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Berry votes for foreclosure relief

U.S. Rep Marion Berry, D-Gillett, at one time the target of television ads criticizing him for voting against a bill to help homeowners avoid mortgage foreclosure, voted for a revised version of the bill today.

In a news release, Berry said he voted for a new version of the Helping Families Save Their Homes Act that he considered an improvement over previous efforts.

“This bill did not contain the misguided ‘cramdown’ provision included in previous bills, which would have granted a broad new authority for bankruptcy judges to unilaterally modify the terms of mortgages, which would have raised the costs of borrowing for all.” Berry said in the release. “Instead, this bill takes positive steps to stabilize the housing market, expand housing opportunities  and assist those at risk of losing their homes.

“The bill reforms the Hope for Homeowners Program, which helps at-risk borrowers refinance their mortgages, and it urges lenders to work with borrowers to develop reasonable repayment terms instead of resorting to foreclosure,” Berry continued. “The bill also provides an increase in the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation’s guarantee of bank accounts, up to $250,000, which will further protect depositors, particularly small businesses.”

Senate Bill 896, which previously passed in the Senate, passed in the House today in a 367-54 vote. All four of Arkansas’ U.S. House members voted for the bill.

The liberal groups Brave New Films and BlogPAC launched an ad campaign last month criticizing Berry for breaking with his party to vote against an earlier version of the measure.


Democratic rallies set

Bill Clinton’s sweep through his native Arkansas tomorrow and Saturday on behalf Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama and the rest of the party’s election ticket is set.

The former president, along with Gov. Mike Beebe and former Arkansas Govs. and U.S. Sens. Dale Bumpers and David Pryor, will headline a get-out-the-vote rally at 5 p.m. Friday at the corner of Fourth and Main streets in North Little Rock.

The quartet will follow Saturday with an 11:30 a.m. rally in downtown Pine Bluff and a 1 p.m. appearance in Jonesboro. They’ll be joined at various stops by Democratic Senators Mark Pryor and Blanche Lincoln, along with Democratic Congressmen Marion Berry, Vic Snyder and Mike Ross.

Obama has not visited Arkansas since an October 2006 appearance in support of Beebe and other state Democrats. Republican John McCain has visited the state twice since becoming the GOP presidential nominee. Former Arkansas and U.S. first lady Hillary Clinton headlined a rally for Obama in Little Rock two weeks ago.


Arkansas Poll

Arkansans appear ready to back John McCain for president on Nov. 4, according to results of the annual Arkansas Poll released Thursday.

The poll shows McCain with a 51 percent to 36 percent lead over Barack Obama among registered voters. The poll by the University of Arkansas has a margin of error of 2.5 percentage points.

Results of the comprehensive survey can be found at the Arkansas Poll Web site.

When asked about Initiated Act 1, which would prohibit unmarried couples living together from adopting or foster parenting children, 55 percent of respondents said they opposed the measure proposed by the conservative Family Council.

Arkansans do seem to like Lt. Gov. Bill Halter’s proposal for a state-run lottery to fund college scholarships, with 65 percent of those polled saying they favored Proposed Constitutional Amendment 3.

An overwhelming 56 percent of respondents said the economy was the most important issue facing Arkansans today. Last year, about 29 percent cited the economy as the key issue,

“In our 10 years of polling, no issue has ever been ranked that high,” said Janine Parry, a UA political science professor and director of the Arkansas Poll.

Also, only 27 percent of Arkansans said they approved of the job President Bush is doing. That’s substantially down from the president’s first year in office, when 87 percent approved of his job.

Approval ratings for other politicians were: Gov. Mike Beebe, 74 percent; Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., 54 percent; Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., 56 percent; Rep. Marion Berry, D-Gillett, 50 percent; Rep. Vic Snyder, D-Little Rock, 57 percent; Rep. John Boozman, R-Rogers, 52 percent; and Rep. Mike Ross, D-Prescott, 62 percent.


Esquire endorsements

In addition to naming Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., as one of the nation’s 10 best lawmakers, Esquire magazine in its November issue endorsed Pryor and all four House members from Arkansas for re-election.

The publication made picks in 482 races across the country. Its pick for president was Barack Obama.

No one in Arkansas faces major party opposition. Like Pryor, Reps. Vic Snyder, D-Little Rock, John Boozman, R-Rogers, and Mike Ross, D-Prescott, have Green Party opponents. Rep. Marion Berry, D-Gillett, is unopposed. Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., is not up for re-election.

Here are Esquire’s comments associated with the endorsements of Arkansas congressmen:

For Berry : ” … We feel all incumbents should be opposed. In this case, however, farmer/congressman Berry is a good fit for this Delta district.”

For Boozman: “The privately reasonable politician in John Boozman too often gets drowned out by the publicly reactionary one. From the draconian LEAVE act — as xenophobic a piece of immigration “reform” as we’ll see in this lifetime — to the childish GOP sit-in on offshore drilling, he consistently picks the worst issues on which to take a partisan stand. Arkansas ought to have at least one Republican in its delegation. But Boozman needs a strong opponent in ’10.”

For Ross: “When FEMA parked 10,000 trailers destined for Katrina victims in a field in Ross’ district, he demanded that they be moved — not because they were an eyesore but because they’d sink into the mud if it rained. That’s the sort of local knowledge that underlies good governance.”

For Snyder: “Would Arkansas elect to a seventh term a guy who supports needle-exchange programs, opposed the Iraq war, supports abortion rights and opposes the embargo of Cuba? Yep. So would we.”

The November Esquire is on newsstands now.


House clears bailout on second try

The House voted 263-171 in favor of a $700 billion financial rescue plan. All four Arkansas congressmen voted for the measure.

