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Agriculture and trade, veterans issues, gun laws and the national debt were among the topics U.S. Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) addressed during his town hall meeting Friday morning at the Concordia American Legion Post #76.
The town hall meeting was part of Moran’s annual Listening Tour. There were approximately 50 people in attendance to discuss the issues.
Discussing agriculture issues, Moran said that one of the main reasons he wants the job is to do everything he can to make sure rural America is around for a while longer.
“The reality is that it works best, and maybe only, when farmers and ranchers are having success. When there is profitability in agriculture,” Moran said.
Moran said that the farm income is down in Kansas by 50 percent since 2013.
“These are huge challenging times. I don’t think this is the 80s yet, interest rates aren’t what they were then and land values have generally held their own. But the challenges are there.”
Moran said that part of the struggle in agriculture now is trade.
“We need the House of Representatives in Washington D.C. to take up the issue of U.S.-MCA (United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement), it is the replacement for NAFTA. Mexico is the number one purchaser of ag commodities from Kansas. Canada is the number one purchaser if you combine manufacturing goods and ag commodities from Kansas. So our relationships between these two countries are hugely important.”
Moran said that he was pleased to see President Donald Trump negotiate a replacement for NAFTA as compared to walk away from NAFTA.
“I worry that if we don’t get this approved the president may still walk away from NAFTA. And having no agreement between these three countries will be very damaging for the Kansas economy,” Moran said.
Mexico has already approved the agreement, and Canada is waiting on approval by the United States.
The agreement must be passed by Congress and signed by the president. The approval must start in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Moran said that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has indicated to the president two or three things she is interested in changing in the agreement.
“I think it will pass if a vote is taken. If the House approves it, I think you will see the Senate do the same,” Moran said.
Moran also discussed the issue of the ongoing trade war with China.
“The president tweeted ‘if you don’t like the tariffs just don’t buy anything from China.’ We all can do that, I suppose. But what about the things we sell to China? And that is agriculture in general,” Moran said.
Moran said he has met with the president and encouraged him to wrap up the trade issues with China as soon as possible.
“Unfortunately, I don’t see anything on the horizon that suggests that is the case. I hope I am wrong,” Moran said.
How quickly the markets return for U.S. goods once an agreement with China is in place is a concern.
“Once those who buy from us decided that Argentina and Brazil are where they are buying, how do we capture them back?” Moran said, “We spent millions of dollars, taxpayer and checkoff dollars, trying to grow our markets.”
Moran said that the longer the trade issues go on, the more likely it is that rural Kansas will struggle to put its communities back together.
“I am still going to do everything I can to remind people in Congress, people in the administration, the trade ambassador’s office, that getting this done sooner rather than later is hugely important to the people of many of the places, if not all, that I represent in Kansas,” Moran said.
Moran, who serves on the committee of veterans’ affairs, discussed the VA Maintaining Internal Systems and Strengthening Integrated Outside Networks Act (VA MISSION Act) that he introduced along with the late Senator John McCain.
About four years ago the law was changed that allowed military veterans that lived outside of 40 miles from a Veterans Administration hospital, or if it takes the VA more than 30 days to provide the service, to have the choice to access care at home.
“My view was the VA didn’t like this law very much and went out of their way to make it pretty difficult for veterans to qualify,” Moran said.
In looking to change the law, looking at what is in the best interest of a veteran was taken into consideration.
“We have defined best interest of a veteran so restrictively that the VA can’t mess with this in about 12 ways,” Moran said.
Most importantly, the law allows the decision of what is in the best interest of a veteran to be determined by the VA provider responsible for that veteran and by the veteran.
“So now, if it is in the best interest of the veteran, determined by those two people, the veteran and his or or provider, then the veteran can go where he or she wants to go for care and treatment. It could be because of distance, but it could be because maybe the quality would be better some place else,” Moran said.
Under the new law, mental health care providers will be able to contract with the VA to provide services.
“Twenty veterans a day commit suicide. We can’t afford to tell somebody ‘well you need to come to Wichita or Kansas City or Leavenworth or Topeka,” Moran said.
Moran said that another part of the new law becomes a Concordia and Cloud County issue.
“Just like our schools need every student, our hospitals need every patient. The more services we can provide at home, the more we stabilize the health care delivery system here and elsewhere across Kansas,”Moran said.
The bill requires the VA to reimburse Cloud County Health Center at critical access hospital rates.
“That is a new component which means more revenue coming for every veteran we care for here in Cloud County,” Moran said.
During the town hall, Moran was asked why we can’t come up with some kind of Kansas common sense to get some reasonable gun registration requirement in the wake of the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, that left 31 dead.
