US Senator John Thune’s Weekly Column: Protecting the Most Vulnerable Among Us

thuneheadernew John_Thune,_official_portrait,_111th_CongressProtecting the Most Vulnerable Among Us
By Sen. John Thune

Recently, the Senate took up a common-sense bill to protect human life, the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. This bill would protect unborn children who have reached the age of 20 weeks – the age at which unborn children can feel pain – from being killed by abortion. Unfortunately, this bill was defeated in the Senate after just three Democrats joined Republicans in voting for this legislation.

It’s difficult for me to imagine how anyone could oppose this bill. Twenty weeks (about five months) into a pregnancy, the humanity of unborn babies is clearly visible. They have fingers and toes, eyebrows and eyelashes. They suck their thumbs. They yawn and stretch. They move around and make faces. They respond to noises. And they feel pain.

The scientific evidence on this point is incontrovertible: Five months into a pregnancy, the physical structure by which human beings experience pain is in place, and scientists can measure spikes in babies’ stress hormones when the babies are confronted with painful stimuli. In fact, some scientific evidence suggests that babies of this age feel pain even more keenly than adults do, since some of the neural mechanisms that inhibit pain don’t fully develop until after birth.

If there’s one thing all Americans ought to be able to agree on, it’s that unborn babies who feel pain deserve to be protected. Americans are rightly horrified by deliberate cruelty to animals – it is unthinkable that we allow unborn human beings who feel pain to be subjected to late-term abortion procedures that are so brutal it is difficult to even talk about them.

Thanks to advances in medical science, doctors and nurses in this country are saving babies who are born months early. A May 2015 article in the New York Times on advances in the treatment of extremely premature infants reported on one baby who was delivered at 22 weeks and 1 day and weighed 1.1 pounds at delivery, yet today is “a healthy 5-year-old.” Yet in the United States, our laws allow a baby of the very same age to be killed by abortion.

There are only seven countries in the world that allow elective abortion past five months of pregnancy. Among those countries are China, North Korea, and the United States. That’s not the company the United States should be keeping when it comes to protecting human rights.

And the American people agree. Polls show that a strong majority of Americans – including a strong majority of women – support banning elective abortions after five months of pregnancy.

Ultimately, it’s simple: That unborn baby – the one with the fingers and toes, who sucks her thumb and responds to her mother’s voice – that unborn baby is one of us, and as such she deserves to be protected. While I’m disappointed that the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act failed to pass the Senate this time, the fight is not over.

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US Senator John Thune’s Weekly Column: President’s Energy Agenda Bad for South Dakota

thuneheadernew John_Thune,_official_portrait,_111th_CongressPresident’s Energy Agenda Bad for South Dakota
By Sen. John Thune

South Dakotans frequently share with me their frustrations and concerns with Washington’s overreach into Americans’ lives. Despite the progress the new Senate Republican majority has made on many issues that impact hard-working families and small businesses across the country, the fact remains that Washington continues to be plagued by the failed leadership of the Obama administration.

Every September, we mark an anniversary that has become symbolic of the administration’s obstructionism: the filing of the construction permit for the Keystone XL pipeline. This year marks seven years since the permit was first filed. Even though the Obama State Department has reviewed hundreds of thousands of comments and completed five environmental impact statements, all of which found the pipeline would have no significant impact on the environment, the administration has continued to slow-walk an important infrastructure project that would immediately create “shovel-ready” jobs during construction, including 3,000-4,000 direct and indirect jobs in our state alone. The construction and operation of the pipeline would also bring crucial tax dollars to South Dakota municipalities along the route and bolster America’s energy independence.

Legislation to approve the Keystone XL pipeline was the first bill the GOP-led Senate considered this year. It passed with a strong bipartisan vote of over 60 senators supporting the bill. In February, President Obama sided with the liberal wing of his party and vetoed this legislation that would bring more energy to the United States and more economic growth in South Dakota. This is not the kind of leadership that will get our economy working again.

I recognize that the Keystone XL pipeline is only one project, but the administration’s attitude toward important energy investment has become all too pervasive. On August 3, the Obama Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its final rule against affordable electricity generation. This plan will increase electricity bills for Americans across the country, hurting job growth and families’ pocketbooks as it forces our most reliable and affordable sources of power generation out of operation – all while countries like China and India continue to pollute and exploit a competitive advantage of cheaper energy.

In the coming weeks, the EPA is expected to finalize what is estimated to be the most costly regulations in the agency’s history via a lower smog standard. The proposed range for a lower standard will draw large swaths of the country into nonattainment including areas in South Dakota, subjecting communities to stiff federal penalties, increased business costs, restrictions on infrastructure investment, and lost highway dollars. Even areas in marginal attainment will face steep challenges in attracting new economic development.

