Kansas Common Sense
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This week, the Senate unanimously voted on final passage of legislation to fund the Department of Defense (DOD) for the coming year. The Fiscal Year 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) will provide $631.4 billion in discretionary funds for the Defense Department budget, the war in Afghanistan, the Department of Energy and other national security programs related to nuclear safety.
I introduced an amendment to the NDAA to mandate oversight of the DOD’s spending for conferences and conventions by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), and was pleased to see its inclusion in the final legislation. Spending by government agencies such as the General Services Administration has been scrutinized in recent months following revelations of lavish and costly conferences at the taxpayer’s expense. This amendment will hold the DOD accountable for its expenditures at a time when federal dollars must be spent wisely and effectively.
Working for Cuba’s Release of Alan Gross
On Wednesday evening, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a resolution I introduced (S. Res. 609) along with Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.) – and co-sponsored by 30 of our Senate colleagues – calling on Cuba to immediately and unconditionally release American Alan Gross. This is the first time Congress has taken the step of passing a resolution condemning Mr. Gross’ arrest and calling for his release. The resolution, introduced on the 3rd Anniversary of Mr. Gross’ arrest in Havana, Cuba, also urges the Cuban government to address Mr. Gross’ medical issues. I held a press conference on Capitol Hill on Tuesday with Judy Gross, Alan Gross’ wife, highlighting this resolution and calling for action by Cuba. Click here to watch the full press conference.
Alan Gross, a sub-contractor for the United States Agency for International Development, was arrested on December 3, 2009, and after a two-day trial, was given a 15-year prison sentence by Cuban authorities for facilitating communications between Cuba’s Jewish community and the rest of the world. Mr. Gross was simply doing the type of work he had done his whole career in international development – helping others in need.
The Senate’s passage of this resolution sends a loud and clear message to Cuba: it is past time for Alan Gross to come home. For more than a decade, I have worked to open Cuban markets to American agriculture. This year, however, I stepped back from these efforts because the Cuban government has a responsibility to cooperate with the United States on the unjust detention of Alan Gross. The path to improved America-Cuba relations has always been difficult, but it is that much more difficult and unlikely until Cuba lets Alan come home. Click here to learn more and read the resolution.
Extending Permanent Normal Trade Relations to Russia
This week, I voted to extend Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) to Russia. Russia was admitted to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in August of this year. In order for them to fully engage the United States in trade within the WTO structure, Congress had to address a Cold War Era legal provision preventing them from full participation. The PNTR with Russia passed easily in House and Senate due to the recognition that Russia holds huge potential for American exports. Increased access to Russian markets for Kansas exports of industrial, aviation and agricultural products will result in much needed boosts to our state’s local economies. I will continue to work to support market access for Kansas goods.
Supreme Court Hears Kansan’s International Custody Case
This week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard the case of Chafin v. Chafin, which deals with Kansas native Jeff Chafin’s fight to bring his daughter back to the Unites States. Jeff Chafin exemplifies the best in our U.S. Army, is a dedicated and loving father, and I had the honor to visit with him and his family on Thursday. For the past 2 years, Jeff has struggled to regain custody of his daughter, Eris, after his estranged wife was deported by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, moved to Scotland and won a court decision allowing her to take Eris with her. Jeff has been fighting to return his daughter to the United States so that he may appeal this decision and be allowed the right to fight for his daughter in the United States judicial system.
On Wednesday, Jeff, his family and legal team accomplished quite an undertaking by presenting their argument before the highest court in the United States. I know that the hearing included passionate debate from both sides, which is to be expected on this sensitive, family issue. I commend the Solicitor General of the United States whose office spoke in support of and on behalf of the Kansas native and his daughter Eris. I’m encouraged that the Justices were diligent in asking pivotal questions related to the rights of Americans seeking custody of a child caught between international boundaries and laws. I’m hopeful that the Justices will provide a decision that will resolve this case, provide clarity for future international custody cases and hopefully create an amicable resolution for Eris. I will continue to monitor this case and consider possibilities that the Justices have alluded to with regard to Congressional action that may prevent unfortunate circumstances in the future. Click here to see a photo from my visit with Jeff Chafin and his family.
