In the summer of 2014, the church bells of Mosul, the second largest city of Iraq, fell silent for the first time in nearly two millennia. Long a heartland of Christianity in the region, Mosul had been conquered by ISIS in a brutal assault. The Christians of the city were given a choice: leave, convert, or die by the sword. Most fled with nothing but the clothes on their backs.
The assault marked a major moment in ISIS’ horrific campaign of regional conquest. After capturing Mosul with the Iraqi army all but disintegrating, the so-called “caliphate” continued to metastasize across large swaths of Syria and Iraq. Marching under its black banner of death, ISIS subsequently spread into North Africa and established a wider network, beginning a global campaign of terror that has contributed to one of the greatest migrant crises in modern times. ISIS and its sympathizers have hit America and claimed lives here at home.
Fortunately, this dark tide has begun to turn. On Monday, Iraqi forces, aided significantly by our weapons, air cover, and 5,000 Americans in support, initiated the largest combat operation in Iraq since 2003. Nearly 100,000 troops launched a multipronged offensive against ISIS positions around the city. Swift gains are being secured right now by the Iraqi army, Kurdish Peshmerga troops, and integrated security forces also containing the region’s beleaguered minority communities. But ISIS resistance, especially to the north and east of Mosul, seems to be fiercer and more chaotic. This region is known as the Nineveh Plain—once a thriving, pluralistic area of Iraq with a rich tapestry of religious and ethnic diversity. Battles rage around a number of towns near Mosul, including some of the oldest Christian towns in the Middle East.
The stakes of the present conflict could not be higher, especially for the minority communities to which ISIS has posed an existential threat. In March, the House of Representatives unanimously passed a bipartisan resolution I introduced that named ISIS atrocities against Christians, Yezidis, and others as “genocide,” and the legal term was recognized by the full weight and moral authority of the United States Government. This legislative maneuver was critical to further policy considerations to ensure that the horror of ISIS ends, to provide justice for the minorities, and to restore pluralism to a fragile Middle East. As a next step, in September I introduced another resolution in Congress that follows on the Government of Iraq’s own initiative to create a province in the Nineveh Plain region, with the goal of restoring the ancestral homeland of so many suffering peoples. A sustainable security settlement must be reached, including a genuine ability of indigenous peoples, supported by Iraqi and international efforts, to assure their ongoing safety.
Shortly after ISIS first invaded Iraq, in one of the rawest moments of my service in public office, a group of young men—Yezidis from Lincoln who had earned United States citizenship by serving alongside our soldiers—begged me to act. One quivered with anxiety, radiated anger, and was on the verge of tears. “There is no more time!”…“ISIS is coming”…“My mother, my sister, are trapped!” The United States did act, beginning the air campaign against ISIS and saving tens of thousands of Yezidis who were then trapped atop Mount Sinjar in Iraq.
Defeating ISIS is not just an attempt to preserve the hard fought gains of so much American sacrifice. This is more than defeating 8th century barbarians wielding 21st century weaponry—it is about humanitarian justice, stability for the Middle East, and the future of civilization itself.
After watching the second presidential debate, I flipped the channel. There it was, Green Bay playing the New York Giants. I breathed a sigh of relief. That’s the America I know. Good solid competition, an orderly event, just a bit of comfort food, something normal in the midst of all this drama.
Our presidential election has exposed a great chasm in America. We all wonder what the future holds no matter which candidate takes the oath of office in January. So what do we do? If you think about it, our country is comprised of three interconnected spaces: the government, the economy, and society. All three are critical to providing better outcomes for us as a people. Let’s unpack a few propositions that might be able to help.
Regarding government, one thing is certain. Too much is being asked. A properly ordered government should set the conditions in which all of society can flourish: fairness, the rule of law, and the enforcement of accepted norms based upon reason and tradition. Unfortunately, our government seems misdirected, not attuned to its basic purpose or the complexities of our day. The policy making process suffers from a near total lack of creativity and imagination.
