Kansas Common Sense
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Meeting with President Obama on the National Debt
On Thursday, I had my first meeting at the White House with President Obama since becoming a member of the U.S. Senate. The topic of discussion was deficit spending, the national debt and the pending vote on raising the debt limit. A month ago, I notified the President that I will not vote to raise the debt ceiling without a significant reduction in spending and a change in the way business is done in Washington.
This will take the leadership of President Obama and willingness from both political parties as we work together to craft a serious plan to reduce our debt. The plan must be three-fold. First, we pass a responsible budget that includes serious and significant spending reductions – and we must stick to it; second, we must pass a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution restricting Washington’s ability to spend money it does not have; and third, we must address our long-term unfunded liabilities. Click here to listen to my thoughts on our meeting with the President.
USDA Grants Disaster Designation for 21 Kansas Counties
On May 10, 2011, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) designated 21 counties in Kansas as natural disaster areas due to production losses caused by severe drought, wildfires, and high winds. I am grateful Secretary Vilsack responded to our appeal and approved Gov. Brownback’s request. Farmers and ranchers in the affected counties are now eligible for USDA emergency loans, which will enable agricultural operations to continue across our state, in spite of the exceedingly dry conditions.
USDA designated Finney, Gove, Grant, Greeley, Hamilton, Haskell, Kearny, Lane, Logan, Meade, Morton, Ness, Scott, Seward, Sheridan, Sherman, Stanton, Stevens, Thomas, Wallace and Wichita Counties as disaster counties. Farmers and ranchers in the following 13 counties in Kansas also qualify for natural disaster assistance because their counties are contiguous: Cheyenne, Clark, Decatur, Ellis, Ford, Graham, Gray, Hodgeman, Norton, Pawnee, Rawlins, Rush, and Trego.
These counties will now be eligible for disaster programs, such as the emergency loan program administrated by the Farm Service Agency (FSA) and the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Payments Program. These programs will help the farmers and ranchers of Kansas make it through one of the most difficult growing seasons on record. Click here to read the text of the letter I sent to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack.
Introducing Legislation to Help Ranchers Manage Flint Hills Grazing Lands
I introduced legislation this week, S. 989, the Flint Hills Preservation Act, to protect the ability of landowners in the Flint Hills to use prescribed fire as a tool to preserve the tallgrass prairie ecosystem. The Flint Hills region of Kansas and Oklahoma contains the world’s largest share of remaining tallgrass prairie, and is the only place where that habitat exists in landscape proportions. Each year, ranchers, landowners and conservation groups use prescribed fires to mimic the seasonal fires that have shaped the tallgrass prairie for thousands of years. Prescribed burning is an essential management practice for protecting the ecosystem, enhancing grazing land and reducing the chances of destructive wildfires.
In recent years, a condensed timeframe for grassland burning has caused heightened air quality readings. As a result, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is seeking to regulate how and when landowners can burn in the Flint Hills region by asking the state of Kansas to develop a smoke management plan. S. 989 recognizes that prescribed fires are necessary and a natural occurrence. It exempts landowners and local governments from liability under certain Clean Air Act standards if the EPA’s enforcement action is attributed to smoke from prescribed fires in the Flint Hills region. Rather than have to worry about a schedule dictated by the EPA, this legislation will allow landowners to manage prescribed burning around the forces of weather and other factors impacting safe conditions, while at the same time preserve a unique ecosystem.
Appointed to Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee
I was pleased to receive an additional committee assignment this week to the U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. In addition to overseeing the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Committee has broad oversight authority over federal government agencies, and investigates the efficiency of government operations and the possible existence of fraud and waste.
I take seriously my role in fulfilling our government’s primary Constitutional responsibility – to keep Americans secure. From strengthening our borders, guarding against terrorist attacks, and responding to natural disasters, I will work to better protect our country’s citizens from the threats we face. Moreover, with the tremendous fiscal challenges facing our nation, I will work to make sure our federal agencies are operating in a cost-effective way and are held accountable to American taxpayers. Click here to read more.
Visiting with Blue Valley High School Students at CAPS
On Monday, I toured the Blue Valley Center for Advanced Professional Studies (CAPS) in Overland Park. At CAPS, juniors and seniors from Blue Valley School District high schools have the opportunity to participate in profession-based learning experiences. I appreciated the opportunity to learn more about the CAPS curriculum and to visit with several students about the projects they are currently working on. Education is essential to our nation’s future, and programs such as CAPS, help Kansas students prepare for the future success of our state and nation.
