Message From Senator Burr
Hello from Washington! The Senate recently completed its work for the 109th Congress. It was a busy ending to the year and I look forward to January 8th, when the Senate begins its work for the 110th Congress. We will continue to focus on issues such as supporting our military and veterans, increasing access to affordable health care, strengthening public education, reforming immigration, and improving public health emergency preparedness and response.
Iraq and the Military
Senator Burr meets with troops in Iraq
In September, I traveled to Iraq for the second time to meet with our troops, U.S. Army generals, and Iraqi government leaders. The North Carolina National guardsmen from Bravo Battery, 5th Battalion of the 113th Field Artillery Regiment were kind enough to visit with me. They are committed to getting the job done and their dedication to keeping our country safe is inspiring.
In November, Secretary Rumsfeld resigned as the Secretary of Defense. He was a disciplined leader during a critical period in the War on Terror. I was pleased the Senate quickly confirmed Dr. Robert Gates to serve as Secretary Rumsfeld's successor. Dr. Gates has notable career accomplishments at the Central Intelligence Agency. His fresh perspective on Iraq will be extremely helpful.
The Iraq Study Group (the Baker-Hamilton Commission) recently released its recommendations on Iraq. The report is a good step toward taking a fresh look at Iraq. The report highlighted some of my own observations from visiting Iraq, including improving security, finding political stability within the country and rebuilding Iraq's infrastructure. I am hopeful this debate over Iraq policy will result in consensus on how to move forward. I am confident there are actions which can be taken to improve the situation in Iraq. I continue to believe it is in the best interest of the Iraqi people, the United States, and global security that we remain committed to supporting a free and stable Iraq. I hope Iraq will soon take on more responsibility for its own security and the Iraqi army will take over combat operations, allowing our troops to play a greater support role in the region.
During this holiday season I know all North Carolinians join me in sending our good wishes to the men and women in uniform who sacrifice their lives so we may live in freedom. They are spending their holidays away from their families and some soldiers have returned home to difficult circumstances or with injuries impacting their daily lives and the lives of their families. Many families have lost loved ones and sadly will be spending the holiday season without sons or daughters, mothers or fathers. We think of them often and pray for them daily.
I am pleased to report Congress recently passed my Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act (S.3678) to improve our public health and medical preparedness and responses during emergencies and disasters. This legislation enables the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to partner with universities, research institutions, and industry to bring more and better medical countermeasures to the public faster in cases of emergency, such as a flu pandemic. North Carolina has the third largest biotechnology industry in the United States and will benefit from this legislation. I have been working on this bipartisan bill for almost two years and I am thankful to the doctors, emergency medical technicians, hospitals, universities, companies, and local and state officials from across North Carolina who helped me get this bill passed. The bill has now gone to the President's desk to be signed into law.
Senator Burr tours Carolina MED 1 unit with Secretary Mike Leavitt
We also passed a very important bill, the Ryan White CARE Act Reauthorization
(S. 2823). The bill will provide more equitable distribution of Ryan White CARE Act funds to states with elevated rates of new HIV/AIDS infections like North Carolina. The Ryan White CARE Act was enacted in 1990 to provide treatment and care for individuals suffering from HIV/AIDS and who are in the greatest need of assistance. This bill reauthorizes the Ryan White CARE Act for three more years and I look forward to improving the program further so North Carolinians living with HIV or AIDS will receive the best care possible. Right now, Southern states, which account for a majority of HIV/AIDS cases in the nation, are being shortchanged in CARE Act funding. North Carolina has approximately 18,900 people living with HIV or AIDS. In 2004, 66.7% of people living with AIDS in North Carolina were African Americans, the 5th highest rate in the nation. North Carolina currently ranks 14th among states with the greatest number of AIDS cases in the nation.
In November we held a hearing on the recent E. coli outbreak in spinach. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) testified about the response to this outbreak and I think the agencies did a good, but not excellent, job. I will continue to monitor the CDC and FDA's progress in this area. Next year Congress will take a look at how the FDA regulates drugs, biologics, and devices. I will be working on legislation which focuses on ensuring drug safety and improving the drug approval process. As I did in the House of Representatives, I will continue to work to make sure safe and effective medications are approved as quickly as possible so that more Americans can treat illness and disease.
