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. I hope you had a safe and enjoyable July 4 celebrating America’s 237th birthday.
Last week, the Senate was out of session so senators could work back in their states, so I spent the week in Kansas attending several events. From time to time, people will ask me, “Why aren’t you all back in Washington, D.C., working?” The Senate schedule is determined by the Majority Leader, Harry Reid.
Administration Delays ACA Employer Mandate
On Tuesday, the Administration announced that it will delay implementation of the Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate until 2015. The employer mandate requires businesses of 50 employees or more to provide a prescribed level of health insurance or pay a penalty between $2,000 and $3,000 for each employee working 30 hours or more a week. I am a cosponsor of the American Job Protection Act (S. 399), legislation to repeal this mandate because it forces business owners to provide a one-size-fits-all health coverage — at the expense of jobs, higher wages and other benefits — or pay a penalty to the federal government. The employer mandate is expected to lead to an estimated 3.2 million lost jobs, according to the nonpartisan Hudson Institute. The Congressional Budget Office found that tax penalties imposed by the mandate would hit employers with $150 billion in new taxes over 11 years. Increasing regulations and compliance costs for businesses are no way to promote jobs.
While the Administration finally admitted that the employer mandate is unworkable in 2014, it now must recognize that the real problem continues to be the entire ACA. Implementation of the ACA has not lowered costs or increased access as promised. Individuals, families and employers still face increasing health insurance costs, new taxes overseen by what we have recently learned is a politically-biased IRS, burdensome mandates, and massive uncertainty because of this flawed law. The best course of action is to dismantle the ACA and replace it with practical reforms that are workable and will actually reduce health care costs. Click here to learn more about this matter.
Need to Permanently Address Interest Rates for All Federal Student Loans
Higher education helps students reach their full potential in their careers and beyond. On July 6, 2012, legislation was signed into law to temporarily extend the 3.4 percent interest rate for new federally subsidized undergraduate student loans through June 2013. These particular loans account for roughly 40 percent of all federal student loans. Because Congress did not reach an agreement, the interest rate for new loans issued after July 1, 2013, reverted to 6.8 percent. Loans made before July 1, 2013, are not affected.
Education can be a family’s most important investment and ought not be complicated by short-sighted Washington politics. Rather than settling for another ineffective, short-term patch that only helps a portion of students, it is time for Congress and the President to pass a student loan policy that provides certainty and reflects the long-term financial planning students and families undertake to pay for higher education. In the interest of both students and taxpayers, I support legislation that permanently addresses interest rate levels for all federal student loans.
During recent Senate debate on this matter, I voted for a proposal that would permanently tie the interest rate for all new federal student loans to the Treasury 10-year borrowing rate. Unfortunately, this measure failed 40-57 on June 6, 2013. Since that time, a bipartisan coalition in the Senate has reached agreement on legislation to base student loan interest rates on market rates. The House of Representatives already passed a similar bill and the Obama Administration offered a plan like this in its 2014 budget. However, some Senate Democrats continue to advocate for another short-term extension of the current interest rate for only a portion of federal student loans. This temporary extension would be paid for with permanent tax increases. There is bipartisan consensus on a path forward, and I am hopeful that an agreement can be reached to retroactively address this issue before many students return to school at the end of summer.
Agriculture Unmanned Aircraft Systems Demonstration
On Tuesday, I joined Kansas State University and the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems (AUVSI) for a precision agriculture demonstration utilizing Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) to enhance the care of crops, livestock, pasture and rangelands. Kansas is poised to benefit significantly from the rapidly growing unmanned systems industry and the forthcoming integration of UAS into the U.S. airspace. A recent AUVSI study projects that UAS integration will contribute an economic impact of $2.9 billion and create 3,716 new jobs in Kansas by 2025.
As the aerospace industry grows and looks to take on new ventures and industries, there is real potential for these systems to be used responsibly and safely in an industry already booming in Kansas: agriculture. For instance, researchers at K-State use these systems to accurately and efficiently locate and quantify harmful algae affecting many Kansas lakes and ponds, which was discussed in depth during the demonstration. K-State is also working on projects that will deliver detailed economic benefits on how UAS can impact growers, seed distributors, and crop breeders. The K-State flight demonstrations highlighted one of the greatest potential implications for unmanned aircraft technology – saving farmers millions of dollars in time and resources while improving the economy as well. In 2015 alone, the total economic impact of agriculture spending on unmanned aircraft in Kansas is estimated to reach more than $75 million, with 772 new jobs created. The number of ways farmers and ranchers can utilize UAS are endless — from mapping the spread of disease or insects within a field to applying fertilizer to a specific area of crops — and I look forward to continued progress in this field. Click here to see a photo from the demonstration.
