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.
My Washington, D.C., office has moved to a new location in Russell Senate Office Building, Room 361. This historic office was occupied by Richard Nixon during his time serving as Vice President of the United States from 1953-1961. If you are planning a trip to our nation's capital please take note of the new location.
Victory for Common Sense
On Friday, the U.S. Department of Transportation's (DOT) Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced that it will cancel the June 15 planned closure of 149 airport control towers, keeping them open through the end of the budget year.
Thanks to bipartisan legislation passed by Congress last month, Secretary Ray LaHood was forced to find savings elsewhere rather than target control towers for closure. The bill provides $253 million in additional funding flexibility, enough to protect all contract towers while also preventing midnight shift eliminations and furloughs for air traffic controllers. Given the absence of a full safety risk assessment, the FAA has avoided setting a dangerous precedent with this process.
It's been a long fight since my original amendment to prevent the towers from closing and preserve aviation safety was blocked from a vote, but in the end common sense prevailed over politics. This victory is thanks to a bipartisan coalition of Senators and Congressmen and women who came together to demonstrate that there are more responsible ways to cut spending than by compromising safety. I appreciate Senator Blumenthal of Connecticut's leadership and willingness to work across the aisle with me on this issue.
Kansas Air Traffic Control facilities protected from closure include: Philip Billard Municipal in Topeka; Hutchinson Municipal in Hutchinson; New Century Air Center in Olathe; Johnson County Executive in Olathe; and Manhattan Regional in Manhattan. The Contract Tower Program was targeted for a 75 percent cut as part of the FAA's attempts to implement sequestration budget cuts, while other accounts within the agency were subjected to only five percent reductions.
Questioning Treasury Secretary Lew about the IRS Leaking Confidential Tax Information
On Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew testified in front of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government during which, I was able to question the Secretary about a troubling issue. There is evidence that the IRS released Schedule B donor lists belonging to 501 (c)(4) nonprofit groups to other outside groups. The release of these donor lists for nonprofits is forbidden by U.S. tax law, as well as internal IRS regulations. To make matters worse, the evidence also suggests that the groups that improperly received this information intended to use it for partisan political purposes. Even though publishing unauthorized tax returns or return information is either a felony punishable by up to five years in prison or a fine of up to $5,000, or both, the group that received the information appears to have done just that. I brought this issue to Secretary Lew's attention.
On Friday, less than two days after I questioned the Secretary about the handling of this issue, the IRS apologized for the unfair targeting of nonprofit applicants.
While an apology is a good start, it does little to rectify the mishandling of this situation and more must be done to find out what happened as well as seeking ways to make certain this does not happen again. Additionally, I submitted a written inquiry for which he and Acting Commissioner of the IRS Steven Miller must answer and anxiously await their response. When Americans file their taxes or donate to a cause they believe in, they have a right to assume that their information will not be used for political purposes.
State-Specific Education Needs
The U.S. Department of Education should not impose regulations and directives that restrict the rights of Kansas parents, educators, and communities to educate their children as they see fit. I am opposed to the manner in which the Department has pressured states to opt-in to Common Core standards. Nationalizing education standards is extremely dangerous because it bolsters federal power over education matters and undermines the local and state oversight of education that is so important to the success of Kansas schools. I have long believed that education functions best as a local and state function. In 2001, I opposed passage of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the primary source of federal aid for K-12 education, because I believe a one-size-fits-all federally-mandated approach to education is not in the best interest of Kansas students. Decisions about what content our students are taught in the classroom should be made by the individuals in the best position to know the unique needs of our students -- parents, teachers, administrators, and local school boards -- rather than federal bureaucrats in Washington. While Kansas was one of the states that opted-in to Common Core standards, I will continue working to increase the flexibility for Kansas and other states to address the specific needs of their respective students.
Senate Hunger Caucus Briefing
As co-chair of the Senate Hunger Caucus, I joined Farmers Feeding the World in hosting a briefing with nearly 100 attendees on Tuesday to discuss international agriculture and food security among public, private and NGO experts. Speakers at the event included special guest Bill Gates, along with former Senate Agriculture Committee Chief Economist Stephanie Mercier and DuPont Pioneer Vice President of Strategy Jeff Austin.
We discussed international food and agriculture development programs that are authorized in the Farm Bill, DuPont Pioneer's work to develop seed technology that improves yields and accommodates growing conditions in African countries, and agriculture's role in today's global economy. The Senate Hunger Caucus exists to promote anti-hunger causes and provide a forum for briefings about hunger issues. In addition to raising awareness, the caucus facilitates communication between those working to combat hunger and lawmakers who support programs and policies assisting those in need.
Questioning Secretary Vilsack at an Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Hearing
This week, at an Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Hearing, I questioned Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack about the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) FY 2014 budget and the availability of crop insurance and other risk management tools in the coming year for crop and livestock producers. Secretary Vilsack committed to making certain that the USDA Risk Management Agency (RMA) would do everything in its power to prioritize crop insurance and also work to develop new insurance products. As producers face another year of drought and uncertain weather, risk management is especially important, I also encouraged the Secretary's full support for agricultural research. If we are going to feed and clothe a hungry and cold world, we must invest in crops that are more productive and can survive in less than perfect weather conditions. I am pleased with Secretary Vilsack's commitment to agricultural research.