These and other regulations are hampering America’s economic recovery and have real-world impacts on South Dakota families and small businesses. Many of our efforts in the Senate to combat these regulations have been thwarted by a president committed to cementing his legacy. Unfortunately for hard-working Americans, the president’s legacy will be one plagued by obstructionism and federal overreach, the consequences of which will have a lasting impact. That is why Senate Republicans have been committed to enacting a pro-growth agenda that would help revive businesses, reduce tax and regulatory burdens, restore American values, and grow the middle class. The president might fight against this progress, but we’ll continue to fight back.

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US Senator Mike Rounds’ Weekly Column: Back to School

RoundsPressHeader MikeRounds official SenateBack to School
By Senator Mike Rounds
September 18, 2015

With September in full swing, students across the state are back in the classroom to begin a new school year. Making sure our kids receive a top-notch education is important to me as a former governor and state legislator, current U.S. Senator and most importantly, a grandfather to eight. The young people learning, growing and thriving in our schools today will be our next generation of engineers, economists, lawyers, doctors, business owners and community leaders. A strong education system will help secure a prosperous future for our children, our communities, our country and our world.

For the first time in years, Congress came together to strengthen education in America. For too long, our education system has been burdened by sweeping federal mandates and a failure by previous congresses and the administration to implement any new, comprehensive education reforms.  This year, however, the Senate passed the bipartisan Every Child Achieves Act, or ECAA. The ECAA is a complete overhaul of our education system that will bring decision-making abilities back to the state and local level. Parents, teachers and school boards will have the flexibility to implement strategies based on the individual needs of their students, not be burdened with one-size-fits-all federal mandates. The House of Representatives also passed an education reform bill this summer, and the two bills will now go to conference committee to reconcile the two bills before heading to the President’s desk.

While the ECAA is an immense improvement to our education system as a whole, we must do more to make certain all groups and demographics of children are properly cared for under our education system. That is why I am working to improve education among Native American students. High school graduation rates in South Dakota remains steady at approximately 83 percent, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Unfortunately, for tribal schools in our state and across the country, the graduation rate is as low as 40 percent – half the national average. This is unacceptable.

Native American students—just like all students—deserve a strong education system that prepares them to have a strong and prosperous future. A deficit-neutral amendment I offered was included to the ECAA to address these low graduation rates. The amendment seeks to identify federal barriers restricting tribes from implementing common-sense regional policies and seeks to find ways to recruit and retain teachers and administrators in Indian Country.

With the 2015-2016 school year underway, I would like to thank all the teachers and school administrators who work tirelessly to educate and shape the young minds of tomorrow. South Dakota is fortunate to have top-notch teachers committed to delivering a strong, quality education to our youth. I will continue to find ways to support and strengthen our education system for South Dakota students and eliminate burdensome federal mandates. Future generations will have their own set of challenges and opportunities; a strong education system makes certain they are prepared to meet them.

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Congresswoman Kristi Noem’s Weekly Column: Life on the Grid

noem press header kristi noem headshot May 21 2014Life on the Grid
By Rep. Kristi Noem
September 18, 2015

We got together recently with some of the family for a quick lunch after church one Sunday.  My brother-in-law, Wesley, had apparently had enough of seeing everyone on their phones during the meal, so he declared it a “No Cell Phone Event.”  We all pulled our phones out and stacked them one on top of the other in the middle of the table. If only for an hour, we were going to go without our devices.  And you know what?  It was kind of nice.

Sure enough, however, as soon as we’d all been able to get some in-person face time, we all picked our phones back up, logged in, and checked to see what happened in the short time we’d been away.  The reality is that’s the world we live in.  It’s an increasingly connected world that relies on one thing above all else: electricity.

Whether we’re trying to keep our phones charged or the lights on, we need access to reliable and affordable electricity.  For all the debates we have about new sources from which to harvest that power, however, one component is often times left out of the discussion: that is, our outdated electrical grid.

Energy executive Robert Catell told a group of city managers in 2010: “If Thomas Edison came back today, not only would he recognize our electricity system, he could probably fix it [when problems arise].”  Clearly, it’s time for an upgrade.

windgridFortunately, South Dakota is moving ahead of the curve and upgrades are underway.  Earlier this month, I joined a handful of other state leaders and members of Xcel Energy and Otter Tail Power Company to help break ground on the CapX2020 transmission line that will run between a new substation near Big Stone City and an existing substation by Brookings.  For consumers, this ground breaking symbolizes the turning of a page to a new era of energy.  By modernizing and expanding this section of the grid, you will have better access to reliable and affordable electricity for decades to come.

