Idaho Examiner - Sen. Larry Craig News Releases

Thursday, October 27, 2005

CRAPO, CRAIG SEEK REPLACEMENT EQUIPMENT FOR IDAHO GUARD

Senators write President Bush to back Governor Kempthorne’s concerns

Washington, DC – Concerns that the Idaho National Guard does not have the necessary equipment to properly deal with potential disasters or domestic emergencies has sparked a letter to the White House by Idaho Senators Mike Crapo and Larry Craig. In the letter to President Bush today, the Senators agree with concerns expressed by Governor Dirk Kempthorne and Adjutant General Lawrence LaFrenz that equipment Guard members left in Iraq will not be available for disaster response and that troops will be unable to maintain the advanced skills they learned on equipment that was left behind.

“The Army National Guard plays a crucial role in State response to domestic emergencies. The greatly diminished percentage of equipment on-hand in our Guard units carries with it the risk of not only denying these units the equipment needed to conduct good training for their combat mission but also leaves them with fewer tools to support State responses to natural disasters, terrorist incidents or other emergencies,” Crapo and Craig wrote in the letter to the President. “While it is possible to shift equipment from state to state, it is clear that National Guard response will be faster if the needed equipment is available for training and closer to the point of need.”

The Senators added the General Accounting Office (GAO) might also be of assistance in determining the needs of Idaho’s Guard. “Specific items of National Guard equipment are of particular value for homeland security purposes. These include trucks of various sizes, communications equipment, night vision devices, engineer equipment and helicopters. Unfortunately, the National Guard has troubling shortages in all of these areas. Nationwide the Guard has only 2/3 of the Humvees, 3/4 of the radios, half of the night vision devices and 1/4 of the modern medium trucks it needs to be mission responsive. Moreover, due to combat wear and the operational need for returning units to leave some equipment behind in the combat zone, these shortages are getting worse.”

Governor Kempthorne, returning from visiting with Idaho troops in the Middle East, met with both Senator Crapo and Senator Craig in Washington, DC today. The Senators want President Bush to include Idaho’s needs as he prepares his military and defense budgets for Fiscal Year 2007.

CRAIG, CRAPO SEEK TO REOPEN JAPANESE BEEF MARKET

Closed market costs beef producers $3.14 billion per year

WASHINGTON, D.C – Idaho Senators Larry Craig and Mike Crapo are co-sponsors of legislation introduced today that encourages Japan to reopen its borders to U.S. beef. When a Canadian-born cow being held near Yakima, Washington, tested positive for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) or “mad cow disease” in 2003, the Japanese government immediately banned beef from the United States. Although the Japanese and U.S. governments reached an agreement to reopen Japanese markets, little action has been taken to lift the ban.
“Before the ban, Japan was the largest foreign market for U.S. beef producers,” Craig said. “Although USDA has adopted tougher testing methods and the U.S. herd has a clean bill of health, the Japanese have dragged their feet in reopening their markets. Idaho producers are suffering as a result, and this needs to stop.”

“It is well past time for Japan to reopen its market to American beef,” said Crapo. “I am disappointed in Japan’s continued political delays that are affecting our beef industry and farm economy.”


The bill, introduced by Senators Kent Conrad (D-ND) and Pat Roberts (R-KS), would require the President to impose tariffs on Japanese products if Japan does not open its domestic markets to U.S.-produced beef by the end of the year. Currently, American beef producers are losing $3.14 billion a year because of Japan’s refusal to reopen its markets.

Friday, October 21, 2005

United We Stand, Divided We Fall

by Senator Larry Craig

In the words of Nelson Mandela, “to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” For generations, the United States hasn’t just talked about it, but has helped numerous nations secure that right by supporting the advance of democracy.

It has been over a year since the Iraqi people gained their independence from tyranny and oppression. Their progress and perseverance stand as a beacon in a region filled with uncertainty. But with success also comes great opposition. Insurgents, realizing their inability to stop the spread of democracy, grow increasingly desperate. The war they wage relies strictly on terror and the blood of innocent victims. They have masterfully devised a way to steal the headlines and put skepticism in the minds of many.

