Kansas Common Sense

Welcome to “Kansas Common Sense.” Thanks 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.

Wishing You a Happy Holidays
Happy holidays to you and yours! Robba and I hope that are able to spend quality time with loved ones during this joyous season. May God bless you and your families in the New Year – we look forward to what 2019 has in store!

As we gather with loved ones to celebrate this season, we are also thinking of the many men and women in uniform at home and abroad who are unable to be with friends and family as they fight to protect our homeland. Missing the holidays represents one of the many sacrifices our servicemembers make, and I am grateful for their dedicated service to their fellow Americans. 

An Update on the Partial Government Shutdown
I am actively working with my colleagues and the president to reopen the government and secure our borders, and I believe my colleagues can and should come to a bipartisan consensus on this national security issue, while keeping the government fully operational. To view more information on what this means for Kansans, federal agencies and federal employees, click here.  

Thanking Secretary Mattis
I have great respect for Secretary Mattis and his nearly 46 years of service to our nation. Over the course of his honorable career, he has undeniably been one of the most influential leaders of our Armed Forces, demonstrating a character and resolve that our enemies should fear and our allies can trust.

The men and women who serve our nation deserve stability during this time of transition and uncertainty as we face growing global threats.

Encouraging Further Deliberation on Troop Withdrawal from Syria
I join my Senate colleagues in calling on President Trump to reconsider his decision of a full withdrawal from Syria at this time. Substantive deliberation regarding a withdrawal strategy in Syria is needed, and ought to involve consultation with our nation’s top national security leaders and military officers overseeing operations in Syria, as well as with our anti-ISIS coalition partners.

Americans Should See Mueller Investigation Report
Since the special counsel investigation began, I’ve been a proponent of allowing Robert Mueller to complete his work. I recently reiterated this point when former AG Jeff Sessions announced his departure from the Trump administration.

Regardless of who the Attorney General is, the findings of the investigation and relevant materials should be released to Congress and the American people. The disclosure of information will best restore Americans' trust in our institutions of government during a divided time in our nation.

Voting Against Stop-Gap Government Spending 
The American people are tired of stop-gap funding measures and partisan politics. Rather than immediately resorting to another CR, we ought to work together to get back to the basics of governing.

The president repeatedly indicated his interest and flexibility in striking a funding deal for FY2019. Democrat leaders’ refusal to compromise is extremely frustrating, and after speaking with numerous colleagues on both sides of the aisle, I remain convinced that we could have reached a long-term agreement that would have also better secured our borders.

We ought not be in a position where we’re relying on last year’s appropriations bills to fund this year’s government. I’m disappointed that after Congress successfully passed appropriations bills to fund 75 percent of the federal government through 2019, we couldn’t come to an agreement for the remaining appropriations bills – including my bipartisan CJS bill, which funds vital agencies like the Department of Justice and NASA. Punting on spending decisions now will only make funding the government in February more difficult.

Therefore, I did not support the short-term and short-sighted CR. Click here to watch my floor remarks following the Senate’s vote.

Passing Historic Criminal Justice Reform
The First Step Act is a remarkable bipartisan achievement. Supported by the president, a supermajority of the United States Senate, and law enforcement and advocacy groups from across the political spectrum, this legislation will allow non-violent offenders to serve time that fits their crime and then, importantly, provide them the opportunity to re-emerge as productive members of society. This legislation is an important first step in promoting a fair and effective criminal justice system, and as an original cosponsor of this bill and chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee that oversees funding for our state and federal law enforcement agencies, I will work to make certain law enforcement has the tools it needs to remain tough on crime and provide former prisoners a second chance at life.

Included in the First Step Act is reauthorization of the Second Chance Act, which includes grant programs for drug rehabilitation, vocational training, mentoring, and other reentry and recidivism reduction initiatives. My Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Subcommittee overwhelmingly voted to fund the Second Chance Act’s grant programs at $90 million for FY2019.

