Idaho Examiner - Sen. Larry Craig News Releases

Friday, February 25, 2005

Harvard to Havana: An ag journey

by Senator Larry Craig
Did you know that the distance from Burley to Havana, Cuba, is 2,242 miles – as the crow flies? From Boise: 2,385 miles. And from Harvard, Idaho, the distance is 2,511 miles.

Obviously, this is a strange question to ask, and strange points to make, if I don’t provide any context. The reason I thought readers might find these facts interesting is because these are the rough distances (give or take a few miles) that Idaho agricultural goods might soon be traveling to get to market – in Cuba.

Although the United States does have an embargo on trade with, and travel to, Cuba, food products and medical supplies are not included. In the past, I have said that food should not be used as a weapon or diplomatic tool against governments the United States may not agree with. I still believe that.

While we may not agree with the leadership of a nation, food embargoes only show a lack of humanitarian concern to the people of that nation. We can refuse to trade military weapons, electronics, oil, or a variety of other goods and services, but once we cut off the food supply, we effectively sentence the people, who often have little or no influence on government affairs, to starve. In exempting food from trade embargoes, the United States has rejected such measures.

On the flip side, American agriculture has a proud history of feeding Americans at home, and millions of people around the world. For most of our existence, the United States has been a net exporter of agricultural goods – we export more food than we import. However, this proud tradition is in trouble. In July and August of 2004, the United States imported more foodstuffs than it exported. Last year the United States had an agriculture trade surplus of $9.5 billion, but the 2005 surplus is projected to decline 75 percent, to a dangerously low $2.5 billion.

In times like this, it is important to help American farmers and ranchers by opening more international markets for them. Our producers know they can compete with anyone in the world and are always looking for new places to prove it.

One such place is Cuba, which also presents a unique opportunity for cultural and political engagement. The best way to change someone’s perception is to talk to that person, face-to-face. Stereotypes and rumors are best refuted with experience and personal contact. The United States has engaged other communist regimes, such as China, and this interaction has paid off. China has slowly adopted economic reforms that brought capitalism to Chinese citizens. When economic freedom sets in, political freedom eventually follows, because people finally get a taste of capitalism and liberty and want more.

Fidel Castro and his government will not last forever. Many experts believe Cuba is ready for economic and political change. When Castro is gone, the United States must be in a position to have a positive influence in Cuba if we are truly serious about bringing freedom and democracy to that island. We cannot be a positive influence from the standpoint of confrontation and isolation.

Unfortunately, there are some bureaucrats in the federal government who do not see it this way. Officials in the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control continue to seek new ways to isolate Cuba and make interaction more difficult. They do this by reinterpreting restrictions on trade with Cuba in such a way that American farmers and ranchers may find it practically impossible to sell their products there.

This would be a terrible mistake for our government to make. Since 2000, over $1 billion worth in food items have been sold to Cuba. Nearly $400 million in U.S.-produced foodstuffs were sold last year alone. These sales are done on a cash-only basis, and the United States buys no goods in return. It is one-way trade that directly benefits Idaho, because the Cubans are keenly interested in buying Idaho agriculture products.

Trade with Cuba is a win-win situation for the United States and for Idaho. Our farmers and ranchers gain a new market for their goods, just 90 miles off our coast, in a time of difficulty. And slowly but surely, we gain the ability to expose the Cuban people to freedom and democracy, principles President Bush so powerfully endorsed in his inaugural address. It’s an opportunity too good to pass up.

Monday, February 21, 2005

SENATE VETERANS' AFFAIRS COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN SAYS "NO"


SENATE VETERANS' AFFAIRS COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN SAYS "NO" TO DOUBLING PRESCRIPTION DRUG CO-PAYS AND "NO" TO CUTTING OFF FUNDS FOR VETERANS NURSING HOMES

(Washington, DC) Just three days after receiving testimony on the President's proposed budget for the Department of Veterans' Affairs, Sen. Larry Craig, Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, today rejected both doubling prescription drug co-pays for veterans and decreased spending on state nursing homes for veterans.

He also called on Congress to provide $244 million more on medical services for veterans above what the president had proposed. In addition he expressed support for the president's $200 million proposed increases in funding for mental health services and prosthetic care for returning soldiers.

"With the smell of gunsmoke still in the air in Iraq, we need to make sure we have enough money to address the medical needs of today's veterans and tomorrow's heroes," said Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho), Chairman of the Veterans' Affairs committee.

The senator also supports an increase in funding to pay for emergency medical services obtained by enrolled veterans at non-VA hospitals. "This is particularly important in rural states like mine where veterans hospitals can be hundreds of miles away and inaccessible for emergency treatment," Craig said.