Thanks to Executive Director Donna Deed, Director Chad Ralston, and Blue Valley Superintendent Dr. Tom Trigg for coordinating my visit and leading the tour. I’d also like to thank Jerry Lunn and Jeff Melcher for joining the tour. And thanks to all the students for joining my visit: Austin Johnson, Brian Taylor, Sydney Lanphear, Cooper White, Ryan Agnitsch, Drew Prosser, Tully Kimminau, Josh Mitchell, David Shogbamimu, and Chase Landry. Click here to view a photo from my visit.
General Motors Corporation Fairfax Assembly Tour
I had the opportunity to meet with GM and United Automobile Workers Union (UAW) employees at the GM Fairfax Assembly plant in Kansas City on Monday. GM has invested $3.4 billion dollars into the three million sq. ft. facility on 572 acres where 3700 employees work to assemble the Chevy Malibu and Buick LaCrosse. The facility is GM’s most highly automated plant with 1,200 robots, assembling a new vehicle every 53 seconds. Among the many topics we discussed was the ongoing challenge of rising energy prices.
Thanks to Assistant Plant Manager Dave Carter, Personnel Director Don Rich, UAW Chairman John Melton and UAW President Jeff Manning for giving me an overview of the plant operations. Thanks to the team in the Work Place Development for the tour and thanks to Legislative & Regulatory Affairs Director Victoria Barnes, and Communications Manager Robert Wheeler for planning the tour. Click here to view a photo from my visit.
Medical Research Saves Lives and Reduces Health Care Costs
On Wednesday, I attended a Senate Appropriations health subcommittee hearing on the 2012 budget proposal for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). NIH supports more than 325,000 scientists and research personnel, who work at over 3,000 institutions across the U.S. and abroad. Testifying at the hearing was NIH Director Francis Collins.
In order to improve our country’s health care system, we must reduce health care costs. Some of the best ways to reduce costs are through disease prevention and wellness promotion, and I believe medical research plays a vital role in keeping Americans healthy. During the hearing, I asked Director Collins to explain how medical research at NIH can reduce health care spending, and he responded with an example regarding Alzheimer’s disease. He said the costs of this disease are expected to rise from about $180 billion currently to roughly $1 trillion by 2050. However, medical research that led to treatments that delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease could save billions. Director Collins also explained how medical research contributed to reducing the mortality rate for heart attack victims by 60 percent in recent decades at an annual low cost of around $3.70 per American.
Additionally, I discussed with Director Collins important medical research currently taking place in Kansas of which I am very proud. I recently visited the Specialized Chemistry Center (SCC) at the University of Kansas, which was established under a $20.2 million NIH research award. SCC is part of the NIH Molecular Libraries Program, which focuses on chemical biology research to yield scientific discoveries leading to new drugs and medical products. This unique research provides hope to those stricken with disease, and enhances a growing pharmaceutical industry in Kansas. There is much excitement at KU with SCC leading the way with this cutting-edge research. Click here to see video clips of my discussions with Director Collins.
Attending Dole Lecture Featuring Bob Woodward
On Sunday, I traveled to Lawrence to hear an interview with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and Washington Post Associate Editor Bob Woodward at the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics. Woodward was interviewed by Director Bill Lacy as part of the 2011 Dole Lecture series. Since July 2003, the Institute has hosted the Dole Lecture series to give Kansans the opportunity to hear a nationally prominent figure address some aspect of contemporary politics or policy. Previous Dole Lectures have been given by President Bill Clinton; Sens. Tom Daschle, Bob Dole and Elizabeth Dole; Gen. Richard Myers; and journalist Tom Brokaw. Thanks to Dole Lecture Director Bill Lacy for his efforts in planning and hosting the event.
Hosting a Tele-Town Hall
This week, I reached out to thousands of Kansans on the phone through a “tele-town hall” meeting. This innovative technology allows me to stay in touch with Kansans while I am working in Washington during the week. I appreciated the opportunity to talk with Kansans across our state and discuss a wide range of topics.
Thanks to everyone who participated and listened in, and to those who left messages with my office following the call. My office will work to respond to your questions and comments as soon as possible. Click here to watch a “behind the scenes” video of me answering a few calls. Click here to view a photo.
