Kansas Common Sense
May 03 2021
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Senate Passes My Legislation to Honor Women of the Six Triple Eight
On Thursday, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed my legislation to honor the brave women of the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion by awarding them the Congressional Gold Medal. The Six Triple Eight was the only all-black, all-female battalion to serve overseas during World War II, and they were responsible for clearing out an overwhelming backlog of mail, making certain American troops received letters from home to boost their morale. The women of the Six Triple Eight deserve to hold a special place in history for their service to our country, and I appreciate the Senate passing this legislation and will work to advance it in the House of Representatives. Learn more about their service during WWII by clicking here or by watching the video below.
Pledges for Unity Mean Nothing Without Compromise
After President Biden’s address to a Joint Session of Congress on Wednesday evening, I released the following statement:
Unity, bipartisanship, working together – I agree with President Biden that these are all things that should and can represent the federal government, but we are falling far short. Pledges for unity mean nothing without listening to those with opposing points of view, finding common ground with them and agreeing to compromises. The President demonstrated he was unwilling to work with Republicans by forcing his partisan $1.9 trillion relief package through Congress without a single Republican vote. Overreaching, partisan legislation that costs trillions of taxpayer dollars isn’t the right path forward.
While I am eager to work with the President and my colleagues on improving America’s infrastructure, the President’s $2.3 trillion proposal isn’t affordable, and it isn’t infrastructure. I also agree that we should focus on supporting families and education, but these things are achieved through creating jobs and opportunities, not by adding an additional $1.8 trillion spending package.
Even amidst this divisive political climate, I’ve seen through my work on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee that we are capable of working together to get things done, especially on behalf of our nations’ veterans. I am committed to working with the President to continue serving our veterans by further implementing the MISSION Act, improving care for veterans suffering from toxic exposure and improving VA accessibility for minority and women veterans.
Discussing Ongoing Vaccination Efforts with CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky
On Monday, I spoke with Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Dr. Rochelle Walensky to follow up on our previous discussion at a Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee hearing in March.
During our conversation, we discussed the vaccine rollout and opportunities that would continue to encourage Kansans to receive the vaccine. We also spoke of the assistance the United States will be sending to India and other nations who are battling high COVID-19 mortality rates, as India’s COVID surge is a tragedy that America must help address to save lives and stymie new variants. Additionally, as a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I assured Dr. Walensky of my longtime support for adequate funding of the CDC and National Institutes of Health (NIH) to retain America’s position at the forefront of biomedical research. I’m grateful to Dr. Walensky for her time, and I look forward to continuing to work together during her tenure as Director of the CDC.
Introducing Data Privacy Legislation and Discussing Big Tech
Giving Americans Authority Over their Personal Data
More and more Americans are recognizing the need for a clear federal standard for data privacy that guarantees them the ability to determine how their personal data is used. This week, I introduced the Consumer Data Privacy and Security Act to strengthen the laws that govern consumers’ personal data and create clear standards and regulations for American businesses that collect, process and use consumers’ personally identifiable data.
Americans need to be able to count on strong baseline responsibilities that businesses must uphold when collecting, processing and protecting their personally identifiable information. Without action from Congress, consumers will continue to be vulnerable to future threats against their personal data, and innovators and job creators will be plagued with regulatory uncertainty resulting from a growing patchwork of state laws. It is clear that Congress needs to act, and I encourage my colleagues to support the Consumer Data Privacy and Security Act as the federal standard for comprehensive privacy legislation.
Discussing Big Tech with the National Association of Broadcasters
On Tuesday, I met with representatives of the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) to talk about infrastructure, the impact of Big Tech on local news broadcasters and the importance of local sources of information. Local news and radio are a critical aspect of rural Kansas life and provide a trusted source of information to the community. According to a 2020 survey, local news stations were the most trusted source of information during the pandemic. This trust was critical to get accurate information to people quickly during the height of COVID-19 and continues to prove useful as updated guidance is released, highlighting the importance of supporting our local broadcasters. I will continue to work with NAB and my Senate colleagues to ensure that Kansans have access to local, trusted information.
