Welcome to "Kansas Common Sense." Today I will return to Washington as the Senate reconvenes after Easter recess. Over Easter weekend, I traveled to Afghanistan to visit with Kansas service members and to meet with U.S. military and Afghanistan government leaders. This past week, I enjoyed visiting with Kansans at five town hall meetings and various other events across our state.
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Bin Laden's Death Speaks to Resolve of American Troops and Intelligence Officers
On Sunday evening, news spread across Kansas and the nation of the successful American operation in Pakistan that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden -- al Qaeda's leader and the mastermind of the terror attacks of September 11th. Nearly 10 years ago, thousands of innocent Americans lost their lives at the hands of bin Laden on that fateful day. The momentous news of bin Laden's death is a historic success in the War on Terror. I am hopeful his demise brought about by a brave team of American special forces provides a sense of justice to those who lost loved ones.
The success of this operation speaks to the resolve of our American troops and intelligence officers who worked relentlessly for this moment. They have rid al Qaeda of its symbolic and spiritual figurehead and demonstrated to the world that we are committed to ending terror -- no matter how long it takes. As we move forward, we will continue our unyielding efforts to dismantle terror networks around the world and protect American lives.
Addressing Johnson County Public Policy Council
On Thursday, I had the privilege of speaking to over 300 Chamber of Commerce members who attended the Johnson County Public Policy Council (JCPPC) at the Overland Park Convention Center. The JCPPC includes 10 Johnson County Area Chambers of Commerce, who work together to represent more than 5,000 member businesses.
The JCPPC works hard to promote policies that encourage economic development in Johnson County. For example, the JCPPC was a strong advocate for the recent addition of a new K-State campus in Olathe and the expansion of the University of Kansas' Edwards campus in Overland Park. The JCPPC has also been a strong supporter of the University of Kansas Cancer Center's continued efforts to gain NCI designation.
When hospitals, businesses and schools expand, jobs are created and the quality of life improves for the entire community. I appreciated the opportunity to visit with many local business owners in attendance -- as well as students from Olathe North High School and children who joined their parents for "Take Your Child to Work Day." Thanks to the JCPPC for the invitation to attend and to Ashley Sherard, vice president of Government Affairs at the Lenexa Chamber for coordinating the event.
Johnson County Public Policy Council
Speaking at Federal Home Loan Bank Annual Management Conference
When I was in Overland Park on Thursday, I also visited with many bank and credit union officers who attended the annual Management Conference hosted by the Federal Home Loan Bank (FHLB). FHLB has a strong history of providing financing to banks and credit unions. During our conversation, I updated the managers on my work on the Senate Banking Committee and shared my concerns about the negative impact of the Dodd-Frank financial legislation that passed Congress last year. Thanks to Andy Jetter, Eric Haar and Pat Doran for their kind invitation to attend.
FHLB Management Conference
Attending Marshall County Kansas Bankers Association Annual Meeting
This week, I joined members of the Marshall County Kansas Bankers Association on Tuesday in Marysville for their annual meeting. As a member of the Senate Banking Committee, I especially appreciate events like this one, because they give me the opportunity to hear directly from Kansas bankers. During my talk with the group, I updated the bankers on my efforts to unshackle community banks from overzealous bank examiners. Until we solve the problem of community banks being unable to lend to small businesses, we will continue to struggle to emerge from our economic troubles.
I also updated the group on my legislation to reform the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (S. 737). I continue to have some real concerns that without significant reforms, this Agency may unnecessarily restrict access to credit.
Touring BNSF's Rail Shop in Topeka
Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway employs over 2,800 Kansans and many of the goods it transports across the country are agricultural products produced by Kansas farmers. On Thursday afternoon, I had the opportunity to tour BNSF's rail shop in Topeka. Over 400 Kansans work at the shop, repairing BNSF's locomotives.
During my tour, I learned how BNSF's locomotives are becoming more fuel-efficient and producing fewer emissions. I also learned that BNSF is currently constructing the Kansas City Intermodal Facility in Gardner, which is estimated to generate 13,000 jobs in the Kansas economy. I appreciated the opportunity to visit with BNSF employees about their concerns regarding our nation's economic recovery. I assured them I will continue to do my part in Washington to grow our economy, so companies can create jobs in Kansas, not overseas.