Allegro Choir of Kansas City in Washington
On Wednesday my office enjoyed a special visit from a group of young Kansans from the Kansas City area. The 27 member Allegro Choir of Kansas City stopped by the U.S. Capitol to spread some holiday cheer during their tour of Washington, DC. The choir, directed by Christy Elsner also shared their talent at the White House Christmas party. Thanks to the ladies of the Allegro Choir for bringing their holiday spirit all the way from Kansas. Click here to watch video of their caroling.
Congress Unified in Opposition of U.N. Internet Governance
This week, the United Nations’ telecommunications agency, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), met for the first time since 1988 to discuss revisions to a treaty known as the International Telecommunications Regulations. At the meeting, representatives from 193 nations consider dozens of amendments, including some that could give the ITU the ability to regulate the internet or offer countries, including Russia, China and Iran, a UN-backed authority to manage traffic, monitor citizens, and censor incoming and outgoing traffic. In September, the U.S. Senate unanimously approved S. Con. Res. 50, which expresses the sense of Congress that the United States should continue working to preserve the current multi-stakeholder governance model that has allowed the Internet to thrive. I was a cosponsor of this legislation and was pleased the House of Representatives unanimously approved a companion resolution opposing modifications that could undermine Internet freedom this week. I am a supporter of Internet freedom and will continue to monitor the negotiations as they move forward.
Honoring Graduates at Kansas State University
Fall commencement ceremonies were held this past weekend at Kansas State University. Almost 1,500 students walked across the graduation stage on K-State's Manhattan and Salina campuses. The university awarded nearly 1,100 bachelor's degrees; nearly 300 master's; more than 70 doctorates; and three associate degrees. Of the graduates, 126 are earning their degree through distance education. I was at Bramlage Coliseum on Saturday for the commencement ceremonies for the College of Business Administration.
Earl McVicker, chairman, president and CEO of Central Financial Corp. and its subsidiary, Central Bank and Trust Co. of Hutchinson, provided the commencement remarks. In his remarks, he shared about the lessons he has learned over the years from his own experiences and those of others. Building a personal foundation with ethics and integrity and always having a solid set of goals and objectives has played a major part in Earl’s success. He charged the graduates to never stop learning and to always approach life and business with “persistence” and “resilience.” Congratulations to this weekend's graduates and their families and best wishes for continued success. Click here to see a photo from the ceremony.
In the Office
This week we had several visitors in the Washington, D.C., office, including the Kansans listed below.
Chandler Eisner of Olathe
Natalie Rall of Overland Park
Rachel Arends of Leawood
Alyssa Hemphill of Overland Park
Nicole Merrill of Leawood
Makena Jarboe of Shawnee
Hannah Smith of Overland Park
Mallory Droge of Olathe
Madalyn Torline of Shawnee
Lori Egan of Lenexa
Randi Jo Blackman of Olathe
Gretchen Harrison of Leawood
Geri Allcorn of Shawnee
Amy Cramer of Prairie Village
Jacob Narveud of Meriden
Kim Stout of Shawnee
Christy Elsea of Olathe
Erin Stout of Shawnee
Morgan Hannah of Overland Park
Madison Crowl of Overland Park
Elizabeth Trikes of Overland Park
Sarah Hanry of Olathe
Emma Dopheide of Overland Park
Haley Egan of Lenexa
Grace Sewell Overland Park
Maia Sohoenberg of Leawood
Chloe Stewart of Shawnee
Former Congressman Dennis Moore of Lenexa
National Conference of State Legislatures
Senator Stephen Morris of Hugoton
Senator John Vratil of Leawood
Senator Terrie Huntington of Fairway
Representative Elaine Bowers of Concordia
Representative Pat Colloton of Leawood
Representative John Grange of El Dorado
Representative Carl Holmes of Liberal
Representative Janice Pauls of Hutchinson
Kansas City Orthopaedic Institute
Paul Kerens of Leawood
Ed McKechnie of Pittsburg
Association of Air Medical Services
Greg Hildenbrand of Topeka
Amy Hendricks of Wichita
Robbie Copeland of Wichita
Many Kansans stopped by to take a tour of the US Capitol this week including:
Dr. Michael and Mrs. Anne Sheehan
Steve & Taryn Schraad, and son Ethan
Max & Sharon Stewart
It is an honor to serve you in Washington, D.C. Please let me know how I can be of assistance. To send me an email, click here. You can also click here to contact me through one of my Kansas offices or my Washington, D.C., office.
Very truly yours,
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