We can begin by rolling back tax breaks for Big Oil and investing the savings in alternative fuels to achieve energy independence.

Congress has less than a week to act on these critical issues before you intend to recess. Democrats stand ready to work with you at any time to address these urgent national needs; anything less would be a serious abdication of our responsibilities as elected officials. Therefore, until Congress passes legislation that meets the real needs of the American people, House Democrats will actively resist adjournment.


Nancy Pelosi, House Democratic Leader
Steny Hoyer, House Democratic Whip
James E. Clyburn, House Democratic Caucus Chair
John B. Larson, House Democratic Caucus Vice-Chair

Friday, September 22, 2006

Today is Donut Hole Day

It’s a dark day for the nearly 7 Million seniors and disabled Americans who have or will soon fall into the Part D ‘Donut Hole Trap:’ a massive gap in coverage for those covered by the program whose annual costs fall between $2,250 and $5,100.

According to a recent analysis from the Institute for America’s Future, the average Medicare Part D beneficiary will have fallen into the Donut Hole by this day, September 22, 2006. Because of the costly, confusing and corrupt way in which Part D was created, nearly 7 million seniors and the disabled will remember this day as the day President Bush and those who drafted Part D abandoned them in favor of the prescription drug industry.

Click here to listen to me discuss the dangers of Dounut Hole Day.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Berry and Arkansans Join the Fight Against Cancer on Capitol Hill

This week I joined dozens of Arkansas cancer survivors and advocates in Washington, DC to celebrate the American Cancer Society’s Celebration on the Hill 2006. We joined over 10,000 cancer advocates from all across the country to rally for policies that will help in the fight against cancer.

This event gives Arkansans the opportunity to come to Washington and encourage Congress to make cancer funding a priority. find it reassuring to see so many people from Arkansas and across the country here in our nation’s capitol, supporting cancer victims and survivors, and demanding solutions in the battle against this terrible disease.

Several constituents from Arkansas’ First Congressional District attended the week-long event including Raven Lawson of Jonesboro, Chancellor Ed Coulter of Arkansas State University - Mountain Home, and Carrie Kinkel of Batesville. The group helped unveil the American Cancer Society Relay for Life Wall of Hope which consists of 5,000 banners signed by participants at Relay for Life events all over the country during the spring and summer of 2006. The Wall of Hope covers three city blocks and is the largest temporary monument ever to stand on the National Mall.

The 10,000 cancer advocates encouraged Congress to increase funding for the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and to support a minimum 5% increase for the National Cancer Institute. As an ardent supporter of cancer research, Congressman Berry signed a promise at the event to make cancer prevention and early detection a top priority by investing more in research and expanding access to care.

As elected leaders, we have a responsibility to provide Americans with the best health care available. Increased funding for cancer research and prevention programs will not only save lives but improve the quality of health care in this country.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

New Report: Drug Company Profits Skyrocketing Under Medicare Drug Plan

The Government Reform Committee released a new report today showing that profits for the pharmaceutical industry increased by more than $8 billion during the first 6 months of the Bush Administration's Medicare Prescription Drug plan.

The report attributes this rise in profits to three factors: the failure of private plans to negotiate low prices, the elimination of billions in rebates paid by pharmaceutical companies for drugs used by low income beneficiaries, and increased sales by drug manufacturers due to the Medicare subsidy.

This is yet another sign that Republicans have put the interests of pharmaceutical companies before the interests of our seniors. This Republican plan forces taxpayers to throw money at the pharmaceutical industry while seniors get stuck with high drug prices. Even worse, many of our seniors are now falling into the doughnut hole where they have to pay up to $3,000 of their prescription medications out of pocket.

Our seniors deserve better. They deserve a Medicare-run plan with price negotiation. This will drive down the price of prescription drugs by as much as 40% and give seniors an option they trust.

Click here to learn more about my bill to create a Medicare-run prescription drug benefit.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Bush Record on the Economy

President Bush made a bold statement today during his Rose Garden press conference that raises a number of freightening statistics about the state of our economy. The President said he hopes the November election is based on his economic performance.