This comprehensive package aims to reduce crime by helping low-risk inmates prepare to successfully rejoin society through participation in proven recidivism reduction and professional development programs. But it is important to ensure that some crimes don’t go unpunished, and this legislation preserves the maximum potential sentences for violent and career criminals. I appreciate the hard work of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle on this legislation, and I look forward to it becoming law. Click here to read more on this legislation.

USDA Issues Second Round of Tariff Payments to Farmers
Last week, the president announced the authorization of the second round of tariff mitigation payments from USDA. This announcement is welcome news for Kansas farmers and ranchers as they continue to struggle with low prices. These payments will provide short-term relief to producers harmed most by the tariffs; however, no disaster package will be enough to cover the long-term costs of lost export markets. 

I was encouraged by China’s recent decision to purchase more U.S. soybeans. As discussions continue between the U.S. and China to resolve our trade dispute, I look forward to more positive developments regarding trade agreements as Kansas farmers and ranchers continue to feel the effects of this tit-for-tat tariff battle. I will also continue to focus on maintaining strong trade relationships with other trading partners, including Kansas’ largest export markets, Canada and Mexico.

Raising Concern on OPTN’s Liver Transplantation Allocation Policy Changes
I spoke on the Senate floor this week regarding the process followed by the Organ Procurement Transplant Network (OPTN) to create a new liver allocation policy for the United States. I delivered this floor speech on the heels of probing Health and Human Services Secretary Azar with Senator Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) over recent changes to the national liver distribution policy made by the OPTN. Under the new policy, Midwestern and Southern transplant hospitals, including hospitals located in the Kansas City and the St. Louis areas, could see patients from Kansas and Missouri waiting longer for a liver match. This decision would radically alter how donated livers are distributed across the United States, to the detriment of Kansas patients and transplant hospitals.

This decision is the result of a deeply flawed process in which expert, surgeon, and patient input was openly ignored by the boards responsible for crafting how organs are distributed across the country. OPTN’s recent decision would limit Kansans’ ability to access donated organs for transplant, and hinder the Midwest Transplant Network, Kansas’ lone organ procurement organization, from ensuring there are organs available for those that need them. The Midwest Transplant Network is a national leader in procuring organs for later donation – a testament to Kansans willingness to help one another.

I remain committed to finding answers to why this policy was rushed forward so recklessly and finding a better solution that puts patients and providers first in these life-or-death scenarios. I will continue to work to protect our hospitals, doctors, and patients from this policy that disregarded all input from those in the transplant community. Watch my floor speech here and read more about this issue here.

Ensuring the Proper Implementation of theVA MISSION Act
On Wednesday, I questioned Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Robert Wilkie, during a joint hearing of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees on the Implementation of the VA MISSION Act. I led several key provisions included in the VA MISSION Act that were meant to safeguard the intent of Congress to transform the VA into an integrated healthcare system for the 21st century, and to prevent the VA from limiting access to healthcare as we have seen in the past under the Veterans Choice Program. 

During the hearing, I reminder the Secretary that the VA MISSION Act requires the VA to consult with Congress to make certain that we have a voice on behalf of our veterans in the regulations that will dictate the new community care program before they are determined and published by the VA. I requested additional detail be provided to Congress as the VA formulates community care regulations so that we may encourage, comment and suggest alterations prior to decisions being made.  I also received the Secretary’s commitment to work with me as the VA crafts a definition for “episode of care” for veterans under the new community care program, which is so important to reducing the burdensome process veterans face having to return to the VA each time they need another appointment or service to treat or resolve the same condition.

Another key provision that I made certain was in the VA MISSION Act was requiring the VA to establish access standards for veterans to receive care in the community and I received the Secretary’s assurance that these standards will be applied to where a veteran resides and in relation to the closest VA facility that offers the care the veteran requires. I was encouraged to hear the Secretary commit to fixing the VA’s broad interpretation of where care is available within the VA. I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues to make certain that the VA implements the VA MISSION Act in the best interest of veterans as Congress intended. Click here to watch my questioning.