While the media has done its job of reminding Americans how terrible war really is, we are missing out on the substantial progress that has been made in the now-liberated nation.

Nearly 25 million Iraqi citizens have been freed and now have a sovereign government. We must not forget that more than eight million citizens went to the polls in January, defying threats of death. On October 15, millions of Iraqis returned to the polls to ratify a new constitution. Just days later, Saddam Hussein’s trial for the murder of nearly 150 Shiites began. These are strong indications that the rule of law is taking root, but our accomplishments in Iraq go beyond lofty ideals. Some very tangible achievements have vastly improved the lives of Iraqis and put them on the road to prosperity.

Recent statistics from the Department of Defense and State Department highlight some of these achievements. Membership in the Iraqi Security Force currently totals over 200,000, and this figure will move even higher by the end of the year. Major operations conducted by Iraqi forces have succeeded in ousting terrorists, and many Iraqi police and military units took the lead in providing security for the constitutional referendum. Reports indicate that more and more Iraqi civilians are cooperating in the capture of insurgents by offering tips.

Iraq’s infrastructure has also made remarkable gains. Not only have roads improved, but key airports in Iraq are now functioning and are connecting major cities. With over 100 railroad projects scheduled, nearly half have been completed and are serving the people.

Key advancements have been made in education and health as well. More than 36,000 secondary teachers and staff have been trained in programs funded by USAID. Over the next year, it is predicted that an additional 100,000 teachers and administrators will receive training. Notably, more than 3,400 schools have been renovated with hundreds more undergoing rehabilitation. More than 110 primary health care facilities have been renovated, not including the 12 regional trauma centers the World Bank is currently sponsoring. Since Iraq’s liberation, more than 3 million children under the age of five were vaccinated.

A few months ago, major sewer and water projects broke ground. Areas that never had underground sewage lines will now be free of sewage in the streets. Most important, these efforts to improve the quality of life have also created new jobs for many locals. The employment of Iraqis has fueled the economy and undercut broad support for the insurgency. All these advancements indicate that the political and economic wheels are churning in the right direction.

However, there are those who ask why we have not pulled out of Iraq. President Bush said it best when he reminded Americans that “we fight today because Iraq now carries the hope of freedom in a vital region of the world, and the rise of democracy will be the ultimate triumph over radicalism and terror. And we fight today because terrorists want to attack our country and kill our citizens, and Iraq is where they are making their stand.”

Iraq symbolizes more than just the liberation of a people. It represents the global war on terror and what is at stake. A safe Iraq means a safer America, and the Idaho National Guard and active-duty servicemembers have helped the cause. Skepticism here at home will simply fuel the enemy. Specifying a pull-out date will merely send the message that insurgents need only to wait us out.

Instead, our nation must display patience and an unbreakable will. Democracy is taking root in Iraq. We must stand behind our troops and the Iraqi people. Most important, we must stand united.

Liability Measure Represents Years of Maneuvering by Gun Rights Supporters

CQ TODAY – LEGAL AFFAIRS
Oct. 19, 2005 – 8:03 p.m.

By Michael Sandler and Seth Stern, CQ Staff

When the House clears sweeping legislation Thursday to shield gun manufacturers and dealers from being sued when third parties misuse their products, it will spell the culmination of a national debate that began eight years ago in city halls and courtrooms around the country.

The bill (S 397) will be the latest in a series of laws pushed by the GOP-led Congress that limit the ability to sue or collect damages from a growing number of industries — fulfilling campaign promises made by many Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill and President Bush.

The House passed a version of the gun bill in the 108th Congress with the help of a fair number of Democrats. Several are ready to join Republicans again.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Larry E. Craig, R-Idaho, was passed by the Senate with bipartisan support on July 29. Bush has said he will sign the bill into law when it reaches his desk.

Craig’s measure would prohibit civil liability actions from being brought in any state or federal court against manufacturers, distributors, dealers and importers of firearms and ammunition. Trade groups would also be protected. All pending actions would be dismissed.