Supporting America’s Agricultural Initiatives, Leadership and Stability
Increasing the USDA’s Research Initiatives through the America Grows Act
I introduced the America Grows Act this week, legislation to increase support for research activities at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). With federal agriculture research investments on the decline, the America Grows Act would restore the United States’ commitment to publically-funded agriculture research at USDA. Increasing research at USDA will expand American competitiveness in foreign markets, improve sustainable production and climate issues, help find more food solutions for global population growth, combat risks for plant and animal disease transmissions and expand adoption of new data communications, computing technologies, engineering and robotics. For U.S. farmers and ranchers to remain competitive in the world, it is important for our country to prioritize making investments in agricultural research. This legislation builds on the critical role USDA plays in conducting research to help our nation’s agricultural producers continue to feed, fuel and clothe the world.
Announcing a USDA Grant to Support the Ogallala Aquifer and Kansas Communities
Kansans understand the importance of the Ogallala Aquifer’s conservation to their livelihoods, communities and long-term success. This week, I was pleased to announce a $2.7 million grant from the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service to support the water compact between Kansas and Colorado.
The grant, awarded to the Cheyenne County Conservation District, will help with projects to recharge the aquifer, improve the health of the river stream and wildlife habitat, and control the risk of wildfires. I’m pleased this grant further supports a partnership that is committed to sustainable solutions to protect this natural resource for future generations.
Questioning USTR Katherine Tai
This week, U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Katherine Tai testified before the Commerce, Justice and Science (CJS) Appropriations Subcommittee to discuss trade issues facing Kansas and the country. Our state’s economy relies on our ability to export the products we grow and manufacture to consumers around the world. Ambassador Tai steps into her role at USTR at a time in which trade policy and trade enforcement has, arguably, never been more important. I raised a number of critical issues for Kansas with Ambassador Tai, including the importance of reaching an agreement with the European Union (EU) on the ongoing trade dispute regarding aviation manufacturing, the need to strongly enforce the agricultural trade provisions of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement (USMCA) to ensure Kansas farmers continue to have unimpeded access to markets in those countries, my support for USTR extending the tariff exclusion process for Section 301 tariffs to assist Kansas manufacturers, and my concerns about the impact both the lack of an agreement on softwood lumber with Canada and Section 232 steel and aluminum tariffs are having on homebuilder costs. I appreciate hearing Ambassador Tai’s knowledgeable responses and look forward to continuing to work with her in my role as the lead Republican on the CJS Subcommittee.
Raising Concerns Regarding Lumber and Steel Inflation Prices
While questioning Ambassador Tai, I discussed the ongoing trade disputes causing inflated prices for softwood lumber, steel and aluminum. Home builders need access to reasonably priced lumber, steel, aluminum and other inputs to build affordable homes. Historically, the U.S. has relied on softwood lumber imports from Canada to satisfy the demand not met by domestic lumber production. As a result of a lack of an agreement between the U.S. and Canada on softwood lumber, tariffs are in place on imports from Canada which are passed down through higher prices to home builders and home buyers. According to the National Association of Home Builders, the increase in lumber process has added nearly $36,000 to the price of a new single-family home. The continuation of higher steel and aluminum prices due to the Section 232 tariffs only adds to the problem. While home builders have seen the effects of rising costs directly, it is also important to keep in mind the importance of the U.S. having access to reasonably priced inputs for infrastructure projects as Congress debates legislation aimed at rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure. I look forward to continuing to work with Ambassador Tai to resolve trade disputes that cause harm to American consumers.
Speaking at KFB’s Virtual Townhall
On Tuesday, I spoke at Kansas Farm Bureau’s (KFB) Virtual Townhall and took questions from the KFB members in attendance. I answered questions about the Biden Administration’s plans on climate policy, including my work to make certain Secretary Vilsack and other cabinet officials understand that conservation and environmental policies must be voluntary and not limit Kansas farmers’ and ranchers’ ability to feed the world. We also talked about infrastructure legislation currently being debated in Congress, including the importance of investing in our nation’s roads, bridges and waterways in a fiscally responsible manner for the American taxpayer. Thank you to KFB President Rich Felts, Ryan Flickner and Terry Holdren for inviting me to speak. I appreciate the relationship I have with KFB and the many years of friendship I have with many KFB members across our state.
