Kansas Common Sense
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Update on Spending Negotiations in Washington
The federal government of the United States has been shut down for two weeks. I did not want a government shutdown, and I want it to end as quickly as possible. This shutdown is the product of many factors and actors, but the impasse is a general manifestation of Congress and the President skirting their responsibilities. The shutdown represents a refusal to engage in a debate over government, its purpose and priorities. Fear of difficult choices or the threat of falling short of absolute legislative victory has kept this body from rationally examining this important topic.
This week, I visited the White House for a meeting with the President and I was encouraged by the conversation. But shortly after that meeting, the President rejected the compromise offered by the House of Representatives. Because of the President’s unwillingness to negotiate, the discussions for a solution have shifted away from the White House to the Senate Majority and Minority leaders.
While no one can predict with certainty how the current situation will be resolved, I am hopeful that there will ultimately be meaningful discussions that will bring this stalemate to an end.
I spoke in the Senate Banking Committee on Thursday about my frustration with Washington’s pattern of crisis-to-crisis governing, and challenged my colleagues and the President to break the pattern and use the debt ceiling debate to finally deal with tough issues facing our nation. I believe this impasse is an opportunity for Congress to change course, make substantial reductions in spending, lower our nation’s debt and deficits, and make structural changes to the way we do business in Washington. Click here to watch highlights of remarks in the Banking Committee.
Honoring Sergeant Patrick Hawkins
On Wednesday, I spoke on the Senate floor to honor Sergeant Patrick C. Hawkins, 25, who was among four members of the 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment killed on Oct. 6, 2013, in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Patrick is a hero, soldier, and American who was willing to sacrifice his life through service for the well-being of his family back home – including his wife in Kansas – and for the future of a country that we all love.
Sergeant Patrick Hawkins was born on Oct. 1, 1988. His battalion commander described him as “a brave and incredibly talented Ranger.” Patrick was moving to aid another wounded Ranger when he was killed and epitomized the Ranger Creed: “I will never leave a fallen comrade.”
Working to Restore Military Death Benefits
As a consequence to the government shutdown, the families of our fallen – including Sergeant Hawkins’ family – were told they would not receive the death benefit gratuity customarily provided by the U.S. Department of Defense to financially assist grieving families. This week, I joined a bipartisan group of my Senate colleagues in urging the Defense Secretary to provide immediate death gratuity payments to military families during the government shutdown. Although donations were offered to these families by the Fisher House Foundation and many others, the Senate acted as it should on Thursday by passing H.J. Res. 91, Honoring the Families of Fallen Soldiers Act, to make certain DoD has the flexibility it needs to support the families of fallen soldiers. The president signed bill into law on Friday. Click here to read my letter to Sec. Hagel urging the DoD to reinstate death benefits to families of the fallen.
Janet Yellen Nominated to Chair the Federal Reserve
This week, President Obama nominated Janet Yellen, vice-chair of the Federal Reserve, to replace Chairman Ben Bernanke whose term expires in January. As one of the overseers of the world’s largest economy, this position holds immense power over the cost of doing business, and Chairman Bernanke’s replacement will have a profound impact on our national and global economy. As a member of the Senate Banking Committee, I will be one of 22 Senators to review her credentials, as well as her plans for the future of the U.S. Central Bank. I look forward to reviewing this nomination and will continue to press for a transparent Federal Reserve that protects American interests. Click here to read my full statement.
Discussing Rural Housing Concerns
Wednesday I participated in a Senate Banking Hearing where I had an opportunity to discuss the unique challenges communities in Kansas face when it comes to providing suitable housing for its residents. Too often, we hear of local leaders seeking to attract businesses and investment to their communities only to be rebuffed due to the lack of housing.
The witnesses on the panel before the committee relayed some disturbing trends in this market. According to the panel, many real estate investors often fail to understand the cultural and economic conditions of rural communities, which makes investment less attractive. Another hurdle for financing these smaller projects is the growing cost of writing and servicing the loans due to increased government regulations. It is clear to me that in order for Kansans to have access to housing, Congress must do its part and structure lending requirements so that they do not disproportionately affect community lenders. I introduced the CLEAR Relief Act, S. 1349, which would reduce the regulatory burden on community lenders so that they can get back to doing what they do best: finance growth and create jobs. I look forward to advancing this legislation and other commonsense reforms so that underserved housing markets in Kansas can attract and retain jobs and the families they support.
FAA Decision to Close Aircraft Registry Office Harmful to Economy
As a result of the ongoing government shutdown, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) closed its Aircraft Registry office, located in Oklahoma City. Due to its crucial role in facilitating the certification and delivery of aircraft, the Registry Office has always remained open during previous lapses in appropriations. As of today, the General Aviation Manufacturers Association estimates that the delivery of more than 130 aircraft, valuing nearly $1.5 billion, has been halted due to the Registry’s closure. The longer the office remains closed, the more likely it is to cause job losses in Kansas.