Securing the Border
This year, Congress passed two important laws which will help us do more to secure our borders. I supported the passage of the Secure Fence Act of 2006 (H.R. 6061), which the President signed into law in October. This legislation authorized 700 miles of double-layered fencing at specified locations along our 2,000 mile southwest border with Mexico. Currently, there are 75 miles of fence and 55 miles of vehicle barriers along our southern border. This bill also requires the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to take control of all United States international land and maritime borders within 18 months and it requires the Secretary of DHS to report to Congress each year on the progress made towards controlling the border.
We also passed legislation to spend more than $8 billion dollars to secure our borders. This funding will be used to hire 1,500 new border patrol agents, provide for more fencing and infrastructure technology, and purchase aircraft to patrol the border. The bill also includes $4 billion for immigration and customs enforcement, which will help fund the detention and removal of illegal aliens and build and repair detention facilities.
Education will shape the future of our state and the lives of our young people. Next year I will work to help improve the high school graduation rates both in North Carolina and across the nation. In years past, many people without a college degree could find a good paying job. But as our economy has changed, it has become more difficult to do so. We need to make sure young people stay in school so they have a better chance to earn more money later in life.
Over his or her lifetime, a person with a bachelor's degree will earn $1.5 million more than someone without a high school diploma. We are lucky to live in a state with lots of higher education options such as community colleges and universities. We are proud of our college-going rate, which is the 6th highest in the nation. Yet, while 64.5% of recent North Carolina high school graduates go on to enroll in college, far too many students cannot enroll because they did not finish high school. As North Carolina's population continues to grow over the next decade, we must address the high school dropout crisis. While the high school graduation rate for white students is 72%, for African Americans it falls to 55%, and for Hispanics, the fastest growing group within our state's population, the graduation rate is only 53%.
This fall, I also introduced Senate Resolution 609. This Resolution, passed by the Senate, honors children's charities, youth-serving organizations, and other organizations committed to improving the lives of children and designated the week of September 24, 2006, as `Child Awareness Week'. As a parent, I can think of no more important priority than bettering the lives of children.
In November, I hosted a statewide workshop to help North Carolina libraries and museums better compete for federal grants. Our excellent libraries and museums are engines for local economic growth by providing important community activities and educational opportunities. The workshop was part of my North Carolina Economic Development series to make our state more competitive. In February, I will host an Economic Development Summit focusing on heath care research, development, prevention, and wellness in the Durham area.
Next year, I will also host workshops for county managers and faith-based and community organizations. For more information, please call my Washington office.
This coming year, Congress will begin rewriting the farm bill which will set the federal government standards our farmers and agricultural industry must follow for the next five years. This legislation will have an impact on North Carolina farmers. Since the tobacco and peanut quotas have been eliminated, one of the most important aspects of the farm bill to North Carolina's farmers will likely be the specialty crop regulations which will affect our fruit and vegetable growers. Currently, specialty crop producers do not receive government subsidies and they receive very little funding for research and development. Research and development funding provides farmers with new and innovative techniques to increase production, function more efficiently, and compete globally. North Carolina is one of the nation's leaders in fruit and vegetable production and I support efforts to help our farmers produce the safest and best fruits and vegetables in the world. I also support research to help develop new techniques and best practices for our farmers.
I was recently appointed to serve on the Select Committee on Intelligence for the 110th Congress set to begin in January. I was a member of the House Intelligence Committee for four years and look forward to now continuing my service on a committee that is so important to our national security during a critical time in our nation's history. Additionally, I will continue to serve on the Senate's Energy and Natural Resources Committee, the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, the Committee on Veterans Affairs, and the Committee on Indian Affairs.
I want to wish you and your family a happy holiday. I am grateful for the opportunity to serve North Carolina in the U.S. Senate. My office is happy to help you solve problems with the federal government or to assist you in getting the information you need. If you are planning a visit to Washington, D.C. please do not hesitate to contact my office for a tour of the U.S. Capitol or other sites. Please also visit my offices in Winston-Salem, Asheville, Gastonia, Rocky Mount and Wilmington. And when you are in Washington, DC please stop by my office and say hello. We'd be glad to see you.