On the west side of Lincoln, I stood on a country road looking out over the vast stretches of rolling farmland, surveying the beautiful green, yellow, and brown hues of the corn at near harvest. In the distance stood an old silo, like a sentry at its post, watching over the morning calm of the fields. The clouds in the overcast sky were giving way to blue above.
Such scenes are so familiar to us in Nebraska that we sometimes take their power for granted. But something was different about this particular view. As the land is about to bring forth its yield of corn, another type of harvest is now taking place each day through the power of the sun. Nestled within the farm setting is 35 acres of solar energy panels. Built for the Lincoln Electric System (LES), the SunShare community solar facility is a first of its kind and size in our region. The solar panels will create enough power for about 900 homes. We are not talking about Florida, Arizona, or Californiawe are talking about large scale solar on the Great Plains.
We tend to think only of energy policy when gas prices spike. However, our current energy settlement remains in need of a significant upgrade. America’s environmental, economic, and national security are inextricably intertwined. Meeting this challenge requires energy and environmental diplomacy where we build bridges with innovation, technology, and willful choice to a rebalanced portfolio with renewable sources.
As I prepared to speak at the solar facility dedication ceremony, my thoughts turned to the great Nebraskan George Norris, a former Senator and Representative who served in Congress for 40 years. He died in 1944 after a storied career of policy innovation in agriculture and energy. In his autobiography, he describes electricity in a way somewhat strange to modern ears. He is quoted as talking about the importance of our country moving toward an electrified future. He alludes to electricity as a labor saving tool, a mechanism for creating the conditions in which humanity can flourish. Norris believed electricity would save people not only from drudgery, but from physical harma new type of power that would further everyone’s wellbeing.
Since then, as we’ve developed our economy through large scale industrial processes, we tend to associate energy production with that which is dirty, remote, and entangled with the foreign affairs of the Middle East. To be fair, from the perspective of public utilities, electricity providers in the 1970s were told to build as much power output as possible, as cheaply as possible, and then sell it to consumers. Now the general message has changed. It is widely understood that utilities need a course correction that harmonizes the values of conservation, environmental stewardship, and sustainable living into a new vision for energy production. At the same time, utilities are caught by certain dilemmas. They face the difficulty of paying for the infrastructure of the legacy of the industrial model of energy production while working to embrace a new energy vision that includes the more robust use of wind, solar, geo-thermal, and hydro, and on the horizon doing so through local, distributed energy production models.
Far from a lab experiment, a symbolic gesture, or a nice idea, the LES solar project is a concrete, innovative, and economically viable pathway for greater energy diversity. Renewable energy sources now constitute about 48 percent of the power purchased by LES customers. LES, the Omaha Public Power District, and the Nebraska Public Power District have all taken steps, particularly through wind, to take advantage of price competitive renewable sources made possible by technology advancements and certain public policies.
At the ribbon cutting, I reacquainted with the farm family who owns the land. I inquired about the nature of the deal they had worked out with the utility, then I thought of another idea — a crop in between the solar panels. I suggested sunflowers.
Lincoln, NE – Congressman Jeff Fortenberry today made the following statement after Blue Cross announced it was dropping out of Nebraska’s Affordable Care Act marketplace next year.
“Everyone knows the current construct of healthcare is deeply broken. With Nebraska’s largest health insurer pulling out of the federal marketplace, Congress and a new administration must immediately work on the right type of healthcare reform. A better policy would actually reduce costs while improving healthcare outcomes. Bringing true innovation and creativity to the marketplace would protect vulnerable Nebraskans, stop the escalating prices, and provide the proper architecture for healthcare in the 21st century.”
Fortenberry serves on the House Appropriations Committee.
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Lincoln, NE – Washington, D.C. – Congressman Jeff Fortenberry today made the following statement on H.R. 5931, the Prohibiting Future Ransom Payments to Iran Act, passed by the House of Representatives last night in a vote of 254 - 163. The legislation states that the United States will not pay ransom for the release of prisoners and prohibits the payment of any government’s currency to the government of Iran.
“We have now learned that 1.7 billion dollars of currency was transferred to the Iranians. This is the stuff of spy novels. The transfer was completed in secret, and more and more information keeps trickling out. It coincided with the release of American hostages, which was widely perceived as a ransom payment. The Justice Department actually warned the White House about this—and now the Iranians are holding three more Americans. This bill prevents any administration from ever again taking actions of this nature."
Fortenberry serves on the House Appropriations Committee.