Supporters say allowing such lawsuits would be like taking car manufacturers to court when people drive drunk. They say the suits are often filed by anti-gun critics hoping to bankrupt manufacturers with exorbitant legal fees.

Craig said the objective is to keep lawyers from using lawsuits as a political tool to cripple law-abiding gun dealers.

“It’s a broader statement than just for guns,” he said.

Opponents say the bill’s reach is “unprecedented,” arguing that it offers protection to gunmakers who are negligent.

“It’s very much an elaborate smoke screen,” said Dennis Henigan, legal director for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. “I think the [National Rifle Association] reached for the broadest possible immunity.”

The bill would not provide liability protection to those who knowingly sell or transfer firearms intended to be used for a crime or cases in which proper use resulted in physical injury, death or property damage because of a defect.

“This bill protects legally made and legally sold firearms,” said Chris W. Cox, chief lobbyist for the NRA. “To get this protection, you have to come to the table with clean hands.”

Framed by the News
The fight for this protection has prompted those on both sides to reach into some of the biggest news stories of the past six years to bolster their arguments.

The measure received an unusual endorsement from the Department of Defense, which urged passage as a matter of national security. The U.S. military depends on the firearms industry for its arsenal.

But the added protection for gun manufacturers comes three years after two snipers terrorized Washington residents for weeks and within six years of the shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado.

The debate began in 1998, when New Orleans and Chicago led a number of cities in an effort to sue handgun manufacturers to pay for the cost of urban violence during the 1990s. At one point Edward G. Rendell, now the Democratic governor of Pennsylvania and then the mayor of Philadelphia, proposed a simultaneous filing by as many as 100 cities on the same day.

Gun-rights lobbyists reacted by persuading 33 states to pass laws prohibiting such legal action and the majority of cases were subsequently dismissed. A half-dozen are still pending and would be tossed out by the federal ban.

But without all 50 states participating, or a federal law, a manufacturer could be hit with legal action posed in a state without such a law.

“One judgment could bankrupt them,” said Cox. “They [cities] based their legal theory on big tobacco.”

So on March 9, 1999, Republicans in Congress launched an effort to create a federal ban on such lawsuits.

One month later, Columbine derailed efforts to move the legislation in the 106th Congress. A bill returned in the 107th Congress, only to be shelved in 2002 — the same year of the D.C. sniper case.

“I think one of the reasons the battle was so intense, and one of the reasons we were able to block passage, was because we focused attention on the victims of violence who would be unable to file lawsuits,” Henigan said.

In the 108th Congress, the House passed a version of the bill by a vote of 285-140 and the Senate moved close to matching when Craig attracted 54 cosponsors for a companion bill.

But Senate Democrats succeeded in attaching three amendments opposed by the bill’s backers, including a renewal of the assault weapons ban (PL 103-322) and Republicans — at the urging of the NRA — were forced to defeat their own bill.

But Republican gains in the November election — they added four Senate seats — solidified their majority and made the Democrats’ task tougher in the 109th Congress.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., used procedural maneuvers to control what amendments Democrats could offer. As a result, only one provision was added: an amendment by Herb Kohl of Wisconsin that would require child safety devices to be sold with all handguns.

One Piece at a Time
The gun bill would be the second major victory for Republican efforts to overhaul the civil justice system this year. It comes eight months after the president signed into law another piece of legislation (PL 109-2) previously stalled in the Senate that is designed to shift more class action lawsuits from state to federal court.

Tort overhaul advocates, including leaders of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, placed the blame for the class action bill’s failure last year squarely on the shoulders of former Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D. (House, 1979-87; Senate, 1987-2005), who was defeated last year by Republican John Thune.

“Elections have consequences,” Craig said.

The gun bill also is the latest in a string of laws enacted in the Republican-controlled Congress in recent years to protect specific industries from lawsuits. Since the early 1990s, the manufacturers of vaccines and small planes as well as organizations that perform volunteer medical missions such as transporting organ donations or transferring used fire equipment were all granted protection by Congress.

