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2004 State of the District, Culver-Stockton College, Canton, Missouri

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Location: Canton, Missouri


2004 State of the District, Culver-Stockton College, Canton, Missouri
January 26, 2004

In so many ways, Culver-Stockton is truly emblematic of our Ninth District as a whole. Though storms of all shapes and sizes may shake our homes, communities and institutions to the core, we are the right people at the right time to face these challenges head on.

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I am Kenny Hulshof, Missouri's Ninth District Representative to Congress. I appreciate all of you being here for my seventh annual State of the Ninth District presentation.

I'd like to thank Dr. William Fox and Culver-Stockton College for hosting this event and welcoming me back to your beautiful campus. In so many ways, this college is a shining example of why the state of the Ninth District remains exceptionally strong.

As many of you may know, I actually first made Dr. Fox's acquaintance just days after the terrible storms that ravaged much of Missouri struck. Though the storm clouds of that terrible weekend had just passed, Dr. Fox was truly a silver lining to me, and to many in this community. He has been the right man at the right time for this college, as well as the community it serves. Thank you, Dr. Fox, for your hard work thus far, and you have my very best wishes as you and this fine institution move forward.

In so many ways, Culver-Stockton is truly emblematic of our Ninth District as a whole. Though storms of all shapes and sizes may shake our homes, communities and institutions to the core, we are the right people at the right time to face these challenges head on.

***

Ironically, we as a nation did not notice the terrible storm brewing on the horizon until that clear morning in September 2001. With little warning and even less remorse, brazen murderers shattered our nation's peace, leaving shattered lives strewn in their wake. While the initial shock of that day has passed, the scars on our nation remain vivid.

Just like this May's tornado, it will take us years to recover what took just moments to destroy. But we as a nation have taken stock of our collective self, and we have made a choice to reclaim our communities and our way of life.

Franklin D. Roosevelt stated in his 1941 State of the Union address that it is a national responsibility to ensure the right of every American to be free from fear. As such, we are obliged to be not passive, but active in the defense of the freedom and nation we so dearly love. We have sent our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, friends and neighbors to locations to the far corners of the earth to make sure that the unspeakable violation that was September 11, 2001 will never again take place.

And our efforts have paid off. We have captured leaders of al-Qaeda and of other terrorist states. We have cut off financing to known terrorist groups and impeded their ability to move and function. We have reached out to our allies and persuaded problem nations, like Libya, to turn away from their terrorist past. We have moved the nuclear nations of India and Pakistan to return to the bargaining table, not the battlefield, to decide the future of Kashmir. And most importantly, through our improved intelligence capabilities and the vigilance of the American people, no major terrorist attacks have occurred on American soil in the past two years.

These accomplishments aside, the successes of yesterday will not eliminate the future threats of tomorrow. We have much we still need to learn, and much that remains to be accomplished before victory can be declared. We have begun to realize what Churchill meant in 1942 when he said, "This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning." Only the black hearts and demented minds of individuals a world a way will know if the winds have calmed, or if we are in but the eye of the storm.

***

And in 2003, the terrible shadow of war again settled over Iraq. After decades of stubborn defiance in the face of all decency and international will, Saddam Hussein again played his games of deception and brinksmanship. But this time, Saddam had overplayed his hand. An international coalition, led by the United States, called Saddam's bluff once and for all.

Because Saddam again failed to open the books on Iraq's decades-long program to produce weapons of mass destruction, our coalition was forced to act. Our men and women in uniform, in just over a month, destroyed Saddam's corrupt regime, and the flag of a free Iraq flew once again over the once-ornate and now shell-pocked walls of his palaces. Mirroring those famous pictures from Baghdad last April, Saddam fell from power at the hands of the Iraqi people, with the help of Americans in uniform.

Never before had the world seen a military maneuver of such size, speed or precision. As President Bush said, "No device of man can remove the tragedy from war; yet it is a great moral advance when the guilty have far more to fear from war than the innocent." We went to Iraq not to break a nation, but to build a new one.

And it is the continued skill and professionalism of American soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines that will guarantee a lasting peace in Iraq. Healing the physical and psychological wounds left by this dictator will take time, but I am optimistic that our men and women in uniform, through their compassion, patience, and determination, will soon win this day as well.

But the reconstruction of Iraq will not be completed without significant cost in both troops and treasure. Earlier this year, Congress approved, with my support, an $87 billion war supplemental to fund continuing military and humanitarian operations in Iraq. Though I took no issue with providing the resources needed to support our troops, I was opposed to providing the $20 billion earmarked for reconstruction activities in the form of a one-time grant, rather than as part of a loan.