Family-Owned Businesses Thrive in Pittsburg
Monday morning I joined the Pittsburg community to celebrate two family-owned businesses: Jake’s Fireworks and Watco Companies.
I spoke at the ribbon cutting ceremony for Jake’s Fireworks’ new world headquarters. Jake’s has been in the fireworks business since 1930 and is still owned and operated by the Marietta Family. While their first fireworks were cattails dipped in kerosene to use as sparklers, today they do business internationally and have 500 employees here in the United States. Five generations of the Marietta family have committed to keeping their American Dream alive and I appreciated the opportunity to help share their success story. Thanks to Mick, Jake, Jason and John Marietta for the invitation. I enjoyed visiting with Kansas Senator Jacob LaTurner, Representatives Bob Grant and Rich Proehl. Thank you to Mayor Michael Gray and Pittsburg City Commissioners Monica Murnan, Patrick O’Bryan, John Ketterman and Chuck Munsell for the warm welcome to your city. Click here to see a photo.
It was a pleasure to join Watco Companies LLC to celebrate their 30th anniversary on Monday. Established in 1983 by Dick and Kaye Lynne Webb, the company started with only eight employees. Based on a philosophy of taking care of their customers, employees and delivering a quality service, Watco has become a leader in their industry. Today, they employ more than 600 employees including Kansans and operate in 21 states as well as in Australia. Congratulations to CEO Rick Webb, Kaye Lynne Webb, their families and employees on this milestone. The celebration concluded with the renaming and unveiling of “Watco Team Drive” for the street leading up to the company. Thank you to Ed McKechnie and the Webb’s for inviting me to speak and be a part of this special occasion. Click here to see a photo.
Visiting Kansas Health Care Facilities
It is vital that members of Congress understand the challenges facing health care providers and their patients. Access to health care determines whether Kansans can remain in their communities and whether their children can return home to raise families of their own. I visited two health care facilities last week: Via Christi in Pittsburg and Kiowa County Memorial Hospital in Greensburg.
While in Pittsburg, I visited Via Christi hospital and viewed construction of their new, 40,000-square-foot Surgery Center. The center will feature five operating rooms, two endoscopy rooms, pre- and post-operating and recovery rooms and a minor procedure room. CEO Randy Cason and his executive team shared with me some of the successes and challenges they are seeing in health care in Southeast Kansas. Thank you to Vice President of Operations Drew Talbott, Vice President of Planning and Business Development Bill Aquino and Mount Carmel Foundation Director Duane Dreiling.
Kiowa County Memorial Hospital
Wednesday afternoon, I toured Kiowa County Memorial Hospital to visit with hospital administrators, doctors, nurses and other staff members about issues that impact the way the hospital delivers quality care to patients in South Central Kansas. Kiowa County Memorial Hospital is a state-of-the-are facility serving thousands of Kansans annually from Kiowa County and the Surrounding area. During my visit, we discussed how certain factors that may be beyond a hospital’s control, such as a facility’s rural location or the age and volume of patients treated, can significantly affect the costs of furnishing care. We also discussed how federal policies create uncertainty for rural hospitals that require them to frequently reevaluate how to best allocate their limited resources to serve the unique needs of their communities. My special thanks to Greensburg Mayor Bob Dixson, Gene West, and others for joining me after the tour to discuss community issues and get an update on the many good things happening in Kiowa County. I appreciate the welcome and hospitality.
Pictured here are Rocky Preble, CNA, and Carolyn Irvin, Social Services and Nursing Employee.
Celebrating Independence Day in Kansas
Derby Independence Day Parade
I kicked off my Fourth of July celebrations at the Derby Independence Day Parade. It was good to see Derby Mayor Dion Avello and speak with local citizens and honored veterans. Thanks to Mike and Angie Turner for driving me in the parade. Click here to see a photo.
Dole Veterans’ Affairs Transition Living Center BBQ
After the parade, I joined veterans and employees at the Robert J. Dole VA Transitional Living Center (TLC) for a barbecue. The TLC is designed to provide veterans the opportunity to achieve optimal function in order to maintain or improve their quality of life. Located within the Dole VA campus, they provide respite care, rehabilitation or skilled nursing and long term care to veterans. I appreciated the opportunity to attend the barbecue and it was an honor to express on behalf of Kansans our gratitude to these veterans in person. Our freedoms are made possible because of their service and sacrifice. Thank you to Lisa Blackburn for coordinating my visit. Click here to see a photo of me with U.S. Army Veteran Frank Bruner and U.S. Navy Veteran Willie Crump.
Wamego Independence Day Parade
I wrapped up my Fourth of July celebrations by joining the Wamego community for their annual parade. The theme was “Glory for the Red, White and Blue.” I hope everyone enjoyed celebrating Independence Day with family and friends, and took time to reflect on the many sacrifices of those who ensure our freedom.