Let's take a quick look at that economic performance:
  • When President Bush took over the White House in 2001, he inherited a projected ten-year surplus of 5.6 trillion dollars. But in five short years, President Bush has turned that surpus into a $2.9 trillion projected deficit over 10 years. In fact, the President has borrowed more money in 5 years than the past 42 presidents combined.
  • The projected trade deficit for this year will hit a new record of over $800 billion - our highest trade deficit ever. Imports exceeded the value of exports by $68 billion, up from $64.8 billion in June. The more the trade deficit grows and our imports exceed our exports, we place American businesses and workers in greater danger.
  • Since President Bush took office, America has lost more than 2.9 million manufacturing jobs. We need to create at least 75,000 jobs a month to keep pace, but last month we created only 57,000 jobs. That’s a deficit of 18,000 jobs.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Trade Deficit Hits New Record

The Commerce Department just announced that the US trade deficit surged to a new record in July as American consumers and companies stocked up on foreign-made goods. Imports exceeded the value of exports by $68 billion, up from $64.8 billion in June.

This growing trade deficit will hurt American businesses and workers. The more our trade deficit with China and Japan widens, the more we need to aggressively enforce our trade agreements, knock down foreign barriers to U.S. products, and end unfair trading practices. So far this Administration has done none of the above. I hope the latest trade deficit numbers serve as a wake-up call before our economy takes a serious hit.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Berry Receives Top Award for His Agriculture Leadership

Last night I was honored to receive the Golden Triangle Award from Tom Buis, President of the National Farmer's Union (NFU). The Golden Triangle Award is NFU's highest award for government service, honoring members of Congress who have demonstrated outstanding leadership on issues affecting family farmers, ranchers and rural communities.

Recipients were chosen for their leadership on a variety of issues, including support for emergency disaster assistance for producers that have suffered from devastating weather circumstances, the promotion and production of fuels from the farm, and need to develop fair agriculture trade agreements.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Disaster Assistance Gets Second Wind

Today my rural colleagues from both the House and Senate came together to renew the call for agriculture disaster assistance. We hope to convince the Republican Leadership to pass relief before Congress adjourns at the end of the month for October recess.

Here are some highlights on the latest push for disaster assistance:

Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE) filed an amendment today to H.R. 4954, the port security bill, which the Senate is expected to debate this week. The amendment calls for $6.5 billion in disaster assistance.

House Democratic Leaders sent a letter today to House Republican Leaders encouraging them to pass comprehensive agriculture disaster relief before Congress leaves for the scheduled October recess. Congressman Berry is leading this effort in the House, with legislation that would give farmers either an additional half Farm Bill payment for the 2005 crop year or payment based on yield loss.

Over thirty major agriculture groups sent a letter today to House and Senate leaders requesting immediate action on disaster assistance.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Bush Sill Trying to Dismantle Social Security

President Bush stopped by the Wall Street Journal this weekend to discuss some of his legislative priorities - including his renewed push to privatize Social Security. Since his plan proved so unpopular last year, Bush intends to wait until after the November elections to move forward with the issue.

Bush To Renew Social Security Push After Vote

Reuters Saturday, September 9, 2006; 2:59 PM
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush hopes to revive his plan to overhaul the U.S. Social Security retirement program if his Republican party keeps control of the Congress in the November midterm elections, the Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday.
Despite polls suggesting Democrats have their best chance in years to regain control of the House of Representatives, Bush told the newspaper in an interview he was confident a power shift was "not going to happen."
"I just don't believe it," he said, adding that if Republicans prevail at the polls, next year might be a good time to reintroduce the effort to reshape Social Security because he could "drain the politics out of the issue."
Bush was forced to abandoned his 2005 push to add private accounts to the retirement program, in part because of concerns among Republicans that the unpopular plan would jeopardize their chances in this year's elections.
Some Democrats have emphasized the Social Security reform plan in their campaign to oust Republican incumbents in November, contending it would inject too much risk into the program and push the government deeper into debt.
Bush made Social Security investment accounts a top domestic priority for his second term, arguing such a system would help young people by putting the retirement program on a more sustainable financial footing.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

House Rallies Behind Berry's Proposal for TRICARE Drug Discounts

In a victory for active duty and military retirees, the U.S. House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly in favor of a measure today instructing conferees to include a provision in the Fiscal Year 2007 National Defense Authorization Bill requiring pharmaceutical companies to offer discounts on the TRICARE retail program. I not only helped craft today’s Motion to Instruct, but also sent a letter to conferees last week in support of the provision with forty of my Democratic colleagues.

