Kansas Common Sense
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Senate Passes Legislation to Repeal Obamacare
On Thursday evening, the Senate listened to Americans and passed legislation repealing major portions of the Affordable Care Act. The Restoring Americans’ Healthcare Freedom Reconciliation Act (H.R. 3762) dismantles much of the flawed 2010 law and suspends funding to Planned Parenthood. I supported this measure, which now goes to the House. The House will soon pass the legislation and send it to the president’s desk. President Obama is expected to veto this bill.
It has been more than five years since Obamacare was rammed through Congress on a purely partisan basis in the face of significant public opposition. After all this time, most Americans still oppose this unprecedented expansion of federal government intrusion into health care decisions for families and job creators. This 2,700 page law has burdened millions of Americans with a litany of broken promises, higher taxes and costs, reduced health care choices, and new regulations that have stifled the economy. Individuals, families and employers continue to face increasing health insurance costs, new taxes overseen by a politically-biased IRS, burdensome mandates, and great uncertainty because of this flawed law. By repealing Obamacare, we can replace it with step-by-step improvements to enable individuals to purchase affordable health coverage that meets their unique needs and lower overall costs. Click here for more information on the passage of legislation to repeal Obamacare.
Passage of Five-Year Surface Transportation Bill
In 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower formally established our nation’s interstate highway system which has since become the backbone of our economy. Today, hundreds of thousands of jobs depend on our nation’s transportation system. For Kansas farmers, manufacturers and small businesses, our nation’s highways are vital to move and distribute goods to market, and almost every American depends on stable roads and bridges to get where they need to go each day.
Unfortunately, over the past decade, Congress has passed 36 short-term extensions to highway funding authority, and has repeatedly resorted to transfers from the U.S. Treasury’s General Fund to keep the Highway Trust Fund afloat. This has resulted in frequent threats of shutdown for transportation programs and damaged the abilities of state and local governments to plan ahead and invest in long-term infrastructure projects.
On Thursday night, the Senate passed H.R. 22, the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act), the first long term highway reauthorization since 2005. The FAST Act authorizes federal highway, transit, rail and motor carrier safety programs through fiscal year 2020 without raising taxes or adding to the deficit. Having passed the House of Representatives Thursday afternoon, this legislation was signed into law by the President on Friday.
Included in H.R. 22 are several important provisions I championed, including the restoration of a competitive bus and bus facilities grant program that will more equitably distribute federal bus funding to rural states. Bus transit systems are critical to Kansas City, Topeka and Wichita as well as smaller communities. This grant program will help ensure that buses can continue to be a reliable mode of transportation for Kansans to reach their jobs, schools, health care providers and other important destinations each day throughout our local communities. In addition, the FAST Act includes legislation from two separate bills I sponsored – S. 654 and S. 1692 – which will provide relief to the agriculture industry from a burdensome regulation requiring farmers and ranchers to obtain hazardous material endorsements before transporting small amounts of diesel fuel critical to many agricultural operations, and allow for the delivery of tandem trailers by manufacturers, lowering costs for consumers and reducing highway congestion.
The state of Kansas has the third greatest number highway miles in the nation, and yet one-third of our major roads and one in every six bridges are in poor condition. Ending the cycle of short-term stop gaps to federal highway funding will provide the state and local governments in Kansas with badly needed certainty in planning infrastructure projects to address our deteriorating roads and bridges. In particular, the FAST Act renews an important 15 percent set-aside for off-system bridges, funds which can help repair and preserve bridges not included in the National Highway System that are vital to regional economic growth, such as Shawnee County’s Willard Bridge. The FAST Act represents a significant bipartisan compromise and will provide the stability needed for the nation’s highway system to spur investments in crucial infrastructure projects and generate economic growth. Click here to watch my floor speech on the five-year surface transportation bill.
