Welcome to "This Week in Congress." You may notice some changes to the format of our newsletter. More important than a new look, there are features that will give you and I more opportunities to interact. Keep a look out for polls in the right sidebar and some stories will have the option to offer feedback. Your ideas and thoughts are what guide my work in Washington.
Here are the headlines for this week's newsletter:
* Republicans Agree to One-Year Earmark Ban
* Agriculture Committee Investigates U.S. Sales to Cuba
* Meeting with the Kansas Bioscience Authority
* Greensburg Hospital Opens Nearly 3 Years after Tornado
* Introducing Legislation to Support Kansas Small Businesses
* Kansans Stand Ready to Build Air Force Tanker
* Kansas Farm Bureau Members Bring Kansas Perspective to D.C.
* Speaking to CHS, Inc.
* Helping Kansas Hospitals Implement Health Technology
* Multiple Sclerosis Caucus Raises Awareness about Disease
* In the Office
Republicans Agree to One-Year Earmark Ban
The Federal government is broke -- something no politician wants to admit. This week, a step was taken towards recognizing the need for reduced government spending. Last week, 30 Republican members, including Kansas Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins and I, signed a petition urging Republican leaders to ban earmarks. Last year, roughly 10,000 earmarks were approved at a cost of nearly $16 billion to taxpayers. On Thursday, Republican members met and committed to a one-year moratorium on earmarks, preventing any Republican from requesting appropriations funds this year.
I believe earmarks encourage a culture of waste and lack of accountability while leaving room for corruption in the federal budgeting process. This is no time for business as usual in Washington, D.C.
Agriculture Committee Investigates U.S. Sales to Cuba
In February, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN) and I introduced H.R. 4645, the Travel Restriction Reform and Export Enhancement Act. This legislation would reform current trade regulations to allow U.S. cash sales of agricultural commodities to Cuba to be based on standard trading practices. On Thursday, the House Agriculture Committee heard from two panels of witnesses about the need to change restrictions currently placed on commodities shipments to Cuba and the need to allow U.S. citizens to travel there. Witnesses from the American Farm Bureau Federation, National Farmers Union, U.S.A. Rice Federation, National Association of Wheat Growers, National Milk Producers Federation, National Corn Growers Association, and American Soybean Association all endorsed the legislation Chairman Peterson and I introduced. The witness for the National Association of Wheat Growers was its President, Jerry McReynolds, from Woodston, Kansas.
Current rules increase transaction costs and cause Cuba to procure its food needs from other countries like Vietnam, Brazil, and Argentina. I am pleased the Agriculture Committee is taking time to investigate this issue and look forward its passage in the House.
Meeting with the Kansas Bioscience Authority
Greensburg Hospital Opens Nearly 3 Years after Tornado
Nearly three years ago, an EF 5 tornado, one of the most powerful tornadoes to hit the U.S. in years, devastated the community of Greensburg. The tornado claimed 10 lives, caused numerous injuries and left Kiowa County residents without a permanent hospital. On Friday, I joined Governor Mark Parkinson, Senator Sam Brownback, State Treasurer Dennis McKinney and local officials and residents at an open house for the newly-constructed Kiowa County Memorial Hospital (KCMH) in Greensburg. This 50,000 square foot, state-of-the-art facility includes 15 beds, 10 rooms and a family medical practice, as well as dental and eye clinics, space to house a retail pharmacy and on-site employee day care.
The opening of KCMH restores permanent access to local, quality health care, and in the process brings the citizens of Kiowa County a step closer to achieving a goal they have been pursuing with great courage, faith and determination--a place to call home. Greensburg residents are an example of the great things communities can accomplish when residents work together. Thanks to Administrator Mary Sweet for her leadership in rebuilding KCMH and for hosting such a special event.
Members of the Kansas Bioscience Authority, Kansas state government leaders, and the Kansas congressional delegation met in Washington this week to discuss the state's bioscience initiatives. The group discussed the University of Kansas Cancer Center's efforts to achieve designation as a "Comprehensive Cancer Center" from the National Cancer Institute (NCI). This designation would greatly enhance the ability to provide Kansas patients with the most advanced cancer treatment and research. In addition, we discussed the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) now being built in Manhattan that will serve as our nation's premier research center to improve and protect our country's food supply and advance the causes of agriculture.
The addition of NBAF, KU Medical Center's efforts for NCI designation and other bioscience initiatives will propel our state to new heights of research capability and help Kansas become a world leader. I appreciated visiting with these leaders and share their strong commitment to making these opportunities a reality to improve the economy of Kansas and the lives of its citizens.
Introducing Legislation to Support Kansas Small Businesses
I introduced legislation this week with Congressman Earl Pomeroy (D-ND) to provide targeted tax relief to small businesses that will free up capital and encourage reinvestment. The Small Business Jobs and Tax Relief Act, H.R. 4779, encourages investment in new equipment, property and small business stock while promoting small business start-ups. This legislation would also expand business credit availability and would restrict tax penalties that unfairly target small businesses. The Kansas economy depends upon a healthy small business environment. When small businesses succeed, jobs are created and communities are strengthened.
