Kansas Common Sense
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The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013
Last week, Congressional leaders announced a bipartisan budget agreement to set spending levels for two years, replacing sequester spending cuts with modest reforms and future spending reductions. The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 would set overall discretionary spending for the current fiscal year at $1.012 trillion – halfway between Senate Democrats’ preferred level of $1.058 trillion and the $967 billion level currently set in law by the Budget Control Act of 2011. The sequester relief – a spending increase of approximately $63 billion over two years split between defense and non-defense programs – is paid for through increased aviation fees, changes in retirement pay for the Armed Forces, and the promise of future mandatory spending reductions, much of which will take place a decade from now. However, setting top line budgetary levels will allow appropriators to move forward with legislation to fund our government and ultimately avert another shutdown in January.
I appreciate the efforts of Rep. Paul Ryan and Sen. Patty Murray, each chamber’s respective Budget Committee Chair, to work together in an attempt to get our spending under control, but this deal is far from perfect. What remains missing from this agreement is a genuine effort to address the real driver of our debt: mandatory spending. As long the solvency and unfunded liabilities of Social Security and Medicare remain ignored in favor of minor tweaks to discretionary spending, our budget crisis will never go away.
While I didn’t vote for sequestration, the reality is it forced Washington to acknowledge the hard truth of our spending and set budget caps that have proven to be achievable and manageable. It is disappointing to see Congress change the law to increase spending now while delaying further spending cuts until many years down the line. With the national debt soaring above $17 trillion, we should not be increasing spending. On Thursday, the Bipartisan Budget Act passed the House by a vote of 332-94, and this week it will receive a floor vote in the U.S. Senate.
Kansans Face Higher Premiums Due to Obamacare
On Thursday, I spoke to my colleagues in the Senate about the problems with Obamacare and the harm that the flawed law is causing Kansans. In my remarks, I highlighted a story shared with me by a retired teacher from Wichita who is facing significant rising costs for health insurance coverage she does not want or need as a result of Obamacare. Unfortunately, many Kansans have contacted me to share similar stories on the real-world, negative impacts they face because of this law. While the President promised his health care law would lower health care costs and strengthen our health care system, the reality is the law is increasing health insurance premiums, slowing economic recovery, hindering job growth and causing millions of Americans to lose their current coverage. We can develop sensible reforms that increase competition and choice, and thereby expand access and lower costs of health care for Americans without harming people who already have insurance they like. Click here to see me share this story on the U.S. Senate Floor.
Banking Committee Reviews Interim Deal with Iran
On Thursday, the Senate Banking Committee held a hearing to examine the details of the six-month interim agreement the United States and our international partners reached with Iran in November. Under the terms of the agreement, Iran is to pause most of its nuclear activities in exchange for significant sanctions relief, estimated to be worth billions of dollars. I am gravely concerned about Iran’s continued march toward a nuclear weapons capability and troubled that the deal brokered in Geneva not only allows Iran to keep its nuclear infrastructure intact but leaves Americans detained in Iranian prisons.
Tough U.S. and international sanctions brought Iran to the negotiating table but have yet to compel Iran to abandon its nuclear program. While some sanctions are being suspended during the length of the interim agreement, the Obama Administration must continue to vigorously enforce all remaining sanctions. In addition, I support passage of new sanctions on Iran so that if Iran breaks the agreement, President Obama can not only reverse the sanctions relief granted by this deal but immediately impose more sanctions. The Iranian regime’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, imprisonment of American citizens, support for terrorism, and threats against our ally Israel should give us every reason imaginable to keep up the pressure on Iran. We must do everything we can to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability.
The Federal Reserve Transparency Act
The Federal Reserve has been advancing a far-reaching monetary policy for too long without congressional review. I believe that the actions taken as part of their quantitative easing program expose our nation to additional economic harm. The actions of the Federal Reserve in response to the financial crisis of 2008 have raised a number of questions regarding the transparency of their operations. While most of the operations of the Federal Reserve are frequently audited by government investigators and the Federal Reserve Board’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG), I have signed on as a cosponsor to S. 209, the Federal Reserve Transparency Act so we can get a complete analysis of their operations. This legislation directs the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct a full audit of the Federal Reserve within 12 months of the passage of the bill. This one-time audit would include the monetary policy and discount window lending operations of the Federal Reserve, currently the only activities not subject to review, as well as every other function the bank serves. I will encourage my colleagues in the Senate to join me in supporting this legislation. Click here to read the text of the legislation.
