In an October 15 debate between North Dakota Senate candidates Republican Rep. Rick Berg and Democratic challenger Heidi Heitkamp, the failure of the House of Representatives to pass a farm bill was a central issue. Heitkamp called the lack of a new farm bill the “biggest failure of this Congress.”
Though the Senate passed a farm bill with a big bipartisan majority, leadership in the Republican-controlled House did not even vote on one before adjourning in September. At the time, Berg told CNN he was “frustrated with the Republican leadership.” In Tuesday’s debate, Rep. Berg reiterated that point, calling House Republican leadership “a problem”:
We have a stonewall problem. I’ll agree. The House Republican leadership is a problem on the farm bill.
Berg claimed Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) promised to bring the bill to the floor before the end of the year. But during an appearance in Iowa yesterday, Boehner “didn’t respond to questions about federal farm provisions that expired this month.”
Since North Dakota is one of the leading agriculture producers in the nation and ranks in the top ten for a variety of agricultural products, it is no surprise the farm bill was a main focus of discussion. The last farm bill expired on September 30, and though it won’t end federal support for farmers in 2012, farm policies will return to standards from 1949 on January 1, 2013 if no new bill is passed. Large swathes of the Department of Agriculture also face defunding.
House Republicans and Democrats from agriculture-heavy districts came together in a rare moment of bipartisanship in late September, trying to get the bill to the floor in spite of House leadership.
Rep. Rick Berg (R-ND) campaigning at a bridge Tuesday that he had voted to defund last year
Rep. Rick Berg (R-ND), locked in a close Senate race against former North Dakota Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp (D), visited the 55th Street bypass bridge construction site in Minot on Tuesday, touting the stop on his campaign’s Twitter feed:
However, Berg voted to strip funding for the bridge construction last year, nearly killing the entire project.
In just his second month after taking office, Berg and House Republicans voted to defund all stimulus money that had yet to be spent, including $14.13 million for Minot’s 55th Street bridge. The entire project was nearly scrapped after Berg’s vote put funding in jeopardy.
“I don’t know how they can award you money and then take the money away,” Dana Larsen, the local county highway engineer told the Minot Daily News at the time. “That’s really not a contingency we had planned for.”
The funding was eventually secured by the state’s two senators, Kent Conrad (D) and John Hoeven (R), allowing the project to move forward.
The ribbon-cutting ceremony takes place on Wednesday for a seven-mile portion of the road. The bridge will be completed next year.
Rep. Rick Berg (R-ND) defended his plan to privatize Social Security at a Senate debate yesterday, prompting loud and sustained boos from audience members.
During the North Dakota Broadcasters debate in Bismarck, Berg’s opponent in the Senate race, Heidi Heitkamp, attacked the congressman for supporting privatizing Social Security. “When you say ‘I’m going to fix it,’ you’re going to privatize it,” charged Heitkamp. Indeed, as a state representative in 2005, Berg introduced a resolution formally supporting then-President Bush’s plan to privatize Social Security.
When Berg said that this attack is “what’s wrong with Washington,” he was met with a loud chorus of boos from the audience:
HEITKAMP: When you say “I’m going to fix it,” you’re going to privatize it. That was George W. Bush’s plan. [...] That’s the plan you supported, Bush’s privatization plan. You can’t run away from that record.
BERG: Just as a wrap up, this is what’s wrong with Washington. People blame, blame, blame and don’t come up with solutions… [Loud boos from the audience]… What we need are solutions to Social Security. There’s no question. But what we need is to get our economy going.
Approximately 18 percent of North Dakotans receive Social Security benefits. Their retirement incomes could be threatened if Berg and other conservatives succeed in privatizing Social Security.
GOP Senate Candidate Rick Berg Doesn’t Know The Minimum Wage |
When a voter recently asked Rep. Rick Berg (R-ND), who is running for Senate in the state, what the minimum wage is, it took the congressman and his staff several awkward moments to determine that they didn’t know. “Hmmm,” Berg says, before turning to someone else and saying, “This guy would know.” That guy did not know, but they realize it was the same as the federal minimum wage. Unfortunately, they didn’t know what that was either (for the record, it’s $7.25 an hour). The state Democratic party released this video of the exchange today:
By Jessica Goad, Manager of Research and Outreach, Center for American Progress Action Fund.
Late last week Rep. Rick Berg (R-ND) and James Lankford (R-OK) introduced the “Regional Haze Federalism Act,” which would impede efforts by the Environmental Protection Agency to combat dirty haze that is polluting national parks and wilderness areas. Haze is caused by sunlight coming into contact with small particles of pollutants in the air, which can also harm humans by way of respiratory problems.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park on a clear day and a hazy day
National parks such as the Great Smoky Mountains, Shenandoah, and Mesa Verde all suffer from haze pollution, which causes poor visibility and impedes two of the most important reasons these places attract hundreds of millions of visitors every year—fresh clean air and the views. As the EPA explains, “In eastern parks, average visual range has decreased from 90 miles to 15-25 miles. In the West, visual range has decreased from 140 miles to 35-90 miles.”
This map shows the 156 national parks, wilderness areas, and wildlife refuges that must receive protection from or alleviate haze pollution problems. To combat this pollution, all states must submit a plan for reducing that haze to the EPA. Usually these plans involve requiring dirty coal-fired power plants, refineries, or other industrial sources of emissions to add technologies that would clean up their pollution. If the plans fail to clean up the air quality in national parks, the EPA may reject them and implement its own haze plan. Both North Dakota and Oklahoma recently had their state plans rejected because they would not adequately reduce pollution, prompting these Congressmen to introduce this bill.
Berg explained the need for his bill as a way of fighting against the Obama administration and its “overreaching” EPA:
With each new overreaching, one-size-fits-none mandate, the Obama administration continues to burden the states with unnecessary costs and regulations that are hindering job creation. That’s why today I introduce the Regional Haze Federalism Act. This will rein in the Obama administration and prevent a federal takeover of state haze management. States like North Dakota continue to act responsibly to create well-researched plans and to implement EPA-mandated policies.
Berg’s argument is inaccurate—EPA’s actions are not a hostile takeover of state prerogatives to address haze, but a backstop authority if states fail to take care of their citizens’ public health and landscapes. Additionally, utilities have had many years to prepare for the implementation of the plans—the EPA’s Regional Haze Rule was finalized in 1999. Reduction of haze and parks and wilderness areas is a longstanding goal, not an under-the-radar effort by the Obama administration to usurp states’ rights. Read more