Senator Johanns E-Update
My First Year as Your Senator
Happy New Year! A few days ago, I marked my one year anniversary as your Senator -- what an honor it has been to represent you! As we embrace 2010, I thought it appropriate to reflect on this first year.
From health care reform to government takeovers of private companies, 2009 saw some of the most important and far-reaching issues Congress has addressed in years. I've sought your opinions and advice on all of them when we met more than 500 times in Nebraska and DC. I find the real world experiences and advice you shared with me during the nearly 20 town halls I hosted more helpful and compelling than the theoretical arguments made by those in Washington.
Health Care Reform
I am disappointed in the health care reform effort, with most of the legislation being written behind closed doors by only a few Senators and a litany of special deals. I spoke out forcefully in opposition to all of these carve-outs, including those for Nebraska. Health care reform has become $2.5 trillion worth of broken promises.
I proposed several amendments to set this bill on the right course, but only one received a floor vote - my amendment to remove over $40 billion in home health care cuts from the bill. It was a common sense improvement, but rejected, along with virtually all Republican amendments. Other amendments I offered addressed Medicare solvency, Medicaid fraud, limitations on flexible spending accounts, and protecting critical access hospitals.
I also requested an analysis from the Administration's own experts on the impact of the Senate bill on health care costs, accessibility, and quality. It provided an unbiased assessment and shed light on some serious concerns. This analysis showed the bill raises premiums, raises taxes, increases overall health care costs, and cuts access to Medicare benefits.
During the debate, I also stood strongly for life, as I have throughout my public service. I gave an impassioned floor speech regarding my frustration over the Senate's willingness to approve federal funding of abortion for the first time in history.
Many Americans are trying to climb their way out of a serious economic crisis. The unemployment rate continues to hover in double digits and families are struggling to put food on the table and to pay their mortgage. With that in mind, I spoke out and urged my colleagues to focus on economic recovery and to abandon efforts that would lead to more government intrusion into people's lives.
We've witnessed a startling increase in government involvement and meddling in private enterprise. Unfortunately, the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) evolved into a slush fund for the Administration. In an effort to protect taxpayer funds, I introduced legislation that would provide some checks and balances. I also co-sponsored legislation that would have sunset TARP at the end of this year and prohibited the Administration's ill-advised extension of the program.
The Administration and Congress have run up quite a bill. The budget shortfall for fiscal year 2009 alone was $1.4 trillion, three times larger than the largest single year deficit in U.S. history. That's why I voted against legislation to increase the federal debt ceiling. When your child misbehaves, you don't pat him on the back, but that's just what some in Washington want to do. That's also why I chose not to request earmarks. There are too many "bridges to nowhere" and too few in Congress willing to balance the taxpayers' checkbook as they do their own.
Cap-and-Trade and Budget Reconciliation
In March, the Senate rallied around an amendment I introduced to prevent climate change legislation from being slipped into law without a robust and transparent debate, through budget reconciliation. In addition, 32 Senators, including 8 Democrats, signed my letter written in March opposing the use of budget reconciliation for cap-and-trade.
Preventing ACORN from Receiving Federal Funding
For years, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) has been under investigation for voter fraud and its employees have been convicted of fraudulent activity. When videos of more apparent fraudulent activity surfaced, I led the effort to prevent ACORN from receiving taxpayer funding. The amendment I offered to block federal funding to ACORN from an appropriations bill passed with strong bipartisan support and I successfully added similar amendments to other appropriations bills, as well as the continuing resolutions passed to fund the federal government. I also introduced the Protect Taxpayers from ACORN Act, to prohibit any federal funding from ACORN in any future appropriations bills. My hope is that it will come up for a vote in 2010.
Agriculture is the backbone of Nebraska's economy, and allows our country to feed the world. I have carried my passion for agriculture with me since my days on the farm. It came in handy when cap-and-trade legislation was introduced that would be disastrous for agriculture.
