I have an old scale in my bathroom. Every now and then I have to adjust it so that the needle sets directly on zero. Otherwise, I really don’t like what it says, and I have enough weighing on me.
One of the greatest challenges in the country is the deep, widespread feeling that we are out of balance. There is a need for recalibration, for slimming down the current institutions that are controlling outcomes and leaving so many dissatisfied. The current political, economic, and cultural settlement is under deep scrutiny as more and more Americans feel we are not achieving a vision of what we ought to be as a nation and as a people.
America’s governance system is supposed to operate according to a system of checks and balances. Unfortunately, we now have a system of overdrafts and imbalances. When political, economic, or cultural power concentrates, we stifle our ability to innovate, change for the better, and flourish as a society. This nagging sense that our institutional framework is not optimally serving us demands that we responsibly examine our options. I would like to explore three aspects of this problem and propose potential solutions for your consideration.
First, Government Debt. When a person can’t pay their bills, their options are limited: cut back, earn more, or start selling stuff. The credit card is merely a delay of the inevitable. You can’t borrow your way out – but our government does. While Congress and the President have to agree on tax and spending policy, deficit spending and debt is a way to avoid difficult choices and hide the consequences. Debt causes more and more borrowing, and borrowing is an unfair tax on the future generation. Borrowing also sells our country’s assets to foreign owners, and when combined with loose monetary policy, creates further economic dislocations. Who gets hurt the most? The poor who can’t adjust prices and those on fixed incomes who see no return on savings. The answer is a rightly crafted balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.
Second, the Supreme Court. Lifetime Supreme Court appointments give a few people an inordinate amount of power. America does not need to accept an elite group of judges for extremely long periods of time, especially when they have the capacity to enact multigenerational ideology with an outsized impact on nearly every sphere of life. Consider a constitutional amendment that would make justices subject to re-approval by the Senate every ten years. Recalibrating the scales of justice would temper the Court’s ability to radically alter time-honored precedents.
Third, the Presidency. It is no secret that we are in a turbulent presidential election season. A historic review of the last 100 years shows an increasing tendency to cede more governing power to the presidency. Presidents from both political parties have expanded the reach of the executive far beyond those originally prescribed for the office. Most Americans now believe that it is the job of Congress to implement a president’s policies. The power of the executive is so great that it impedes the legislative branch from operating another check on the balance of power. Conversely, a problem for presidents is that they spend their first two years governing, the next two campaigning, and the next four holding on.
What if we considered moving to a one-term six-year presidency? This would focus all of a president’s energy on governance, instead of a second campaign. Perhaps presidents would also be more eager to find common ground with the Congress, eliminating one source of a hyper-politicization in the country. Of course, with only one term, the opposite could be true, but would it be worse?
From attempting to micromanage education to homogenizing healthcare, Washington has now federalized almost every conceivable type of problem. The government is not designed to work this way. Washington has a role in creating the conditions for order and stability, including maintaining our security, certain infrastructure, and fair and proper regulation to ensure a level economic playing field. Ideally, the three branches of our government, the Congress, the President, and the Court hold the others in a delicate balance of accountability.
Change is always hard and demands great prudence. These ideas certainly have consequences and should be subjected to rigorous analysis and robust debate by the people. A balanced budget amendment, a Court that is subjected to mild Senate scrutiny, and a one-term six-year presidency might help our country shed some of what is weighing us down. Let me know what you think.Read More
As I drove to my Washington office earlier this week, I passed Arlington National Cemetery. I looked out over the white, orderly headstones that are so gently nestled within the green rolling hills, and I thought of the men and women who have given their lives in service to our country. My own grandfather, who was killed in World War II, is buried there. I then passed the Pentagon and saw the flags flying at half mast. They had been lowered for the victims of the Orlando, Florida terrorist attack.
Despite the horrors of war, there is a certain nobility of the sacrifice of the men and women who died in military service and who continue fighting to keep America safe. No such dignity exists in the atrocities ISIS is committing around the world with such subhuman savagery. The cowardly gunman in the Orlando nightclub, who found his dark inspiration in ISIS, is responsible for the deadliest mass public shooting in modern American history. Forty-nine innocent persons were slain and another 53 wounded. The terrifying strike is the latest in a series of domestic attacks—on our soldiers at Fort Hood, military recruiters in Tennessee, and on persons who worked with the disabled in San Bernardino.