Our economy, also facing serious problems, is not working for many. Downward mobility, stagnating wages, and a rising cost of living, including increasing healthcare costs, are stressing millions of hard-working families. A Washington-Wall Street axis is contributing to the decline of small business, the source of most American jobs and the private sector ecosystem that best sustains a dynamic marketplace. The market now favors centers of power.
Most alarming of all, many places in America are suffering from woundedness and fragmentation. More and more people are feeling directionless and alone. The presidential process is a reminder of the growing rifts between disparate groups of people across our country. The relational space in which persons can flourish together is found most fully in family life, community life, and faith life. A healthy society depends on the strength of these institutions and the decision of individuals to participate fully as good citizens. If we could recapture this ideal, pressure for more Washington-based solutions would recede. As the inscription on the Nebraska State Capitol reads, “The Salvation of the State is Watchfulness of the Citizen.”
It is certainly important to speak of budgets, tax policy, healthcare, regulation, immigration, and other essential aspects of good governance. This is where we grind it out. At the same time, this moment offers an opportunity for deeper thinking, a reset to first principles, higher ideals that give us a narrative and shared cause as a people.
As the end of the current election season nears, I experience the temptation to recoil from all the anger, turmoil, and sensationalism to just put the game back on. But in the midst of all this, I was profoundly struck and moved by an email from a friend and constituent. He wrote me on Yom Kippur, the ancient Day of Atonement in the Jewish faith tradition:
“Today I pray for God’s forgiveness. Because it is a part of the tradition of my faith and because it is right to do so, we also ask for the forgiveness of people in our midst. I also ask for your forgiveness for any indignity that I have visited upon you by word or deed in this past year.”
And that is comforting food for thought.
So many of us feel trapped by the ever escalating costs and fewer choices in health care these days. Health care premiums are substantially stretching family budgets and are hitting small businesses particularly hard. The unpredictability of premium increases also hinders reasonable financial planning.
Given continuing shifts in health care market dynamics, premium prices, and insurance company participation, I am convening a Health Care Affordability Forum of experts who can offer informed perspectives on how to navigate the current dynamics of a troubling health care environment. The event is designed to illuminate the current insurance landscape and identify the best options available to individuals within a less than ideal system.
The key questions are:
Experts from the Nebraska Department of Insurance, the insurance industry, and a health insurance brokerage firm will articulate what individuals and businesses need to know about health care insurance before November 1st, the start of open enrollment. We hope this conversation will empower Nebraskans to mitigate some of the rising costs.
I want to personally invite you to attend the Health Care Affordability Forum:
I hope to see you there. Please contact us at (402) 438-1598 if you have any questions.Read More
Lincoln, NE – Congressman Jeff Fortenberry today made the following statement on a report issued by the United States Postal Service Office of the Inspector General:
“Earlier this year I asked the United States Postal Service Office of the Inspector General (OIG) to investigate numerous constituent reports of problems with the mail system in Nebraska. The report was posted on September 28 on the OIG website, and I am reviewing its conclusions. It remains unclear as to whether all mail problems have been resolved. I will continue to engage with Postal officials to address concerns in the report.”
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. The most recent report can be viewed here.
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Lincoln, NE – Congressman Jeff Fortenberry today made the following statement after Russia suspended a long-standing treaty with the United States to better manage weapons-grade plutonium:
“Russia cites new discomfort in its relationship with our country following ongoing conflicts related to Ukraine and Syria. Yet the suspension of a weapons-grade plutonium agreement with the United States should concern not only the Russian people, but also the international community of responsible nations.
“In the past, our two countries have strived to strengthen our relationship while working toward mutual nuclear security goals. Although our engagement with Moscow faces new challenges, both nations must reinvigorate those values that bind us toward making nuclear security a first order priority. The risk of more aggressive diplomatic posturing between our nations, especially when related to nuclear issues, is a threat to civilization itself.”
