Kansas Common Sense - President's Nominee for Attorney General


Upcoming Vote on President Obama's Nominee for Attorney General

Reviewing the President's nominees for executive and judicial appointments is one of my most serious responsibilities as a United States Senator. President Obama's nominee for Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, has failed to demonstrate a willingness to exert independence from the White House when applying the laws of the land. On issues ranging from gun rights to immigration, this White House has habitually sought to ignore the law when it posed inconvenient limits on executive power. This troubling trend must come to an end. The Attorney General is America's most senior law enforcement official, and Americans must be certain that the rule of law will be applied consistently and fairly by the Department of Justice. After careful consideration, I am unconvinced that Ms. Lynch meets this standard and am unable to support her confirmation for Attorney General.

Voting "No" on Funding President Obama's Executive Amnesty

This week, I voted against using taxpayer dollars to fund implementation of the President's executive amnesty through the Department of Homeland Security spending bill. I strongly support funding the Department of Homeland Security but I do not believe we should use taxpayer dollars to pay for executive amnesty. Unlike the Senate bill, the House-passed legislation would prevent a DHS shutdown without funding unconstitutional executive actions. Unfortunately, this legislation was repeatedly filibustered by Senate Democrats and promised a veto from President Obama. Congressional Democrats and President Obama are using the threat of a department shutdown as a political weapon to grant amnesty and expand executive power. If we are ever to address the country's immigration challenges, President Obama must break his fixation on unilateral action and work with the legislative branch, not against it.

FCC Approves New Internet Regulations

On Thursday, in an unprecedented expansion of regulatory authority, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved 317 pages of new regulations mandating equal treatment of Internet traffic -- implementing what is commonly referred to as "net neutrality." This is an important topic for many Kansans. While the plan has yet to be released, I am concerned about the suspect legal authority the FCC used and the potential legal challenges that will inevitably stem from this decision. These legal flaws could tie the decision up in court for years to come. Additionally, new regulations may create challenges for smaller Internet service providers looking to expand and improve service in order to comply with new regulatory costs. Ultimately, these new costs could be passed on to consumers, thus discouraging broadband adoption. Additionally, the decision may prevent providers from new and innovative plans that give consumers greater choice in picking broadband plans that meet their needs.

The most troubling fact about the FCC's process is the profound lack of transparency. The FCC never made the 317 pages of new rules public before approving the plan. A recent survey conducted before the vote showed that 85 percent of Americans opposed any new regulations or believe the FCC should have either delayed the vote until the full plan is made public. On an issue of such importance to American consumers, the economy, and the future of the Internet, this is unacceptable.

Congress stands ready to work with the Administration on crafting commonsense net neutrality legislation, but the President has pushed FCC to move forward. We know all too well how damaging the "we have to pass it so you can find out what is in it' approach can be. By choosing this path, the FCC has left Congress with no choice but to consider all options to scrutinize these rules. Just as the FCC believes Internet service providers should be held accountable for their network management practices, I believe the FCC should be held accountable for its potential interference in an Internet marketplace that has served Americans so well.

Calling on VA Secretary, Bob McDonald, to Serve the Best Interest of Veterans

This week, I took Department of Veterans' Affairs (VA) Secretary Bob McDonald to task regarding my concerns over a lack of change within the culture of bureaucracy at the VA as the Department continues to overlook what is in the best interest of veterans. Thousands of veterans are struggling to access care through the Choice Act primarily because of VA's flawed implementation and interpretation of the law. These errors include delays in mailing out Choice Cards, disqualifying veterans who should be eligible without explanation, and dramatically narrowing the scope of veterans who can use these funds by unreasonably calculating how far a veteran lives from a VA medical facility, not whether that facility can actually provide the medical services a veteran needs.

I continue to press the VA Secretary to improve the Department's implementation of the Choice Act so that veterans can access the care they need. To that end, this week 41 of my Senate colleagues joined me in writing to Secretary McDonald urging Sec. McDonald to make certain that funding provided by Congress is being used to implement the Veterans Choice Program as Congress envisioned. The program allows veterans who live more than 40 miles from the closest VA facility, or who face a significant delay in scheduling an appointment, to access non-VA care. Unfortunately, the VA is construing the eligibility criteria as it relates to the 40-mile rule so narrowly that it is excluding too many who are far away from the care that they need. Click here to read our letter to the VA Secretary.