Craig made his recommendations on behalf of Republican members of the Veterans' Committee in a letter to the Senate Budget Committee. Senate Democrats are sending another letter to the Budget Committee clarifying their views.

Sen. Craig and his fellow Republicans rejected the administration's request that Congress raise the $7 co-pay for prescription medications to $15 per prescription. Republicans also rejected the VA's effort to restrict payments states receive for veterans nursing homes, calling the proposal an "unsound idea."

Committee Republicans did agree in their letter to the Budget Committee to approve a $250 a year "enrollment fee" for higher income veterans who have no service connected injuries.

"The Committee fully appreciates the concerns raised by veterans service organization witnesses at the Committee's hearing on February 15, 2005," Craig wrote. "But we are faced this year with an influx of new, highest-priority, combat veterans at a time of flattening appropriations. VA must garner supplemental funding from some source, and we see no easy options. Thus, we do not object to the Administration's proposal that non-service-connected, non-poor, veterans make a modest contribution of $250 per year to defray the cost of their, and their fellow veterans', care."

Friday, February 18, 2005

“When guns are outlawed…”

by Senator Larry Craig


About a year-and-a-half ago, as you might recall, I introduced a bill in the U.S. Senate that would have protected law-abiding gun dealers and manufacturers from being held responsible for the criminal actions of third parties. Unfortunately, I decided to vote against my own bill on the floor of the Senate when several unrelated gun-control amendments were tacked on, and the legislation was ultimately defeated because of them. However, most Idahoans agree this issue is too important to just give up, so it’s time for Round 2.

To most people, it makes sense that General Motors can’t be held responsible for the actions of drunk drivers, or that Louisville Slugger shouldn’t be sued if a criminal uses one of their bats to assault someone. To some trial lawyers and social activists, however, this logic does not apply to firearms dealers and manufacturers.

For the most part, anti-Second Amendment activists have not been successful in convincing lawmakers to follow their radical agenda of removing firearms from the hands of law-abiding citizens. Although the activists’ stated goal may be to reduce crime, a strong majority of Americans do not favor stricter gun control measures. I think they realize there is quite a bit of truth in the line, “When guns are outlawed, only outlaws have guns.”

Because of this lack of legislative success, these activists have resolved to win through the courts what they cannot through the democratic, legislative process. Joined by cities who apparently refuse to crack down on their criminal element, the activists and trial lawyers sue gun dealers and manufacturers, even though there isn’t any proof to suggest that they have broken any law.

The firearms industry is not a mammoth industry swimming in cash. Many of these companies qualify as small businesses, and they don’t have the financial resources to pay to defend themselves against endless lawsuits. Even if they win every case, that still can cost millions of dollars in legal fees. Congress must take action before this industry, so vital to Americans of all stripes, including law enforcement and our men and women in the military, goes bankrupt and shuts down. It is no stretch to say this is a matter of national security.

Gun control groups tried to divert attention from the substance of this bill last year by complaining that I was the wrong person to introduce the bill, since I am a board member and life member of the NRA. It proved to be a bogus complaint. The NRA is not a defendant in any lawsuit that would be affected by this legislation. The NRA represents, and advocates on behalf of, individual firearms owners – not dealers or manufacturers. So they have no financial stake in the legislation.

It is also important to mention that victims will not be locked out of the courthouse. If a firearms dealer or manufacturer sells a gun to criminal, is negligent, or fails in some way to follow the law, this legislation would not protect them from prosecution or a civil suit. Makers of faulty products would not be exempted, either.

After November 2, 2004, it was clear that the chemistry of the Senate had changed. I am more confident than ever in the prospects for passage of S.397, the Protection of the Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. That being said, I’m very encouraged to have the support of both Republicans and Democrats. This is commonsense legislation that will have broad support.

Just last week, the Senate approved the class-action reform bill with a strong majority of 72 senators supporting it on final passage. That was a strong signal that Americans have had enough of abusive lawsuits designed to line the pockets of trial lawyers or push a social agenda through the courts, rather than the halls of democracy. I agree, and I am happy to contribute to the solution and preserve our Second Amendment rights at the same time.

NOTE: To link directly to this release, please use the following address: http://craig.senate.gov/releases/ed021705a.htm .

CRAIG CRITICIZES BPA RATE PROPOSAL

Calls proposal a non-starter in Congress

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Idaho Senator Larry Craig met today with Clay Sell, nominee for Deputy Secretary of Energy. Among the issues discussed was the Administration’s (BPA) proposal to charge “market” rates for electricity provided by Power Marketing Administrations, including the BPA.

The Administration’s budget includes a proposal to require the BPA to charge “market” rates for the power they sell. Analysts estimate it would increase rates 20 percent a year. While BPA only sells wholesale power, the costs will be passed on to the retail consumer.