Splitting from the Administration, I supported an amendment that would have provided half of the $20 billion as a grant, but required the other half be paid back as a loan. I continue to maintain that a parallel system of grants and loans would first build the foundations for a democratically elected government in Iraq. This new government would then find a willing partner in the United States to help finance needed investments in infrastructure and security. Just as we took an active role in our own defense by our action in Iraq, the Iraqi people must take a leading role to secure the peace for the long-term.

So, we are torn between two contradictory goals-building a lasting and free Iraq and having our troops return home safely as soon as possible. While we cannot afford to see our mission in Iraq fail, we as a nation cannot fail our troops or the families they have left back home.

And the sacrifices made by our troops have been great. Army Sergeant Travis Burkhardt, of Edina, and Army Captain Ben Smith, of Monroe City, lost their lives in Iraq. And just last week, a helicopter crash claimed the life of Macon, Missouri native Army Warrant Officer Michael Blaise, just days before he was scheduled to return home.

Earlier this year, I also had the distinct honor of joining Veterans Secretary Anthony Principi in pinning a Purple Heart on the uniform of a Centralia, Missouri native, Army Specialist Jason Blakemore. In addition, it was my pleasure to award Army Specialist Billy Nelson his Purple Heart last October at the Columbia Library. Our troops are missed as they represent the very best of our communities.

As our thoughts turn to the sacrifice of our active-duty troops, we must not forget that our military has increasingly relied on the services of reservists guard members to meet its objectives. Columbia and Moberly have recently welcomed home troops from the 1139th Military Police Company, recently returned from the Middle East. Warrenton has bid farewell to the 1438th Engineer Multirole Bridge Company, a Missouri National Guard unit called up for service as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. And our friends and neighbors from both St. Clair and Hannibal, members of the 2175th Military Police Unit, have been serving in Iraq since late last year. But while we usually focus on the achievements of those in uniform, it is important we also acknowledge those who stay behind and keep our world turning.

For this reason, I have invited Christie Stratton, wife of Army Sergeant Ed Stratton, a member of the 2175th, to be here this evening. She has coordinated a support group with other wives from the 2175th to send their spouses cards, cookies and other gifts from home. But most importantly, Christie is making sure everyday that their household and three children, Mackenzie, Trevor and Zachary, will be happy and healthy upon their father's return later this year. With Christie's efforts, people right here in Northeast Missouri are helping our troops make Iraq a safer place.

In addition, with our greater reliance on our military in recent years, it is only fair that we improve the benefits available to our veterans. Accordingly, since 1998, Congress has increased spending for veterans health care by 58%. That said, we are still falling short of the mark in meeting the health care needs of those who served. We in Congress must work with the VA to find innovative approaches to improve our VA health care system and meet our obligations to our nation's veterans.

Congress has also taken action to improve the fairness of the military retiree disability system. As many of you know, until recently, veterans' retirement benefits were offset by the amount of disability coverage that they are eligible for. Though this problem, known as concurrent receipt, has persisted since the end of the Civil War, Congress recently approved a broad expansion of concurrent receipt to all veterans wounded in combat, or those with 50% service-connected disability or greater. It is only fair that those who long protected our freedom receive the benefits they are entitled to.

Those that defend our freedoms deserve the best we can provide them, and anything less shortchanges them and endangers our national security. Moreover, those who serve overseas should know that the families, homes and communities they defend are also well-protected from threats while they are away.

As such, just as the men and women of the 2175th Military Police Unit are on the frontlines on the war on terror, our first responders-our police, our firefighters and emergency service providers-are on the frontlines of protecting our homeland. Thankfully, Congress and the Bush Administration have also answered this call. Since September 11th, 2001, we have invested over $100 billion in homeland security efforts, including $20.8 billion for our men and women in uniform here at home. In the past year alone, the Ninth District has received roughly $2 million in grants to local first responders. We are working to ensure that our brave firefighters, police officers and emergency medical personnel get the best equipment and training available as they keep us safe from harm.

And Canton has seen firsthand just how good its first responders can be in a time of emergency. With their early warning, the people of Canton escaped with only minor injuries and no loss of life as a result of the terrible storm of May 10. But while we all escaped serious injury, roughly $25 million was caused in property damage in Canton and surrounding counties.

But this community has bonded together. When I toured damaged areas on May 13, already the air was ringing with the sounds of chainsaws and hammers, and thick with the smell of sawdust. And pounding away for his community was Jeff McReynolds, who largely spearheaded Canton's efforts to cut through the red-tape and secure emergency funds for all those in need. Jeff, I extend you my thanks and the thanks of the community for a job well done.