A similar measure that would protect food companies sued by customers on the grounds their offerings made them obese passed the House on Wednesday but is unlikely to be taken up in the Senate this year. John Cornyn, R-Texas, has introduced a bill (S 1406) to shield manufacturers of respirators used to protect against environmental hazards.

After Republicans took control of Congress more than a decade ago, they discovered it would be difficult to enact broader legislation to shield more manufacturers. American Tort Reform Association general counsel Victor E. Schwartz says focusing on narrow industry-specific bills has proven far more successful by avoiding the types of lawsuits most important to trial lawyers.

“The bills that are passing are ones where very few plaintiffs’ lawyers bring these kinds of suits,” Schwartz said.

Critics say tort overhaul proponents’ bite-size approach is slowly encroaching on an area of law long left to the states.

“Their strategy is clear,” said Andrew Popper, an American University law professor who testified against Republican tort overhaul bills last year. “They pick areas that are currently in the news, generate by publicity a certain amount of outrage by mischaracterization, and when the temperature is right, see if you can pass a federal law. Do it in enough areas, do it frequently enough and you get the public accustomed to the absurd notion that tort law is somehow federal.”

But another GOP tort priority, legislation designed to create an asbestos trust fund, is likely dead for the year. Senate Judiciary Committee member Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said earlier this week that she believes there simply will be no floor time left this year to take up the bill (S 852).

Monday, October 17, 2005

A Hunting Heritage

by Senator Larry Craig

The kids have gone back to school. The air has cooled. The harvest season is drawing to a close, and the trees in the hills are changing colors. Fall has arrived. To many Idahoans, these changes can only mean one thing: It’s hunting season!

The arrival of hunting season is one of the biggest reasons so many Idahoans love the fall. Whether you’re walking through the stubble of a harvested field in search of birds, or waiting in a tree stand for a buck or bull elk, the hunting opportunities in Idaho are among the best in the world. Many sportsmen have known this for decades, but more are discovering this fact every year; the hunting is great in Idaho.

I have a lot of fond memories of hunting in my childhood on the family ranch near South Crane Creek. While I certainly enjoyed the hunt itself, as I’ve grown older, I appreciate even more the opportunities hunting provided me to spend time with friends, close relatives, and most of all, my dad.

Hunting is, by nature, a very social endeavor. Smart hunters always take a companion, and they often work together. Your successes and failures are shared by your partners in the hunt, and many bonds formed on hunting trips last a lifetime.

At the same time, hunting can teach young people extremely valuable lessons about safety and responsibility. Carrying a firearm in the field is not child’s play, and I remember the great sense of duty I felt the first time I carried one. Over the years, this firsthand experience taught me more than I knew about being an adult.

I learned that a conscientiously-used rifle, shotgun, or handgun can be a positive tool. It can help a hunter put food on the table. For ranchers, it can protect the working dogs and the herd.

When necessary, a firearm can protect the law-abiding from the lawless.

Many anti-Second Amendment advocates try to limit the availability of firearms because they either have no experience with, or they greatly discount, the positive benefits of firearm ownership. Most Idahoans’ experiences are vastly different. Most of us grew up hunting or knowing someone who did. We saw people who treated firearms with responsibility and respect, people who followed the law.

Hunting also gave me a greater appreciation for public lands in Idaho. Growing up in a ranching family, I was very familiar with public lands issues as they related to ranchers and those who depend on these lands for a living. As a hunter, however, I developed a much deeper understanding of the value of public lands. Not only did I begin to see the value of access to our national forests, BLM lands and wilderness areas, I began to see that these treasures are used and enjoyed by many different groups. Each of these groups has a different idea about the best use and best management practices. As varied as these wants and needs can be, I know all public lands users agree that Idaho is blessed with natural beauty, and that we all ought to do our best to maintain those blessings.