Idaho Senator Larry Craig, the second-ranking Republican on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, echoed the unanimous cry of the Northwest’s Members of Congress, “This is a non-starter in Congress. I will not stand idly by and let the Northwest’s economy be hamstrung by BPA substantially raising power rates.”

Businesses have long claimed that the Northwest’s low-cost power, among the lowest in the nation, is a major draw for new businesses and new jobs.

Senator Pete Domenici, R-N.M., chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, stated, “I think the push to make Power Marketing Administrations charge market-based rates is politically untenable. Every once in awhile, administrations of either party come up with this idea and I won’t support it.”

Craig discussed the role of BPA,“BPA’s mission is to supply necessary, cost-based power to municipalities and rural electric co-ops in a region of the country that has not had many other economic advantages. Any claims that BPA’s power is subsidized should have been laid to rest when Congress refinanced BPA’s debt and repaid the Treasury an additional $100 million in 1996.”

Craig, Domenici, and the Bush Administration are working to increase domestic energy supply by enacting a comprehensive energy policy. Craig stated, “Our efforts need to be focused on passing an energy bill, effectively decreasing rates nationwide, rather than raising revenue at the expense of the Northwest’s economy.”

Clay Sell was recently nominated as Deputy Secretary. He still needs to be confirmed by the United States Senate.

NOTE: To link directly to this release or for additional information, please use the following address: http://craig.senate.gov/releases/pr021705a.htm.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

LAWSUIT REFORM LEGISLATION INTRODUCED

Bipartisan bill will halt “predatory” lawsuits against firearm manufacturers, dealers

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senators Larry Craig (R-Idaho) and Max Baucus (D-Mont.) joined 26 of their colleagues today in introducing legislation to prohibit certain lawsuits against firearm manufacturers and dealers.

The legislation is nearly identical to S. 1805 from the last Congress. After five days of floor debate at the end of February and the first part of March, 2004, the legislation was amended with a number of unrelated gun control measures. Consequently, just eight senators voted for the amended bill, despite the fact the original bill had 54 cosponsors, including both the majority and minority leaders.

The bill prohibits lawsuits against firearm manufacturers, dealers, and their trade associations (which does not include the National Rifle Association) when they have acted lawfully but a third-party uses their legal product to inflict harm. It does not apply when a dealer, manufacturer, or trade association breaks the law.

The bill is being introduced because of the large number of lawsuits that have been filed. For up-to-date status of the lawsuits, please visit www.nssf.org.

“I am proud to sponsor legislation that will put an end to the politically-motivated lawsuits against the firearms industry,” said Craig. “These outrageous lawsuits attempting to hold a law-abiding industry responsible for the acts of criminals are a threat to jobs and the economy, jeopardize the exercise of constitutionally-protected freedoms, undermine national security, and circumvent Congress and state legislatures. They must be stopped.”

Baucus said, “Both Senator Craig and I are long-time supporters of the second amendment. It's been a pleasure to work together with Senator Craig on a common-sense bill that will help protect Idaho's and Montana's gun owners and manufacturers. It's important that we protect our law-abiding citizens and not allow frivolous lawsuits to take place. I look forward to continue working with Senator Craig to move this legislation through Senate and to the President's desk.”

Craig’s colleague from Idaho, Senator Mike Crapo, is an original cosponsor. “Gun manufacturers, owners, and traders face an increasing number of lawsuits filed with the intention of driving the firearms industry out of business by attempting to hold manufacturers and dealers liable for the criminal acts of third parties. These lawsuits could restrict interstate commerce in firearms and ammunition,” Crapo said. “Fortunately, many of these cases have been dismissed and presiding judges are recognizing these attempts to use the court to bring about restrictions in the lawful commerce of firearms. This legislation will backstop what those judges already recognize and save the time and money that is currently wasted when these ‘junk’ lawsuits are brought to court in the first place.”

NOTE: To read Senator Craig's full statement or to link directly to this release, please use the following address: http://craig.senate.gov/releases/pr021605a.htm.

CRAIG PRAISES RUMSFELD AT HEARING

Says Secretary quickly addressed troop needs

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Idaho Senator Larry Craig, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, addressed Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in a hearing by the committee today. Rumsfeld appeared before the committee to answer questions regarding President Bush’s request for additional funding for the War on Terror. Craig praised Rumsfeld for quickly resolving troop needs in Iraq, such as shortages in vehicle armor.


