Kansas Common Sense
Dec 23 2013
Welcome to “Kansas Common Sense.” I hope you and your family enjoy this holiday season. I send you my best wishes for the year ahead and wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. I hope the new year brings a Congress better capable of working together for the well-being of our nation. 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.
Video: Kansas Listening Tour
As your U.S. Senator, I am committed to listening to Kansans and making certain your commonsense voices are heard in our nation’s Capital. Whether I am at the grocery store, attending church, or filling the tank with gas, the conversations I have with Kansans matter to me and impact the work I do on your behalf. I encourage you to watch the video below, which highlights my 1000th Town Hall Meeting in Marion.
The reality is I enjoy hosting town hall meetings—I think this is the way Democracy should work. Much of what I know and the issues I focus on in our nation’s capital are based on conversations I have with Kansans. I very much appreciate the judgment and common sense I garner from town hall meetings. Thanks to all who joined me in Marion, and I hope to see many of you at one of my upcoming Listening Tour Stops which are listed in the sidebar of this newsletter.
Ryan-Murray Budget Plan Passes Senate
On Wednesday, the Senate passed H.J. Res 59, known as the Ryan-Murray budget resolution, by a vote of 64-36. This officially set top-line budgetary levels for the next two fiscal years.
I voted against passage of the budget plan, because it falls far short of making the meaningful spending reforms we need to address our out-of-control debt and deficits. In classic Washington fashion, this legislation trades real spending increases now – a $63 billion increase over two years – for modest reductions in mandatory spending nearly one decade from now. Furthermore, the spending increases are partially paid for by decreasing military retiree benefits, including benefits to wounded warriors. We must do better for our men and women in uniform, who have already sacrificed so much, than to place the burden of spending hikes on their backs.
With our national debt continuing to soar to unprecedented levels, it is disappointing to see business-as-usual in Washington commended as progress. According to a report released Tuesday from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, Social Security trust funds will be entirely exhausted by 2031 – less than one decade after the Ryan-Murray budget deal finally achieves deficit reduction of approximately $23 billion.Unfortunately, with unfunded liabilities for Social Security and Medicare exceeding $100 trillion, these cuts will do very little to address the real cause of our debt problems. The longer we postpone meaningful, responsible changes to fiscal policy, the more harm we do to the ability of future generations to enjoy our way of life and pursue the American Dream. Click here to read more about my vote.
Ft. Riley Soldiers Killed in Afghanistan
This week our Nation lost six heroes based at Ft. Riley, Kansas, killed in a helicopter incident in Afghanistan. Our country is forever indebted to these young men for their service and sacrifice. They were committed to preserving the freedoms and liberties guaranteed to us by our Constitution, and making certain every American has the opportunity to pursue what we all call the American Dream.
I’m grateful for the blessings these brave men afforded us with their service to our countr, and paid tribute to them in the Senate to offer respect and honor as they laid down their lives for our freedom. In just a few short days, families will gather around dining room tables across our nation to celebrate the holidays. In the instance of these six families, there will be an empty chair at the Christmas table. For those of us who are Christians, we celebrate Christmas as the arrival of the Prince of Peace, and I would ask that we have peace in our land, peace in our world, and no more wars. And I would ask that these families find peace knowing that their son, their husband, their father – they sacrificed for something more important than life itself; they sacrificed for others. May they find peace in knowing what worthy lives their loved ones lived.
We thank God for giving us these heroes, and remain committed to preserving this nation for the sake of the next generation. We are indebted to members of our military to do nothing less. May God bless our servicemen and women, our veterans, and the country we all love — the United States of America. Click here to watch my remarks on the Senate floor in tribute to these soldiers.
National Defense Authorization Act
The Senate passed the National Defense Authorization Act for 2014 this week. Two amendments I have offered, to assess the threat of the terrorist group Al-Shabab and to protect the National Guard in carrying out cyber missions, have been included in the final bill. Al-Shabab is a terrorist group based in Somalia that is responsible for smuggling, pirating, and the deadly attack on the Nairobi, Kenya, shopping mall in September that killed sixty-one civilians and six Kenyan soldiers. The group poses a significant threat to American troops in the region, including soldiers from Ft. Riley, and there is reason to believe Al-Shabab is raising funds through networks in the United States. It’s imperative that we adequately assess the risk this U.S. designated foreign terrorist organization poses both domestically and to Americans serving in the region.
