Kansas Common Sense
Welcome to “Kansas Common Sense.” Thank you for your continued interest in receiving my weekly newsletter. Please feel free to forward it on to your family and friends if it would interest them.
The 113th Congress started this week and is accompanied by a sense of eagerness to achieve more in the next two years than Congress did in the last two. I am proud to continue to serve Kansans through my roles on the Senate Committee on Appropriations, the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, and the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.
Spending Debate Now Front and Center
Kansans gathered together over the holidays with hopes of spending time with family and friends, and reflecting on the many blessings we enjoy as Americans. Instead, they were forced to spend Christmas and New Year’s Eve enduring the ups and downs of the ‘fiscal cliff’ debate, as the President continued his campaign for higher taxes as the solution to our economic crisis.
Tax increases are damaging to the economy and make it more difficult for Kansans to make ends meet. With the expiration of the Bush tax cuts, Americans were facing more than $4 trillion in tax increases on January 1, 2013. These increases were bound to affect all income levels. In fact, a Kansan earing an income of $43,000 would have seen a $3,000 increase in their taxes – $250 every month.
My goal has been to make certain tax increases affect the fewest number of Americans as possible. And while imperfect, I am glad that we were able to pass a deal – the Tax Relief Extension Act (H.R. 8) – that protects 99 percent of Americans. It also limits the tax increases on dividends and capital gains. Most importantly to Kansas farmers, ranchers and business owners, the deal permanently reduces the estate tax rates and locks in a $10 million per couple exemption. Gone are the short term fixes, allowing people to more confidently plan for the future.
It is important to note that this deal only addressed one aspect of the ‘fiscal cliff.’ What is missing is the larger and much more damaging problem of government spending. This year’s deficit reached $1.1 trillion, the fourth straight year of trillion-dollar deficit spending. This out-of control government spending has increased our national debt to a record $16 trillion and counting.
President Obama has spent this political season trying to make the case for tax increases on higher income Americans as the solution to our trillion-dollar deficits. But the reality is the tax rates the President was successful in raising on January 1, 2013, will bring in revenue – enough to cover our government spending for just 16 days. As Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner announced that we reached our $16.4 trillion borrowing limit on December 31, 2012, President Obama’s tax increases bought us until January 16, 2013, when the Federal Government is broke once again.
In February, the Treasury Department will ask Congress to raise the debt ceiling for the fifth time since President Obama assumed the presidency to allow the federal government to borrow and spend even more money. A debt ceiling is meaningless if Congress simply extends the Treasury’s borrowing capacity each time the limit is reached. I voted against an increase to the debt ceiling two years ago and want Kansans to know that I will not vote to allow the Obama Administration to borrow any more money unless we substantially change the way the government does business and significantly reduce spending.
While some may say it is irresponsible to not raise the limit, our nation finds itself at a point of such indebtedness that it is more irresponsible to extend the debt ceiling without significant reductions in federal spending. There is no flexibility here – our country’s future is at stake and our children’s ability to pursue the American dream at risk.
One thing we learned from the New Year’s Eve ‘fiscal cliff’ negotiations is that our work to tackle the spending crisis prior to the debt ceiling vote must begin today – it cannot wait until the 11th hour. Americans are demanding that Washington get serious about spending; the President must come to the table with Congress now and put courage and common sense before politics.
This means taking action on our nation’s real ‘fiscal cliff’ – the $48 trillion in unfunded obligations found in Social Security and Medicare. These so-called entitlement programs represent promises the federal government has made to Americans, and these promises must be kept. We must work together now to preserve Medicare for America’s seniors while sustaining the program for future generations. And, we must adopt a realistic plan to close Social Security’s budget shortfall and return the program on a sustainable path to ensure future generations have retirement security.
We have yet to see willingness by the President to reduce spending, but with the revenue debate settled, spending is now front and center. Americans are ready for tough decisions, and they are looking for leadership from Washington.
The grave spending crisis we face will not be easy to resolve, but we were not elected to ignore these problems; we were elected to confront them. The President and Congress must do what Kansans do: Make decisions based on solid values and be held accountable for those decisions. I stand ready to work toward a solution, and I am hopeful the President will join the effort to achieve meaningful spending reform.
Working to get Hurricane Sandy Victims Needed Help
This holiday season, everyone wants to see those families and communities in the northeast get the help they need as quickly as possible. As elected officials in Congress, however, we must make sure each and every dollar of taxpayer money is spent responsibly. The bill that ultimately passed provides $60.4 billion in discretionary funding, though much of the allocation is directed towards projects or programs unrelated to Sandy recovery efforts. An alternative bill, sponsored by Senator Coats of Indiana, would have provided immediate emergency spending for those affected by the storm, while providing an additional three months for Congress to determine the necessary long term needs to help prevent future disasters. Unfortunately, the Coats alternative did not pass. The full supplemental passed the Senate and concluded the Senate’s work for the 112th Congress.