“It is important to pay close attention to budget requests like
this, especially when we have Idahoans in harm’s way over in Iraq,” said
Craig. “Congress has a responsibility to make sure our taxpayer dollars
are being spent responsibly and effectively, and at the same time, that our men
and women in uniform have everything they need to carry out the War on
Terror.” Craig continued, “There are always unexpected challenges in
war time, and Secretary Rumsfeld has shown to be responsive in solving
these.”

President Bush has submitted a supplemental appropriations request of $81.9 billion for FY 2005. A large part of the money will go toward operational costs in Iraq and Afghanistan, such as food, spare parts, and equipment repairs, as well as medical benefits for the troops and an enhanced death benefit for survivors of service members killed while serving our country.

NOTE: To link directly to this release, please use the following address: http://craig.senate.gov/releases/pr021605b.htm.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

CRAIG ACCEPTING PAGE APPLICATIONS

WASHINGTON, DC – Idaho Senator Larry Craig is currently seeking page applications from Idaho students for the Summer 2005 term. The deadline for applications is March 1, 2005. Because of his seniority, Craig is allowed to appoint one high school student from the State of Idaho each term to serve as a page on the U.S. Senate floor.

“The Senate Page program offers high school students the opportunity to work side by side with U.S. Senators. Pages also live, study and work with fellow students from all across the country. They gain valuable experience and have a chance to be directly involved in the government,” said Craig.

Page eligibility is limited to those who are currently juniors in high school or will be juniors next school year, and who will be 16 or 17 years old on or before the date of appointment. Pages are an important element in the daily proceedings of the United States Senate. Their duties consist primarily of delivering correspondence and legislative material to congressional offices, taking messages, preparing the Chambers for sessions, and carrying bills and amendments to the Senators’ desks.

Applications and more information about the page program are available at any of Craig’s six regional offices in Coeur d’Alene, Lewiston, Boise, Twin Falls, Pocatello, and Idaho Falls, or on his website at http://craig.senate.gov. A link to the page application can be found on the left-hand side of his homepage. Completed applications should be sent via mail or fax to Craig’s office in Boise. Applications should be directed to:

Office of U.S. Senator Larry Craig
ATTN: Page Program
225 North 9th Street, Suite 530
Boise, Idaho 83702Phone: (208) 342-7985
Fax: (208) 343-2458


NOTE: To link directly to the press release, please use the following link: http://craig.senate.gov/releases/pr020405a.htm.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

CRAIG INTRODUCES FLU PROTECTION ACT

Legislation seeks increase of vaccine production
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Idaho Senator Larry Craig joined Indiana Senator Evan Bayh today in introducing the Flu Protection Act of 2005. Craig and Bayh authored the legislation, which seeks to encourage increased production of influenza vaccines in the United States.

“We dodged a bullet this year because we had a mild flu season,” said
Craig. “We won’t always be so fortunate, and that’s what this legislation
is about. The United States is disturbingly underprepared to deal with
either a massive outbreak of the flu or a sudden shortage of vaccine, and we
cannot hope to skate by any longer.”


The Flu Protection Act offers a tax credit to vaccine manufacturers who build new facilities or expand their current production capabilities in the United States. It would also allow the federal government to purchase an amount of unused doses at the end of the flu season to lessen the current economic disincentives to vaccine manufacturers.

The bill will also seek to improve outreach and education about the importance of flu vaccination.

NOTE: To link directly to this release, please use the following address: http://craig.senate.gov/releases/pr021505a.htm.

VETERANS AFFAIRS

Contact: Jeff Schrade 202-224-9093

COMMITTEE RELEASES FULL WITNESS LIST FOR
VETERANS BUDGET HEARING VA

Secretary Jim Nicholson to testify along with Veterans Service Organizations
(Washington, DC) Chairman Larry Craig (R-Idaho) announced today the full witness list for tomorrow's hearing of the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs on the President's proposed budget for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The hearing will be held in room 418 of the Russell Senate Office Building, Tuesday, February 15, starting at 10 a.m. and webcast live at:
http://veterans.senate.gov/. It may also be available - audio-only - on the C-SPAN website for committee hearings, located at http://www.capitolhearings.org.

The White House has requested a record $70.8 billion in the fiscal year 2006 budget for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Of that $33.4 billion is for discretionary funding - most of it, $28.2 billion, is targeted for health care. Another $37.4 billion is for mandatory funding - mostly for compensation, pension and other benefit programs.
Should Congress approve the budget proposal, the VA reports that funding for veterans health care will have increased by 47 percent since President Bush took office. Despite those record increases, several veterans organizations issued a press release last week calling for $31.2 billion in funding for veterans' health care during 2006 - an increase of $3 billion over the White House' proposal.

