Kansas Common Sense
Jan 12 2015
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United Against Terrorism
This week, the world united with France in shock and grief over the terror attacks in Paris. Over the course of three days, 17 innocent people, the employees of the magazine Charlie Hebdo and Jewish patrons of a kosher grocery store, as well as a police officer, were killed by individuals who believe in committing violence, perpetuating fear and terrorizing a free and democratic society.
The events of the past week serve as a tragic reminder to the United States that the world is a dangerous place and there are extremists who will use their faith as a deceitful disguise in an effort to undermine the freedoms we hold dear. They will not succeed. We must make certain our law enforcement, intelligence and military have the support they need. Millions of citizens in France and leaders around the world courageously came together as one voice against terrorism. We stand with France and all who are victims of terror, and we remain resolved to defend our liberty and way of life.
NBAF Funded in FY 2015 Homeland Security Appropriations Bill
This week, the House Appropriations Committee released the new Fiscal Year 2015 Homeland Security Appropriations Bill which includes $300 million for construction of the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF). This amount is equal to the funding passed by the Senate Appropriations Committee last year and builds on the $404 million appropriated for the construction of NBAF in the FY2014 Omnibus Appropriations Bill.
I am working to make certain NBAF remains a top priority. This $300 million investment mirrors the funding passed out of the Senate Appropriations Committee last year and solidifies Washington’s support for the construction of a modern, world-class facility in Kansas, which will protect Americans against biological threats. I am hopeful this final funding will soon be passed by both Houses of Congress and ultimately help create jobs for Kansans in the fields of engineering, science and technology. The talented young men and women who grow up here will have more opportunities to work and live in Kansas, which is poised to become a research epicenter.
Passage of an earlier version of the FY2015 Homeland Security Appropriations Bill was stalled at the end of 2014 with President Obama’s announcement of an Executive Order granting amnesty to millions of individuals who have entered the country illegally. As a result, Congress passed a Continuing Resolution funding the Department of Homeland Security at FY2014 levels through February 27, 2015. The House Appropriations Committee Fiscal Year 2015 Homeland Security Appropriations Bill released today must pass the U.S. House of Representatives and would then be considered by the U.S. Senate to fund the remainder of FY2015. Click here to learn more about NBAF.
Opening Trade with Cuba is Common Sense, Moral Issue
Kansans have enough common sense to know that if something isn’t working after trying it for 54 years, you ought to try something different. This week, I reiterated my support for changing the half-century old unilateral U.S. sanctions and regulations that restrict the ability of American farmers and ranchers to sell their products to Cuba. My remarks came at the National Press Club launch event of the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba (USACC) – a broad coalition of agricultural organizations that was established to advocate for greater trade relations between the United States and Cuba.
Cuba imports the vast majority of its food. Yet, commerce between the United States and Cuba is severely limited due to a 50-year old trade embargo and restrictive Treasury Department regulations. Instead of selling U.S. commodities to Cuba, like homegrown Kansas wheat, our policies and regulations unilaterally block this market from our farmers. Meanwhile, when we don’t sell commodities to Cuba, somebody else does. Cuba simply purchases wheat, its second largest import, from other countries like France and Canada.
Cuba is a natural market for U.S. commodities. It costs about $6-7 per ton of grain to ship from the United States to Cuba, compared to about $20-25 per ton to ship from the European Union. It is time to reform our policies and regulations to allow our farmers to benefit from this built in advantage.
I am hopeful that economic reforms will also lead to a change in the nature of the repressive Cuban Government, as well as greater personal freedoms for the Cuban people. Allowing greater commerce and the travel of U.S. citizens to Cuba will further promote freedom and liberty by exposing Cubans to democratic thought and free market principles. And increasing the standard of living among everyday Cuban citizens will enable them to make greater demands on their own government to increase individual and political rights. There is a noble calling to try to make the world a better place for all citizens, including those who live in Cuba. Common sense says we ought to do this and, in fact, our morality says we ought to do this. Let's make the difference; let’s make the change. I think this is a Congress that has the ability to do that.
I appreciated the invitation to speak at the USACC event this week, and look forward to working with my Congressional colleagues to improve the opportunities Americans as producers have in Cuba. Click here to watch my full remarks on YouTube.
Visiting with Kansas Businesses
This week, I enjoyed visiting with Kansas business leaders and their employees at Wesley Rehabilitation Hospital, Bartlett and Company, Ultra-Ice, Florence Manufacturing and Perceptive Software.
Touring Wesley Rehabilitation Hospital in Overland Park
This week, I also visited Mid America Rehabilitation Hospital (MARH) in Overland Park to see firsthand the care they provide to Kansas patients to help them return to active and independent lives. MARH is a 98-bed inpatient rehabilitation hospital that provides a wide range of physical rehab services through a highly skilled network of physicians, therapists and nurses. These health care professionals utilize the most innovative, specialized rehab technology and medical equipment, providing Kansans with access to the highest quality care. In addition to rehab care, MARH has specialized inpatient programs for spinal cord injury, stroke, brain injury, neurological conditions, and amputation. I enjoyed having to opportunity to tour the 106,000-square-foot hospital and visit with MARH’s executive team and medical staff about health policy issues affecting rehabilitation care, including the relationship between Medicare reimbursement and access to quality, rehab services. Thanks to MARH CEO Troy DeDecker for hosting my visit.
Bartlett and Company
This week, I visited Bartlett and Company whose focus is grain merchandising, flour milling, feed manufacturing and cattle feeding. After more than 100 years, Bartlett is still family owned and managed. They currently operate nine grain facilities in Kansas, and currently construction another facility in Barton County. Thanks to Jim Hebenstreit for the informative visit.