Hunting season embodies so many of the things that are important to Idahoans, and reveals quite a bit about our values and how they came to be. As long as I remain in the Senate, I will continue to work on firearms, public lands and wildlife issues, so the character of Idaho – rugged, respectful, and self-reliant – will carry on in our children and grandchildren.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

HOMELAND SECURITY FUNDING APPROVED

Congress clears way for increased border security, immigration enforcement

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Idaho Senator Larry Craig and Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson welcomed final passage of the fiscal year 2006 Homeland Security Appropriations bill today. The bill now goes to the President for his signature.

“Protecting our homeland and our citizenry is the top responsibility of the federal government, and this bill moves our nation toward that goal,” Craig said. “I’m particularly pleased that the House and Senate voted to continue funding provided by the Byrd-Craig amendment to hire 500 new Border Patrol Agents. We absolutely must get control of illegal immigration, and these new agents and resources will help to do just that.”

“The vital funding contained within this bill provides first responders with the tools they need, helps keep communities safe, and protects our nation from those who would do us harm,” said Congressman Mike Simpson. “While this legislation is important to securing our nation, I wish it took much stronger action toward securing our nation's borders and deterring illegal immigration.”

The legislation provides $5.95 billion for Customs and Border Protection, including 1,000 new Border Patrol Agents, and funding for the 500 Border Patrol Agent positions added earlier this year to the Supplemental bill by the Byrd-Craig amendment. The bill also includes funding for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles that can be deployed between ports of entry on the Southwest Border.

In addition to the new Border Patrol Agents, the bill provides $3.18 billion for Immigration and Customs enforcement for domestic enforcement efforts, and includes funding for 250 additional criminal investigators. Also included are funds for 460 additional detention and removal personnel and a total of 20,300 detention beds to support immigration enforcement and expedited removal.

Furthermore, $655 million in Firefighter Assistance Grants are provided for first responders.

More information on the appropriations process is available at http://craig.senate.gov/i_approps.htm.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Escaping Dollars

by Senators Larry Craig and Mike Crapo

In our frequent visits with Idahoans, it’s no surprise that energy prices are on everyone’s mind. Natural gas and gasoline prices were at or near record highs before Katrina and Rita hit the Gulf Coast, a region where much of the United States’ oil production and refining facilities are located. Energy supplies were already tight, and the forced shutdown of many offshore platforms and refineries only made the problem worse.

In the wake of these two storms, Congress has already requested an investigation by the Federal Trade Commission to determine whether energy producers and suppliers have engaged in price-gouging. We will not tolerate profiteering if it is taking place.

While President Bush and the Department of Energy (DOE) are considering the release of fuel stockpiles to alleviate some of the strain, it could still be several months before U.S. oil production returns to full capacity. In the meantime, if you haven’t already, we urge you to consider a few simple measures you can take to reduce your energy consumption, which could also help lower your heating and gasoline bills.

If you take a comprehensive look at your home and your driving habits, there may be numerous opportunities to save energy, and as a result, money too. Some suggestions are fairly obvious, such as turning off extra lights and setting the thermostat two or three degrees lower than you might normally do during the coming winter months.

Other measures are a little less obvious, but no less simple. You might clean or replace air filters for the furnace to improve air flow and efficiency. If you have a fireplace that isn’t being used, close the damper and flue to keep warm air from escaping up your chimney. Switch to compact fluorescent light bulbs in your light fixtures, and open drapes or blinds on south-facing windows to let the sunshine warm the house during the day.

One effective way to lower your heating bills is to check your home for drafts and air leaks and stop them. Door frames, windows, worn door and window seals, cracks in walls, spots where pipes pass through exterior walls – all can siphon warm air out of your home in the winter. According to Department of Energy experts, you can save 10 percent or more on your energy bill by reducing the air leaks in your home.

You may also want to consider insulating your water heater and hot-water pipes, or installing a programmable thermostat for your furnace. With a programmable thermostat, you can set your furnace to shut off while you and your family are out of the house or asleep, thereby cutting down on unnecessary heating.