The package passed the Senate on Wednesday. It now goes to the president, who is expected to sign it.

The Arkansas delegation in the House and Senate supported it even though public feedback that was decidedly against using taxpayer money to prop up imperiled financial institutions. Lawmakers said they backed the bill because it was the best way to stave off an economic crisis.

It was the House’s second attempt to pass the controversial bailout bill, which failed Monday despite the Arkansans’ support for it.

Opponents decried the legislation as improper government intervention in a crisis caused by Wall Street. Other foes demanded more help for homeowners caught up in the subprime mortgage mess.

Arkansas’ delegation is Sens. Mark Pryor and Blanche Lincoln, both Democrats, and Reps. Marion Berry, D-Gillett, John Boozman, R-Rogers, Mike Ross, D-Prescott, and Vic Snyder, D-Little Rock.


House dumps bailout

The House just rejected a Bush adminstration-backed plan to shore up the nation’s financial institutions by buying up bad debts.

The vote was 228 to 205.

Reps. Marion Berry, D-Gillett, John Boozman, R-Rogers, Mike Ross, D-Prescott, and Vic Snyder, D-Little Rock, all voted for the bill.

The stock market fell sharply in response to the House vote.

The White House and congressional leaders pushed the plan as a “necessary evil” to protect the economy from the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

Opponents said the government shouldn’t be responsible for saving Wall Street firms that caused the crisis in the first place. Other bailout foes demanded more help for American homeowners threatened with foreclosure.


Arkansas earmarks

Congress is set to approve a major appropriations package before lawmakers leave Washington for the year, which means press offices are eager to hit the send button on e-mail press releases that herald the dollars obtained for projects back home.

Thanks to the watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense, here’s a list of the earmarks in the three appropriations bills headed for the president’s desk — a first look at what Arkansas lawmakers will be touting when they return to the Natural State.

Nearly $50 million worth of earmarks for Arkansas projects are contained in the Defense, Military Construction-Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security fiscal 2009 appropriations bills.

Lawmakers are expected to take up the eight other spending bills when a new Congress convenes in January.

Here are the projects for Arkansas, listed by sponsor:

Rep. Marion Berry, D-Gillett, and Sens. Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor, both D-Ark.:

$1.6 million for biological air filtering system technology;

$800,000 for spectroscopic materials identification center;

$2.8 million for a standoff hazardous agent detection and evaluation system;

$10.9 million for a new National Guard readiness center in Cabot.


$50,000 for pre-disaster mitigation for the city of Wynne.

Rep. John Boozman, R-Rogers:

$750,000 for Sebastian County’s emergency operations center.

Boozman, Lincoln and Pryor:

$3.2 million for development of mobile combat support hospitals, which could be manufactured in Russellville;

$204,000 for a infantry platoon battle course at Fort Chaffee;

Boozman and Rep. Mike Ross, D-Prescott:

$800,000 for the center for nanoscale biosciences at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville and UA-Pine Bluff.

Ross, Lincoln and Pryor:

$8.8 million for mortar and grenade production at the Pine Bluff Arsenal.


$1.6 million for development of a lightweight, unmanned ground robot;

$1.6 million for grenade production.

Rep. Vic Snyder, Lincoln and Pryor:

$2 million for advanced functional nanomaterials for biological processes;

$1.6 million for silicon carbide torso plates;

$1.6 million for information quality tools for persistent surveillance data sets;

$4 million for the engine shop replacement at Little Rock Air Force Base.

Lincoln and Pryor:

$1.6 million for advanced field artillery tactical data systems;

$2.5 million for nanoscale biosensors;

$800,000 for nanotech lubricants designed for durability, energy-saving and sustainability of oceanic vehicles.


Blue Dog party raises questions

Congressional Quarterly today reported that some ethics watchdog groups criticized the Blue Dog Democrats for participating in a party Sunday in Denver on the eve of the Democratic National Convention.

A spokesman for one ethics group told the publication the “Blue Night In Denver” party was not in line with a new law that puts restrictions on lawmakers who attend a lobbyist-sponsored reception.

Rep. Mike Ross, D-Prescott, is one of the leaders of the group of fiscally conservative Democrats in the House.

He was reported saying that the House Blue Dog Coalition had nothing to do with the party.

“We paid at the door like everybody else,” Ross said.

Rep. Marion Berry, D-Gillett, is also a Blue Dog.

The Washington Post and Salon.com feature related articles.


Rocky Mountain High On Obama

Arkansas delegates for Hillary Clinton outnumber those for Obama more than 4 to 1 here in the Mile High City, where the Democrats kick off their national convention today.
But it seems even the state’s Clinton fans are on an Obama high as the convention opens.
Reps. Mike Ross, D-Prescott, and Marion Berry, D-Gillett, had been lukewarm in their past endorsements of the presumptive nominee, but the pair put on a hard Obama sales pitch to Natural State delegates at a breakfast Monday morning.
After that, in a conference call with reporters back in Arkansas, Clinton delegates from the 1st Congressional District said they would “enthusiastically” support the Illinois senator.
They were equally effusive in praise for Joe Biden, Obama’s vice presidential choice.
“I have no qualms about supporting this ticket at all, it’s a great ticket,” said Gary Phillips of Blytheville.
Former State Treasurer Jimmie Lou Fisher, who served alongside then-Gov. Bill Clinton, also took a big gulp of the Obama Kool-Aid.
Fisher has been to every Democratic convention since 1976, she said.
“Our party is about unification,” she said. “We’re all under one tent. We’re going to leave this convention indivisible for Sen. Obama. It’s time we put this primary behind us.”
We’ll see as the week progresses whether the delegates who represent the rest of the 18 million Hillary Clinton voters feel the same way.