Focusing on Veteran Health
Hearing from Veterans Affected by Service-Related Toxic Exposures
This week, the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee held a legislative hearing to discuss 22 bills related to benefits and health care for veterans impacted by toxic exposures and other benefits for veterans and their survivors. During the hearing, I heard from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Disabled American Veterans, Wounded Warrior Project, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Vietnam Veterans of America and Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors. This hearing provided me with an opportunity to discuss with the VA and veteran stakeholders the many measures introduced in the Senate to tackle an issue afflicting veterans as a result of their service. I believe the VA recognizes the need to take action regarding toxic exposures; however, during this hearing, I was discouraged that the department neglected to share its views on any of the nine related bills on the hearing agenda. For too long, veterans have waited for unfulfilled care and benefits, and the VA’s lethargy has continually pushed Congress to act in a patchwork fashion. This Congress, we must focus on establishing an enduring framework that veterans affected by toxic exposures deserve. I will work to make certain the VA does not continue to slow roll these needed changes and work with my colleagues to establish the enduring framework veterans affected by toxic exposures deserve. Click here to watch the full hearing.
Community Based Outpatient Clinics Improve Veteran Health Availability
On Monday morning, I visited the Shawnee VA Community Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC) to meet with doctors and staff members to learn more about how the clinic’s Patient Aligned Care Teams (PACT) work collaboratively with each patient to provide for their health care needs. The layout of the facility, which includes exam rooms and private bathrooms, as well as an additional exam room for female patients, has been carefully designed to best serve the needs of all veterans, including coordinating better care for women veterans.
We had the opportunity to discuss the Shawnee CBOC’s vaccination plan, and I was pleased to learn that COVID-19 vaccines will be administered by appointment on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays beginning the first week of May. I appreciate the way outpatient clinics work to expand the VA’s capacity to provide outpatient primary care. The CBOC that is currently under construction in Johnson County will continue to strengthen VA care in the Kansas City region and is set to open this summer.
Thank you to VISN 15 Director Dr. William Patterson, Clinic Nurse Manager Vivion Hansen, Associate Director Paula Roychaudhuri and KCVA Associate Director David Isaacks for taking the time to meet with me this morning.
Introducing Legislation to Provide Funding for Childhood Cancer Research
This week, I joined my Senate colleagues in introducing the Gabriella Miller Kids First Research Act 2.0. Cancer is the leading cause of death by disease among children, and this legislation would provide a new source of funding for the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) Gabriella Miller Kids First Pediatric Research Program (Kids First) by redirecting penalties collected from pharmaceutical, cosmetic, supplement and medical device companies that break the law to pediatric and childhood cancer research. The legislation is named in honor of Gabriella Miller of Leesburg, Virginia, who died from a rare form of brain cancer at the age of 10. The Kids First Research Program has supported critical research into pediatric cancer and structural birth defects and has focused on building a pediatric data resource combining genetic sequencing data with clinical data from multiple pediatric cohorts. To put this disease on the path towards eradication, we must invest in proper funding to research cures and treatment.
Announcing an EDA Grant to Benefit Salina and the State
On Friday, I was pleased to join the City of Salina in announcing an Economic Development Administration (EDA) grant for infrastructure improvements that will assist the expansion of Schwan’s Company pizza plant in the city. The pandemic has significantly impacted businesses across the country, including in Kansas, and the economic recovery from this pandemic will take time and investments from the private and public sectors. Congress has provided avenues of relief to communities feeling the impact of COVID-19, including through the EDA. This grant will be matched by nearly a million dollars in local investment, and will improve the roads and drainage that will support the expansion of the Schwan’s Company pizza plant in Salina. I supported the Recovery Assistance Grant program during the formation of the CARES Act in my role as ranking member of the CJS Appropriations Subcommittee, and will continue supporting programs that lead to investment and economic growth in our state.