Thanks to Topeka native CEO Carl Ice for making the special trip from Ft. Worth, Texas to help lead the tour of the facility. Thanks also to Vice President of Government Affairs, Amy Hawkins, and General Manager of the Topeka Maintenance Terminal, Curtis Meyers, for helping lead the tour and sharing more about the investment BNSF is making in Kansas.
Touring BSNF Facility in Topeka
Outlining Importance of Agriculture at Upson Lecture Series
This Thursday, I had the opportunity to speak during the Upson Lecture Series in Manhattan -- named after Dr. Dan Upson -- a distinguished retired professor of Veterinary Medicine at Kansas State University (K-State). The lecture series is hosted by a student-led organization at K-State, called "Food for Thought," whose mission is to share agriculture's story by educating consumers about the origins of the food and goods they enjoy each day.
During our conversation, I spoke about the vital importance of agriculture to our state, our country and the entire world. Our livelihood depends on agriculture -- which feeds us, clothes us, and puts the roof above our heads. As a senator from a farm state, I often find myself educating my colleagues and other officials in Washington, D.C., about the importance of implementing policies that support this critical industry. I appreciated the opportunity to share more about my efforts and to hear more about the great work being done by "Food for Thought." I applaud the students' efforts at agriculture advocacy and thank the student leaders for the opportunity to join the lecture series.
Food for Thought's Upson Lecture Serires
Visiting with Members of K-State Student Senate
While I was in Manhattan, I also had the chance to visit with members of K-State's Student Senate. The Senate is part of the legislative branch of K-State's Student Governing Association, which establishes policies and allocates more than $8 million in privilege fees. The Student Senate also makes recommendations to the University administration, faculty, and student body. I appreciated the opportunity to visit with many K-State young men and women about the importance of public service and their interest in serving beyond college. Thanks to Student Body President Nate Spriggs and Student Body Vice President Kate Bormann for the invitation.
Speaking with Leavenworth Jefferson Electric Cooperative Members
On Wednesday, I joined members of the Leavenworth Jefferson Electric Cooperative (LJEC) for their 67th annual meeting in McLouth. LJEC serves 6,800 Kansans in Atchison, Douglas, Jackson, Jefferson and Leavenworth counties, as well as Fort Leavenworth. Our conversation focused on the challenges of creating an affordable energy supply for Kansans at a time when the federal government is creating additional rules, regulations, and mandates that are unrealistic and threaten to harm entrepreneurs and consumers. Thanks to General Manager Steve Foss, Assistant Manager Joe Heinen, and LJEC members for their hospitality and the opportunity to speak.
Supporting Energy Development in Kansas Regulations.
In 2007, the Sierra Club filed a lawsuit against USDA RUS to stop Sunflower Electric Power Corporation's (Sunflower) planned power plant project in Holcomb, Kansas. Within the last month, a federal district court judge ruled that USDA RUS violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by failing to require Sunflower to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). However, the judge's ruling conflicts with longstanding federal regulations and not only threatens Sunflower's project, but also the viability of future economic development in rural America. If USDA chooses to settle the case and not appeal the judge's ruling, it would establish the precedent that every rural utility provider that has outstanding debt with RUS must prepare a long and costly environmental study before commencing any infrastructure repair, replacement, and expansion projects. This would increase the cost and unnecessarily delay much-needed rural development projects in Kansas and across the nation.
It would be irresponsible and short-sighted for the Administration to give in to the plaintiff's unreasonable demands in this case. In a time when we need to encourage investment in rural America and reduce high energy prices, settling this case would be sending the opposite signal.
Joining Members of Kiwanis Club in Marion
On Tuesday, I stopped in Marion to visit with folks during the local Kiwanis Club meeting. It was good to hear from local residents about what is on their mind - such as government spending and the high cost of gasoline. Another topic of conversation was the survival of small towns and the importance of access to hospitals and health care. Kansas seniors, as well as young families, will not be able to remain in the towns they call home without access to health care services. So I will continue my efforts in Washington to make sure all Kansans have access to quality care. Thanks to Kiwanis President Casey Case and all members for allowing me to drop by.