When sworn into Congress, I took an oath of office to defend the constitution against enemies both foreign and domestic. The horror of Orlando starkly shows us that the enemy is here—not just in far off places like Afghanistan and Iraq—but here, domestically. Before Orlando, most Americans sensed this vulnerability, and now we must live with the devastating aftermath.
The reality is that we must all remain vigilant. Law enforcement cannot provide perfect protection at all times and in all places. We face a tension: living in a liberalized society with cherished freedoms, while also avoiding the constant monitoring of a police state. The goal is to protect civil liberties while creating the necessary tools to keep us safe. For the most part, through robust intelligence and law enforcement methodologies, America has avoided tragedies like the Orlando massacre. This time, however, the system was not a reliable predictor.
While courageous Muslims have decried the crimes of ISIS, including the Orlando shooting, many persons ask why more have not spoken out. One difficulty in the Islamic world is the lack of a hierarchical religious structure and centralized teaching. Entities like ISIS warp various strains of Islamic tradition for their own power and glorification. The situation is not helped by decades of oil wealth pouring into the hands of radicals.
There is a conflict within Islam, more than a thousand years old, to determine both its philosophical and religious structure. The centrifugal forces within Islam manifest themselves in various ways, but the future comes down to this: will a re-emergent perspective of reason and integration, including religious freedom and the rights of others, reestablish itself as an assertive source within Islam? Or will Islam be dominated by a tradition that, as a member of the Taliban put it, would “Throw reason to the dogs.”
Despite the various debates of cause in the media, the attack in Orlando is about one thing: the metastasizing cancer of ISIS. It has spread from the Middle East into Africa, and into Europe—and now here to America. It is depraved, irrational, and a growing domestic danger. We must fight back smartly and not just with bullets. We must fight against twisted ideology and the abuse of American freedoms. We must fight against those who abuse religion to harm others. We must make America safe againRead More
Washington, D.C. – Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (NE-01) today made the following comment after the announcement of the Offutt Air Force Base runway repairs:
“This is a good decision. I am pleased that our military leaders, after thorough analysis, are committing the necessary resources to protect Offutt as an important part of our national security infrastructure. Offutt will receive the necessary funding to repair the aging runway with minimal disruption to the base and the Bellevue community.”
Today’s announcement by the Pentagon estimates the runway repair to cost approximately $50-55 million and put the existing runway offline for five to nine months. The repaired runway is expected to last 20 years.
Last year, Fortenberry founded the Offutt Air Force Base Task Force to conduct oversight of the runway replacement process. Governor Pete Ricketts, Congressman Adrian Smith, and Congressman Brad Ashford assisted Fortenberry in leading the task force.
Fortenberry is the Vice Chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs.
Last Sunday I heard a story from a Nebraska veteran who had been wounded in Vietnam and spent time recovering in a hospital along Vietnam’s coast. He didn’t give me many details, except to say that his injuries were not as severe as other persons there. Others had lost limbs or been immobilized from combat.
One day on the hospital ward some special visitors appeared. Many of you might remember the actor, musician, and comedian Bob Hope, who made heroic efforts to visit troops in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and later combat areas. His entourage that day included the actress Ann-Margret. You would have expected that her presence would have created quite a stir, but among the severely wounded, there was not much of a reaction. When Bob Hope entered, however, the severely wounded struggled from their prone positions to sit up, or make some type of gesture out of respect for this man.
This past Sunday I had the great privilege of joining the veteran who told me this story and hundreds of others from across Nebraska for the sendoff dinner for this week’s Honor Flight. The dinner included a talented Bob Hope impersonator. He did a pretty good job of reenacting the 60s and early 70s for the veterans there, concluding with the song, “Thanks for the Memories.” The veterans seemed to enjoy this step back in time.