Last month, I introduced legislation, the Veterans Access to Community Care Act of 2015 (S. 207), requiring the VA to utilize its authorities, including the Choice Act, to offer community care to veterans who are currently unable to receive the healthcare services they need from a VA medical facility within 40 miles of where they live. The VA has remained unwilling to apply common sense and use their authorities, forcing many rural veterans to travel hours to access care they could receive through the Choice Act in their communities -- or go without care altogether. I am very pleased that the American Legion and Vietnam Veterans of America both endorsed my legislation during this week's VA Committee hearing, and Chairman Isakson announced that he will hold a hearing on the 40 mile issue in the coming months. I will continue to work so that veterans are able to access care they deserve, avoid lengthy wait times and travel times, and have the VA that is worthy of their service. Click here to watch my full remarks conveying the continued struggles of veterans to the VA Secretary.

Introducing American Legion National Commander

I was pleased to introduce the National Commander of the American Legion Mike Helm, of Norcatur, Kansas, as he presented the American Legion's legislative priorities before a joint Senate and House Veterans' Affairs Committee Hearing. Commander Helm is uniquely qualified to understand the issues impacting rural veterans who struggle to access quality and timely health care. There is no group of people that Kansans admire more than those who served our country -- maybe with one exception. Veterans who serve other veterans are the most worthy of our respect and esteem. There is no greater example to folks in Kansas and nationally than Commander Mike Helm. He served his country with great patriotism, valor and courage, and then came home and dedicated his life to caring for other veterans.

The other thing that Kansans admire are good parents. The Commander and his wife Debbie, who is very involved in the Auxiliary, have raised wonderful children. I actually had the honor of nominating two of his children to U.S. Service Academies -- one to West Point and one to the Air Force Academy. I can't think of a better role model than someone who served their country in the military, who came home and honored their fellow veterans, and did everything in their power to raise a good family. Kansans are honored to have Mike Helm as the National Commander of the American Legion, and I am grateful for the opportunity to introduce him before Members of Congress. Click here to watch my introduction of Commander Helm at the joint Senate and House Veterans' Affairs Committee Hearing.

Subcommittee Hearing on Foreign Ops

On Tuesday, Secretary of State John Kerry testified before the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the State Department and foreign aid budgets. As a new member of this subcommittee, I warned Secretary Kerry against downplaying the threat of the Islamic State to our nation and the need for the Obama Administration to maintain focus on fighting this threat. I believe it is necessary for the President to ask Congress for the appropriate authority to wage battle against these Islamic extremists and work to retain the support of the American people in this cause.

I also asked if the State Department plans to submit the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) to the Senate for consideration. I have led opposition in the Senate against this treaty, and I am concerned the Administration will operate under the ATT without having received Senate approval. Seventeen months have passed since the treaty was signed, and it is far past time for President Obama to permit the Senate to fulfill its constitutional obligations and vote on the ATT. Click here to see the conversation.

Defense Subcommittee Hearing with the United States Air Force

On Wednesday, I had the opportunity to question the Secretary of the United States Air Force, Deborah Lee James, and Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force, General Mark Welsh, during a Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee Hearing. We discussed important issues for airmen serving in Kansas including the KC-46 Tanker, military construction for McConnell Air Force Base, Forbes Field, and Kansas National Guard cyber capabilities.

The Secretary confirmed that the arrival of the KC-46 Tanker will not be impacted by sequestration reductions to the Air Force, which is good news for McConnell AFB and Wichita. Additionally, the Chief of Staff affirmed the need to retain, grow and expand cyber mission capabilities in the National Guard much like the unique skills and existing capacity in the 177th Information Warfare Aggressor Squadron of the Kansas National Guard. The Chief also provides assurance that he will look into future military construction projects, such as the runway on Forbes Field and a new Air Traffic Control Tower at McConnell Air Force Base. As a new Member on the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, I look forward to working with the Air Force on these critical initiatives for Kansas as well as other matters of national significance.