Touring Susan B. Allen Memorial Hospital in El Dorado
On Tuesday, I traveled to El Dorado to visit Susan B. Allen Memorial Hospital (SBA), a not-for-profit, general acute care hospital that has served residents of Butler County and the surrounding area since 1931. SBA is governed by a local board of citizens and includes a home health agency, a dialysis center, and a cancer center. During a tour of the hospital, I saw a birthing suite in the Family Birth Center, which was completed in 2004 as part of a $28 million construction and renovation project. We toured the Diagnostic Imaging department, which houses the Acuson S2000 Automated Breast Volume Scanner, a state-of-the-art ultrasound machine that enhances early breast cancer detection. Also, Cecilia Goebel, VP and CNO, and Jeanna Short, Assistant VP of Nursing, provided a demonstration of SBA's electronic medical record technology and showed how the system streamlines care and improves patient safety. I was impressed learning how SBA's administration works together with the local board to foster an environment that attracts and retains high quality doctors, nurses, and staff to deliver the best possible patient care. As a member of the Senate Appropriations health subcommittee, I appreciated the opportunity to visit SBA and other Kansas hospitals to learn how these facilities allocate resources to best serve their communities. Thanks to Gayle Arnett, hospital President and CEO, for hosting me on my tour and Becky Currier for coordinating my visit. Also, thanks to Robin Crawford, VP and CFO; David Shaw, VP and COO; and Gene Kimble, Director of Marketing, for welcoming me.
Visiting with Students at Shawnee Mission East
I was in Prairie Village on Thursday to visit with students at Shawnee Mission East High School. I had the opportunity to meet with around 60 students in Mr. Ron Stallard's AP Government class. We discussed a variety of topics, including the debt ceiling, federal budget, entitlement reform, and agricultural exports. We also discussed my recent trip to Afghanistan to thank Kansas soldiers who are serving our country overseas.
I was impressed with the students' interest and knowledge of current events. I was also encouraged by their interest in our nation's budget issues and concern for our nation's future. Thanks to senior Cormac O'Connor for inviting me to visit and to Ron Stallard for allowing me to speak to his class. I met Cormac earlier this year when I had the honor of delivering the Eagle Charge to him and six other new Eagle Scouts at the Village Presbyterian Church in Prairie Village. Thanks also to the entire staff at Shawnee Mission East for their hospitality during my visit.
Visiting the Community of Hesston
This week I was in central Kansas to get acquainted with Kansans living in the community of Hesston. While I was there, I visited with local residents at several businesses in town including First Bank, The Hesston Record, True Value Hardware, and Casey's General Store. Our conversations largely centered on rising gas prices and the need for Congress to develop a comprehensive energy policy to address our nation's energy needs.
Spending time in rural towns across Kansas reminds me of what I loved about growing up in a rural town -- the sense of community. I appreciated the chance to visit with local residents so I could gain a better understanding of their views and the ways I can serve them better in Washington, D.C.
Visiting with Members of Topeka Chamber of Commerce
On Wednesday, the Topeka Chamber of Commerce hosted me at a Federal Forum meeting and luncheon. I was glad to see some old friends and meet many new ones. I enjoyed the opportunity to discuss many issues including job creation, how to achieve energy security and my concerns with raising the debt ceiling. Our children and grandchildren will not be able to enjoy prosperity unless we promote free market solutions that allow our economy to grow.
We also discussed some concerns regarding Medicare. Unless we act to control rising health care costs, Medicare will be insolvent in the near future. Congress must work together to keep the government's promises to current seniors and save and strengthen Medicare for future generations. A special thank you to Christy Caldwell with the Topeka Chamber for her hard work. Thanks also to Mayor Bill Bunten, Shawnee County Commissioner Vic Miller, Chamber President Doug Kensinger and the many others who participated.
Adding Stops to Statewide Listening Tour
My listening tour continued this week as I hosted five town halls in the following counties: Mitchell, Wabaunsee, Nemaha and Brown. Dozens of residents came to share their concerns on a wide variety of topics including rising gas prices, our rapidly increasing national debt, government regulations and the status of the federal budget. I share these concerns -- but my most pressing concern is our mounting national debt. I strongly believe members of both parties must work together to address this enormous fiscal challenge and I look forward to discussing this topic more this week as the Senate reconvenes.
Thanks to the many individuals who helped arrange the details of my visits: City Administrator Glenn Rodden of Beloit; Duane and Regina McCoy, owners of Grandma Hoerner's Foods in Alma; Theresa Harris of Centralia; and Mayor Tim Lentz of Horton.