Among those testifying will be:
Panel I - Veterans Administration
The Honorable Jim Nicholson, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, accompanied
by:
* The Honorable Daniel L. Cooper, Under Secretary for Benefits;
* Jonathan B. Perlin, M.D., Acting Under Secretary for Health;
* Mr. Richard A. Wannemaker, Acting Under Secretary for Memorial
Affairs;
* The Honorable Tim McClain, General Counsel; and
* Ms. Rita A. Reed, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Budget.
Panel II - Veterans Service Organizations
* Mr. Peter S. Gaytan, Principal Deputy Director, Veterans Affairs
and Rehabilitation, The American Legion
* Mr. Dennis M. Cullinan, Director, National Legislative Service,
Veterans of Foreign Wars
* Mr. Joseph A. Violante, National Legislative Director, Disabled
American Veterans
* Mr. Richard B. Fuller, National Legislative Director, Paralyzed
Veterans of America
* Mr. Richard Jones, National Legislative Director, AMVETS.

BUSH RENOMINATES MYERS FOR NINTH CIRCUIT

Boise attorney, former Department of the Interior solicitor to come before Senate

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Boise resident William G. Myers received a Valentine’s Day present from President Bush. Myers was nominated today to serve on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Idaho Senator Larry Craig, a supporter of Myers’, praised President Bush’s nomination, “Nearly two years ago, President Bush made a sound decision in nominating Bill Myers to the Ninth Circuit. Over the years, Bill Myers has impressed me with his professionalism, integrity, and ability. Most important, he knows and respects the law and will not legislate from the bench – a lesson many sitting judges should heed.”

Myers was first nominated by President Bush on May 15, 2003 and was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on April 1, 2004. His nomination was filibustered by Senate Democrats. While he received a majority vote for confirmation, 53, he failed to garner the 60 votes necessary to overcome the filibuster.

Once the 108th Congress adjourned sine die last winter, all nominees not confirmed have to be renominated if the President wants them to be considered again.

To view Senator Craig's floor statement during Senate debate on Myer's, please see Senate Democrats Block Myers.

NOTE: To link directly to this release, please use the following address: http://craig.senate.gov/releases/pr021405a.htm.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Little victories, a long road

by Senator Larry Craig
I’m sure you’ve heard plenty lately about the elections in Iraq, which were carried out under threat of terrorist attacks and with great media attention. And of course, last year, the first democratic elections in the history of Afghanistan were held and international observers gave the vote a clean bill of health.

Today, as I write, however, another election is taking place that has been largely overlooked. It is taking place in Saudi Arabia. Yes, that’s right, the same oil-rich country that was the homeland for fifteen of the nineteen hijackers on 9/11, and birthplace of Osama bin Laden. It is the beginning round of the first elections there in more than forty years.

In the city of Riyadh, the capital, voting has gotten underway to elect half of the city’s municipal council. More than 1,800 candidates have registered for just 127 seats, and the other half of the municipal council will be appointed by the Saudi government.

Clearly, nobody is going to call this an ideal election or the full embodiment of democracy in Saudi Arabia. Women were not allowed to vote or run for office, and only about 150,000 of the 600,000 eligible male voters registered. Only half of the municipal council will be chosen during the process, rather than the entire body. Also, it is not yet clear whether the elections were fair and free from corruption or tampering.

Let’s not lose perspective, though. As I mentioned, elections have not been held in this country in forty years. Some characterize the election as merely a response to pressure from the United States on the Saudi royal family to democratize. However, there have been growing calls from the Saudi people for democratic reforms and social liberalization. The royal family has voluntarily chosen this small move toward liberalization. This must be viewed as a very positive first step – a very small, perhaps imperfect step – but it is a step.

These elections must also be viewed through the larger lens of the Middle East region. Who would have thought that within a decade there would be free elections in Iraq, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia, or that Libya would have given up its nuclear weapons ambitions without firing a shot? We shouldn’t get too giddy about the meaning of these developments, because their outcomes are by no means certain. But we shouldn’t hesitate to put credit where it is due, either. Things are moving in the right direction.

A strong, dynamic United States foreign policy is beginning to yield results, I believe. The Bush Administration deserves to be applauded for what it has achieved. By aggressively pursuing terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States has demonstrated that it means what it says. As a result, we have strengthened our hand and gained valuable flexibility when dealing with rogue nations that support terrorism or seek weapons of mass destruction.

Most important, we have planted the seeds of freedom in what was a barren region just a few years ago. Experts agree that in order to eradicate terrorism, we have to get rid of the conditions that breed discontent and radicalism. Fostering economic, social, and political freedom, then, is our best hope for success. The people of this region are beginning to understand these freedoms are closer than ever. It may be a long journey, and there will be moments of doubt and imperfection. But Americans can take heart that millions of people in the Middle East have begun to travel it, one ballot at a time.