Kansans Stand Ready to Build Air Force Tanker
This week, we moved closer to the Pentagon awarding the contract for the aerial refueling tanker replacement program to Boeing. Defense company Northrop Grumman announced it will not submit a bid, though its European partner EADS has reportedly requested that the deadline be extended for bid submissions.
It would be unfair for the Air Force to change the rules and to postpone the competition. We cannot afford another decade of delay in modernizing our Eisenhower-era tanker fleet, which is vital for the safety of our military personnel and the security of our country. Kansas workers stand ready to support our men and women in uniform with the best tanker, and I hope this process will move swiftly forward to completion.
Kansas Farm Bureau Members Bring Kansas Perspective to D.C.
Members of the Kansas Farm Bureau (KFB) are leaders in agriculture and their communities. More than 100 KFB members, who care deeply about the future of our state, were in Washington, D.C., this week to meet with elected officials. I had the opportunity to meet with many KFB members on Tuesday to discuss issues that impact farming, ranching and rural Kansas communities.
I spoke to the group about an environmental and animal rights agenda that threatens the viability of agriculture and rural communities. Thanks to KFB President Steve Baccus, Vice President Edie Dahlsten and all of the other KFB members and staff for caring about the future of our state.
Speaking to CHS, Inc.
On Wednesday, I spoke to members of CHS, Inc., at their annual Washington, DC fly-in. CHS, Inc.'s members include agricultural producers and farmer cooperatives from across the nation. In Kansas, CHS employed 2,782 Kansans in 2008. It also owns a share in the NCRA refinery in McPherson, Kansas. I discussed with the group concerns about regulations and laws that could dramatically increase costs on agriculture. These initiatives, like EPA's attempt to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act rather than with the consent of Congress, would make it more difficult for agribusinesses and the producers they serve to succeed. Thank you to Steve Riegel of Ford and Jim Loving of McPherson for inviting me speak with CHS members from across the country.
Helping Kansas Hospitals Implement Health Technology
There are 76 hospitals in the "Big First" Congressional District--the most of any congressional district in the country. I have visited each of these facilities and know that one-size-fits-all mandates do not work for many of our health care providers. On Thursday, I requested that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) adopt a plan that creates a more reasonable avenue to help Kansas hospitals implement Health Information Technology and Electronic Health Records (EHRs). Current law provides payment incentives for hospitals who are "meaningful users" of certified EHRs, but imposes stiff penalties on hospitals that fail to meet this requirement by 2015. For many Kansas hospitals, this time frame is unrealistic and will be extremely difficult to meet. CMS needs to adopt a more reasonable plan that allows Kansas hospitals the flexibility to adopt and implement these technologies in ways that best suit their unique needs and resources.
Multiple Sclerosis Caucus Raises Awareness about Disease
Multiple Sclerois (MS) is a chronic, often disabling disease that attacks the central nervous system. Many Kansans are affected by it. This week, I joined the Congressional Multiple Sclerosis Caucus, which serves as a bipartisan forum for Members of Congress and related organizations to discuss critical health care, disability, research and other issues affecting people living with MS. As a member of this caucus, I will raise awareness for this disease and prevention and treatment.
In the Office
David Thomason of Topeka was in with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to share information about state efforts to provide nutrition education to low-income Kansans. Gary Brunk of Topeka was in with Kansas Action for Children to talk about the importance of making sure hungry children are fed and receive nutritious food. Elaine Wellborn of Topeka and Connie Phelps of Emporia were in with the Kansas Association for the Gifted, Talented, and Creative to explain the unique learning needs of gifted students.
Kayzy Bigler of Topeka was in with Families Together, Inc. to represent Kansas parents and their children with disabilities. Carrie Crownover, Bruce Nystrom, and Jason Deselms of Wichita were in with the Kansas Psychological Association to talk about important mental health services in health care reform. Kathy Sikes of Derby and Debbie Holroyd of Topeka were in with the Alzheimer's Association of Central & Western Kansas to provide an update Alzheimer research and the strategic plan to address the disease.
Lori Mitchell-Kandt of Herington was in with the Kansas School Counselor Association to share about professional school counselors in Kansas. Karen Schell of Emporia, Suzanne Bollig of Hays, and Debbie Fox of Wichita were in with the Kansas Respiratory Care Society to report on prevention and treatment of respiratory diseases. Laura Chisholm of Fairway and Judy Krtek of Overland Park were in with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation to update me on advances in diabetes research, treatment, and prevention.
Rob Linderer of Westwood was in with the Midwest Transplant Network to describe efforts to save lives through organ and tissue donation. Thomas Bryon of Leawood, Terry Dressman of Overland Park, Kay Schweiger of Olathe, Renee Thomforde of Wichita, Linda Corcoran of Hutchinson, and Jim Hissong and Ron Bowling of Lenexa were in with the Kansas Association of Health Underwriters to discuss ways to strengthen our nation's health care delivery system.