Senate Votes to Restore Funding for Crop Insurance
I'm pleased the ill-advised cuts to crop insurance — that were in the recent budget deal I opposed — were corrected in the highway bill passed by the Senate Thursday night. In Kansas and across the country, crop insurance is the most important risk management tool for farmers. The budget deal took direct aim at the private sector delivery of crop insurance — one of the key aspects that makes it successful. As Chairman of the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, I have the opportunity to oversee the budget and operations within the U.S. Department of Agriculture, including the crop insurance. I will continue to use my role to protect crop insurance for Kansas family farmers. Click here to view my remarks on the Senate floor calling for funding for crop insurance to be restored.
Pressing the VA to Fix Choice Act Implementation
On Wednesday, the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee held a hearing to discuss the proposed VA Choice Program Consolidation Plan. This plan addresses how the Choice program will function in the future, but Kansas veterans continue to struggle right now with access to care in their communities through Choice. This is because of the flawed implementation of the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014 (Choice Act). Many of our VA medical facilities in Kansas are only open part-time, or do not have a full-time Medical Doctor (MD) on staff, causing those who have sacrificed for our nation to struggle to receive needed medical services.
During the hearing, I had the opportunity to press Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson on the eligibility requirements for the Choice program, and whether they are being interpreted and implemented correctly. Common sense tells us that if you live within 40 miles of a VA facility, but that clinic cannot provide you with the services you require, or does not have a MD on staff, you should be able to receive care closer to home. I am pleased that Deputy Secretary Gibson agreed that those veterans living within 40 miles of a clinic open only part-time are eligible for Choice. Additionally, Sec. Gibson committed to providing more information on those eligible veterans so we can make certain they are aware of the resources available to them. Veterans deserve a VA worthy of their service and sacrifice, and I will continue to push the senior administrators at the Department of Veterans Affairs to fix the problems within the Choice Act today so we can make certain Kansas Veterans have access to timely, quality care. Click here to watch my questioning of Sec. Gibson.
Fort Riley Hospital Update
I am frustrated to learn about the continued delays impacting the opening of the new Irwin Army Community Hospital on Fort Riley. In March, I had the opportunity to tour the hospital, and was encouraged by the progress. With much of the construction completed, I fully anticipated the hospital would be able to open its doors by the end of the year. However, I recently learned that the construction has been halted indefinitely due to legal disputes, preventing the new Irwin hospital from serving the thousands who call the Big Red One home.
This week, I requested answers from the Army regarding the litigation and whether construction can continue on the state-of-the-art facility so it can open its doors in the near future. We have a duty to provide quality care to those who serve our nation, and the men and women on Fort Riley and their families deserve access to this new hospital. I will continue to work to make certain the new Irwin Army Community Hospital can start serving these soldiers and their family as soon as possible. Click here to read more.
Speaking on Appropriations Process and Blocking Funds for Lesser Prairie Chicken Listing
I spoke on the Senate floor this week about my amendment included in the Interior and Environment Appropriations bill to block funds from being spent to enforce the threatened species listing of the Lesser Prairie Chicken. The bird's population declined in 2012 and 2013 amidst the worse drought Kansas has experienced in decades. To counter the declining population during the drought, the five states with habitat area began developing and implementing locally-driven voluntary conservation plans to preserve the bird. Rather than give the conservation plans time to prove their effectiveness, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service decided to list the bird as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. As rainfall has returned to the habitat area, it came as no surprise to people familiar with the area that the Lesser Prairie Chicken population surged by nearly 50 percent in the last two years.
The provision is a perfect example of the importance of the appropriations process and Congress reclaiming the power of the purse strings. Despite the rapidly increasing bird population, a letter I wrote requesting the USFWS to reconsider the necessity of the listing, and majorities in both the House and Senate seeking to block the listing, the USFWS has declined to reconsider the listing. Instead, the agency seeks to impose burdensome rules and regulations on landowners in the habitat area that will harm farmers, ranchers, oil and gas developers, electric cooperatives, and many other stakeholders. As I've made clear to my colleagues on many occasions, including on the floor this week, it's critical that Congress intervene to block the Lesser Prairie Chicken listing to protect Kansas’ rural economy. Click here to watch my remarks on the Senate floor.