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Lincoln, NE – Washington, D.C. – Congressman Jeff Fortenberry today made the following statement on the passing of Bill Barrett:
“Nebraskans can be proud of the legacy of former Congressman Bill Barrett. He was known as a dutiful public servant who earned a reputation in Congress for a steady hand and hard work. During his time in office he continued the Nebraska tradition of bringing understated value to the most pressing problems of our country, with a particular emphasis on agriculture policy. I extend my condolences to his family and friends.”
Fortenberry is a member of the House Appropriations Committee.
Awhile back I visited the dermatologist due to a sore spot that would not heal. The doctor put the probability at fifty-fifty for a mild skin cancer diagnosis and conducted the necessary lab work to confirm his suspicion. Then he prescribed a medication that helps the body naturally produce interferon, which would have heightened my own body’s defense systems.
When I went to the pharmacy for the medicine, out of curiosity I asked the pharmacist what the drug cost. He said five dollars. (At that time, my health insurance planwhich no longer existshad a five dollar co-pay). I replied, “No, what does the drug really cost?” He said let me check and came back with the answer of $500. Given the dramatic difference, I told him that perhaps it would be a good idea to just wait until the final lab results came back. Sure enough, the tests confirmed that the sore area on my skin was benign. Taking the prescribed medication would have meant $500 down the drain.
The misallocation of resources in healthcare is a problem that wastes as much as $124 billion per year. While drugs are a component of that problem, the latest surge in drug prices has highlighted the need for better understanding of the complex and mysterious way drug pricing occurs. Take the latest news about the EpiPen. For persons with severe allergic reactions, the self-administered shot can prevent anaphylactic shock. Over the past several years, EpiPen units have increased from $100 to around $600. The reason: EpiPen's patent, which prevents generic competition, is about to expire. In order to maximize revenue before losing their monopoly-like market, the company raised prices.
Part of the blame for rising prices falls on a subset of unscrupulous drug companies, but there are multiple other factors, including high demand, government-funded benefits, cost shifting, monopoly status, and protected markets. Regarding demand, in America our spending per person on prescription drugs is twice as high as other industrialized countries.
So what should be done? The Journal of the American Medical Association recently produced an extensive report highlighting what is driving prices and potential short term strategies including “enforcing more stringent requirements for the award and extension of exclusivity rights; enhancing competition by ensuring timely generic drug availability; providing greater opportunities for meaningful price negotiation by governmental payers; generating more evidence about comparative cost-effectiveness of therapeutic alternatives; and more effectively educating patients, prescribers, payers, and policy makers about these choices.”*
It should be noted that the American pharmaceutical industry is the most innovative in the world. New drugs for cancer, including targeted treatments and immunotherapy, as well as revolutionary treatments for hepatitis C offer incredible advancement of late. Research and development is expensive but pays a dividend in new life saving products while building knowledge among young scientists who might one day cure diseases like Alzheimer’s and diabetes.
In the mysterious world of drug pricing, things aren’t always as they appear. In an action of good corporate citizenship, one drug company recently announced that it would not raise prices prior to the expiration of its patent. Soon the EpiPen will be generically available and the price will drop. The complexity of pricing and the importance of biopharmaceutical innovation require that any corrective action must balance innovation, pricing, and affordability, helping us all avoid the anaphylactic shock of rising prices.
*Aaron S. Kesselheim, MD, JD, MPH; Jerry Avorn, MD; Ameet Sarpatwari, JD, PhDT; The High Cost of Prescription Drugs in the United States Origins and Prospects for Reform; Journal of American Medical Association. 2016;316(8):858
Lincoln, NE – Washington, D.C. – Congressman Jeff Fortenberry today made the following statement on the passing of Duane Acklie:
“Duane Acklie was an extraordinary person, with a profound spirit of generosity and humility. He used his multiple accomplishments in business and politics to be a good steward of the values of our community. He was always so kind to me and my family. He was a true gentleman, a fatherly advisor, and most importantly, my friend. These words do not adequately convey what an incredible man he was. I extend my heartfelt condolences to Phyllis and the family. I will miss him.”Read More
Awhile back I bought an old antiquated pickaxe. It's a substantial piece of hardware. Whenever a shovel couldn't get the job done, I broke out that old pickaxe. Eventually the handle gave way, and it sat for a long time in my garage. I recently took it to the local hardware store, and the recommendation was to move on, assign it to a place on the man cave wall, and buy a new one! But I thought it was worth saving. So the hardware store took on the project, did a little research, and found a replacement handle—made of hickory and Made in America.