Advocating for Rural Health Care Access
On Thursday, the Senate Finance Committee passed legislation to repeal and replace the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) for Medicare physician payments. This formula was originally introduced as a way to contain the growth in health spending, but it is seriously flawed and results in a fiscally unsustainable and volatile system for patients and the doctors and other health care providers that care for them. Permanently reforming the Medicare SGR formula in a fiscally responsible manner must be an urgent priority for Congress and the President. I urge Majority Leader Reid to bring this legislation up for consideration on the Senate floor.
Included in this SGR replacement bill is an amendment from Senator John Thune of South Dakota to provide clarification on the level of physician supervision required for outpatient therapeutic services at critical access hospitals. “Outpatient therapeutic services” include services such as drug infusions, blood transfusions, and cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation services. I worked with Senator Thune to craft this amendment and build support for the measure, which was also cosponsored by Senator Roberts.
The federal government’s current policy on supervision of outpatient therapy services fails to take into account the realities of rural health care. Many Kansas hospitals, and other rural hospitals across the country, find these supervision requirements impossible to meet – jeopardizing continued access to these important health care services. Small and rural hospitals, where medical workforce shortages are most severe, need reasonable flexibility to appropriately staff their facilities so they can continue to provide a full range of services to their communities. This amendment is a commonsense approach that would preserve patient safety and ease unreasonable regulations on many rural hospitals.
This past summer, I introduced S. 1143, the Protecting Access to Rural Therapy Services (PARTS) Act, to make sure that rural and other patients have access to a full range of outpatient therapy services in their own communities. Click here to read a summary of the PARTS Act and the concerns with current supervision policy for these therapy services.
Computer Science Education Week and Hour of Code
Last week was Computer Science Education Week. The week centered on the idea of getting as many people as possible to try their hand at learning a bit of computer science and engaging in a small coding project. The response was overwhelming, with more than 10 million students participating—many students across Kansas were among them.
I support efforts like the Hour of Code because of the great potential computer science has. The rise of computers and the Internet has unlocked new platforms for communication, creativity and innovation. This is critical for states like Kansas where Internet and knowledge of computer science could allow someone in a rural Kansas town to create an app used around the world, or sell their homemade products to a global marketplace. It’s no surprise that computer science experience is among the most demanded skills in the job market. Best of all, these skills can be learned by anyone at any age. The Hour of Code project aimed to get as many folks as possible to give it a try. I was glad to see this effort was so successful, and hope to see growing interest in this exciting area.
Senate Resolution Congratulating Sporting Kansas City on MLS Cup Win
This week I introduced a U.S. Senate Resolution along with Senator Roberts commending Sporting KC’s 2013 MLS Cup victory. The win was an exciting moment in Kansas City’s already rich soccer history. The club’s success, the world class Sporting Park, and the community’s enthusiastic support combine to make Sporting KC a premier MLS club and Kansas City one of America’s great soccer cities. Click here to view the resolution. Click here to see a highlight video from the victory.
Kansans in the Office
Federal Home Loan Banks of Topeka
Eric Haar of Topeka
Shawn Mitchell of Topeka
Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service
Khadar Dahir of Wichita
Todd Moseley of Overland Park
Julie McKee of Overland Park
Robbie Copeland of Wichita
National Association of County and City Health Officials
Phillip Davis of Emporia
Allison Alejos of Topeka
Honored to Serve You in Washington
It is an honor to serve you in Washington, D.C. Thank you to the many Kansans who have been calling and writing in to share their thoughts and opinions on the issues our state and country face. I appreciate the words of Kansans, whether in the form of a form of letter, a Facebook comment or a phone call, who wish to make their voice heard.
Very truly yours,
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