Attending Dodge City Lions Club
Last week, I gave remarks and took questions at Dodge City Lions Club. It was great to see Lions Club Members as well as Dodge City Community College President Don Woodburn. Lions Clubs International is the world’s largest service club organization with 1.35 million members in more than 45,000 clubs, including more than 270 clubs in Kansas. In addition to its efforts to conquer blindness, the organization has made a strong commitment to community service, disaster relief, and helping youth in Kansas and throughout the world. Thanks to incoming president Dr. Roenfeldt, and outgoing president Charles Wilkerson for your work and for allowing me to join you. Click here to see a photo.
Monday, I stopped in Pleasanton and had the opportunity to visit with business and community leaders. Unfortunately, several Downtown Linn County buildings were destroyed early last year by fire, but community leaders and volunteers are working together revitalize it. The area now has a new park, and there are plans to begin construction of a community center. I also visited Pleasanton Thriftway, which was destined for closure less than a year ago but was recently purchased and Pleasanton now has a modern, full-service grocery store. Community leaders also took me to an area of land between Pleasanton and the US-69 bypass. A water and wastewater infrastructure project will be breaking ground soon to allow the community to grow toward the highway and bridge the gap. It was nice to see how community leaders and dedicated volunteers work together to see that good things continue to happen in Pleasanton. Click here to see a photo.
Groendyke Terminal Tour
Tuesday, I had the opportunity to tour the Groendyke Transportation Terminal in Hutchinson. Groendyke is currently the fifth-largest tank truck carrier in the United States, operating 34 terminals in 12 states. As a leading carrier of petroleum, chemicals and other liquid bulk products, Groendyke has consistently proven to have the safest drivers on the road and has been awarded the prestigious Heil Trophy six times for their rigorous efforts. It was interesting to learn more about the operations, employee recruitment and the ways Munds Terminal and Groendyke work hard to meet customers’ needs while emphasizing safety. The visit gave me the opportunity to learn more about federal regulation of safety and environmental issues in the trucking industry. Thanks to John Prather for the invitation and Mark Munds, Terminal Manager, for the informative tour. Click here to see a photo of my visit.
In the Office
Last week we had several visitors in the Washington, D.C., office, including the Kansans listed below:
Mike Poling of Kansas City
National Young Leaders Conference
Rachel Schuster of Gardner
Kortlin Bean of Garden City
Charles Elam of Spring Hill
Tommy Webster of Mission Hills
Olivia Crum of Haysville
DC Capitol Tour
Scott Brunner of Topeka
Tanya Brunner of Topeka
Ryan Brunner of Topeka
Evan Brunner of Topeka
Leyton Brunner of Topeka
Stephen King of Atchison
Monika King of Atchison
Alexander King of Atchison
Dinesh Chinalachaiagari of Overland Park
Kavitha Chinalachaiagari of Overland Park
Megana Chinalachaiagari of Overland Park
Rohan Chinalachaiagari of Overland Park
Kyle Farr of Manhattan
Kori Farr of Manhattan
Gerard Wellbrock of Hays
Tammy Wellbrock of Hays
Paul Byrne of Prairie Village
Veronica Byrne of Prairie Village
Lauren Byrne of Prairie Village
Rob Hummel of Leawood
Patty Hummel of Leawood
Carlene Hummel of Leawood
Madison Hummel of Leawood
Katherine Hummel of Leawood
Robert Hummel of Leawood
Mark Kohlrus of Lenexa
Lisa Kohrus of Lenexa
Zachary Kohlrus of Lenexa
Christopher Kohlrus of Lenexa
Maggie Kohlrus of Lenexa
Debbie Kohlrus of Lexexa
Jeanne Meadows of Overland Park
Dewayne Meadows of Overland Park
Victor Swyden of Overland Park
Susan Swyden of Overland Park
Nicholas Swyden of Overland Park
Jannett Wiens of Topeka
Mike Turner of Topeka
Daryl Beam of Hays
Corina Beam of Hays
Tyler Beam of Hays
Tanner Beam of Gardner
Katie Beam of Gardner
Ajay Arora of Overland Park
Priti Arora of Overland Park
Sonia Arora of Overland Park
Arnold Zissman of Overland Park
Constance Zissman of Overland Park
Blake Zissman of Overland Park
Elise Zissman of Overland Park
Patricia Welicky of Bonner Springs
Joshua Welicky of Bonner Springs
Sasha Welicky of Bonner Springs
Alice Neal of Edwardsville
Audra Mitchell of Overland Park
Reagan Mitchell of Overland Park
Mike Thomas of Shawnee
Jana Thomas of Shawnee
Robby Thomas of Shawnee
Brian Junge of Overland Park
Wei Li of Olathe
Ruiqi Li of Olathe
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 debt crisis and 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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