Bipartisan Call for Renewed Action in Africa’s Great Lakes Region
I strongly encouraged President Obama this week to appoint a Special Representative to Africa’s Great Lakes region in order to better coordinate U.S. foreign policy in this part of the world that has been plagued by instability, brutal violence and human rights abuses. In a letter to the president, 15 other senators and I pointed to the continued violence being perpetrated by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Central African Republic, and South Sudan as reason for the need for a Special Representative. Since 1986, the LRA has terrorized civilians in the Great Lakes region, abducting children and forcing them to fight in their rebel group. I have been working for several years to increase awareness about this conflict and mobilize support for ending it. In 2009, I sponsored the Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act, which called for the president to develop a strategy to support multilateral efforts to protect civilians and eliminate the LRA threat. A Special Representative to the Great Lakes region will help make certain that the president’s strategy mandated by this law is implemented. Click here to view the full text of the letter to President Obama.
McPherson “All Schools Day” Parade
On Friday, I was pleased to join local residents for the 98th annual McPherson All Schools Day Celebration parade. McPherson County created this event in 1914 to celebrate 8th grade graduates and since then, it has grown into a week-long annual Kansas event with hundreds of participants. It was great to spend time visiting with folks who attended and see many old friends. Thank you to the 2011 chairperson, Hope Cranford, and her committee for putting together this extraordinary community event. Click here to view photos from the parade.
Annual Listening Tour Stop in Coffey County
My annual listening tour continued this week in Lebo, where I visited with residents of Coffey County. Citizens shared their views with me on various topics, including gas prices, foreign aid, services for our military and veterans, and the debt ceiling. Thanks to Mary Barker and Carrie Laflin for hosting the meeting at the Coffey County Library. Click here to view photos from my stop.
“Coffee with Kansans”
It was a pleasure to once again welcome Kansans at my weekly Wednesday morning coffee in Washington, D.C. Click here to view photos from the event.
My next “Coffee with Kansans” event will be held on May 18th, 2011, in Russell Senate Office Building, Room 485, at 9:15 a.m. If you plan on being in Washington, I would encourage you to RSVP by clicking here. I look forward to visiting with you.
This month and next, I am continuing my statewide listening tour. Please find more information about my upcoming town hall meetings below. If you’re nearby, I encourage you to stop by to share your thoughts.
Thursday, May 19,
Jackson County, Hoyt
Location: Hoyt Community Building
Address: 900 Park Drive
Time: 10:00-11:00 AM
Thursday, May 19,
Pottawatomie County, St. Marys
Location: City Hall, Commission Meeting Room
Address: 200 S. 7th
Time: 11:30 AM – 12:30 PM
Monday, May 23, 2011
Douglas County, Lawrence
Time: 9:00-10:00 AM
Monday, May 30, 2011
Allen County, Iola
Location: American Legion
Address: 712 West Patterson Avenue
Time: 1:30-2:30 PM
Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Sedgwick County, Wichita (hosted by Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce)
Location: Hyatt Regency Hotel
Address: 400 W. Waterman
Time: 12:00-1:00 PM
Wednesday, June 1,
Butler County, El Dorado (hosted by El Dorado Rotary Club)
Location: El Dorado Civic Center
Address: 201 East Central Avenue
Time: 12:00-1:00 PM
Chase County, Cottonwood Falls
Location: Prairie Pastimes
Address: 220 1/2 Broadway
Time: 2:15-3:15 PM
Marion County, Florence
Location: Doyle Creek Mercantile
Address: 510 Main Street
Time: 4:00-5:00 PM
In the Office
This week we had several visitors in the Washington, D.C. office from across the state, including the Kansans listed below. Click here to view photos of some of the visits,
API Downstream Committee & Refining Managers
Farm Credit Institutions
Nelson Poultry Farms
ONEOK/Kansas Gas Service
Petroleum Marketers Association of America
Skilled Health Care Group
American Beverage Association
Kansas Library Association
Kansas Dental Association
Kansas Academy of Family Physicians
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Association
National Association of Music Merchants
University of Kansas Cancer Center
American Pharmacists Association
Kansas Dialysis Services, L.C.
Blue Beacon Truck Wash
General Aviation Manufacturers Association
The Berry Companies
National Children's Alliance
Financial Services Institute
Online Lenders Alliance
Wichita/Hutchinson Labor Federation
Federally Employed Women
Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association
Manhattan Area Technical College
Eisenhower Excellence in Public Service
Esperanza – Leadership
In the office this week to tour the United States Capitol were Patty Shields and Jeannine Neaderhiser of Topeka, Roberta Taylor of Salina, and William, Dawn, Alison and Rebecca Lewis of Olathe with their foreign exchange student Saskia Schneider of Germany. Patrick Clay of Shawnee also stopped in to visit.
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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