Russel Plaschka of Moran and Steve Buss of Meriden were in with the Kansas Association of Agriculture Educators and Kansas Association of Career and Technical Educators to talk about education programs that are important to Kansas students and the industry. Harold Godwin, Associate Dean at the University of Kansas School of Pharmacy for Clinical and Medical Center Affairs, was in with the American Pharmacists Association to speak about improving medication use and advancing patient care.
David Foran of Kansas City, Douglas Moorman of Leawood and Cynthia Evitt of Overland Park were in with the National Treasury Employees Union to discuss issues impacting the federal workforce. Jack Taylor of Liberal was in with SPIRIT to chat about highway funding. Ken Staugel and Barbara Stockell of Topeka, Charley Shoemaker of Leavenworth, Phil Irby of Junction City and Bill Beckham of Wichita were in with the Kansas VFW to talk about VA hospitals in Kansas and improving programs and benefits for veterans.
Ronald Walker, Daphne Maxwell, Bob Henderson and Janet Christian of Junction City were in with USD 475 to discuss the need for more capacity at schools on post at Ft Riley. Pam Kemp of Clay Center, Lon Buller of Newton, Pam Beasley of Iola, Teri Smith of Lawrence and Mike Selves of Holton were in with the Kansas Emergency Management Association to share their thoughts on FEMA and federal emergency grants and resources available to counties.
Morris Reeves of Dodge City was in with Dodge City Community College to update me on the latest developments at DCCC. Phil Guries and Jim Manley of Salina were in with YMCAs of Kansas to speak about community-based programs to increase physical activity, improve nutrition and prevent smoking. Nancy Niles Lusk of Overland Park, Debbie Lawson of Lenexa and Patty Jurich of Kansas City were in with the Kansas Parent Teacher Association to discuss the link between family engagement in schools and increases in student achievement.
Brock Slabach of Kansas City was in with the National Rural Health Association to express support for Kansas rural hospitals. Peggy Goodwin of Salina, Cathy Gray of Wichita and Misty Elder of Salina were in with the Kansas Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies to update me on their work with Kansas families and child care providers to strengthen the quality of child care. Mayor Mike Boehm, Eric Wade, Tim Green and Ashley Sherard were in with to talk to me about the priorities for the city of Lenexa.
Commissioner Larry Hicks of Junction City was in to bring me up to date on issues important to Geary County. Gary Wall of Parsons and Ashley and Bill Cozine of Wichita were in with the Kansas Funeral Directors Association to speak about legislative measures intended to make the funeral and estate planning process easier and safer for grieving Kansans. Tom Rogge of Gardner and Ron Sutton of Goodland were in with the Sporting Goods Manufacturing Association to discuss legislation that promotes physical fitness.
Susan Estes and Jim Baker of Overland Park and Randy Lewis of Parsons were in with Mid-America Manufacturing Center to discuss the effective use of the center in creating jobs and reducing manufacturers' cost of doing business. Steve Swaffar of Rossville was in with the Kansas Farm Bureau to describe EPA's attempt to regulate the burning of the Flint Hills, which is a natural process needed to preserve the tallgrass prairie ecosystem.
Melinda Sorem, Jenny Hey and Naomi King of Jetmore were in with Women in Farm Economics to discuss challenges facing the agriculture industry and strategies to keep farmers and ranchers productive. Frank Pogge, Karin Jacoby, Lynda Hoffman and Steve Dailey of Kansas City were in with Mo-Ark to talk about water infrastructure projects necessary to protect businesses and homes in the Kansas and Missouri River basins.
Jere White of Garnett was in with the Kansas Corn and Sorghum Producers Associations to discuss the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) recent move reexamine the registration of atrazine, a useful herbicide used to control weeds on Kansas corn and sorghum acres. Barth Crouch of Salina was in with the Playa Lakes Joint Venture to bring me up to date on initiatives to preserve lesser prairie chicken habitat in Kansas and discuss the timing of a Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) general signup in 2010.
Steve Riegel of Ford was in with CHS, Inc., to talk about CHS, Inc.'s businesses in Kansas and describe how those businesses would be adversely affected by pending cap and trade legislation and EPA's attempt to regulation greenhouse gas emissions. Mary Beth Leininger of Kansas City was in with the North American Veterinary Medical Education Consortium (NAVMEC) to communicate NAVMEC's support for the Veterinary Public Health and Education Act.
Former Kansas State University President Duane Acker came by my office to visit with me. Ann Brandau-Murguia of Kansas City came by on behalf of the Wyandotte County Commission. Dave Crum of Wichita was in with the National and Kansas Pawnbrokers.
Several Kansans came by my Washington, D.C. office this week to receive a tour of the United States Capitol including Jerry and Lucy Burtnett of Wichita, Ralph and Kate Goodnight of Lakin, Katie Stockstill and Derek Sawyer of McPherson and Ryan Durst of Moundridge.