Of course, adjusting your driving habits can save you money too – at the gas pump. As the weather cools down, keep in mind that an idling car gets zero miles per gallon. Only 30 seconds of idling is necessary to warm up a car’s engine. Whenever possible, try to combine errands to reduce the total mileage you drive. It takes less gas to make one trip from your house to the grocery store, post office and to pick up the kids than making three separate trips from home.

Check your car’s air filter to make sure it is clean, and check the tire pressure. Low tires make for poor gas mileage. Keep up with oil changes and maintenance as much as possible. A well-tuned car is a more efficient car. And of course, consider carpooling to work or school if it’s feasible.

There are many more ways to cut energy costs than what we’ve been able to mention. One helpful website with plenty of ideas is www.energysavers.gov. The Bonneville Power Administration’s (BPA) website, www.bpa.gov, also has energy-saving tips and information on getting loans to weatherize your home. Utility companies like Idaho Power, PacifiCorp and Avista Utilities all have energy-saving tips on their websites, and some have assistance programs for low-income families and the elderly. To lower your heating bills and save money around the house, pick up the phone or visit any of these websites and capture those escaping dollars.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Restoring Sanity on the Gulf Coast

by Senator Larry Craig

There is not a person among us who looked at the images of destruction and suffering in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and now Rita, without feeling sorrow and compassion for the victims. There is no question that Katrina was one of the most destructive natural disasters ever to hit the mainland United States.

While the relief and cleanup efforts continue, and will for many weeks, the time has come to consider the task of rebuilding the Gulf Coast. Evacuees are determined to return and make their neighborhoods and cities better than before. State and local governments have a role to play, and will do so. The federal government will be closely involved as well. As President Bush pointed out in his speech from Jackson Square in New Orleans, “Americans want the Gulf Coast not just to survive, but to thrive; not just to cope, but to overcome. We want evacuees to come home, for the best of reasons -- because they have a real chance at a better life in a place they love.”

In order to rebuild, however, massive resources will be required, not least of which will be money. At the same time, President Bush remains committed to cutting the federal government’s budget deficits in half by fiscal year 2009, and the war in Iraq and Afghanistan continue to stretch federal resources.

Some Democrats in Washington believe the answer to this dilemma is to raise taxes. I don’t believe the government needs to grow in order to tackle the challenges of Katrina. It’s already massive enough. Much like the attacks of 9/11, Katrina and Rita were major shocks to the U.S. economy. Now, as millions of Americans open their wallets and go without a few things in order to help the Gulf Coast rebuild, the federal government should not deal another blow to them or the economy by raising taxes.

So, what options do we have left? Well, just as American citizens are tightening their belts, the federal government ought to look for ways to do the same. In the coming days and weeks, I will be working with my colleagues in the Senate to find savings within the federal budget to help pay for Katrina recovery. We may not be able to entirely avoid deficit spending to cover Katrina costs, but we will certainly try to shrink that amount as much as possible with offsets.

Finally, I will push Senators to demand accountability for Katrina funding as it reaches the ground. For generations, Louisiana has had the reputation of being plagued by a political culture that encourages state and local politicians to put their fingers in the federal pie and take a little bit for themselves and their cronies. I can’t say it any clearer: This will not be tolerated. Federal aid will come with safeguards and transparency, so aid destined to rebuild homes, neighborhoods and people’s lives does not go to buy luxury sports cars or remodel the home of the local party boss. Such guardedness may seem unfair, but already, the need is apparent: the Louisiana delegation has already introduced a $250 billion relief package that includes funding requests for alligator farms ($8 million), sugar-cane research facilities ($25 million) and seafood industry marketing ($35 million).

Because of the tight budgets and Louisiana’s past, I have been participating in discussions with several of my colleagues in the Senate to establish a task force that will have a watchdog role as Katrina relief moves forward. While the final form of that task force has not been determined, I want Idahoans to know that I will continue to demand responsibility and fiscal sanity on the Gulf Coast. We shouldn’t wait for five or ten years to pass before taking action to eliminate waste and fraud. We can prevent it from getting started now.

By making sure relief gets to the people who need it, we will ensure that the next flood on the Gulf Coast will be one of compassion and healing.