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Berg: Congress needs firmer 'consequences'

Rep. Rick Berg, R-N.D., said Monday that he was initially "optimistic" that a bipartisan congressional super committee would be able to forge a $1.2 trillion deficit reduction deal as required by an agreement this summer that raised the federal d...

Rick Berg
Rick Berg portrait from 2011.

Rep. Rick Berg, R-N.D., said Monday that he was initially "optimistic" that a bipartisan congressional super committee would be able to forge a $1.2 trillion deficit reduction deal as required by an agreement this summer that raised the federal debt ceiling.

But the 12 committee members announced their failure to reach agreement Nov. 21, and Berg said he believes Congress needs firm "consequences" in the future to avoid more of these stalemates.

"Not making a decision needs to be more painful for Congress than making a decision," he told the Herald's editorial board. "The one thing I've seen out there is if anyone proposes something, then everyone else beats up on that. It's kind of odd, but those people that are proposing solutions are beat up on and you're better off not doing anything, not proposing anything, because you don't get criticized and it makes re-election easier. And that's got to change."

Berg said the North Dakota Legislature is required to produce a balanced budget by the end of its regular session every two years. That requirement prompts lawmakers on opposite sides of the aisle to fight "like heck" up to the deadline, but compromise at the end of the day to pass the budget, he said.

Congress also has its rules and deadlines, and Berg said the system has worked for more than 200 years.


"But when they don't follow that system, then you get into this mess," he said.

Berg said lawmakers need to take on a bipartisan approach to resolve these budget conflicts, including the divide between Democrats and Republicans on raising tax revenues or cutting spending to address the growing deficits and national debt.


Berg also addressed recent criticism he has faced over a round of five taxpayer-funded mailers sent out to North Dakota residents.

Democrats have frequently asked him to disclose how much money was spent on the documents. His announced competitors in the U.S. Senate race to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad -- Democrats Heidi Heitkamp and Tom Potter and Republican Duane Sand -- teamed up earlier this month to ask Berg to stop sending out what they said resembles campaign letters.

But Berg said the recent mailers were a way to hear back from his constituents. The documents included survey questions on a variety of topics, including the 2010 health care reform bill and a House vote on a balanced budget amendment.

"My No. 1 focus is to communicate with the people of North Dakota, and I think there's been a lack of communications back and forth," he said.

Berg said he did not have the total costs of these five mailers. Under House rules, the documents sent in October and November will be included in a spending disclosure report that will be published within 60 days of Dec. 31.


But he said his office has reduced its budget by 5 percent compared to spending under former Democratic Rep. Earl Pomeroy, whom he defeated last November to become North Dakota's lone House member.

Berg said his office will cut its spending another 6 percent next year.

LM growth

Earlier in the day, Berg toured the LM Wind Power factory in Grand Forks to hear from company officials about expansion plans.

Dan Gordon, senior manager for human resources, said the facility has hired 110 in the past two months and plans to hire another 150 in the next two months. That will bring LM Wind Power's total staff to about 700, he said, and the company wants to expand its Grand Forks facility to keep up with growing demand.

But Richard Pettifor, the company's commercial director, said that growth faces a challenge: A "significant" federal wind energy production tax credit is set to expire at the end of the year, unless Congress extends it.

The incentive has expired three times, and Pettifor said each lapse caused demand for new wind energy installations to "drop off a cliff." Demand fell between 73 percent and 93 percent in 1999, 2001 and 2003 when the tax credit was allowed to expire.

"That's the dilemma we have at the moment," he said. "We're expanding, and we're employing another 260 people here in Grand Forks. But will those jobs continue? That really is the lack of visibility we have."


Pettifor said he is "pretty confident" Congress will extend the tax credit eventually, and Berg also said he was optimistic about getting enough support to keep the incentive in place.

"What we need to do in Congress, we need to look at those things that are creating jobs and helping our economy grow," he said. "Those are the things we need to be investing in."

Johnson reports on local politics. Reach him at (701) 780-1105; (800) 477-6572, ext. 105; or send email to rjohnson@gfherald.com .

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