Kansas Common Sense
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Two-Year Budget Agreement Passes Senate
Early Friday morning, the Senate passed a two-year budget deal (H.R. 1314) to the raise the federal spending caps and suspend the national debt ceiling until March 15, 2017. This legislation, passed by House of Representatives on Wednesday and now signed into law by President Obama, will increase spending by $80 billion over the next two years, with offsets to cover the costs stretched out over the next decade. Thursday afternoon I went to the Senate floor to speak out in opposition to this bill.
While Congress can suspend the debt ceiling it can’t suspend reality. Our national debt now stands at more than $19 trillion, and this budget deal does far too little to put our country on a path toward fiscal solvency. Every time Congress raises the debt ceiling without genuine and substantial reductions in spending, it undermines our nation’s long-term economic health. Kansans expect their elected officials in Washington to confront our nation’s fiscal challenges, not continue to push them off on future generations who will have to pay for our irresponsibility.
For far too long, members of both political parties have ignored our growing debt and allowed our country to live well beyond its means. The time to correct our failures is now, because the consequences of failing to tackle our debt crisis are far greater than failing to raise the debt ceiling yet again. The prosperity of future generations and abilities of our children and grandchildren to pursue the American Dream depend on it.
Meeting with House Agriculture Appropriations Chair Aderholt
This week, as chairman of the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, I met with my counterpart on the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Robert Aderholt. The agriculture appropriations bill directs and prioritizes funding within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Food & Drug Administration (FDA). A primary topic of discussion is ways to replace the cuts to crop insurance included in the budget deal I opposed with savings elsewhere. Crop insurance is the most important risk management tool for farmers – not just in Kansas, but across the country. The budget took direct aim at the private sector deliver of crop insurance, one of the key aspects that makes it successful. The provision was clearly drafted by Washington bureaucrats who don’t understand agriculture or the risk farmers face each year to produce a crop, nor the importance of the private sector involvement in crop insurance. I look forward to continuing to work with Chairman Aderholt on the agriculture appropriations bill and in overseeing USDA and FDA.
Wounded Warriors Act Heads to White House
Congress sent the Wounded Warriors Federal Leave Act (H.R. 313) to the president’s desk this week. I sponsored the companion Senate version of this legislation, which makes certain disabled veterans receive the health care they need by providing first-year federal workers who have service-related disabilities with additional leave time for medical care. Service-disabled veterans have demonstrated tremendous bravery, and we have a duty to make their transition to civilian life as seamless as possible. This legislation will help our nation’s heroes pursue careers in federal service and support their families, while also addressing their medical treatment needs. Click here to learn more.
Systemic Failure, Lack of Support for Community Mental Health Centers
On Wednesday, the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee held a hearing on the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) ability to ensure access to mental health for veterans across the country. I questioned Government Accountability Office (GAO) Health Team Director Dr. Debra Draper and VA Chief Consultant for Mental Health Services Dr. Harold Kudler. The GAO recently put the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) on their “high-risk” list, and has issued investigative reports for years addressing the chronic problems within the VHA. Unfortunately for our veterans, Dr. Draper indicated the VHA has not made much progress in fixing the systemic VA failures, despite the findings and recommendations issued by the GAO.
Many veterans, especially those in rural areas, struggle to receive the mental health care they need through the VA due to a shortage of mental healthcare professionals at VA facilities and long wait times. To help combat these problems, I have long advocated for VA to partner with Community Mental Health Centers (CMHCs) in Kansas and hiring Family and Marriage Therapists (FMTs) and Licensed Mental Healthcare Providers (LMHCPs) within the VA. During the hearing I questioned Dr. Kudler on the use of the Choice Act to partner with CMHCs to make certain veterans receive timely access to quality mental healthcare. Without access to local CMHCs, the quality of care is irrelevant when it is delayed or not accessible, and we should be using every resource available to make certain those with mental health needs are able to receive high quality care when they are in need. Dr. Kudler expressed his commitment to increasing these partnerships, and after years of pushing the VA to work with CMHCs, I look forward to working with him and others at the VHA to contract with CMHCs. Click here to learn more.