As an aside, I can only hope your determination and sense of duty runs in the family, as your daughter Jennifer, a student here at Culver-Stockton, begins her internship in my Washington, DC office this week!

***

While our hometowns have been made safer from physical threats in 2003, many dangers still remain. As we continue prosecuting the war on terror, we must make sure that we do not lose track of the values that have made our communities so great.

Unfortunately, what tears away at our way of life is subtle, and often only diagnosed by a culmination of symptoms. Recent court decisions have torn away at our families, our flag, and our freedoms, and justice for all can be pre-empted by lawsuits over a McDonald's coffee cup. In some circumstances, a nation whose motto is "out of many, one," has begun to prefer its parts at the expense of the whole. And crime that once seemed distant from rural areas such as drug abuse, is now taking place in our own backyards.

In response, we need to bolster our legal system and make it easily accountable to community standards. This begins by appointing the right judges to the bench, and streamlining state and national laws to make sure that the common good is not a victim to the law. We must encourage charitable efforts, whether they are secular or religious-based, to improve the lives of our neighbors in need.

And for us to be able to solve the massive problem of meth abuse in rural areas, we must also encourage community-based solutions. Accordingly, my office held a Meth Forum in Franklin County, Missouri earlier this year. Calling together law enforcement, elected officials and community leaders from across the Ninth District, we attempted to pin down solutions to a very difficult problem. One of the best ideas to come from the forum was called Operation CHEM. This program would create a voluntary partnership between law enforcement and retailers to better identify suspicious patterns of purchase and theft to stop the meth problem at its source.

Working together, we were able to secure $300,000 for Operation CHEM, which will produce an in-store training video for retail employees. This video will be sent out to every sheriff's department in Missouri, where those agencies can offer the tape or DVD to local stores. Already, Wal-Mart has expressed interest in using the tape as part of its training throughout the Midwest.

As always, the key to maintaining our community values is the continued involvement of all of our citizens.

***

But a final factor also threatens our communities. Especially in rural areas, communities cannot survive without jobs to drive economic growth. Should a major employer shut down in a small town, it is likely those employees will have to move to find work. The economic drain affects not just those laid off, but everyone in that community.

Fortunately, Missouri has moved ahead of the national trend in terms of job growth and some positive economic news may be on the horizon. But this trend provides little solace to the 120 people laid off at Columbia's 3M plant, or the 62 employees laid off after Kirksville's Hollister plant shut down earlier this year, or the hundreds of former TWA employees let go after a new round of job cuts at Lambert Airport.

Nor do Missouri's gains provide much assistance for the state's manufacturing economy, which has been particularly hard-hit by the economic downturn. For example, our neighbors in Mexico, Missouri, once known as the "Firebrick Capital of the World," have lost hundreds of jobs after the AP Green Refractory closed in late 2002. In the case of Mexico, more has been lost than jobs and economic development; this town is struggling to regain its community identity in the wake of these layoffs.

Positive economic numbers do put food on the table or clothes on our backs; instead, we must improve the business climate for manufacturing and improve their competitiveness in the new global economy. And recent news has indicated that our efforts have begun to pay dividends across the Ninth District.

Just south of here, in Hannibal, the General Mills plant is significantly expanding its existing facility, and has hired close to 200 new employees as a result. In Moberly, Everlast Sporting Goods has centralized its manufacturing capacity and will produce a variety of goods, including its famed boxing gloves. Perhaps most welcome was the news that Bentley Industries, a maker of pontoon boats, had chosen Mexico as the site of a new manufacturing plant. Expected to employ 100 people initially, it is possible that other suppliers may locate to Mexico as well.

And while the tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 have primed our nation's economic pump by allowing hard-working Missourians to spend and invest more of their hard-earned dollars, we must consolidate these gains by making this tax relief permanent. Anything less would constitute the largest tax increase in American history, destroying the fragile progress made since 2001.

But creating economic conditions conducive to sustained growth is much more than federal tax policy. We must build and maintain the infrastructure needed to connect rural communities in order for businesses to locate their operations "off the beaten path."

In so many ways, Missouri's Ninth District is a crossroads for the state and nation. Crisscrossed by several major north-south and east-west arteries, including I-70 and U.S. Highway 63, the Ninth District is also bounded in parts by the nation's two longest rivers, the Missouri and Mississippi. We must take full advantage of our geographic location and natural resources to grow well into the 21st Century.

But here in Canton, improving our roads and highways cannot be viewed strictly through the lens of economic development. What this community has suffered because of the poor condition and high volume of traffic on U.S. Highway 61 is heartbreaking to say the least. Though a new 10.5 mile section of four lane divided highway opened earlier this year between Canton and LaGrange, we cannot in good conscience rest on this victory now.
But the SMART group has galvanized this community to action after the death of one of their classmates. I am confident that this town and these young people will not rest until the Avenue of the Saints is four lanes from St. Paul to St. Louis.

In addition, Northeast Missouri has several other roads in need of expansion and repair. We need to follow Illinois' lead, and extend I-72, or at least expand U.S. Highway 36 to four lanes, from Hannibal to St. Joseph. In the newly-added southern counties near the Lake of the Ozarks, additional attention must be directed to the creation of a new U.S. Highway 54 Expressway that will alleviate a serious gridlock issue during the busy summer months. With a new federal highway bill up for consideration this year, you can be sure that I will work with U.S. Senator Kit Bond to secure Missouri's fair share of federal highway dollars. Aside from the repair and expansion of Missouri's roads and highways, one of the best ways to improve the efficiency of Missouri transportation is to improve navigation on both the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. Navigation on both rivers is currently at a crossroads.

On the Missouri, we must find a way to balance the needs of fish, fowl and farmer to create reliable flows to sustain both wildlife and the agricultural economy. On the Mississippi, we must conclude the Mississippi River Navigation Study as soon as possible. As part of this study's set of economic alternatives, we must build new 1200 foot locks in order to create a more-efficient, cost-effective way of competing in the global agricultural market.

Lacking barge traffic, farmers and other businesses will be forced to ship bulk commodities by either train or truck, at a loss of 10-25 cents a bushel. Without a doubt, the most cost-effective way to move bulk commodities to Europe, South America or Asia from Northeast Missouri is by barge. The Mighty Mississippi is not just Old Man River, but also Missouri agriculture's interstate to foreign markets.

However, in order to take full advantage of the river, Congress and the Bush Administration must do more to open foreign markets to Missouri agriculture products. With 95% of the world's consumers living outside our borders and one in three rows of soybeans and corn destined for export, it is essential for the federal government to continue aggressively removing the multiple barriers that inhibit the sale of our farm products abroad.

The United States must ensure that nations such as Brazil and the European Union (EU) must live up to the terms of our agreements. In many cases, both Brazil and the EU engage in illegal and discriminatory practices that harm American producers. From Brazilian farmers stealing RoundUp Ready technology to the EU's bloated export subsidies and unwarranted restrictions on genetically modified crops, eliminating these barriers should be a priority trade objective.

But as we open and create new markets overseas, we must also create new products and new markets at home. With commodity markets remaining extremely volatile, it is essential that Congress promotes common-sense incentives that will allow farmers and ranchers to create new businesses that will add value to crops and create new jobs in rural communities.

Accordingly, I have long been a champion in Congress for the creation and maintenance of tax incentives to promote the production and use of renewable fuels like biodiesel and ethanol. Nationwide, clean-burning ethanol creates 200,000 jobs and increases farm income by $4.5 billion annually, adding, on average, 30 cents a bushel to corn prices. Already, in just five years, an ethanol plant in Macon, Missouri will have been responsible for nearly $1 billion in direct and indirect economic investment and jobs to a local economy that desperately needs the help.

In addition, folks in Laddonia are also trying to follow Macon's lead. East Central Agriculture Products is in the midst of an equity drive to create a plant rivaling Macon's in size and output. And efforts led by the Missouri Soybean Association may soon lead to the construction of a biodiesel plant near Mexico, Missouri.

This year, Congress came within a whisker of approving a comprehensive energy bill that contained legislation I authored that would create a new biodiesel tax incentive and greatly expand use of ethanol and other renewable fuels nationwide. Despite House approval, the energy bill stalled two votes short in the Senate. In any case, you can be sure that I will continue my efforts on this front, and pursue legislation that would help make ethanol plants like that in Macon the rule, not the exception.

Instead of depending on the Middle East for our energy and economic prosperity, let us look to the Midwest, and tap the millions of rows of soybeans and corn to improve environmental quality, energy independence and the quality of life in our rural communities.

That said, promoting renewable fuels is but one part of adding value to Missouri agriculture. With the state's flagship research university, the University of Missouri-Columbia (MU), located within the Ninth District, along with its proximity to prominent agriculture research centers in St. Louis and Kansas City, Northeast Missouri is well positioned to harvest the research of our brightest minds.

Already, producer groups have joined together to start value-added cooperatives that plan on selling new products based on home-grown technologies as wide-ranging as identity-preserved soybeans and corn destined for foreign specialty markets, to a soy-based beer. In the past year alone, we have worked to secure over $1.5 million in USDA grants to get these businesses off the ground.

Despite agriculture's importance to the Ninth District, we must also improve educational opportunities to provide a variety of opportunities for all of our citizens. In many cases, many who might want to stay in rural communities must leave to find the education and training needed to make a living.

To this end, colleges like Culver-Stockton are critical cornerstones to the educational system of Northeast Missouri. In many cases, outside of the University of Missouri, Culver-Stockton College is one of the few higher education opportunities for this region. As such, we must invest in additional research and teaching facilities at smaller colleges in the district to allow access to educational opportunities closer to home.

We must also follow through on efforts to implement the No Child Left Behind Act, which will improve our K-through-12 system. Moreover, reauthorization of the Head Start and IDEA programs will increase access to increasingly scarce education dollars statewide. But as we debate federal education policy, it is critical that Congress provides a maximum of local control and flexibility while requiring results so parents can find out whether their child is being taught in a failing school.

***

But as we examine ways to protect and strengthen our communities, it is also important that we do not forget to improve the health of the building blocks of any community-its residents. With 43 million Americans lacking health care, and with health care costs rapidly increasing every year, we must take immediate action to make sure that Americans of every region and economic background have access to affordable health care services.

Meanwhile, this nation's medical liability system is in dire need of reform. Doctors, especially those in rural areas, are facing a full-blown medical liability crisis, which in turn, would limit access to doctors across the state. For example, Missouri's Ob-gyns are routinely seeing premium increases of 200-300 percent-and even upwards of 1,000 percent in some cases. It is time to limit the amount of non-economic damages from medical malpractice lawsuits. Doctors need to be able to practice medicine with the health of patients foremost in mind rather than fear of extraneous lawsuits.
But as we lower health care costs, we must also modernize the Medicare system so that a new generation of seniors will have access to the best advantages of modern medicine. We took a historic step in improving the quality of life for millions of seniors nationwide with last year's passage of H.R. 1, the Medicare Prescription Drug Improvement and Modernization Act of 2003.

For many seniors, this measure means new access to affordable prescription drugs. For others, it means an increase in options and voluntary, comprehensive health care coverage. Immediately, a prescription drug card offering savings of approximately 15% percent will be available to all seniors, with and additional $600 subsidy for low-income individuals. Beginning in 2006, Medicare beneficiaries will be able to choose a prescription drug plan that best fits their particular needs, should they choose to participate.

On average, this will provide 75% of a senior's drug costs up to $2,250 annually and 95% of the out-of-pocket expenses over a threshold of $3,600. For this coverage, seniors will be responsible for a monthly premium of approximately $35 and an annual deductible of $250, indexed to inflation. For low-income seniors who can least afford prescription drug costs, this new benefit provides the most-100% coverage of costs with the exception of nominal drug co-payments. Seniors, who are now saddled with the full retail price of prescription drugs, will see their costs cut roughly in half.

To put this in a local perspective-for Missouri, this means 888,126 beneficiaries will now have access to a Medicare prescription drug benefit, including 214,754 who currently lack coverage. Most importantly, 269,141 low-income Missouri seniors will pay no premiums or deductibles and co-payments from $1 to $5 per prescription.

No senior should be torn between buying the prescription drugs they require to stay healthy and buying groceries. Our parents and grandparents should live their golden years in comfort rather than in financial predicament.

***

As a nation, we face numerous challenges, both foreign and domestic. While we must protect our communities from the storms that still loom on the horizon, we cannot take a defensive posture. Instead, we must move forward, renewing and refreshing our communities one day at a time.

As such, it is only appropriate we have come together here in Canton this evening. Culver-Stockton College, which just eight months ago sat wrecked: its field house a heap, suffering significant damage campus wide, and its signature silver dome lying forlornly on the ground. But today, this rebuilt campus is still fully engaged in its core mission: visualizing success for each student.

Facing east, one can see not just the mighty Mississippi from this hill, but also points far into the plains of Illinois. The past eight months have revealed that this college is facing east in every sense, turning to meet this new century head-on, as if facing the rising sun.

Accordingly, Culver-Stockton, with the early morning light reflecting off its silver dome visible from miles around, has become a beacon for us to follow, a lighthouse to guide us through this storm. It is an example for us as part of an American community to follow.

So let us then, you and I, strive valiantly to visualize and make real success for our nation, our families, and ourselves. Storms may rage, we may grow tired and weary, and our successes may not always be easily detected. But the communities that sustain us will bear us up and renew our strength as individuals and as a whole. And the world will have no doubt that we Americans are the right people to take up such a difficult task at this time.

Thank you for joining me this evening and for all your efforts. May God bless you and may God continue to bless the United States.

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