Welcome to "This Week in Congress." This week's headlines are:
* Debt Commission Should Reduce Government Spending, Not Increase Taxes
* A Strong Postal Service Benefits All Kansans
* Pilot Program to Make Health Care More Accessible to Veterans
* Working to Keep the IRS out of Health Care and to Reduce Costs
* Agriculture Committee Should Review Impact of EPA Regulations
* Congress Does Not Deserve a Cost-of-Living Adjustment
* Kansas Businesses Create Jobs and Make Communities Prosper
* Visiting with Madison High School Students
* Visiting Redbud Village in Plainville
Debt Commission Should Reduce Government Spending, Not Increase Taxes
The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform met this week for the first time. The 18-member panel, which was created in February, has been tasked with making recommendations on how to reduce the nation's massive $12 trillion debt. This debt threatens our country and the welfare of future generations.
The debt commission should focus its work on the need to reduce federal government spending. We do not have a revenue problem in America; we have a spending problem. More taxes, like the proposed value-added tax, are not the answer. Attempts to raise taxes will only hurt economic recovery and take away more American freedoms. We owe it to our kids and our grandkids to cut spending and get our country back on sound financial footing. I look forward to reviewing the commission's recommendations on cutting spending.
A Strong Postal Service Benefits All Kansans
Whether in small towns or large cities, Kansans rely on the United States Postal Service (USPS) to stay in touch with family and conduct business. Kansans have a stake in making sure the Postal Service is a viable institution that continues to provide the service they expect. This week, I spoke with Kansans responsible for mail service in our state about the future of the USPS.
Kansas State Association of Letter Carriers: On Friday, I spoke with members of the Kansas State Association of Letter Carriers in Topeka about a recent request by the Postmaster General that Congress eliminate the requirement to deliver mail six days a week. While I understand the financial pressures on the Postal Service, I believe the USPS should take all appropriate measures to make sure mail continues to be delivered six days a week. Service cuts only make it more difficult for the USPS to return to financial stability as customers will likely seek other options to meet their mailing needs. Rather than cut service, the Postal Service should look for ways to expand its revenue. Thanks to Rod Holub of Manhattan, the President of the Kansas State Association of Letter Carriers, for the invitation to join Kansas letter carriers at their convention.
Kansas Chapter of the National Association of Postmasters of the U.S.: I spoke with members of the Kansas Chapter of the National Association of Postmasters of the U.S. on Sunday in Hays about the importance to Kansans of the more than 600 postal facilities in our state. Post offices are a significant economic contributor in Kansas communities, play a unique role in the social structure of small towns and are a source of civic pride. There are ways to strengthen the financial state of the Postal Service that do not involve closing small and rural post offices or cutting service. Thanks to Tom Lippert of Hays, Legislative Chair for the Kansas Chapter of the National Association of Postmasters of the U.S., for the invitation and his hospitality.
Pilot Program to Make Health Care More Accessible to Veterans
Many veterans live a great distance from a Veterans Affairs (VA) facility, making it difficult for them to access the health care services they need. In 2008, Congress approved a bill I authored to create a pilot program in several regions of the country that will enable rural veterans enrolled in the VA health system to receive care closer to home at a local hospital or physician's office. I have supported the establishment of more VA outpatient clinics across Kansas to improve access and have successfully advocated for increases in veterans' travel reimbursements; yet some rural veterans still lack access to VA health care. The pilot program will help close these gaps.
On Thursday, I participated in a House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Health hearing to examine the progress the VA has made toward implementing this pilot program. The VA is currently working through a number of issues, including identifying non-VA health care providers and determining reimbursement methods. Recently, a bill I offered to speed implementation was signed into law. I am told that the VA expects to have this pilot program in place in the winter of 2010 or early 2011. I will continue to work with the VA to make sure that this program is successfully implemented and Kansas veterans get the care they deserve.
Working to Keep the IRS out of Health Care and to Reduce Costs
The new health care reform law, requires the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to make sure all Americans have government-approved health insurance. Americans who can afford health insurance but choose not to purchase it will face a fine of up to $695 or 2.5% of their income, whichever is higher. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that it could cost as much as $10 billion to hire IRS employees to put federally mandated health care plans into effect. This week, I sponsored H.R. 5054, the Prevent IRS Overreach Act, to prohibit the IRS from hiring new agents to enforce the mandates of health care reform.