Honor Flights are an altruistic nonprofit initiative to fly veterans to Washington to see their respective memorials. I have been blessed to interact with Honor Flights for veterans from World War II, the Korean War, and now the Vietnam War. I am deeply grateful to everyone involved in planning the pre-flight evening and the most recent Honor Flight. As I learned, this trip cost about $500,000. The money was raised through generous contributions from many Nebraska individuals and businesses. Even little schoolchildren got in on the effort. Tremendous credit is due to Bill and Evonne Williams, who organize the Honor Flights.
I had the special opportunity to see my two young friends again, Julia and Eva Yllescas. Their father, Rob, died from injuries he received in Afghanistan. President Bush awarded Rob the Purple Heart before he passed away. The Yllescas girls were not present then, but Julia asked her mother if perhaps she could one day meet President Bush. About one year ago I had the privilege of joining the Yllescas family, including both girls, in a meeting with President Bush. On Sunday evening, Eva and Julia sang beautifully for the veterans during the dinner. Having given their father in combat, the family continues to generously give to those who so dutifully served.
One of the speakers was former Governor Heineman. As the Governor pointed out, America learned an important lesson after Vietnam: our veterans deserve the highest honor and respect when they come home. The political debates over war should not be projected on those who fight for our safety and our freedoms. Fortunately, tributes and welcome home ceremonies now are an important part of America’s cultural fabric. I once witnessed a group of troops make their way off a plane into the airport. As the soldiers entered, the busy terminal turned, people stopped what they were doing, and then began to spontaneously applaud.
Having paused last week on Memorial Day to reflect on the sacrifice of war and remember our war dead, it was so fitting that Nebraska had the chance to give our Vietnam veterans their proper salute with an Honor Flight—and a big thank you for the memories.Read More
This past winter, my family acquired two chicks to raise in our backyard for their eggs. As they grew past the fledgling stage of their development, I thought I should double-check to determine whether or not the chickens were in fact maturing into hens. I brushed off my old 4-H poultry judging skills and made an interesting discovery that one of the chickens was actually a rooster! Although my initial analysis was met with some skepticism by my family, the growing “hen” recently crowed, confirming my findings. Now we are in the process of finding the rooster a new home.
Although fewer and fewer Americans are directly connected to farm life, we live in a time marked by a desire to reconnect to things that are homemade, homegrown, and rooted in the land. The idea of backyard farming is a time-honored tradition. The popular public television show “Backyard Farmer,” produced by the University of Nebraska, has been on the air for more than 60 years. It is the longest-running, locally-produced television show in the country—and one of those programs that just draws you in. In addition to the chickens, we have our own small-scale effort with a few apple trees, raspberry bushes, some garden boxes, as well as beehives in our backyard.
While production agriculture will continue to be the driving force in Nebraska, new micro-farms have the potential to expand the agricultural family. In a recent conversation with the Secretary of Agriculture, he told me about a new urban agriculture toolkit launched by the USDA. This electronic document provides information and resources for urban and small farmers looking to grow their operation, including options for financing, market development, and maximizing production strategies. One example is the Local Food Promotion Program grants that help increase market opportunities for farmers selling their food locally. More information on planning support can be found on the USDA’s website at: http://www.usda.gov/documents/urban-agriculture-toolkit.pdf. The United States Botanic Garden has also produced an interesting guide called “Landscape for Life,” which provides information on sustainable gardening practices.
A word of caution, if you relied solely on a benefit-cost analysis to determine the value of raising chickens, it would be hard to justify. At the same time, having your own eggs and integrating the animals into your family life is really rewarding. The same could be said for beekeeping. Bees are extraordinary creatures. Their instinctual work of building combs, producing honey, and protecting the queen create a remarkable organization. Fresh honey has health benefits and bees are essential to the ecosystem. Unfortunately, challenges from parasites, poor nutrition, and pesticides—and the mysterious colony collapse disorder (CCD) in which bees seem to vanish without a trace—are contributing to the ongoing troubles bees face. A recent analysis revealed that beekeepers lost nearly half their colonies in the past year. Perhaps backyards across the country might play a small part in reversing this decline.