I pressed the Administration to consider and understand the danger cap-and-trade poses to American agricultural competitiveness and the overall food supply. The USDA's own study shows that the House bill would decrease crop and livestock production and increase food prices. I also fought ill-advised cuts to the farm safety net proposed in the President's budget. These cuts would likely have affected 17 percent of Nebraskans who depend on farm bill programs, so I'm pleased Congress did not approve them.
When bovine tuberculosis (TB) was detected in a beef cattle herd in Rock County, Neb., I successfully added an amendment to the Agriculture spending bill that reorganized its budget to ensure funding for cattle depopulation and compensation of owners in TB cases. I also urged USDA to purchase extra pork for use in our nation's nutrition programs, which assisted struggling pork producers. The department responded with nearly $25 million in purchases. A similar effort to assist our dry bean farmers was also successful. When Nebraska cattle producers lost nearly 4,000 head of cattle due to extreme heat, I led the call for new rules to guide the Livestock Indemnity Program.
Veterans and Military
Our courageous service men and women make incredible sacrifices for our country, and I have made their well-being a priority of mine. As a member of the Veterans' Affairs Committee, I introduced the Post-9/11 Veterans' Job Training Act of 2009. This legislation seeks to include job training and apprenticeship opportunities to the post-9/11 GI Bill benefit program.
I was also the lead Republican co-sponsor of the Post-Deployment Health Assessment Act, which was signed into law in October. This legislation will help combat the rise in mental health challenges, including post-traumatic stress disorder, among U.S. troops and Veterans.
I co-sponsored the Veterans' Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act which became law in June and increases the compensation for Veterans with service-connected disabilities and their survivors. I also co-sponsored the Military Spouses Residency Relief Act, which passed the Senate in August and grants military spouses the same privilege currently enjoyed by service members to name a single home location regardless of where they are stationed. I co-sponsored the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act, which became law in October. Among other things, it improves ballot access for troops and other Americans overseas.
I was the lead Republican sponsor of another bipartisan effort, the Reserve Suicide Prevention Amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act. It increases suicide prevention and community outreach programs for Reserve and National Guard members and their families. And I co-sponsored the Military Family Nutrition Protection Act of 2009 which protects military families' access to federal nutrition assistance programs. It passed in August.
I conducted a Senate field hearing on the condition of the VA Medical Center in Omaha. Leading VA officials, health care practitioners, and other stakeholders testified, and we agreed on the need for a new facility.
The importance of such efforts struck me when I attended the send-off ceremony in October for the 313th Medical Company of the Nebraska Army National Guard. Pride filled North Star High School as many of us commended the soldiers and their brave families. Witnessing their courage and the strength of their families reinforced to me that America's greatness comes from her people. These soldiers and their families will be in my prayers until they return.
Native American Issues
I am proud to be the lead Republican co-sponsor of the Indian Youth Telemental Health Demonstration Project Act, which was approved in committee. This legislation would provide greater access to mental health care for young Native Americans through communications technology and would work towards reducing the suicide rate among Native American teens.
Opportunities for Those With Developmental Disabilities
I am playing the same role for the bipartisan Frank Melville Act. It would reform and streamline efforts to provide affordable housing for those with developmental disabilities and mental illnesses and provide these deserving individuals with increased opportunity to contribute to their communities.
Serving You Directly
I would be remiss if I didn't touch on a few of the very direct ways my staff and I have been able to assist Nebraskans as they interact with the Federal Government. For a war hero being laid to rest, we helped to secure a flyover. When a Nebraska family feared their loved one overseas was in danger, we helped to clear a pathway to safety, working with visa officials. As job losses continue, we've been able to unclog the system for Nebraskans in need of unemployment benefits. The casework we have completed comprises some of the most gratifying work we do for you.
Next week, we'll kick-off the 2010 session, with both health care and financial system reform on the agenda. I will continue working with my colleagues on the Banking Committee to ensure any reform of our country's banking and financial system strikes the appropriate balance between regulation and free market principles. In addition, it is essential that we protect taxpayers and end the "too big to fail" mentality.
I am grateful for the opportunity to serve as your U.S. Senator. I look forward to seeing and speaking with you in the coming year in town halls, other meetings and over the phone. I hope you have a wonderful New Year. Please stay in touch!