Additionally, I sponsored H.R. 5126, the Helping Save Americans' Health Care Choices Act. This legislation repeals the tax increases and limitations on Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs) and Health Reimbursement Accounts (HRAs) contained in the new health care law. High-deductable health plans tied to HSAs are often one of the lowest priced health care insurance options. However, the new law prevents over-the-counter drugs from being reimbursed tax-free from HSAs, HRAs or FSAs starting in 2010, limits annual FSA contributions to $2,500 starting in 2013, and increases taxes for non-qualifying withdrawals from HSAs in 2011. Tax policy should encourage responsible health care choices, not penalize Kansans that use these medical savings plans.
Agriculture Committee Should Review Impact of EPA Regulations
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions threaten the economic prosperity of all Kansans. This week, I joined Republican members of the House Agriculture Committee in asking Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson to hold a hearing to review what impact the EPA's greenhouse gas regulations might have on the agriculture industry. Chairman Peterson and most members of the Agriculture Committee support a disapproval resolution to stop EPA's attempt to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. The Committee should explore how these EPA regulations will increase costs on agricultural producers across the country.
In December, I was the first Member of Congress to introduce a disapproval resolution of EPA's greenhouse gas regulations. Since that time, I have joined with other Members to generate bipartisan support for this initiative. I look forward to the Chairman's response and hope the Committee will address this issue.
Congress Does Not Deserve a Cost-of-Living Adjustment
In tough times, Kansans expect their government to act like they do--to make sacrifices and cut spending. One of the first places Congress should look to cut spending is the annual cost-of-living increase for Members of Congress. Current law provides automatic annual cost-of-living increases for Members of Congress unless disapproved by Congress. I have long been opposed to this hidden process by which Representatives and Senators get an increase in their pay. The lack of transparency only serves to increase skepticism, disillusion and distrust of government. This week, I voted for legislation that eliminates the cost-of-living increase for next year and cuts spending.
Kansas Businesses Create Jobs and Make Communities Prosper
When Kansas businesses succeed, jobs are created and our communities are strengthened. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce presented me with the Spirit of Enterprise Award this week for my record of supporting Kansas businesses in 2009. Eligibility for the award was based on my voting record on key legislation impacting businesses. It was an honor to be recognized for my longstanding commitment to Kansas businesses.
Visiting with Madison High School Students
On Wednesday, I spoke with Toby Countryman's class of seniors at Madison High School via video teleconference from Washington, D.C. During our conversation, I described my role as a representative and answered thoughtful questions about a variety of topics, including our nation's tax code, the importance of maintaining family farms in Kansas, the trade deficit, partisanship in Washington, domestic violence and hunger issues.
As Kansans, we enjoy a special way of life that is worth preserving. It is important for our students to be involved in current issues and actively engaged in our communities to make certain the places we call home can be around for the next generation. I was pleased to learn that the students are discussing current issues and was impressed with the quality of questions. Thanks to Mr. Countryman for giving me the opportunity to visit with his class. Congratulations to these and all Kansas seniors as they prepare for graduation and the next chapter of their lives.
Visiting Redbud Village in Plainville
On Saturday, I visited Redbud Village in my hometown of Plainville. Redbud Village's services include 24-hour complete nursing care in Redbud Village and 24-hour assisted-living care in Redbud Estates. I enjoyed meeting Redbud's residents and staff and appreciate their invitation to see, firsthand, the high level of care being provided there. Thanks to Mindy Workman for coordinating my visit.
National Nursing Home Week is next week, May 9-15. This upcoming week will give us a chance to honor the Kansans living in long-term care facilities, individuals who have committed much time and effort to building our communities over the years, their families, and the dedicated staffs who care for these folks.
In the Office
Chad Moore of Kansas City was in with Children's Mercy Family Health Partners (CMFHP) to update me on CMFHP's efforts to provide quality health care to Kansas children and families. Dustin Bozwell and Tara Brumin of Kansas City, Paul Hertel of Shawnee, Todd Nason of Ensign, Joe Conroy of Emporia and Brian Smith of Garden City were in with the Kansas Association of Nurse Anesthetists to discuss ways to make sure Kansans in rural communities have access to the health care services they need.