My grandfather was a county extension agent. Growing up, he asked me what I wanted to do with my life. I said, “Papa, I want to be a farmer.” Although life did not take that turn, there are ways to release your inner farmer. More and more households are turning to the opportunities of backyard farming, participating in a rich tradition with growing appeal among the young. Micro-production on your own land has value that cannot be measured on a spreadsheet–-there is just no substitute for fresh eggs, vegetables, and honey. And there is just no substitute for doing it yourself.
Around this time of year I receive many invitations to graduation parties, primarily through my children. Although high school is more and more remote for me, graduation remains an important milestone, one that marks a transition from late childhood to young adulthood, with so many responsibilities and opportunities.
To all high school and college graduates, I want to offer you my sincere congratulations! You have worked hard, received your diploma or degree, and are now working out a vision for your life. For some of you that means going on to college. For others, the next step might be vocational school. Some of you are ready to find a job. All of these are good choices.
When I was young, I hated the question: “What are you going to do in life?” Asking a young person for the fullness of a life plan really isn’t fair. In fact, it can trigger what might be called existential angst. But it is important to work steadily toward an understanding of your gifts and inclinations. The key is to avoid drifting.
Although modern science offers good tools to evaluate aptitudes, there is no substitute for experiencing the work you may want to do. My advice is to find a person in your desired field and ask if you can interview them. Or better yet, ask: “Can I do an internship in your office? Can I work with you for a few days? Can I have a part time job and shadow you?” I am quite certain that no adult would refuse a sincere inquiry like this. Genuine interaction with persons working in a field of potential interest can greatly enhance your perspective.
My own office benefits from an active internship program. I want young people to experience what it is like to govern: the gratifying aspects of shaping society, as well as the difficulties of dealing with various perspectives. Our former interns have gone on to many different career paths in business, education, medicine, and public service.
To those of you who have chosen to study in college, you have made a wonderful choice. It is an important gateway to enhancing knowledge, personal discovery, and career trajectory. I do want to add a note of caution – do not saddle yourself with massive debt. There are ways to manage academic costs, including scholarships, negotiating with universities, and participating in certain federal programs. Other options range from part time work to the military, which provides extraordinary opportunities for young people who want to balance a desire for service while furthering their education. I suggest that you do not let your debt exceed that of a car loan.
Unfortunately, we still have false stigmatization of the choice not to attend college. Good opportunities exist for young people who want to transition directly into a career. I talk to employers all the time who cannot find enough applicants for jobs they need to fill. The income derived from trades, for example, even after shorter periods of training, rivals that earned through many college degrees. It can be a great start.
To all new graduates: Begin your new status in life with purpose, keep learning, and as one of my classmates who was an Army ranger said: “Hey Fort, just keep moving."Read More
Washington, D.C. – Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) today helped promote local hiking trails at the launch of the Hiking Trails in America report. Fortenberry previously introduced the National Discovery Trails Act (H.R. 2661) to create a new category of long-distance trails and designate the American Discovery Trail as the first coast-to-coast, multi-use trail.
“Trails play an important role in promoting family-oriented recreation, economic growth, and healthier lifestyles, particularly in Nebraska,” Fortenberry said. “The American Discovery Trail would link Lincoln to Omaha as well as other communities across America to tie together existing recreational trails. This trail is just one extraordinary example of our need to support public-private partnerships to grow our national trails system.”
Fortenberry is a member of the House Appropriations Committee.
A probable act of terrorism is once again dominating the news. Following the Russian airliner that was bombed out of Egypt’s skies several months ago, reports appeared yesterday about the downing of an Egyptian plane, this one carrying 66 people from Paris to Cairo. Some wreckage has been found, but initial indications point to jihadist extremism as the culprit behind the destruction and deaths.
If you want to discover the root cause of this systemic problem, I recommend a book called “Inside Jihad,” written by a friend of mine named Tawfik Hamid. Tawfik was an Egyptian medical doctor. Thirty years ago, he was recruited into a radical Islamic group called Jammaa Islameia. The leader of this group Al-Zawahiri went on to found Al-Qaeda. Fortunately, Tawfik grew disillusioned with the ruthless ideology. His first assignment was to bury an Egyptian policeman alive. Suddenly, he had an awakening in his conscience, quickly left, and now forcefully rejects and courageously denounces such radicalism.