NOTE: To link directly to the press release, please use the following link: http://craig.senate.gov/releases/ed021005a.htm.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

CRAIG JOINS IN INTRODUCING BIPARTISAN FARMWORKER IMMIGRATION REFORM

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Idaho Senator Larry Craig, along with a bipartisan group of legislators and representatives of a broad-based farm workers and growers coalition, announced the introduction of the Agricultural Job Opportunity, Benefits, and Security (AgJOBS) Act of 2005 today.

AgJOBS builds upon years of discussion and ideas from growers, farm worker advocates, Latino and immigration issue groups and intends to provide for a more stable, secure, safe, and legal American agricultural work force and food supply.

“Our country’s current agricultural labor system and immigration laws are seriously flawed,” Craig said. “This bill is a balanced, practical, and achievable approach to resolve these flaws, and intends to prevent a growing crisis that threatens American agriculture, workers, and consumers. AgJOBS is comprehensive, landmark, and bipartisan and hopes to provide long term solutions for the serious problems facing farmers and farm workers alike.”

The AgJOBS bill would provide a two-step solution: For the long term, the currently broken and cumbersome H-2A legal guest worker program would be overhauled and made more streamlined, practical, and secure. To provide workforce stability in the short term, on a one-time-only basis, experienced, trusted workers with a significant work history in American agriculture would be allowed to stay here legally and earn adjustment to legal status.

Of the United States’ 1.6 million agricultural workers, more than half is made up of workers not legally authorized to work here – according to a conservative estimate by the Department of Labor, based on self-disclosure in worker surveys. Responsible private estimates run to 75 percent or higher. These workers are among the most vulnerable persons in our country, and know they must live in hiding, not attract attention at work, and move furtively. They cannot claim the most basic legal rights and protections. They are vulnerable to predation and exploitation. At the same time, knowing who is in this workforce and bringing them into a legal system will help our homeland security and ensure a safe, secure and American-grown food supply for our family tables.

NOTE: This release and additional information on AgJOBS is accessible on the web at http://craig.senate.gov/releases/pr021005a.htm.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

BILL WILL EXPAND AG TRADE

Clarifies the 2000 law to allow agricultural trade with Cuba

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Legislation was introduced in the United States Senate today to expand the sale of American agricultural products to Cuba. The bill clarifies Congressional intent on the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000 (TSREEA), which lifted sanctions for agricultural and medical products to Cuba.

Senator Larry Craig (R-Idaho), Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Max Baucus (R-Mont.), Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), and Senator Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) joined a number of their colleagues in introducing the legislation.

“Cold War-era sanctions and restrictions have a track record of hamstringing American farmers, ranchers, and producers. Introducing Cuba to the American free-market and capitalism is the only way to bring about reform. Consequently, four years ago we joined forces to open up Cuba to establish a new, one-way market for our agriculture sector,” said Idaho Senator Larry Craig. “Today, I will not allow bureaucrats to re-interpret Congress’ original intent and obstruct already established legal trade.”

Before the original legislation was enacted, Cuba was the 226th largest export market for United States agriculture – it now ranks 21st after purchasing $1 billion in products from the United States. In fact, Cuba is now the 2nd largest importer of U.S. rice and the 3rd largest importer of U.S. poultry.

Craig continued, “At a time when U.S. farm programs face significant challenges, we need to be opening up markets for our agriculture sector, not closing them down. U.S. agriculture trade to Cuba has proven very beneficial to our producers. However, if we don't take action now to improve the workability of the law and help facilitate our trade, we will forfeit market share to the European Union, China, and others. Simply put, the American people and the American farmer won't tolerate foreign dominance of a willing market 90 miles off our coast -- nor should they.”

Senator Mike Crapo said, “It is my hope that this legislation can bring clarity and efficiency to the export of U.S. agricultural goods to Cuba. We should not punish U.S. farmers by limiting access to markets for agricultural and humanitarian goods. Additionally, further U.S. engagement in Cuba through relaxed travel restrictions provides an opportunity to bring about positive change in Cuba.”

The legislation introduced today, the Agriculture Export Facilitation Act of 2005, has 20 original cosponsors. Included are five major provisions: define “cash payment in advance” as receipt of payment before transfer of title and release of physical control of goods to the seller; authorize the issuance of a general license for agriculture producers to travel to Cuba to sell, market, and finalize any sales or trade agreements; authorize direct payments to U.S. banks; and allow the issuance of temporary visas to Cubans traveling to the United States for TSREEA-related activities.

For more information on Idaho's trade mission to Cuba, please read Senator Craig's Ag Action Issue Brief at http://craig.senate.gov/i_agactionplan.htm.