Meeting with USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack

This week, I visited with Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack about our priorities for the upcoming Congress. In my role as chairman of the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, I will be working to making certain USDA programs are working for farmers, ranchers and rural Kansas. The Secretary and I discussed the importance of agriculture research, and agreed to work together to encourage innovation and the development of new technologies that will benefit rural areas of our country. Regarding implementation of the Farm Bill, the Secretary informed me the deadline for farmers to update their yield history or reallocate base acres was extended until March 27, which USDA formally announced later in the week. I appreciated the early notice of the deadline extension, and encouraged him to continue to work as closely as possible with farmers while implementing the Farm Bill. We also discussed initiatives and ways to operate USDA in a more cost-effective manner so the Department is efficiently using taxpayer dollars. I look forward to working with Secretary Vilsack on issues affecting rural America.

Supporting Pilots and General Aviation

Over the past 10 years, 60,000 pilots have left the general aviation industry. On Wednesday, I joined several of my Senate colleagues in introducing two bipartisan bills to help reverse this troubling trend. For many pilots, the current process of obtaining a third-class medical certificate has become burdensome and expensive, while providing very little benefit to the industry. The General Aviation Pilot Protection Act of 2015, or S. 573, extends the 2004 Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) sport pilot rule to include slightly larger aircraft, provided certain safety requirements.

The second bill, known as the Pilot Bill of Rights 2 (PBOR2), or S. 571, also expands the third-class medical exemption for recreational pilots, while broadening the protections of Senator Inhofe's original Pilots Bill of Rights which overwhelmingly passed Congress in 2012. In addition, PBOR2 represents a significant improvement in the due process rights and liability protections for volunteer pilots by ensuring certificate holders have the right to appeal FAA decisions through a new, merit-based trial in Federal Court.

General aviation is the largest industry in Kansas, generating nearly $3 billion in annual exports and manufacturing 40 percent of all general aviation planes. These common-sense bills will allow general aviation to grow and prosper while providing vital protections to pilots and aircraft operators. I am proud to be an original cosponsor of the General Aviation Pilot Protection Act and the Pilots Bill of Rights 2, two important steps toward ensuring a brighter future for general aviation.

Kansas Farm Bureau Visit

I enjoyed the opportunity to visit with Kansas farmers who traveled to Washington as representatives of the Kansas Farm Bureau this week. We talked about opportunities that exist to address a number of issues impacting rural Kansas in my role as chairman of the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee. The farmers reiterated the importance of rolling back burdensome regulations such as the EPA's proposed clean water rules and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife's listing of the lesser prairie chicken. We also discussed the need to reform our tax code and create more business certainty for farmers and ranchers. Most farmers I talk to just want to make a living without unnecessary intrusion from the federal government, and to have the ability to pass along their way of life to their sons or daughters. Thanks also to President Rich Felts for presenting me with the "Friends of Farm Bureau" award.

Rice Growers Keynote

This week I gave the keynote address at the USA Rice Federation conference in Washington. Over the years, I have found that farmers from across the nation, including rice producers, share many of the same values and concerns as farmers in Kansas. We may grow different commodities, but just like in Kansas, rice producers tell me they are concerned about over regulation from the federal government, want more fairness and certainty in the tax code, and need crop insurance and farm policy that provide them at least modest protection against uncontrollable weather events and volatile commodity markets.

Also like Kansas farmers, promoting trade in foreign markets, like Cuba, is a top priority for rice growers. Cuba was the top export market for U.S. rice prior to the embargo. Today, Cuba imports $300 million worth of rice from other nations instead of purchasing U.S. rice because of the embargo and regulatory restrictions limiting our producers' trade opportunities. I continue to make the case that lifting the unilateral trade embargo would benefit both our farmers and the Cuban people. For over 50 years the current policy has failed to effect regime change or lift up the repressed Cuban people. I believe it is time for a new direction in our policies towards Cuba, and opening up trade for U.S. commodities, like wheat and rice, is part of the solution.

Johnson County Kansas Listening Tour Stop

Before flying back to Washington, D.C., on Monday I made another stop in Mission on my listening tour and met with 150 Johnson County residents to hear their thoughts. The topics included Department of Homeland Security, Medicare, Obamacare, Fair Tax, ISIS, Climate change, and hunger. I appreciate the conversation I have with Kansans to learn more about the issues that are affecting them. Thanks also to Northeast Johnson County Chamber of Commerce President Deb Settle for hosting the event and to the City of Mission for the use of the Sylvester Powell, Jr. Community Center.