In his book, Tawfik traces the process by which persons are so radicalized that they regard other human beings as infidels, even as sacrificial targets of religious observance. I remember talking to Tawfik a number of years ago about the psychological dynamic that would lead someone to do such grave harm to others, assuming it must be a bizarre need for affirmation or self-actualization. He said, “Jeff, you’ve got it all wrong.” It is the process of dulling the conscience through a twisted form of strict religious observance.
He further identified the problem as Petro-Islam. The world's materialistic desire for oil has inadvertently funded the emergence of a narrow sect in Islam called Wahhabism. The book examines the darker aspects of this theological strain, and traces the process as to how violence in the name of God becomes a form of worship. It is irrational, and ISIS is the latest brand.
I wrote to you a few weeks ago about my experience in China. One morning, as I woke up and went to exercise, I saw Tawfik on the television in the hotel. He is a highly courageous man who found new life and is consistently speaking out to the world. His life’s work is to revive a narrative of thought within Islam that rejects religious violence and looks instead to a spirituality of harmony and peace. In America we have the most advanced weaponry, the most dynamic economy, and the most opportunity in the world, despite our difficulties. However, military force alone will not eradicate this problem. It is men like Tawfik and others who are building bridges and confronting the desperation of this type of violence that will help us bring about stability in the world.
At the moment, there seems to be little hope for the Middle East. In times like these, I reach back to an earlier experience. When I was a younger man, I spent time in Sinai dessert in the place where Israel and Egypt fought the ’73 war. On a twisted pile of concrete and rubble, which is an all too familiar scene now in the Middle East, there was a spray-painted sign both in Arabic and English: “Here was the war, here is the peace.”Read More
Washington, D.C. – Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) today commended passage of two amendments he introduced in the National Defense Authorization Act for 2017 (H.R. 4909). Fortenberry’s amendments would further strengthen protections against the horrific ISIS genocide against ethnic and religious minorities in Iraq.
“Two months ago, Congress declared that ISIS is committing genocide against Christians, Yezidis, and other minorities.” Fortenberry said. “The House of Representatives has now taken concrete steps to support the victims.
“The National Defense Authorization Act that has passed the House contains two new policy goals. First, the United States strategy in Iraq now includes securing ‘safe areas’ so that genocide victims can return to their homelands. Second, a new provision empowers minority groups, including Christian and Yezidi security forces, in the integrated military campaign against ISIS.
“Christians, Yezidis, and others should remain an essential part of the Middle East’s once rich tapestry of ethnic and religious diversity. They now have new cause for hope.”
Fortenberry’s first amendment expresses the sense of Congress that safe areas should be secured for the resettlement and reintegration of ethnic and religious minorities, including victims of genocide, into their homelands, further affirming that this position is critical to the security strategy in Iraq. The second amendment empowers local security forces in Iraq—including Christian and Yezidi groups—in the military campaign against ISIS.
Earlier this year, the United States House of Representatives passed a bipartisan resolution introduced by Fortenberry naming and decrying ISIS atrocities against ethnic and religious minorities as “genocide.” The legislation passed in a vote of 393-0.
Fortenberry serves on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations.
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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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America’s governance system is supposed to operate according to a system of checks and balances. https://t.co/VjeCyWopxc
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Enjoyed hearing Emery Rosenboom sing a song and tell us about her experience at Children’s Hospital in Omaha. https://t.co/DcU06RuQFM
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We must fight against those who abuse religion to harm others. We must make America safe again. https://t.co/LzM7K7fTBW
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Entities like ISIS warp various strains of Islamic tradition for their own power & glorification. https://t.co/LzM7K7xv0w
America’s governance system is supposed to operate according to a system of checks and balances. Unfortunately, we now have a system of overdrafts
The United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union is a historic and momentous event. Like many Americans, British voters are frustrated
Presidential Scholar recipient, Brent Miller, stopped by my office in Washington this week.
Congratulations to Libby Siedell of Lincoln, the winner of the 2016 Nebraska's First Congressional District Art Competition! Good to see her
Enjoyed hearing Emery Rosenboom sing a song and tell us about her experience at Children’s Hospital in Omaha. Hearing her beautiful voice was