For a copy of the bill, please click here (PDF, 47KB).

NOTE: To link direcly to this release, please use the following link: http://craig.senate.gov/releases/pr020905a.htm.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

SENATORS TO HOLD PRESS CONFERENCE TO DISCUSS CUBA AGRICULTURAL TRADE POLICY

Senators Craig, Baucus, Roberts, and Lugar join to introduce bill to ease restrictions on the sale of agricultural products to Cuba

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A group of bipartisan Senators will hold a press conference on Wednesday, February 9, at 2:00 P.M. to address the issue of agricultural trade with Cuba.

U.S. Senators Larry Craig (R-Idaho), Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), and others, will introduce comprehensive legislation this Wednesday easing a number of restrictions on agricultural trade with Cuba. In December, the Senators criticized proposed Treasury Department regulations that will disrupt current agricultural sales from the United States to Cuba. Baucus, the ranking Democrat on the Finance Committee, threatened to block Treasury Department confirmations until the issue was resolved.

Event: Press Conference on Cuba Agricultural Trade Policy
Date: February 9, 2005
Time: 2:00 P.M.
Participants: Senators Larry Craig (R-Idaho), Max Baucus (D-Mont.), and Pat Roberts (R-Kan.)
Location: Senate Radio/TV Gallery

For information on Idaho’s trade mission to Cuba, please read Senator Craig’s Ag Action Plan Issue Brief at http://craig.senate.gov/i_agactionplan.htm.

SENATE VETERANS' AFFAIRS COMMITTEE TO HOLD HEARING ON PROPOSED BUDGET FOR VETERANS

After four years of record increases, challenges are ahead


(Washington, DC) Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Larry Craig
(R-Idaho) said today that his committee will hold a hearing next week on the President's proposed budget for America's veterans.

It will be held in room 418 of the Russell Senate Office Building, Tuesday, February 15, starting at 10 a.m. and webcast live on the committee's website: http://veterans.senate.gov. It may also be available - audio-only - on the C-SPAN website for committee hearings, located at http://www.capitolhearings.org.

Among the witnesses will be Secretary of Veterans Affairs Jim Nicholson, and representatives of The American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, Paralyzed Veterans of America, and AMVETS.

Under the President's proposal, the VA will help former POW's by eliminating co-payments for long-term care. The VA will also help all veterans who seek emergency care in facilities other than VA hospitals by treating them financially as if the medical help had been provided in a VA facility.

"After four years of record increases, the President has proposed slowing the rate of growth. That is what all of us expected. I warned VA Secretary Jim Nicholson about this when we held his confirmation hearing a few weeks ago - the fiscal environment is tougher than it has
been," Craig said.

The budget for veterans programs has gone up by approximately 10 percent a year since 2001. If Congress adopts the latest budget proposal, funding for veterans health care will have increased by more than 47 percent since 2001.

"In these past four years nearly 1.5 million additional veterans were able to receive care and nearly 200 new community-based health clinics were opened, or are being built now," Craig said. The new budget proposes to fund 28 new outpatient clinics, and other several other major projects throughout the nation.

Under the White House proposal, veterans with incomes over approximately $25,000 a year, and who do not have a service-connected disability, will be asked to pay a $250 annual fee. (Those who have a service connected condition will not have to pay the $250 fee.) The proposal also calls for a prescription drug co-payment of $15 for a 30-day supply of medication.

Friday, February 04, 2005

CRAIG CALLS FOR "ONE STOP INFORMATION" FOR WAR WIDOWS

Listens to moving testimony from Idaho war widow - Tiffany Petty


(Washington, DC) Sen. Larry Craig, Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, today called for military, Social Security and Veterans' Administration officials to make life easier for military families after they lose a soldier. The Idaho Republican made his comments at a committee hearing held to examine how well the nation's current benefits system is performing for families who have lost a loved in military service.


"The testimony we heard today was stunning and upsetting. We have young women, primarily but not exclusively, who have lost loved ones in the military. Today we found out that many of those new widows are not getting the level of service they should be receiving. I'm angry and upset and that is why I am calling today for the military - Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and Marines - to do a much better job," Craig said.


His comments came just days after President Bush indicated that he wants to increase the payment families receive when a soldier is killed in combat.


Tiffany Petty, a 25-year-old mother of two from Craig's home state of Idaho, told the committee about the struggles she had learning of her husband's death - first being told that he was killed instantly and then finding out later that he died some time after being wounded. Then she told of military officials who were unable to give her clear information about the benefits she and her children could receive. Perhaps most difficult was finding out that her husband's funeral hadn't been paid for - nine months after he was buried.