Fortenberry is co-chair of the Nuclear Security Working Group and serves on the House Appropriations Committee.
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For years the community of Wahoo and the surrounding towns in Saunders County have been working steadily and sacrificially to build a new veterans memorial. The people of this area live far away from the nation's power centers, thriving in the heart of the Great Plains. But when they are called to serve, they answer. Like so many other Nebraskans, they are willing to leave their farms, their small businesses, and their families in service to America. From World War I to the present day, 101 military service members from the community have given their lives for our country.
Wahoo is somewhat known throughout America as the onetime mythical home office of a late night comedy show. What happened last Sunday, however, was much greater than the smile generated by the town's peculiar name. About 500 people gathered at the courthouse to dedicate the new memorial. Veterans organizations, community leadership, and citizens came together to remember those 101 persons who had given their all. Each name was read in an honor roll, many of them of Czech, German, and Swedish origin–a connection to the countries of old which shaped the local culture.
I had the privilege of briefly addressing that extraordinary gathering. When I approached the microphone to say a few words, I recalled the classic movie To Kill a Mockingbird, based upon the famous novel by Harper Lee. In the movie, the lawyer Atticus Finch defends a man unjustly accused of a crime while his family and community are forced to sit in the upper balcony of the courtroom because of the prejudice at that time. As Atticus Finch is preparing to leave the courtroom, the minister of the community says to the lawyer’s young child: "Stand up, your father’s passing.”
At that beautiful event in Wahoo, the ceremony began with the public high school and Catholic high school choirs together singing our national anthem. During the anthem, no one sat on a bench, no one took a knee, everyone stood. To stand is a sign of respect. We stand, not for us, but for them: the men and women before us, living and dead, who answered the call to service. Whether they cooked or cleaned or computed, or whether they fought in the worst conceivable firefight, they all sacrificed for our nation. Dignity demands a formality of ritual, giving meaning not only to those lives that were lost, but to the ties that bind us as community.
In a recent article in The New York Times, columnist David Brooks unpacks the idea of our nation's civic religion and the exercise of certain rituals, such as the national anthem and holidays like Thanksgiving and July 4th. These moments call forth a certain reverence as they remind us of the sacrifices of those who came before and call us as a nation to what we ought to be. To participate in them is not to worship the nation, nor hide its faults, but to bring forth its ideals. He goes on: "We have a crisis of solidarity. That makes it hard to solve every other problem we have. When you stand and sing the national anthem, you are building a little more solidarity, and you're singing a radical song about a radical place."
The world is screaming for meaning. I think it best not to tear up our solemn moments. As we confront intensifying struggles about the direction of our country, perhaps it would be good to check in with the home town offices of a strong society, from places like Wahoo, Nebraska, where a local ceremony and our national melody reveal the answers we long for.
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.
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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Defeating ISIS is not just an attempt to preserve the hard fought gains of so much American sacrifice. https://t.co/4If6XRZckC
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If we could recapture this ideal, pressure for more Washington-based solutions would recede. https://t.co/Tt2KY30Oiz
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I want to invite you to attend the Health Care Affordability Forum Oct 19, 10-11am @ Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital https://t.co/U6dn6GVmgb
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I will continue to engage with Postal officials to address concerns in the report by the USPS Inspector General https://t.co/92SctVdhIw
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Russia’s suspension of a nuclear treaty with the United States should concern the international community. https://t.co/ElylKxqtvX
Can’t wait to see the Cornhuskers take on Purdue. Go Big Red!
Good thoughtful discussion this week on ever escalating health care costs that are causing so much difficulty for many. The Health Care Affordability
I introduced another resolution in Congress that follows on the Government of Iraq’s own initiative to create a province in the Nineveh Plain
Here is something nice: Khrysten, a middle school student, just stopped to give me a little coin with words of encouragement. The leadership
Congratulations to my friend and fellow Nebraskan, Jane Erickson, who was installed this month as President of Kiwanis International, where she