“Why should it be so difficult to get a driver’s license and so easy to buy a killing machine?” Moran was asked.
Moran said that he thinks that Congress has tried, and we have had some success in trying to improve the register by which you get rejected from buying a gun, but what was discovered in previous shootings is the local, state, Air Force in this case, they weren’t reporting the crimes that were being committed in order to get into this system.”
“I don’t know exactly what the Second Amendment means, but I know it doesn’t mean that every piece of firearm can be owned or held by somebody. There are weapons today that didn't exist at the time of the framing of our Constitution,” Moran said, “Whatever we do, I think we should make certain we don’t violate the Constitution. Again, not knowing exactly what those words mean."
Moran said he believes the debate in Washington D.C. will be focused on three things, better background checks, the definition of assault rifles and how do they fit into ability to own firearms and a “red flag” law.
“I think that conversation is increasing. That is not an answer for people who want a solution to this today. But I also would say this, regulating firearms, again Constitutional issues there, how do you solve the problem that there are millions of guns across the country today? You can say you can’t buy an assault weapon today, but there are still hundreds of thousands of assault weapons across the country,” Moran said.
Moran said that the problem is “people.”
“How do we instill in people values? How do we get rid of the hate or racism or whatever a motivation? How do we change people’s minds and hearts so they behave in ways that they don’t have the sense that when they are angry or offended, or don’t like a particular kind of person, the solution is to go out and kill them? That is a long term problem with society. It is a problem with us as human beings. I am talking as a parent, as a human being, as a citizen. We need values. We need character, and nobody should grow up with a thought that it is okay to go out and kill somebody. How do we get to that point?” Moran said.
Once audience member said that she believes that rhetoric from President Trump is contributing to the hate, and that racism is deeper than we think.
“Words do matter. We use words that can pull people apart and we can use words that pull us together,” Moran said, “I don’t like the rhetoric I hear in politics today coming from the president or others."
Moran said that what he is asked most about from the press is what he thinks about what the president tweeted.
“I don’t follow what the president tweets. I don’t even watch the national news anymore, but words matter and how we say things can cause better things to happen or they can cause worse things to happen. I don’t know how you change this particular circumstance,” Moran said.
Moran said it is a more divided country and a more divided Kansas than it was in the past.
“If you are trying to communicate with me through Facebook, I do not read my posts. I have never met people who talk to me like people talk to me on Facebook. I actually don’t think it is Kansans, I think it is the Russians, and I am serious about that. I think they are creating a circumstance in which they are augmenting the way people talk,” Moran said, “But somehow we have got to figure out how we come together and not pull ourselves apart. The thing that is most divisive in the country today seems to be politics, and people seem to be more focused on politics than anything else. Where is our commitment to our schools, to our churches, to the Lions Club, to the VFW, to the American Legion. Where are the things that in this community generally brought people together, compared to Fox News versus CNN and pulling us apart.”
Moran also addressed a comment on the rising national debt during the meeting.
“I went to Congress with the goal of doing something significant about the national debt and I wish we would have had more success because it is increasing and not diminishing,” Moran said, “We spend much more money than we take in. There are many more advocates that come to Washington D.C. to tell me we need money for this. There are advocates who come to tell me not to spend any money.”
Moran said that the topic of the national debt, which was one of the main topics raised when he first started doing town hall meetings, is rarely raised now.
“Over time, it seems to me that Democrats have wandered away from the importance of debt and now Republicans wandered away from the importance of affecting our debt, and it is very rare that this comes front and center in our nation’s capital,” Moran said.
Moran said that what he works most on now is growing the economy and keeping the spending level.
“The day of reckoning is coming. This is my view, I share yours. We can limp along here, but at some point in time those who we borrow money from will decide we are not credit worthy, interest rates will skyrocket, and also they may not lend us money, and what happened in Greece and other places around the world, we are not immune from that happening to the United States of America,” Moran said.
Moran said that 70 percent of the money spent by the federal government is on mandatory spending such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and interest on the debt.
“Those things are on autopilot. Every year I am in Congress I don’t vote to spend money on Social Security, it just gets spent. And President Trump, in his campaign, took these issues off the table. He said we are not going to mess with Social Security and Medicare,” Moran said, “We have to touch Social Security or it won’t be here.”
Moran said he is not trying to undo Social Security and Medicare, but if we want to do something about the debt and deficit you have to deal with the big issues.
“We could eliminate the 30 percent of spending we do every year, spend nothing, and we are still on the path toward bankruptcy because of Medicare, Social Security, interest on the debt. It just is a fact,” Moran said.
Moran said that with a Republican as president and Democrats controlling the House, now is the time to do big things.
“Again, it would take a president who wants to pull people together and not pull people apart,” Moran said.
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