Karren Weichert and Harmony Hines of Topeka were in with Midland Care PACE Services to express support for comprehensive, coordinated care services for older adults in Kansas. Carolyn Bloom of Eudora was in with the Kansas Physical Therapy Association to visit about improving Kansans' access to physical therapy services. Mark Brady of Overland Park, James Kindscher of Kansas City and Gregory Unruh of Olathe were in with the Kansas Society of Anesthesiologists to discuss legislation that would help rural Kansas hospitals employ anesthesiologists.
Todd Herrenbruck of Salina, Charles and Nancy Craig of Newton, Peter Hodges of Manhattan and Gary Caruthers of Topeka were in with the Kansas Orthopedic Society to visit about ways to make sure Kansas communities have access to quality treatment for musculoskeletal injuries. Christina Osbourn and Peggy Johnson of Wichita and Katie Linden of Overland Park were in with the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Advocacy Alliance to share their support for breast cancer screening and research.
Members of the Kansas Hospital Association were in to tell me how health care reform legislation will affect Kansas hospitals. In with the group were Tom Bell and Maynard Oliverius of Topeka, David Bradley of Junction City, Jayne Clarke, John Jeter and Dan Schippers of Hays, Bob Driewer of Emporia, Leonard Hernandez of Elkhart, Mark Miller of Abilene, Genny Nicholas and Dallas Polen of Kansas City, Jim Reagan of Council Grove and Ann Zielinski of Kinsley.
Tommie Cassen of Lawrence and Ginnie Job of Leawood were in with the Immune Deficiency Foundation to update me on the latest developments in the treatment of immunodeficiency diseases. Mike Morrand of Paola was in with the Kansas Contractors Association to discuss investment in wastewater infrastructure. Deborah Fischer-Stout of Wichita was in with the National Association of Railroad Passengers to talk about recent developments on the Northern Flyer Alliance to get an Amtrak route from Dallas to Kansas City.
Bob Thesman of Overland Park and Verlean Brown of Wichita were in with the Kansas National Education Association to talk about education priorities for our state. Gary Curmode of Park City was in with the Kansas Professional Fire Chiefs Association to express his support for grant programs that benefit firefighters. Bill Barloon of Overland Park was in with the Sprint Nextel Company to talk to me about the National Broadband Plan. Larry, LaTonia and Larry Burnett of Hutchinson stopped by to visit.
Steve Gardner of Garnett and Chris Standlee of Hugoton were in with East Kansas Agri-Energy to speak about the biofuel industry. Members of the Joint Council of Extension Professionals were in to update me on the activities of Cooperative Extension Service in Kansas. In with the group were John and Thea Beckman of Scott City, Berny Unruh of Great Bend, Bryan and Jolene Brauer of Wright, Gary and Terrie Price of Lawrence and Chris Onstad of Colby.
Scott Heidner of Topeka, Mike Olson of Ellsworth, Clint Robinson of Overland Park and Roy Wilson of Lenexa were in with the American Council of Engineering Companies to talk about the importance of investing in our nation's infrastructure. Mark Jorgenson of Kansas City was in with the Kansas City US Bank to share with me his thoughts on the proposed financial reform bill. Charles Reagan of Kansas State University and Phillip Sill of Tribune were also in to speak with me.
Members of the Community Bankers Association of Kansas were in to talk about financial reform. In with the group were Richard and Jeannie Ciemny, Frank and Laura Suellentrop and Brad and Janice Yaeger of Wichita; Paul and Marilyn Boeding of Seneca; Dale and Susan Bradley of Miltonvale; Dan and Pat Coup of Hope; Steven and Sandy Handke of Everest; Michael and Maggie Johnson of Courtland; Joe and Marybeth Kennedy of Frankfort; Patrick and Loretta Kerschen of Harper; Gregg Lewis of Osawatomie; Barry Linnens of Cedar Point; Shawn and Spencer Mitchell of Topeka; and Clay Donley of Salina.
Several Kansans came by my Washington, D.C., office for a tour of the U.S. Capitol, including Meredith Ryan of Hillsboro, Madaleine Cox of Valley Center, Lynn and Sherry Leonard of Sublette and Shelly Hall of Topeka. In for a tour from Lawrence were Noelle, Thomas, Margaret and Michael Uhler. Brenda and David Crawford of Beloit were also in for a tour.