Ultra-ICE in Manhattan
While in Manhattan on Monday, I also visited Ultra Electronics-ICE Corporation in Manhattan. ICE was started more than 30 years ago by Kansas State students as a company dedicated to excellence and innovation in aircraft electronics. Ultra Electronics acquired ICE in May, but retained the original management team. Today, ICE continues to apply its research in a variety of products and industries – specializing in the design, manufacturing, qualification and testing of aerospace electronics. Seventy-five percent of their products are commercial and the other 25 percent support U.S. military efforts. We discussed the importance of STEM education and entrepreneurship to support future manufacturing needs. Thanks to Randy O'Boyle and Gregroy Thom at Ultra-ICE for the great visit.
Florence Manufacturing Company
On Monday morning, I visited Florence Manufacturing Company in Manhattan. Florence Manufacturing is the largest manufacturer and leading product developer of postal approved centralized mailboxes and parcel lockers in North America with more than 600 employees. They also recently celebrated their 80th anniversary. Their main message to me was about the importance of a stable and viable postal service. Thanks again to Florence President John Alstadt and the Florence employees for the informative tour.
Also on Friday, I had the opportunity to tour Perceptive Software’s new offices in Lenexa. Perceptive Software started as a small startup company and grew into a company that employees hundreds of people and are located around the world. The main topics we discussed were how they manage the growth of the company and their high customer satisfaction rates. Leadership promotes entrepreneurial thinking throughout the company and assisting startup companies to grow along with promotion of STEM education. Thank you to Chief Operating Officer Darren Knipp and Vice President for the Government Sector Dennis Cunningham for the informative tour. Thank you also to Lenexa Mayor Mike Boehm and Blake Schreck, President of Lenexa Chamber for joining me on the tour.
Lenexa Kansas Listening Tour Stop
Before leaving for Washington this week, I held a Kansas Listening Tour stop in Lenexa to hear from Kansans and learn more about issues they consider critical as the 114th Congress begins. Thanks to the more than 275 Johnson Countians who braved the cold and shared feedback on issues including veterans' affairs, the Affordable Care Act, foreign policy, immigration, the ABLE Act, Fair Tax and the budget. Thanks to Lenexa Mayor Mike Boehm and Deputy Fire Chief Lonny Owens for their assistance in organizing the event.
Saint Luke's Cushing Hospital in Leavenworth
As I traveled back Kansas for the weekend, I stopped in Leavenworth to tour Saint Luke’s Cushing Hospital and visit with hospital administrators and staff. I have had the opportunity to visit each of the 128 community hospitals in Kansas. Meeting with Kansas hospital administrators, physicians, nurses and other staff gives me important insight on the challenges they face caring for patients, including challenges created by the Affordable Care Act and other federal regulations that jeopardize patients’ access to care.
This visit was also a way to learn more about renovations and expansions taking place at the hospital that will benefit the quality of care provided to patients of Saint Luke’s Cushing. The construction is part of a 5-year, $20 million commitment Saint Luke’s Health System has made to the Leavenworth community. Through this investment, Saint Luke’s Cushing patients will benefit from renovations to the Radiology Department and the Medical-Surgical Unit, resulting in private rooms for every patient. Patients will also benefit from a new Intensive Care Unit, expansion of the Emergency Department, and renovation of the Medical Plaza Building to facilitate expanded outpatient specialty care. Thanks to Saint Luke’s Cushing CEO Adele Ducharme for hosting my visit. (Pictured with me here left to right is Leavenworth Mayor Mark Preisinger, Saint Luke's Cushing Hospital CEO Adele Ducharme and Kansas State Senator Steve Fitzgerald.)
Requesting GAO Study of Major Government Technology Investments
Given the failures of major IT investments, such as Healthcare.gov, making improvements to federal IT procurement policies continues to be a priority for me. On Wednesday, I wrote to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to request a review of how well federal agencies are implementing incremental information technology development approaches and assessing the risk of their IT investments. Last year during Senate Appropriations budget hearings, David Powner of GAO testified that roughly 200 major federal IT investments totaling $12.4 billion were at risk or in need of management attention. This year, the federal government plans to spend $79 billion on IT investments, of which, approximately $40.4 billion will be spent on more than 750 major investments. The requested GAO study will help identify how agencies are managing risk for these projects and will also reveal how well agencies are developing in an agile fashion, much like the private sector. This study will be valuable to Congress, especially the Appropriations Committee, as we determine funding levels for projects and make certain taxpayer funds are used as efficiently and effectively as possible to deliver agencies missions. I look forward to studying this topic further and working to provide more value to American taxpayers.
2015 Kansas Inauguration
It was great to kick off 2015 Kansas Legistlative Session over the weekend at a banquet on Saturday night with more than 1,300 Kansans celebrating the past and future of our great state. Best wishes to all the newly elected legislators as well as the Kansas Board of Education Members, the Justices of the Kansas Court of Appeals, Justices of the Supreme Court of Kansas, State Treasurer Ron Estes, Commissioner of Insurance Ken Selzer, Attorney General Derek Schmidt, Secretary of State Kris Kobach, Lt. Gov. Dr. Jeff Colyer and Gov. Sam Brownback who were all sworn in today. Here, I’m pictured with four fellow Hays natives – (L to R) Braden Dreiling, Heath Kohl, Lt. Gov. Colyer and Rep. Travis Couture-Lovelady.
Kansans in the Office
Ryan Thornburgh of Topeka
Jarrod Bartlett of Wichita
Bread for the World
Robert Harlan of Mission Hills
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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