On Wednesday, I joined Senator Roberts, Senator Inhofe of Oklahoma, and Senators Boozman and Pryor of Arkansas in expressing concerns to FAA Administrator Huerta. With the FAA appearing to handle this current shutdown in a manner different from previous shutdowns, we must make certain the agency is not inflicting unnecessary hardship on aviation industries across America. Reinforcing the significance of this issue, the House of Representatives moved quickly to pass legislation on Wednesday that would reopen the Registry office.
The general aviation industry is a vital component to the Kansas economy and the nation as a whole, and it is my sincere hope that the FAA will choose to utilize their full capacities under the law to limit the negative impacts of the shutdown on the aviation industry. Click here to read the letter we sent to Administrator Huerta. Click here to watch my interview on KSN regarding this issue.
Recognizing the Schumm Family as 2013 Angels in Adoption
As a member of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption, I am committed to promoting awareness of adoption and the children awaiting families, celebrating children and families involved in adoption, and encouraging Americans to secure safety, permanency, and well-being for all children. Many families in Kansas and across our nation have made a lasting difference in the lives of thousands of children through adoption. I recently had the opportunity to recognize one of these Kansas families by nominating them as 2013 Angels in Adoption through the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute’s (CCAI) Angels in Adoption program. This program honors those who have made outstanding contributions on behalf of children in need of loving homes.
Jonathan and Allison Schumm of Topeka are vocal advocates for adoption, who strongly believe in the value of family and keeping families together. Including their four biological children, Jonathan and Allison are the proud parents of fourteen after adopting two sibling-sets of five each from the foster care system. The Schumm family is also active in adoption advocacy organizations including Project Belong and the Kansas Children’s Service League. As part of their advocacy efforts, the Schumm family regularly speaks to others about the joys of providing a supportive, loving, and permanent home to children in need through adoption. I had the opportunity to visit with them this week while they were in Washington, D.C., for the Angels in Adoption ceremonies. Their compassion and commitment has given their children both a family and a bright future. When dedicated individuals make a major difference in a child’s life through adoption, families are strengthened and communities are enriched. I am pleased to have had the opportunity to nominate them for this well-deserved honor.
VA Spends a Half-Million Dollars on Art
On Monday, I called on the Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) Eric Shinseki to justify the VA’s purchase of $562,000 in artwork in the final days of Fiscal Year 2013. As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, and at a time when the nation’s crushing debt threatens the well-being of our veterans and all Americans, I cannot comprehend the reason why this use of taxpayer dollars was authorized.
If the overall fiscal stability of our country is not of sufficient concern, then the VA should have at least prioritized service to veterans who continue to wait inordinate lengths of time to receive decisions on their benefit claims. These funds also would have been better spent filling positions in Community Based Outpatient Clinics in Kansas and other rural states where staffing remains an acute problem to which the VA is struggling to respond adequately. I am appalled by the VA’s complete failure to prioritize the spending of a half-million taxpayer dollars and look forward to receiving a response from Secretary Shinseki. Click here to read my full request of the VA.
Greeting Two Honor Flights
I was able to greet two groups of veterans this week at the World War II Memorial. On Tuesday, I met Ernest Leierer and his son Dennis who were here as part of the Oklahoma Honor Flight. Ernest lives in Enid, OK, but has pastored numerous Kansas churches. Visiting with them gave me the chance to thank Ernest for his service and encourage him to come back to Kansas! On Thursday, veterans and their guardians who arrived on the Kansas Honor Flight encountered heavy rain, but it couldn't keep WWII veterans from visiting the memorial built in their honor. It was my privilege to be with them and I enjoyed seeing my friend Norm Karlin of Hutchinson. On both days, the Honor Flights were able to view the Memorial without any obstruction during the shutdown. I am hopeful the shutdown will end soon so that the people’s monuments may be open to the public for all to visit and appreciate. Click here to see a photo of me and veteran Norm Karlin of Hutchinson.
Last week we had several visitors in the Washington, D.C., office, including the Kansans listed below:
Christopher Diehn of Olathe
Andy Huckaba of Lenexa
Harl Stump of Hays
Lavena Stump of Hays
P.J. Reddy of Hill City
American Academy of Pediatrics
Dennis Cooley of Topeka
Pamela Shaw of Kansas City
Rob Manes of Topeka
Patty Reece of Alma
American Veterinary Medical Association
Cary Christensen of Overland Park
Smiths Division, Interconnect
Jeff Tamasi of Overland Park
U.S. Against Alzheimer’s
George Vradenburg of Manhattan
Angels in Adoption
Jonathan Schumm of Topeka
Allison Schumm of Topeka
Farm Credit of Western Kansas
Mark Winger of Colby
Janet Barrows of Manhattan
Neil Wilson of Ness City
Women Impacting Public Policy
Pamela Kelley of Lenexa
Jennifer Geyoke of Lenexa
National Eating Disorders Association
Lauren Breithaupt of Overland Park
Beth Hartman McGilley of Wichita
Laura Eickman of Overland Park
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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