If you did a straight analysis of the cost involved in this repair project, it wasn't worth it. I only saved about $10 by repairing versus buying a new one. I had to wait a week or so, and I had to travel to the store twice. But there are unmeasured benefits. An old piece of iron is not in a landfill, a renewable resource of hickory wood was deployed, an American company made a little profit, and the hardware store clerk had the satisfaction of a hand built opportunity. I must say that I am pretty proud of my refreshed pickaxe and I put it right to work on some old bushes.
More importantly, if we are going rebuild our economy, rethinking how we manufacture, how we maintain, and how we rebuild what is still useful, can unlock the benefits of a well-functioning market system. This small act of taking something old but solid and getting it back into useful service provides some insights on how to better secure economic well-being. The disposable nature of many goods as they are now manufactured, with the intended life expectancy ever more narrow, decreases costs in the short term, but cheaper isn't always best. The ability to repair, recycle, and repurpose to keep the useful life of a resource for as long as possible is smart economics, a fundamental principle of conservation, and key to reviving the small business service economy.
Perhaps this is an emerging trend. I noticed a commercial where a major retailer gave a subtle message about cheap imports. During the commercial, as the song “Dream On” built up in the background, people woke up and went through the routine of life, getting their kids to school and making their way to the factory, where they used their hands to make goods. Tough gritty work, but connected to a deeper meaning. At the end of the commercial, the company stated it will invest $250 billion in American manufacturing.
An economic model that chases more and more output alone is not a valid measure of value. Our country’s economic reboot requires a return to a humane economy, one focused on quality, durability, and the work of human hands—and as much as we can, in America. Without this focus we will forever chase that which we cannot find. Perhaps more and more people are realizing that we should shift to what is dependable not disposable, fixable not forgettable, and repairable not replaceable. Using my repurposed, hickory handled, American made pickaxe gives me time to think about these things—and a pretty good workout!
Lincoln, NE – Washington, D.C. – Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (NE-01) today made the following statement on North Korea’s nuclear test:
“An unthinkable system has once again acted in an unthinkable manner. While much of the world slept, North Korea exploded a nuclear weapon for the second time this year. This deplorable provocation, in defiance of the civilized community of nations, has no easy answer or response. While it is clear that North Korea’s closest ally, China, protested the explosion, the key to stopping this nuclear arms race lies with China's willingness to meaningfully challenge such rogue behavior.”
North Korea’s fifth nuclear test follows the launch by North Korea of three medium range missiles while China hosted a summit meeting for world leaders, commonly known as the G20 Summit.
I recently traveled to Cairo for meetings with Egypt’s president and other prominent government and religious leaders. As my plane approached the country, I watched as the Mediterranean Sea touched the shore of the ancient land. I reflected on this extraordinary part of the world where the West meets the Orient, where the mythical Nile River fans into a delta, bringing life to the vast expanse of barren desert. I thought of historic Egypt as well as the Christian tradition of how Jesus, Mary, and Joseph fled there after King Herod threatened their lives. I first made this trip decades ago while in college, and with some apprehension awaited to see what I would find today.
Egypt has gone through a major transition in the last five years. The demonstrations that began in Tahrir Square led to a chaotic situation in the streets, followed by the ascendency of the Morsi government and the Muslim Brotherhood. The subsequent destabilization of the country precipitated a military intervention later followed by the election of current President Sisi. As horrific as things are in the Middle East, it is hard to imagine the consequences if Egypt had lapsed into a spiral of chaos and power struggle. The traditional seat of culture and learning in the Arab world, Egypt has the largest population in the Middle East. It is home to Al-Azhar University—a center of Sunni Islamic learning—and a sizable Christian minority of around ten million. There is significant need of renewal of this important relationship.
My visit with President Sisi lasted two hours. We had an extensive dialogue about security, economic stability, and the value of pluralism in a region where minority rights are under siege. The President emphasized the importance of our military to military relationship and the vulnerability of his country. We talked about Egyptian operations in the Sinai to combat the local brand of ISIS. Egypt also faces severe security issues along its border with Libya. Another unique dynamic in the Middle East is Egypt’s security cooperation with Israel. The peace treaty between the countries has lasted nearly 40 years.
President Sisi attended the United States Army War College as have many other Egyptian military personnel. He has a strong attachment to that experience. When he inquired as to my thoughts regarding a developing problem with another country, I said: “We don’t like spit in our face.” He respected that response.
In light of Egypt’s economic situation, I asked President Sisi about a somber speech he recently gave to his people on the subject. He is clearly laying the groundwork for the absorption of coming difficult economic reforms, a necessary antidote for regaining better economic opportunity. One point of important progress is a major recent expansion of the Suez Canal, funded by the Egyptians, that has largely escaped international recognition.
