Kansas Common Sense
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Appointed to First FY2012 Appropriations Conference Committee
This week, the first appropriations conference committee of the year between the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate met to discuss the fiscal year 2012 Agriculture, Commerce/Justice/Science, and Transportation/Housing Urban Development Appropriations bills. The conference committee is charged with reconciling the differences between the spending bills related to these agencies which were passed by both chambers. I was pleased to be named a Senate conferee on this conference committee and will work with my Senate and House colleagues this week and next to reach an agreement on how to responsibly use taxpayer dollars to allow the federal government to operate while at the same time reducing spending to bring our federal debt under control. It is the conference committee’s goal to complete negotiations before November 18, 2011, when the Continuing Resolution that is currently funding the federal government at 2011 levels terminates.
Floor Debate on Two Infrastructure Bills
Whether it's driving to school or hauling grain, Kansans rely on the safety and efficiency of our state's transportation infrastructure. Kansas ranks fourth in the nation in total highway miles with over 134,500 miles of public roads and highways. But building and maintaining strong transportation infrastructure is not only vital to Kansas’ economy – it is vital to America’s economic viability.
The transportation construction industry alone supports more than 3 million American jobs, but it is struggling. In this time of economic uncertainty and tight budgets, states and contractors are unable to make long- and short-term business decisions, and projects already under construction are being suspended. For this reason, unemployment in transportation construction remains dismal; in October 2011 the unemployment rate in the construction industry stood at 14.2 percent – substantially higher than the economy-wide unemployment rate of 9 percent.
The federal government must provide certainty about the future of infrastructure funding in order for state planning of long-term construction projects to be effective and for contractors to start hiring again. This week the Senate debated and voted on two infrastructure bills. The first bill, S. 1769, proposed a $60 billion increase in infrastructure spending funded through tax increases largely for business owners — the same people we need to create new jobs. For this reason, I opposed the measure.
I voted in favor of the second bill, S.1786, which was also focused on creating jobs, building critical infrastructure, streamlining transportation project delivery, and reforming job-destroying regulations. But it would do so without raising taxes on small businesses or adding to the national debt. S.1786 is paid for by rescinding $40 billion in already existing but unused federal funds. In addition, the bill would extend the current federal gasoline tax and other existing highway-related taxes which are used to fund highway projects through October 1, 2013.
While neither bill reached the 60-vote threshold needed to move legislation forward, I am encouraged that the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee has scheduled a hearing to review their long-term highway infrastructure proposal this coming week. This means that debate on passage of a robust surface transportation bill will continue. This is good news for Kansas because our state has 95 transportation projects currently under construction that would be suspended if there is prolonged delay in federal reimbursements to contractors. I recently conveyed my concern about the need for certainty to my colleagues on the EPW Committee, and I will continue to encourage my Senate colleagues to find a long-term solution. We need to quit sparring back and forth on Republican and Democrat plans and develop a responsible plan that can be passed by the Senate.
Together We Can Stop Overregulation of Family Farms and Ranches
I share Kansans serious concerns about a proposed rule by the Department of Labor (DOL) that threatens the education and training of future farmers. Farmers and ranchers were given inadequate notice, and insufficient time to comment on, the proposed changes to the Fair Labor Standards Act which could fundamentally disrupt agriculture practices across the country. The proposed changes include a ban on many common farm activities of youth on farms or ranches not directly owned by their parents.
Last week I led 31 of my Senate colleagues in asking U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis to extend the comment period by a minimum of 60 days because DOL set the original 60-day comment period during the fall harvest season. This is the busiest time of year for agricultural producers – the group that would be most impacted by the proposed rule changes.
The DOL’s proposed changes to the Fair Labor Standards Act did not come by recommendation of Congress; they came out of the blue and it is DOL’s responsibility to make certain there is sufficient time for thorough vetting of a proposal with such far-reaching consequences. Farmers, ranchers and members of the public can make certain this regulation is not imposed without their input by submitting comments before the December 1, 2011 deadline. Click here to review the proposed regulation and submit comments.
Opposing Additional Burdens on the General Aviation Industry
On Wednesday, I led a bipartisan effort with 22 of my Senate colleagues to voice strong opposition to the Obama Administration’s attempt to impose user fees on general aviation aircraft. We made clear to President Obama our opposition to including the $100-per-flight user fee proposal he has requested in any plan put forward by the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction.
With 14 million Americans looking for work, our government’s first priority should be creating an environment in which businesses can grow and start hiring again. While I wholeheartedly agree that the deficit must be reduced, imposing fees on general aviation aircraft will only further stifle our economic recovery. General aviation already contributes to the federal government through an effective system of fuel taxes, and I believe these fuel taxes represent the best way for that industry to contribute revenues to the federal government and support efforts to enhance the air transportation system.
