These are troubled times in America, and Republicans in Congress are working hard to avert a dark future – at least, that was the message delivered by the state’s congressional delegation speaking at a Friday business luncheon in Wichita.
The lunch, sponsored by the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce, the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and Overland Park-based engineering firm Black & Veatch, featured U.S. Reps. Mike Pompeo, Lynn Jenkins and Tim Huelskamp, all Republicans, who represent most of the state.
Kansas Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran and U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder, who represents the Kansas side of the Kansas City metro area, were unable to attend.
The theme of the speeches was that Republicans in Congress are pushing solutions – that often fail in the face of Democratic opposition – that would help the country grow faster and be safer.
In answer to a question about what was the most serious foreign threat, Jenkins said the Obama administration hasn’t been effective in any dealing with any of them.
“We are under assault on so many fronts, and it appears this administration is not taking them as seriously as they need to,” Jenkins said.
Here is what the members of Congress said about other issues.
Transportation funding bill
Jenkins said that, on this issue at least, there appeared to be some real action. Both parties are interested in increased spending on highways and other transportation systems, she said, although Republican leadership has ruled out an increase in the gas tax, which now funds it.
Instead, she said, the sides are working on a deal to create a tax break to encourage U.S. companies to bring home trillions of dollars of accumulated profits sitting in foreign subsidiaries that they have been reluctant to bring back because of U.S. taxes. The companies would pay taxes, based on a formula, over eight years.
She said there is a good chance for a six-year transportation spending plan if the funding plan is approved in some form. Without that funding deal, she said, there is no transportation funding.
Clean Power Plan
Huelskamp blasted the administration’s plan, through the Environmental Protection Agency, to shift the country’s electricity production away from coal and toward renewable sources, such as wind and solar.
He argued that the switch would cost huge amounts of money, make the country less competitive and wouldn’t save much in the way of greenhouse gases.
Jenkins said Republicans proposed a fix for the massive program for seniors despite criticism. Medicare faces insolvency in 2030 and must be dealt with, she said.
“We are all ears; if somebody else has a solution, we are anxious to hear it,” she said.
The current Republican plan would leave those 55 or older unaffected, she said, but those younger would have a choice to stay in Medicare or go into a government-paid health care insurance premium support program.
Lesser prairie chicken
Huelskamp said the rebound of the species this year with the return of rain to western Kansas means that it was the drought, not human action, that reduced numbers.
The House of Representatives has already passed a bill to delay putting the bird on the Endangered Species List, although it never became law.
He said that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is looking at listing 200 more species
“I care deeply about it,” he said. “I understand it tastes really good.”
Government shutdown/debt default
Huelskamp, among the most strident budget-cutters in Congress, said there was “no chance” the country wouldn’t default on its debt despite a potential showdown this fall.
But he wouldn’t go so far as to promise that the government wouldn’t be shut down because the House failed to approve funding.
“It could be shut down for a day or two,” he said. “I’m not sure how that will work out.”
Pompeo said this is very difficult issue. Both government and private data is routinely stolen. Every system operating today can be penetrated.
“The fact that they’ve been on our defense servers four times in the last six months indicates that it is much easier to play offense in the cyberworld than defense,” he said, “and it is going to require an enormous investment of public and private sectors to get the protection level to where we need it.”
Iran nuclear deal
Pompeo blasted the deal negotiated by the Obama administration to slow the development of a nuclear weapon by Iran.
“We got nothing in the deal,” Pompeo said. “The Iranians are virtually guaranteed a pathway over a period of time – whether they cheat and get it quick or they comply and get it a little bit more slowly – to a good-sized nuclear arsenal, not just a single nuclear weapon.”
Opponents of the proposed treaty are working to sway enough Democrats to overturn an Obama veto of congressional rejection of the deal.