"Those who lose a loved one in the service of the country are eligible for benefits from the Department of Defense, the Veterans' Affairs Administration and Social Security. I want those agencies to work together quickly to provide a 'one stop information' source, both in writing and on the Internet, where survivors can find customized, integrated information about their benefits. Benefits are of little use if survivors don't know about them," Craig said. "Marine Corps widows aren't any tougher than Air Force or Army widows. They just can't macho through."


Jennifer McCollum, a 31-year-old woman from Jacksonville, Florida, told the committee that help from the government agencies "seems to be the exception, rather than the rule." McCollum's son was born several months after her husband was killed in plane crash in Pakistan in 2002.

FOREST COUNTIES BILL INTRODUCED

Legislation will stabilize forest receipt payments, reauthorize local RACs

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Members of the United States Senate and House of Representatives announced today that they introduced legislation to reauthorize the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act, commonly known as the Craig/Wyden bill. Idaho Senator Larry Craig joined Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Reps. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), Alan Boyd (D-Fla.), and Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), among others.

The Act, signed into law in 2000, stabilizes the share of national forest receipts for counties, designed to offset the fact that the federal government doesn’t pay property taxes. Counties who elect to participate in the program collect the greater of twenty-five percent of the current year’s receipts or the average of the highest three years since 1986. Counties may also direct funds toward a variety of projects, such as teen work crews, urban forestry, or forest-related education, and the Act established Resource Advisory Committees (RACs), diverse groups of 15 people who direct a share of the monies to projects on the local forest.

Idaho Senator Larry Craig said, “The law has been a tremendous success. Not only are our counties receiving needed funds for schools and roads, but for the first time a group of local citizens can direct funds toward projects on their forest.”

Idaho has five RACs: the Panhandle, North Central, Southwest, Central, and Eastern. Nationally, there are 70 RACs and over 2,500 projects have been authorized over the past four years.

Craig expanded further on the RACs, “These groups represent a true coupling of community with land managers that is healthy for the land and healthy for the communities. They are partners in progress, creating trust, trails, and jobs.”

The legislation was introduced yesterday. The Senate bill number is S. 267 and the House bill is H.R. 571.

For more information, including highlights of RAC projects in Idaho, a copy of the legislation, a Boise State University report on the Act, and Senator Craig’s full statement, please visit http://craig.senate.gov/releases/pr020305a.htm.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

CRAIG REACTS TO STATE OF THE UNION SPEECH

Says “Bush demonstrates his principles and his commitment to deliver on his promises”

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Idaho Senator Larry Craig had the following remarks after hearing President Bush’s State of the Union Speech this evening:
The President outlined his bold agenda for a new America – an agenda that protects our freedoms, spreads democracy, and empowers Americans.

The President’s agenda will require a tremendous amount of political capital – capital he has earned and capital he is willing to spend. It demonstrates his principles and his commitment to deliver on his promises.

I stand behind the President’s effort to reform and personalize Social Security. It is a program that is necessary to preserve, but it is in dire need of repair. By allowing each of us to choose how we want to invest our money, we will save the program and ensure that it exists for our children and grandchildren.

As Chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, I am pleased that the President has made America’s veterans a priority. Thursday, the Veterans’ Committee I chair will hold a hearing on death benefits for survivors, and I am confident Congress will pass legislation to provide more comfort for our nation’s war heroes and their families.

The past weekend, we witnessed a major milestone in Iraq – free elections. It marks a major milestone, and tonight the President demonstrated his ability and desire to ensure Iraq is a democracy that is peaceful and self-sufficient

Bipartisan, bicameral coalition to introduce county payments reauthorization bill

Senators, Representatives will discuss legislation to continue stable funding for rural schools and counties nationwide

Washington, DC B At a news conference on Thursday, February 3 at 1:30 p.m., U.S. Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Larry Craig (R-Idaho) and U.S. Representatives Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) will discuss the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Reauthorization Act of 2005, legislation to reauthorize the successful “county payments” law for an additional eight years.

The law was passed in 2000 and is set to expire next year; it provides a more stable source of funding for education and roads in rural, forested areas nationwide. The law also established Resource Advisory Committees (RACs) that direct spending of a portion of the funds for projects on the local forest. The RACs are designed to ensure expanded economic activity for these resource-based communities.

Also sponsoring the bipartisan, bicameral, bicoastal bill are U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and U.S. Representatives Allen Boyd (D-Fla.), Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Wally Herger (R-Calif.).

WHO: U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.)
U.S. Senator Larry Craig (R-Idaho)
U.S. Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.)
U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.)

WHAT: News conference to announce bipartisan legislation
reauthorizing successful county payments law

WHEN: Thursday, February 3
1:30 p.m.

WHERE: Senate Radio-TV Gallery
S-325
U.S. Capitol