Sponsoring Legislation to Improve Financial Condition of U.S. Postal Service
This week I sponsored legislation to reform the U.S. Postal Service (USPS), the “Improving Postal Operations, Service, and Transparency Act” (S. 2051), which aims to address the serious financial challenges facing USPS. The U.S. Postal Service has long been an important part of American communication and commerce, but its deteriorating financial condition threatens its future. As the USPS’ debts and future liabilities rise, we’ve seen postal service quality decline in Kansas and across rural America. Failure to make real reforms now will allow the Postal Service’s financial crisis to worsen and increase the cost of any future fix.
For years, the Government Accountability Office has determined the USPS’ financial condition to be “high-risk” and in need of Congressional intervention. To protect taxpayers from the costs of a truly bankrupt Postal Service, Congress must act to put the agency on a path toward solvency. The reforms in this legislation offer a serious policy framework to return USPS to economic stability and preserve postal services in Kansas and across the country. Click here to learn more about S. 2051.
Visiting Heart to Heart International
On my way back to Washington on Monday, I made a stop at Heart to Heart International (HHI). HHI is an international humanitarian aid organization that provides pharmaceutical products and medical supplies to health care providers serving populations impacted by disasters, such as the Nepal earthquake and the refugee crisis in Haiti. Most of HHI’s aid is administered by their volunteers, who in 2014 gave more than 33,000 hours of their time and talents to the organization’s cause. Thanks to HHI's Lyn Lakin, Dan Neal and Monica Enloe for hosting me.
Touring Brightergy in Kansas City
On Monday morning, I also stopped at Brightergy. Brightergy provides innovative energy solutions to businesses, schools, cities, and nonprofits to help them control their energy usage and costs. During my visit, we discussed the value of entrepreneurs and the importance of supporting entrepreneurship and innovation in our country. One of my top priorities is to identify opportunities to reduce federal barriers for entrepreneurs so we can foster an environment where innovation can flourish, consumers are empowered, and more Americans can find meaningful employment. Thanks to Brightergy's CEO Adam Blake, Paul Snider and the entire Brightergy leadership team for hosting me.
Cheering on K-State Football
Robba and I joined tens of thousands of Kansas State football fans at Bill Snyder Family Stadium in Manhattan on Saturday to cheer on the Wildcats as they took on the West Virginia Mountaineers. In what was an action-packed game, K-State defeated the Mountaineers 24-23. Congrats to Coach Bill Snyder and especially the Wildcat seniors — I look forward to watching this season’s bowl game finale. Here, we're pictured with Kansas City Chiefs Owners and Wildcat fans Lamar Hunt, Jr. and his wife Rita.
Last night, Jewish families in Kansas and around the world gathered to celebrate the first night of Hanukkah. I wish my Jewish friends and neighbors a joyous remainder of the eight-night holiday.
Kansans in the Office
KVC Health Systems
Anne Roberts of Olathe
Wayne Simms of Olathe
Kansas State University
Kent Glasscock of Manhattan
Susan Peterson of Manhattan
Ron Trewyn of Manhattan
President Kirk Schulz of Manhattan
Wheat State Telephone
Archie Macias of Manhattan
Navy League of the United States
Ward Cook of Prairie Village
Salina Surgical Hospital
LuAnn Puvogel of Salina
National Association of Area Agencies on Aging
Julie Govert Walter of Manhattan
Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever
Marc Glades of Burlington
Jeff Jauernig of Coffey County
Weed Society of America
Dallas Peterson of Manhattan
National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors
Rhonda Knudson of Great Bend
Jim Moore of Lawrence
Kent Wells of Garden City
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.
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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