Cyber operations will be vital to our nation’s security in the 21st century. My second amendment to be included will halt, and likely prevent, cuts to the 177th Information Aggressor Squadron based at McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita, which is one of only two National Guard unties executing the critical information aggressor mission focused on cyber security, information operations, and cyber intelligence. The 177th is critical not only to Kansas National Guardsman, but also as a national security asset for the Department of Defense (DoD) and other organizations that require cyber mission support. It is vital that DoD protect against the unintended loss of a one-of-a-kind asset and prevent a reduction in personnel from being implemented.
Administration Fails to Answer Questions on Cost of Implementing Obamacare
The Obama Administration continues to refuse to provide straightforward answers to my questions about the costs of implementing the Affordable Care Act (ACA) health insurance Exchange. Seven weeks after I – as Ranking Member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education – requested answers from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on the cost of the failed Obamacare roll out, the Department responded with vague and incomplete answers to appropriate questions including how much the President’s “tech surge” is costing taxpayers and whether the Healthcare.gov website was adequately tested before it was rolled out. Click here to read my October 24th letter to Secretary Sebelius, and click here to read HHS’ response to my questions.
Without approval from the Appropriations Committee, HHS continues to spend more taxpayer dollars on Obamacare implementation. In doing so, HHS has increased contract awards to the very contractors the agency blamed for the dysfunctional Healthcare.gov website. Problem solving and a functional government require understanding, accountability and inter-branch cooperation. The Department’s long overdue and completely lacking responses to Congressional inquiry undermine both. HHS must provide the appropriations health subcommittee and other Congressional committees of jurisdiction adequate information about the costs of ACA delays, federal Exchange implementation, and the ongoing technical “glitches.”
Urging Overhaul of Federal IT Oversight to Save Taxpayers Billions
On Wednesday, I introduced the Federal Oversight and Accountability Act along with Senators Mike Johanns (R-NE) and Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.). The bipartisan bill is designed to ensure greater accountability by empowering federal CIOs by elevating their role in civilian agency budget planning processes and increasing their ability to optimize how agencies use Information Technology (IT). The legislation would also improve the transparency of Federal IT spending by expanding the scope of the Office of Management and Budget's public website – the IT Dashboard – which requires Chief Information Officers to report projects regularly.
Reforms to and increased oversight of our federal IT procurement process are desperately needed. The systemically-flawed rollout of HealthCare.gov is one high-profile example of IT procurement failures, but numerous more projects incur cost overruns, project delays and are abandoned altogether. Each year, the federal government spends about $80 billion on information technology, and according to a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, at least 154 major federal IT investments totaling $10.4 billion are at risk and in need of management attention. Our bill seeks to implement many of the GAO's recommendations and eliminate duplication and waste in federal IT acquisition and management. This bipartisan bill would require the first major overhaul of the government information technology (IT) procurement process in over a decade. Click here to read more about my legislation.
Showing Support for the United States District Court for the District of Kansas Judicial Nominee
This week, it was a pleasure to introduce Daniel Crabtree of Kansas City, Kansas, during a U.S. Senate Judiciary Hearing. Mr. Crabtree is the nominee to the United States District Court for the District of Kansas. Providing advice and consent of Presidential nominees is one of the most important roles of the United States Senate and a responsibility that I take seriously. Mr. Crabtree is a one of Kansas’ most accomplished legal minds and has had a distinguished career in litigation.
KU vs. Georgetown Basketball
On Saturday, Robba and I enjoyed having the opportunity to watch the nationally ranked University of Kansas Jayhawks play against the Georgetown Hoyas at Allen Fieldhouse. The Jayhawks defeated the Hoyas, 86 to 64. It was another great experience at that historic venue in Lawrence. We wish the Jayhawks the best of luck as their season continues.
Kansans in the Office
This week we had several visitors in the Washington, D.C., office, including the Kansans listed below.
Ron Pauls of Hutchinson
Army Corps of Engineers
Jennifer Switzer of Kansas City
Amy Blair of Kansas City
Holly Rohleder of Lenexa
Lincoln Mohler of Hays
Maureen Mahoney of Kansas City
Colleen Crabtree of Kansas City
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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