NBAF Land Transfer Announced
Kansans received news from the Department of Homeland Security that they've long been waiting to hear: NBAF is moving forward. After years of hard work by Kansans and numerous studies that substantiate the need for NBAF, I’m glad to see that DHS and Secretary Napolitano have signed the land transfer agreement and will work with the state of Kansas to move forward toward construction of the facility. The first step of the land transfer is good news for Kansas and critical to our national security. The facts are clear: without the capabilities NBAF provides, our country is at risk from foreign animal disease threats.
The state of Kansas has committed $105 million dollars of matching state funds to the NBAF project and $35 million dollars of research funding for transitioning the NBAF mission to Manhattan. The approximately 46-acre site is located on the north side of the Kansas State University campus. It provides land acquisition potential; highway access; environmental compatibility; adequate utility infrastructure; an available local work force for skilled labor and academic research; and proximity to agricultural, academic, medical and bioscience resources. Click here to read more about the land transfer and what it means for NBAF.
Addressing the Uncertainty of Farmers and Ranchers
The nation’s farmers and ranchers have been in a state of limbo since the Farm Bill’s authorizations expired in September of last year. With an expiration of the last Farm Bill, the men and women involved in agriculture were facing an even greater level of uncertainty than their profession usually entails. With the leadership of Senator Pat Roberts, the Senate passed a five year Farm Bill that would have given a greater level of certainty to the ag sector. While this new long term Farm Bill fell short of becoming law, I was encouraged that Congress included a one year extension of the last Farm Bill in the recently passed legislation. I am committed to working toward passage of long-term farm policy that saves money and ensures that the U.S. maintains the safest, most reliable food supply in the world. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Senate as we address issues of great importance to Kansans.
Thanking Coach Roger Barta for a Lifetime of Service
While waiting on the Majority Leader to begin the debate on the supplemental appropriations bill last week, I spoke on the Senate floor to recognize Roger Barta, a football coach from Smith Center, Kansas who has a rich tradition of football excellence. Coach Roger Barta and his Redmen football team have won more than 320 games and eight state championships – five of them in a row. Under the leadership of Coach Barta, the Redmen football team has set state and national records, including a remarkable 79-game winning streak. But this season, after 35 years of coaching, Roger Barta announced that he is ready to hang up his whistle and retire. In my speech, I congratulate Coach Barta for his outstanding achievements over the last three decades – but more importantly, thank him for his investment in the lives of the young men of Smith Center. Click here to watch my speech about Coach Barta’s remarkable career.
Visiting the Lenexa Rotary Club
On Friday I attended a meeting of the Lenexa Rotary Club where visited with some of my fellow Rotarians and updated the group about recent happenings in Congress. I also learned about a partnership between the club and the Lenexa Fire Department to purchase a mobile safety education trailer. The trailer is an interactive mobile classroom that simulates a wide variety of emergencies to educate and prepare students. The Lenexa Rotarians volunteer with the fire department to staff the trailer during demonstrations and serve as a great example of a private-public partnership helping their community. Over 3000 parents and children have experienced the simulations at schools and Lenexa Festivals. Thank you to the Lenexa Firemen for supporting and implementing this valuable educational program. Thank you also to Rotary President Andy Prosser for hosting me and to Ashley Sherard for coordinating my visit.
Service Academy Nominees Announced
Supporting young Kansans in their efforts to attend one of our nation’s Service Academies is one the responsibilities I enjoy most as a United States Senator. This year, I received 90 applications for just four principal nominations. In November, my 20-member Service Academy Selection Committee met to choose this year’s nominees. I was humbled by the talents and achievements of this year’s applicant pool and am encouraged to see Kansas producing so many outstanding young men and women. Congratulations to the students who have earned my support as they continue the process to gain admission to these exclusive institutions.
In the Office
Several Kansans stopped by to take a tour of the US Capitol this week including:
Honored to Serve You in Washington
It is an honor to serve you in Washington, D.C. In recent weeks, I’ve been listening to Kansans calling and writing in to share their thoughts and opinions on the “fiscal cliff” and the big issues our country faces. Whether your thoughts are in the form of letter, a Facebook comment, or a phone call, please know that I am listening and I appreciate messages from Kansans who wish to make their voice heard.
Very truly yours,
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