Calling on VA Secretary to Support ARCH Program
U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Angus King (I-Maine) joined me this week in calling on Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Robert McDonald to commit to the sustainment of medical services veterans receive through the Access Received Closer to Home (ARCH) program. Since 2011 the ARCH pilot program has been operating in five rural sites across the country – including a site in Pratt – to serve rural veterans by giving them access to health care from a community provider close to home instead of traveling several hours to seek care at a VA facility. I am committed to ensuring no veterans experience a lapse in care as consolidation of community care comes together. The VA has an opportunity to capitalize on the demonstrated success of the ARCH program in this consolidation plan, and I will continue to pressure the VA to improve access to health care for rural veterans should they fail to take advantage of this opportunity. Click here to learn more.
Pursuing Comprehensive Cancer Center Designation for KU Cancer Center
On Tuesday, I met with University of Kansas Cancer Center (KUCC) Director Dr. Roy Jensen to discuss KU’s continuing pursuit of scientific and research excellence in our state. More than three years ago, KUCC earned National Cancer Institute (NCI) designation. This exclusive designation enabled KUCC patients to have access to the latest clinical trials and the most advanced cancer treatments close to home. Because NCI designation is the highest recognition for an academic cancer center, KUCC is better positioned to recruit the brightest researchers and scientists to develop cutting-edge treatments and cures here in Kansas.
Achieving NCI designation, however, is only an initial step in KUCC’s goal of becoming one of the country’s premier cancer centers. In less than a year, KUCC will apply for Comprehensive Cancer Center designation. While NCI-Designated Cancer Centers are recognized for their scientific leadership, resources, and research in basic, clinical, and population science, Comprehensive Cancer Centers demonstrate an added depth and breadth of research, as well as substantial transdisciplinary research that bridges these scientific areas. I look forward to continuing to partner with KUCC in pursuit of this enhanced designation. This effort has a transformative effect on our state’s economy, enabling Kansas to continue developing into a research powerhouse for medical, pharmaceutical, and technological advancement.
Neewollah and Arkalalah Parade
Robba and I were in southeast Kansas on Saturday to participate in the annual Neewollah celebration in Independence. Neewollah – Halloween spelled backwards – started in 1919 and has grown into one of Kansas’ largest annual celebrations. The festival includes parades, a queen’s pageant, an arts and crafts show, a concert, a marching band competition and more. This year’s parade began with a flyover by the Kansas Air National Guard’s 190th Air Refueling Wing. I enjoyed speaking with residents and visitors, as well as the opportunity to participate in the Grand Parade. Congratulations to 2015 Queen Neelah LXXIV Anna Miller and to all the queen candidates. Thanks to Independence High School Junior Corbin Hugo for driving me.
From Independence, we headed west to spend the afternoon with Arkansas City residents to participate in their 84th annual Arkalalah Fall Festival. Ark City has been celebrating Arkalalah since 1928 and we were pleased to be there this year for the parade through downtown. The four-day festival brings the whole town together around carnival attractions, good food and a chance to relax and catch up with folks in the community. Special thanks to Sid Regnier for driving me in the parade and 2015 Arkalalah Chairman Lance Niles who did a great job organizing this first-rate event.
Kansans in the Office
John Kern of Plainville
Patricia Kern of Plainville
Mary Rose of Overland Park
Fred Rose of Overland Park
Kansas Schools of Nursing
Christine Hober of Hays
Victoria Mosack of Wichita
Cynthia Teel of Kansas City
Marge Bott of Olathe
Nelda Godfrey of Kansas City
National Flood Services
Stephanie Wright-Wilson of Overland Park
University of Kansas Cancer Center
Roy Jensen of Gardner
American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine
Christian Sinclair of Shawnee
Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence
Barbara Bollier of Mission Hills
Richelle Shipley of Colby
National Mining Association
Matthew Palmer of Olathe
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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