One of the principles of the United States is to uphold the value of human dignity as the necessary preconditions of an orderly, just and, secure society. When President Sisi was first elected, one of his early public actions was to appear on Egyptian television with the leader of the Coptic Orthodox Christian Church, and the Grand Imam, a prominent Muslim leader, where he stated: “We are Egyptians.” This simple declaration shatters the default mode of so much of the Middle East where sectarian and tribal allegiance overcomes a healthy national identity.
None of this should gloss over the internal troubles within Egypt. There are plenty of criticisms—the stagnation of the system, the progress on rights, the mayhem of the media, and a host of other difficulties. As in any relationship with a foreign power, there are differing perspectives and points of tension. We will not get everything we expect. But we should also recognize the necessity of this new stability as we progress toward better conditions.
At home we are justifiably anxious about security dynamics here and around the world, especially in the Middle East, where chaos and violence continue to metastasize. The key to resolving this threat, a threat to civilization itself, lies both in tactical military efforts with other nations but also the ongoing development of authentic strategic friendships when possible. Egypt is critical in this regard—and in some ways is a forgotten friend.
(I invite you to watch a one on one interview on Egyptian television in which we covered a variety of these topics regarding the US/ Egyptian relationship. Part one can be viewed here, and part two can be viewed here.)
Lincoln, NE – Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (NE-01) today made the following comment after receiving an update from the United States Postal Service Office of Inspector General:
“After receiving numerous complaints from constituents, earlier this year I asked the Inspector General of the United States Postal Service to intervene and analyze the problems with the mail system in Nebraska. It is my understanding that the Office of Inspector General will be releasing a report with recommendations by September 16th. I hope that this report will help resolve problems and restore confidence in postal delivery standards.”
Congressman Fortenberry wrote to Inspector General David C. Williams on March 3, 2016. The Office of Inspector General is an independent office of the Postal Service under the general supervision of nine presidentially appointed governors. It is also required to provide semiannual reports to Congress.
Constituents experiencing mail delivery delays should contact his Lincoln district office at (402) 438-1598 or visit the Slow Mail Delivery page of his website here.
1514 Longworth HOB
Washington, DC 20515
Jeff Fortenberry was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 2004 to serve Nebraska’s First Congressional District. His work in Congress is rooted in the belief that the strength of our nation depends on the strength of our families and communities. Jeff is a member of the House Appropriations Committee, which appropriates United States government expenditures. He serves on three subcommittees with importance for Nebraska: Agriculture, Energy and Water, and Military Construction and Veterans Affairs.
Jeff previously served on the House Foreign Affairs Committee where he placed particular focus on human rights concerns, Middle Eastern affairs, and nuclear weapons non-proliferation. He also represented Nebraska on the Agriculture Committee, where his work on two Farm Bills advanced opportunities for young and beginning farmers and promoted agricultural entrepreneurship.
Prior to serving in Congress, Jeff worked as a publishing industry executive in Lincoln, where he also served on the Lincoln City Council from 1997-2001. Jeff also has significant personal experience in small business, and early in his career he worked as a policy analyst for the United States Senate Subcommittee on Intergovernmental Relations. Jeff earned a bachelor’s degree in economics and two master’s degrees, one in public policy. He and his wife Celeste live in Lincoln and have five daughters.
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Thank you Saunders County for such a beautiful dedication ceremony of the new memorial. https://t.co/PcKGa8kabl
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On 1011 I spoke about the coming budget deadline in Congress and discussed healthcare issues facing many Nebraskans.https://t.co/folfDdM1Qq
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Our current energy settlement remains in need of a significant upgrade. https://t.co/mmM7celMiE
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Everyone knows the current construct of healthcare is deeply broken. https://t.co/9uUM5yNM6F
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This is the stuff of spy novels. https://t.co/X95nNEjysZ
So glad to meet these outstanding Native Youth Ambassadors yesterday, these young adults representing the Winnebago Tribe during the National
A moving day in Wahoo on Sunday, paying tribute to our veterans and those who have died in service. Thank you Saunders County for such a beautiful
On 1011 News I spoke about the coming budget deadline in Congress and discussed healthcare issues facing many Nebraskans.
We tend to think only of energy policy when gas prices spike. However, our current energy settlement remains in need of a significant upgrade.
Everyone knows the current construct of healthcare is deeply broken. With Nebraska’s largest health insurer pulling out of the federal marketplace,