The proposed user fee would harm economic activity in Kansas, especially in rural communities with little or no commercial airlines service. The fee would also hurt aircraft manufacturers in and around Wichita. The general aviation industry is already struggling – in the first six months of 2011, there was a 16 percent drop in general aviation aircraft shipments, and orders for general aviation have dropped by 23 percent. Kansas is number one in general aviation exports, and this is not an industry that we can afford to lose in our state. For these reasons, I was proud to lead this effort and pleased that so many of my colleagues also felt strongly about this issue. Click here to read our letter to President Obama.
Voicing Concerns Over Upcoming USDA Forum
On Wednesday, I spoke to my colleagues in the Senate about my concerns regarding an animal welfare scientific forum being planned by the Department of Agriculture and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). What is ironic is that it looks like there will be little science involved - instead, it seems it will be a public forum for animal rights organizations, like HSUS, to share their anti-agricultural views. USDA's mission is to work to promote agriculture - not to work against American farmers and ranchers. Moving forward, I will work to ensure the USDA adheres to its primary mission. Click here to watch my remarks.
Aviation Security 10 Years After 9/11
The Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee held a hearing on Wednesday to review the state of aviation security 10 years after the terror attacks of 9/11. We heard from John S. Pistole, Administrator of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), on how the TSA is moving from a one-size-fits-all approach to passenger screening to a risk-based approach. Administrator Pistole explained why the TSA is making this change as well as its plans for implementation. We also had the opportunity to talk with industry leaders about developing and improving the TSA’s risk-based approach to passenger screening. I welcomed the conversations. Click here to watch the hearing.
Remel Inc. in Lenexa: American Entrepreneurship at Work
On Monday, I had the opportunity to tour the Remel Inc. manufacturing facility in Lenexa and host a town hall meeting with employees. Remel manufactures, and distributes through Thermo Fisher Scientific, diagnostic products used in clinical, industrial, research and academic laboratories. The company employs more than 500 people in the production of testing supplies used for the detection and diagnosis of various strains of disease and bacteria. Remel Inc., which began in the founder’s basement in 1973, recently completed a 6,000 sq. ft. expansion to keep up with demand. Thank you to Tim Fenton for arranging the visit and to Mary Jo Deal for providing the tour. Click here to view a photo from the visit.
Listening Tour Continues in Sharon Springs
When I was in Kansas on Friday I held my 100th Listening Tour Stop of the year in the community of Sharon Springs in Wallace County. I met with folks along Main Street, including the music and government classes at Sharon Springs High School. These students were impressive and spoke to the importance of Congress and the President getting their acts together on spending and improving the jobs situation. Like many Kansans, Sharon Springs’ residents had a lot on their minds. I appreciated them sharing their thoughts and concerns with me about a range of topics, including jobs, deficit spending, health care and Social Security. Click here to view a photo from the stop.
Spending time in rural towns across Kansas reminds me of what I loved about growing up in a rural town – the sense of community. I appreciated the chance to visit with local residents so I could gain a better understanding of their views and the ways I can serve them better in Washington, D.C.
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.
Kansas Cooperative Council
Leslie Kaufman of Topeka
Jeana Hultquist of Bonner Springs
Mid America Rehabilitation Hospital
Pamela Strawberry of Wichita
Mark Leneave of Topeka
Kansas Hospital Association
Leonard Hernandez of Elkhart
Vicki Hahn of Leoti
Greg Lundstrom of Lindsborg
Cynthia Smith of Lenexa
Tom Bell of Topeka
Fred Lucky of Topeka
Wesley Rehabilitation Hospital
Pam Stanberry of Wichita
Kansas Rehabilitation Hospital
Mark LeNeave of Topeka
Ross Draney of Wichita
Emil J. Kapaun
Father Hotze of Wichita
Andrew Etkind of Olathe
Also visiting were Dr. Saeid Sajadi of Overland Park; Brooke Senter of Overland Park; Glen Dove of Olathe; Carolyn Finken-Dove of Olathe; Tony Dreiling and his daughter Susan of Hays; Matt Keenan of Kansas City; and Sarah Brown, Lane Patterson, Judy Getty and Larry Getty of Hays. Many Kansans stopped by the office to take a tour of the U.S. Capital this week including: Dr. and Mrs. John and Kathleen Woltjen of Mission Hills; Lauren Scott of Salina; Tim and Charleen Hartter and children, Daniel and Salome of Sabetha; David and Beth Hartter and son, Jarod, also from Sabetha.
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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