Thank you to Jeff Willis, Dr. Trent Davis, Mike Schrage, Roger Sparks, Travis Young, Eric Brown, Tim Rogers, Lloyd Davidson, Frank Hampton Emily Benedick, Robb Raney and Chris Wiseman for allowing me to be a part of this announcement.
Meeting with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Greater Kansas City
This week, I met with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Greater Kansas City to discuss the pandemic’s ongoing impact on Hispanic-owned businesses and the utilization of federal programs such as PPP for the businesses they represent. I also had the opportunity to hear from chamber members regarding COVID-19 vaccinations and their work to make certain the Hispanic community continues to get vaccinated so that we can continue on our path back to normal and the economy can fully recover. It’s always great to see Kansans here in D.C., and I appreciated the opportunity to meet with and hear from them.
Thank you to Chamber President Carlos Gomez, Angie Rodriguez-Gunion, Alad Aguirre, Kim Randolph, Angelo Pacheco, Carlos Vides, Iveth Jalinsky, Jose Rodriguez, Paulina Tabares, Angela Shopper, Raul Bueno, Kenzie Dalrymple, Michele Watley, Michael Fierro and John Fierro for taking time out of your day to talk with me while you were in town.
Greeting Kansas High School Students in D.C.
I met with students from Saint Thomas Aquinas High School this week on the on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. It was great to chat with these bright students and see young Kansans back in the nation’s capital!
Thank you to Dr. Paul Fallon for his time and effort to bring his students to D.C., the chaperones who accompanied him, and to all the students for their questions.
Meeting with the Southwest Council of Agribusiness
I met with members of the Southwest Council of Agribusiness (SWCA) this week to talk about issues facing agricultural producers in Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Colorado. We discussed support for extending the Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program Plus (WHIP+) to cover recent natural disasters that harmed farmers and ranchers, including drought conditions in Kansas. We also discussed the importance of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) and continuing to make certain assistance reaches all producers who were impacted by market disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Thank you to SWCA and their members for taking the time to meet with me.
Discussing Great Plains Manufacturing’s Future Plans
While in Salina on Friday, I met with Linda Salem and Jamie Hall of Great Plains Manufacturing. Great Plains employs over 1,500 employees in facilities throughout Kansas, as well as in Ukraine, Russia and Bulgaria. Founded in 1976, Salina is home to their corporate headquarters, and since then Great Plains has become a leader in manufacturing agricultural implements for tillage, seeding and planting in the United States, as well as a leading producer of dirt working, turf maintenance, material handling and landscaping equipment.
I appreciated the opportunity to learn more about Great Plains’ operations and thank Linda and Jamie for their time.
Attending Kenlon Johannes’ Retirement Reception
On Friday, I attended the retirement of Kenlon Johannes, CEO of the Kansas Soybean Association and Administrator of the Kansas Soybean Commission. In his time at the helm of the Kansas Soybean Association, Kenlon has utilized soybeans as a leading edge crop and seen a continuous increase of soybean acreage across the state. He’s been a leader that has taken the opportunity to get to know famers across Kansas and listen to their needs throughout his leadership. I thank Kenlon for his 20 years of dedicated work to the farmers and soybean agriculture of Kansas, and wish him well in this next chapter of life.
Remembering Apollo 11 Pilot and Astronaut Michael Collins
“The thing I remember most is the view of planet Earth from a great distance—tiny, very shiny, blue and white, bright, beautiful, serene and fragile.”
I join all those this week in remembering the incredible achievements of Astronaut Michael Collins, who piloted the Apollo 11 command module as it circled above our county’s first lunar landing mission in 1969. Click here to watch Michael Collins discuss the Gemini X mission.
Recognizing Kansas’ Teachers
Today marks the beginning of National Teacher Appreciation Week. I thank all teachers in Kansas and across the country for their dedicated work to educate America’s next generation, especially throughout circumstances of this past year.
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.
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