Honoring Lynn Jenkins and Kevin Yoder on the Senate Floor
I spoke on the Senate floor to honor and recognize two of my Kansas colleagues, Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins and Congressman Kevin Yoder.

The senior U.S. Representative from Kansas, Lynn has gracefully and honorably served Kansans for two decades in both our state and federal government. Her career began in Kansas, as a CPA with a deep desire for financial and tax reform. As a member of Congress, she fulfilled those desires as a high-ranking Republican in House leadership and on the Ways and Means Committee, where she was instrumental in overhauling our tax code – a feat that was completed for the first time in 30 years.

A fellow small town kid, Lynn grew up on a dairy farm and knows the value of hard work and in rolling up your sleeves to get things done. Kansans will remember her for the incredible progress she made on tax reform and on Mental Health First Aid, but more importantly, on her compassion for others and her dedication to our state. Thank you, Lynn, for your years of service, for being a friend and for not being afraid to tell me like you see it. To view my floor remarks, click here.

Congressman Kevin Yoder leaves the U.S. House of Representatives having served Kansans and residents of the Third District honorably and energetically. I first met Kevin when he interned in our office when I was a member of the House of Representatives. I remember his tenacious spirit and passion for serving Kansans, which he continued to feel long after he left my office, later serving as the student body president at the University of Kansas and as a member of the Kansas Legislature.

In the United States House of Representatives, Kevin serves on the Appropriations Committee and as a steward of Kansas taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars. Through this committee, Kevin has worked to make medical and cancer research a top priority, fought for Head Start and early childhood programs, and has worked to protect and incentive high-skilled immigration to our country. Thank you, Kevin, for your years of service. I hope you’re able to spend some well-deserved time with Brooke and your girls. To watch my complete floor remarks, click here.

Passing the Forever GI Bill Housing Payment Fulfillment Act
Earlier this week, the Senate unanimously approved the Forever GI Bill Housing Payment Fulfillment Act, legislation I cosponsored, to make certain the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) reimburses veterans for missed or underpaid Forever GI Bill housing benefits.

It is imperative that the VA make every effort to restore confidence with veterans by delivering the care and benefits they have earned. I am pleased the U.S. Senate sent a clear message that the VA must earn back GI Bill beneficiaries’ trust, and I’m proud to help lead efforts that will make the VA worthy of the service and sacrifice of our nation’s heroes. The unanimous passage of this legislation moves us one step closer toward that goal.

This legislation will address the VA’s failure to fully comply with reimbursement rates set by the Forever GI Bill. The improper payments resulted from IT systems that had not been properly updated and lack of internal processes to get the VA the necessary information about payment rates. Read more information here.

Applauding the Inclusion of the FARMERS FIRST Act in the 2018 Farm Bill
On Friday, the President signed the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018, the Farm Bill, that included legislation I championed, the Facilitating Accessible Resources for Mental Health and Encouraging Rural Solutions For Immediate Response to Stressful Times (FARMERS FIRSTAct, to provide our nation’s agricultural community with critical mental health support and resources.

Farmers and ranchers are facing a net farm income that has been cut in half over the last five years, continued low commodity prices, uncertain market access and unfavorable weather. The inclusion of this legislation in the Farm Bill will provide the ag community with necessary mental health programs, such as a crisis help line and suicide prevention training for farm advocates during these tumultuous times for our producers. I will continue working with my colleagues to make certain this legislation is implemented in a way that will best serve our farmers and ranchers who need help during trying times.

This inclusion in the Farm Bill will result in a host of new programs and resources for the agricultural community and rural Kansans. For more on the FARMERS First Act, click here.

Kansans in the Office

Capitol Tour
LTJG Richard Hewlett of Wichita
Velma Jean Hewlett of Wichita
Laura Knott of Lenexa
Carey Needham of Lenexa
Jake Needham of Lenexa
Michael Needham of Lenexa
Jacki Young of Lawrence

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 letter, a Facebook comment, or a phone call, who wish to make their voice heard.

Please let me know how I can be of assistance. You can contact me by email by clicking 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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