Requiring pharmaceutical companies to provide these discounts will generate tremendous savings and prevent the Department of Defense from being forced to raise co-payments for active duty and retired military personnel. I am pleased to see my colleagues come together and oppose a longstanding practice that lines the pockets of the pharmaceutical industry by forcing our military heroes to pay extra for their prescription drugs.

Click here for the full press release.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Republican Record on Border Security

After months of failing to reach a decision on immigration reform, Republican leaders are now planning to pass a smaller scale initiative dealing with just border security. They hope this will divert attention away from their inability to reach an agreement on comprehensive immigration reform.

While it is critical that our country pass border security legislation, I want to know why it took Republicans so long to recognize the critical need for more border patrol agents, more immigration enforcement agents, and more surveillance technologies at the border.

Take a minute to look at the Republican Party's record on border security:

1. 2002 Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Bill - Republicans blocked a Democratic effort to offer an amendment that would have included $223 million for immigration and border security, including: 790 additional agents for the border, machine readable visas machines at US Consulates and additional detention facilities at the borders.

2. 2004 Homeland Security Appropriations Bill - Republicans opposed a Democratic amendment to increase homeland security funding by $300 million for 1000 new agents and inspectors, additional air patrols, and equipment.

3. 2005 Homeland Security Appropriations Bill - Republicans blocked a Democratic effort that would have increased border security funding by $750 million, inspection technology funding from $250 million to $415 million, and raised funding for border agents and inspector staffing from $214 million to $3.4 billion. The measure would have also increased funding for the Container Security Initiative from $86 million to $212 million, raised funding for air operations security by $100 million, and increased funding for immigration and customs investigative staff by $100 million for 1,000 additional agents.

4. 2005 Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Bill - Republicans blocked a Democratic effort to send the report back to conference with instructions to increase funding for border security by $284 million, to add 550 additional border patrol agents, and to add 200 additional immigration investigators and unmanned aeriel vehicles. Funding for these was not included in the conference report.

5. 2006 Homeland Security Appropriations Bill - Republicans blocked a Democratic effort that would have included $400 million to meet border security requirements of the Intelligence Reform Act for an additional 500 border patrol agents, 600 immigration investigators, and 4,000 detention beds.

6. 2006 Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Bill - Republicans opposed a Democratic amendment to increase security funding by $1.225 billion, including $400 million for installation of 1,500 radiation portal monitors at border locations and $200 million for additional aviation assets and operations at our land borders.

7. 2007 Homeland Security Appropriations Bill - Republicans defeated two Democratic amendments that would have added 1,800 additional border patrol agents, 9,000 additional detention beds, and 800 additional immigration agents.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Hard Working Americans Need More This Labor Day

This weekend I will be traveling the First District to pay tribute to those who help make our country great. Labor Day is a chance to honor the value of hard working Americans. This country was built on the American Dream, which promised that Americans’ hard work and perseverance would bring prosperity and a better life for workers and their families. Unfortunately, this Labor Day, a time to honor the contributions of American workers, this dream moves further out of reach for millions of minimum wage workers. It is time for Congress to help these families by increasing the Federal Minimum Wage.

With the cost of health care increasing, gas prices increasing, and education funding cuts, hard-working families are struggling to make ends meet. Congress has not raised the Federal Minimum Wage in a decade. In that time, gas prices have increased 136%, health insurance has almost doubled in price, and even the cost of a gallon of milk and a loaf of bread have increased by 25%. Yet, due to the inaction by the Republican leadership, when adjusted for inflation, the minimum wage is at its lowest level in more than 50 years.

Millions of Americans currently work full-time, year-round jobs and still live in poverty. We must not allow this to continue. By raising the Minimum Wage, a family of three will receive an additional $4,400 a year. With this modest increase, the family can buy 15 months of groceries and afford over two years of health care.

When Members of Congress return to the Capitol next week, I will fight to increase the Minimum Wage. We need a New Direction that begins with raising the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour.