By Senator Moran
Welcome to "Kansas Common Sense." Thank you for your continued interest in receiving my weekly newsletter. Please feel free to forward it on to your family and friends if it would interest them.
This week the Senate passed the annual Defense Authorization legislation. This bill would provide our military servicemen and women a 1.6 percent pay increase, while holding spending to current levels. The legislation authorizes several construction projects for Kansas military installations, including a deployment support facility at Forbes Air Field and a physical fitness facility, chapel and an unmanned aerial vehicle maintenance hangar at Ft. Riley. Also included in the bill is an amendment I offered along with Senator Roberts to award the Medal of Honor posthumously to Chaplain Emil Kapaun, a Kansas war hero. During the Korean War, Father Kapaun distinguished himself by going above and beyond the call of duty in risking his life for others. I am hopeful that with this step forward, Father Kapaun will receive his long-overdue recognition.
Congress Should Focus on Deficit Reduction, Not Another "Stimulus"
The Senate this week rejected two plans that would extend for another year the so-called payroll tax holiday that reduces the share of Social Security taxes paid by employees from 6.2 percent to 4.2 percent. The plan offered by Republicans doesn't raise taxes on our country's job creators and would be paid for by freezing federal civilian salaries -- including members of Congress, reducing the federal civilian workforce, and limiting some federal benefits for millionaires such as health care, food stamps and unemployment insurance.
While I support these pay fors, I do not support what they are paying for. Rather than a short-term change that reduces the revenues going to the Social Security trust fund, I believe a better use of the savings would be to reduce our country's crushing debt, which is slowing our economic growth. In fact, the bulk of the spending reductions were previously identified by the Bowles-Simpson Commission for the purposes of deficit reduction, not for another "Stimulus" with little benefit to creating jobs. And by tinkering with the tax code, Congress is creating even more uncertainty at a time when families and businesses need a tax code that is simple and certain.
I am also concerned that reducing payments into the Social Security trust fund would undermine the foundation of this program. We should leave the trust fund alone, cut spending, and use those savings to pay down our annual deficits and live within our means. Congress cannot continue to put off difficult decisions and leave it up to our children and grandchildren to pay for our irresponsibility.
Working to Move Keystone XL Pipeline Construction Forward
This week I sponsored legislation that would require a construction permit to be issued for the Keystone XL pipeline within 60 days of the bill's passage. The North America Energy Security Act would reverse President Obama's announcement earlier this month that he will delay his decision on the permit until after the 2012 election -- despite the Administration already spending three years reviewing the Keystone XL permit and conducting two comprehensive environmental evaluations of the project.
Allowing the Keystone XL pipeline to move forward would create approximately 20,000 new jobs, bring about $7 billion in new investment, and provide 700,000 new barrels of oil a day to the United States. Kansas is especially impacted by the project's delay because municipal utilities across the state have already invested in electrical infrastructure to supply power to the pumping stations along the pipeline. Further delaying this project will only stall job creation and economic growth at a time when we need it most.
Recent events in the Middle East continue to demonstrate the vital importance of having access to a reliable and secure energy supply. As global demand for oil surges and Canada increases production, the pipeline will make certain Americans will benefit from reliable and secure oil from our largest trading partner. Additionally, TransCanada -- the Canadian Keystone XL pipeline developer -- has a responsibility to follow the law, protect the environment, and respect the rights of landowners as construction goes forward.
Addressing Rural Health Care Workforce Shortages
On Tuesday, I had the opportunity to discuss rural health care workforce issues with KU medical student Erin Locke-Nilhas, Erin's mother Deb Locke of Wakeeney, Dr. Rick Kellerman, Chair of the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the University of Kansas School of Medicine in Wichita, and Carolyn Gaughan, Executive Director of the Kansas Academy of Family Physicians. Erin was in Washington to present research she compiled regarding policies to address physician shortages in rural Kansas. Her research evaluates the effectiveness of programs like the Kansas State Loan Repayment Program and National Health Service Corps, which offer education loan forgiveness and other incentives to physicians in exchange for their commitment to practice medicine in underserved areas in Kansas. Medical workforce development initiatives are vital to addressing the current shortage of primary care physicians, nurses and other medical professionals in Kansas. I thank Erin for sharing her valuable research with me.
Introducing Native Kansan Ajit Pai at Nomination Hearing
On Wednesday, I had the honor joining Sen. Roberts in introducing and supporting native Kansan Ajit Pai at his Senate nomination hearing to become a Commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Ajit is the son of immigrants, a humble and hard worker -- just the type of person you would like to have as your neighbor. He is only the second Kansan ever to be nominated to serve on the Commission, and the first in 40 years.
The issues before the FCC today are critically important to America's economic and global competitiveness. They will also significantly impact Kansans and rural America. These issues range from how we manage and promote more efficient use of our spectrum resources, to crafting policies that will expand broadband access to more Americans and connect more schools, more libraries and more hospitals.
The Commission requires smart, talented policy leaders -- leaders who respect free markets and understand that regulations should be balanced with pro-growth economic principles. The FCC also needs commissioners who are committed to the needs of all Americans, including those who live in rural America, so its innovators can compete in the marketplace along with those in urban areas. A native of Parsons, Kansas, Ajit will bring an understanding of the challenges facing our part of the country at this vital time for the future of telecommunications.
Meeting with Postmaster General
Also on Wednesday, I met with Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe to discuss the current conditions the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) is experiencing. In the past five years, mail volume has decreased by more than 20 percent due to the increased use of email and our struggling economy. Because of this, the Postal Service continues to see record annual deficits. Experts believe the mail volume seen a decade ago will not be seen again, and since the Postal Service generates revenue from postage and not paid for with taxpayer dollars, this creates the largest financial dilemma the USPS has ever faced. Structural changes are needed in order for the Postal Service to survive.
The Postmaster General predicts that if Congress fails to act soon, the Postal Service will not be able to fund daily operations by the end of next summer. Fortunately, in November the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs approved S. 1789, the 21st Century Postal Service Act. Among its many provisions, the 21st Century Postal Act would: authorize USPS to offer buyouts to help reduce its workforce and reach a savings of $8 billion a year, achieve health care savings, put in place future curbside delivery requirements, reform workers' compensation and allow the USPS to implement five-day-a week mail delivery after two years once it considers options to increase revenues and reduce costs, as well as develops remedies for customers who may be disproportionately affected. The bill also includes an amendment I offered that would require USPS to develop standards of service and alternatives that must be considered prior to closing any post office.
In our meeting, the Postmaster General and I discussed the alternatives to closure my amendment proposes. Every community is different, so there should not be a one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to closing and consolidating 3,700 post offices. Several options must be considered in order to maintain acceptable levels of service. These options could include operating post offices within a local business, expanding rural routes to include the affected communities, or keeping a post office open while reducing its hours of operation. I believe the bipartisan 21st Century Postal Act will help avoid a taxpayer-funded bailout of postal service, which would provide no long term structural changes. The postal bill must now be considered by the full Senate.
Committed To Medical Research
Throughout human history, medical research has been responsible for hundreds of ground-breaking discoveries that have improved and saved lives, made health care more effective and efficient, lowered overall health care costs, created jobs, and strengthened the economy. Our nation has long recognized the importance of a sustained commitment to advancing this research and Congress' long-standing, bipartisan support of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has been an integral part of establishing the United States as a world leader in research and innovation.
An editorial I wrote on advancing medical research appears in the December issue of Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News (GEN). This article gave me the chance to highlight some of areas where Kansas has already become a leader in advancing medical research, such as the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) near Kansas State University in Manhattan, the University of Kansas Cancer Center (KUCC) in Kansas City, and the Center of Innovation for Biomaterials in Orthopaedic Research (CIBOR) at Wichita State University.
Kansans Support U.S.-Israel Alliance
On Sunday I joined Kansans who care about maintaining a strong alliance between the United States and Israel at the 4th annual Kansas City Israel Action Forum in Overland Park. At the forum, which was also attended by Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins and Congressman Kevin Yoder, we discussed current events in the Middle East. Of paramount concern to the United States and our allies in the Middle East and Europe is Iran's march toward acquiring nuclear weapons. Four weeks ago, the International Atomic Energy Agency published new evidence that Iran's nuclear work is military in nature, and that Iran has mastered the steps necessary to design and build a nuclear weapon. Congress has provided the Administration with a toolbox full of sanctions to persuade Iran to change course. Last week, the Senate provided yet another tool as additional sanctions on Iran's financial sector, including its Central Bank, were unanimously approved. All sanctions must be robustly enforced. Thanks to all of the members of Israel Action Forum Host Committee and those in attendance for welcoming me at this event.
Touring Meritex in Lenexa
On Monday, I toured the Meritex Enterprises underground office and warehouse facility in Lenexa. Meritex is an industrial real estate management firm that provides more than 3 million square feet of underground space that is leased to tenants for storage purposes and various industrial needs. The company services office, light industrial and warehousing firms by offering a temperature-controlled environment and low utility rates.
During our tour, I visited with Rosemarie Weisz, who maintains the space occupied by the National Archives. The Government Services Administration (GSA) is Meritex's largest tenant, housing 3.5 million IRS tax records at their facility. I also visited Priority Envelopes' manufacturing center and Cavern Technology's IT data center, which are housed at the Lenexa facility. Thank you to William Seymour, Meritex Senior Vice President, and Lonnie Cannon, Leasing and Property Manager, for leading the tour and to Lenexa Mayor Mike Boehm for joining us. Thanks also to the 600 employees working for the firms located in the Meritex underground who strengthen the Kansas economy, ensuring that northeast Kansas and Johnson County remain hubs for innovation and business relocation.
Visiting with Residents in Onaga
On Friday I had the opportunity to be visit with residents in Onaga. After stopping at the hospital I visited the new Onaga Country Market. In December of 2010 a fire destroyed Nider's Thriftway. It is great to see a town rally and come together with a new store. Our special way of life in rural Kansas would not be possible without access to "the basics' in the places we call home. This week in Washington D.C., I talked about "the basics' with Dr. David Procter, who runs a program at K-State focused on access to grocery stores in rural areas. We discussed the new store and what it will do for the community. Onaga Country Market will employ four or five full-time and seven to ten part-time workers. Thank you to the store's owners Paul and Pam Budenbender, Mayor Gary Holthaus, Dan Peters with Morrill and Janes Bank and the city council for all their hard work and dedication to the community. On my way out of town I stopped at the senior center meal site - another great "basic' in Onaga. Congratulations to the people of Pottawatomie County and best wishes for the store's success.
In the Office
This week we had several visitors in the Washington, D.C., office, including the Kansans listed below.
American Honey Producers Association
Jerry Brown of Haddam
KU School of Medicine
Erin Locke-Nilhas of Wichita
Rick Kellerman of Wichita
Deb Locke of Wakeeney
Kansas Academy of Family Physicians
Carolyn Gaughan of Wichita
Kansas City Orthopaedic Institute
Paul Kerens of Leawood
Brian Levinson of Leawood
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas
Sunee Mickle of Lawrence
College of American Pathologists
Richard Gomez of Ozawkie
NATCO -- The Organization for Transplant Professionals
Janene Dawson of Olathe
Sisters of Charity
Sister Therese Bangert of Kansas City
Center for Engagement and Community Development, KSU
Dr. David Procter of Manhattan
Kansas Department of Commerce
Sec. Pat George of Topeka
Chuck Alderson of Wichita
City Councilman Pete Meitzner of Wichita also stopped by the office to visit.
It is an honor to serve you in Washington, D.C. Please let me know how I can be of assistance.
Very truly yours,