During the hearing, we also discussed the Rural Utility Administration's (RUS) broadband loan portfolio. In October 2011, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved an order to reform the Universal Service Fund (USF), which is used to provide telecommunications services to rural Americans. Many telephone companies borrow from the RUS and depend upon predictable USF funds to repay part of their loan. Due to FCC rule changes, demand for broadband has virtually been halted. Secretary Vilsack recently met with FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski to express concern, and suggested changes to the order that will help create greater certainty for companies impacted by the order. Broadband access is one of my top priorities, and I will continue to work with both RUS and the FCC to make certain we have common sense rules that will encourage investment and expansion of broadband in Kansas. I look forward to working with the Secretary on issues facing Kansas and rural America.
Maintaining the Tradition of Charitable Giving
Because of the generous annual donations of millions of Americans, nonprofits have impacted the lives of countless individuals. In 2011, Americans gave nearly $300 billion to support important programs and services, from food pantries and medical research to youth programs and seed grants to start new businesses. Unfortunately, President Obama has proposed changes in his FY 2014 Budget request to cap the total value of tax deductions at 28 percent for higher income Americans -- including the charitable deduction.
A reduction of this magnitude would have a devastating impact on the future of charitable organizations in our country. According to the Charitable Giving Coalition, this proposal could reduce donations to the nonprofit sector by more than $5.6 billion every year. This cut amounts to more than the annual operating budgets of the American Red Cross, Goodwill, the YMCA, Habitat for Humanity, the Boys and Girls Clubs, Catholic Charities, and the American Cancer Society combined.
Nonprofits are best equipped to provide assistance on the local level and can often do so in a far more effective manner than the government. Studies have shown that for every dollar subject to the charitable deduction, communities receive $3 in benefits. With our economy still recovering and many still struggling to provide benefits for their families, Congress should be encouraging Americans to give more, not less.
Visiting Sylvan-Lucas Unified Junior Senior High School
On their last day of high school, I had the opportunity to visit with Sylvan-Lucas High School's 17 graduating seniors. Listening to their post-graduation plans makes me very proud of them, their families and our schools. Thank you to Sylvan-Lucas High School Principal Devon Walter for allowing me to stop by.
In the Office
Last week we had several visitors in the Washington, D.C., office, including the Kansans listed below:
Stan Langhofer of Topeka
Mark McCoy of Fort Scott
Hugh O'Reilly Jr. of Olathe
National Wheat Growers Association
Paul Penner of Hillsboro
Christian Science Committee on Publication
Ruth Ann Wefald of Manhattan
Bunny McBride of Manhattan
Pam Peck of Mission
National Association of Trailer Manufacturers
Pam Trusdale of Topeka
Tom Grieshaber of Manhattan
Meghan Ryan of Topeka
Kansas Pharmacists Association
Brian Caswell of Baxter Springs
Peter Stern of Topeka
Michael Larkin of Topeka
Sam Boyajian of Gardner
Van Coble of Winfield
American College of Radiology
Robert Gibbs of Parsons
James Owen of Topeka
John Lohnes of Wichita
Brett Meggison of Topeka
Shaun Gonda of Wichita
Assistive Technology for Kansans
Sara Sack of Parsons
Kansas Library Association
Robert Banks of Topeka
Jo Budler of Topeka
Cindy Roupe of Topeka
Gary Shorman of Hays
National Association of Enrolled Agents
Elizabeth Crist of Overbrook
Henry W. Bloch School of Management at UMKC
Larry Silver of Leawood
American Travel Plazas and Truck Stops
Guy Walker of Salina
American Land Title Association
Elizabeth Daniel of Overland Park
Polly Epting of Burlington
Chris St. John of Topeka
Trudy St. John of Topeka
Joyce Huddleston of Tribune
College of American Pathologists
Patrick James of Leawood
Dalton Hermes of Lenexa
Chris Felix of Coffeyville
National Brain Tumor Society
Amanda & Richard Haddock of Wichita
American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery
John Neis of Shawnee
Kansas City District Army Corps of Engineers
Col Anthony Hormann of Overland Park
Steven Iverson of Lenexa
Jenifer Switzer of Overland Park
Children's Mercy Hospitals & Clinics
Ann Modrcin of Kansas City
Hutchinson Credit Union
Garth Strand of Hutchinson
Kansas World Language Association
National Breast Cancer Coalition
Stephanie Barr of Solomon
ALS Association Keith Worthington Chapter
Julie Williams of Mission
Steven Kander of Shawnee
Sam Ashworth of Shawnee
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Ann Genovese of Mission Hills
Cheryl Dobson of Wichita
Tim Dobson of Wichita
Rebecca Daily of Wichita
DC Capitol Tour
Sue Dieker of Wichita
Mark and Amy Fleischman of Leawood
Mariah Fleischman of Leawood
Mason Fleischman of Leawood
Maverick Fleischman of Leawood
Honored to Serve You in Washington
It is an honor to serve you in Washington, D.C. In recent weeks, I've been listening to Kansans calling and writing in to share their thoughts and opinions on the debt crisis and big issues our country faces. Whether your thoughts are in the form of letter, a Facebook comment or a phone call, please know that I am listening and I appreciate messages from Kansans who wish to make their voice heard.
Please let me know how I can be of assistance.
Very truly yours,