The grid upgrades also enable us to better tap into South Dakota’s diverse energy resources.  Coal and natural gas remain to be some of the most reliable and affordable sources of energy we have access to.  In a state that spends a disproportionate amount of our family budgets on electricity costs, affordability has to be a big factor.  The upgraded grid system will move this kind electricity more efficiently.

But we also live in a place that can capitalize on an abundant amount of wind and hydro power.  Grid upgrades will allow us to take greater advantage of that as well.

Unfortunately, many experts have raised concerns that President Obama’s Clean Power Plan puts a greater emphasis on regulation than innovation when it comes to modernizing our electrical system.  Because the proposed EPA mandates are expected to put added strains on the grid, we could see decreased reliability and higher costs for consumers.  It’s irresponsible to compromise our energy security in this way.

Most of us live our lives on the grid.  Making sure it is reliable and efficient has to be a priority.  It was a privilege to be there while South Dakota took another step in the process of modernizing the grid, but more must be done.  For that to happen efficiently, the federal government has to get out of the way and let innovation lead.

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Thune Opposes Iran Deal, Calls for Up-Or-Down Vote

thuneheadernew Thune Opposes Iran Deal, Calls for Up-Or-Down Vote

“Almost every single Democrat here in the Senate joined us to pass [the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act], yet just four months later, these same Democrats chose to stifle the voices of the American people by refusing to allow an up-or-down vote on the president’s nuclear agreement.”

WASHINGTON, D.C.—U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) today discussed his frustration with Senate Democrats for repeatedly blocking an up-or-down vote on the president’s nuclear deal with Iran, stifling the voices of the American people. Thune also discussed some of the dangers of the deal

Excerpts (as prepared for delivery):

“This agreement also allows Iran to keep its fortified nuclear facilities, and it gives Iran access to conventional weapons and ballistic missiles capable of delivering a warhead far beyond Iran’s borders.

“Plus, under this agreement, Iran will have full access to international markets and the materials and technical components it needs to build a bomb – material that right now it can only access through black market channels.

“Iran is playing the long game, and in the long term, this is a very good deal for Iran.

“And let’s be clear about Iran’s intentions regarding its nuclear program.

“Iran is NOT simply interested in pursuing a nuclear enrichment program for its civilian energy needs.

“Iran is interested in building a bomb.”

Last week, Thune urged his colleagues to oppose the president’s flawed deal with Iran and penned an op-ed explaining why he would vote against the deal.

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US Senator John Thune’s Weekly Column: South Dakotans Deserve a Voice on President’s Flawed Deal With Iran

thuneheadernew John_Thune,_official_portrait,_111th_CongressSouth Dakotans Deserve a Voice on President’s Flawed Deal With Iran
By Sen. John Thune

A majority of the American people oppose the president’s nuclear deal with Iran. They have good reason to be concerned, and they deserve to have their voices heard.

Back in the spring, Congress tried to make sure that the American people, through their representatives in Congress, would have a say in any deal with Iran, and Senate Democrats joined Senate Republicans to support legislation guaranteeing an up-or-down vote on any agreement. Unfortunately, Democrats changed their minds about giving the American people a chance to be heard and succumbed to pressure from their party by blocking an up-or-down vote on the president’s deal.

I was deeply disappointed by the Democrats’ decision. The deeply flawed deal President Obama announced this summer not only fails to end Iran’s nuclear program – which would have been a key step in preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon – it actually allows Iran to increase its nuclear expertise and enrichment infrastructure.

Under this agreement, Iran is allowed to build more advanced centrifuges capable of producing a significant amount of nuclear material in a very short amount of time. While the deal forbids Iran from enriching weapons-grade uranium, that prohibition is only as good as Iran’s word given that Iran will be allowed to maintain and grow its nuclear infrastructure.

Another key part of a strong deal would have been “anytime, anywhere” inspections, especially given Iran’s history of violating the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty by building enrichment facilities in secret. Unfortunately, under the terms of the Obama-negotiated agreement, “anytime, anywhere” inspections are limited to a small number of known nuclear sites. If inspectors believe that Iran is conducting activity at other locations, they have to apply for permission to visit these sites, a process that could take more than three weeks and give Iran plenty of time to hide evidence of illicit activities.

On top of all this, the agreement will greatly increase Iran’s ability to fund terror. Iran is already the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism and the primary supporter of Hezbollah and Hamas. Now, under this agreement, sanctions will be lifted and Iran’s assets will be unfrozen, giving Iran access to tens of billions of dollars to spend on terrorism.

In addition to these problems, the Obama administration recently confirmed that the International Atomic Energy Agency — the agency in charge of nuclear inspections — has made secret side deals with Iran, but the details of those deals remain undisclosed.

During negotiations over this agreement, President Obama and his administration emphasized that no deal was better than a bad deal.  Unfortunately they didn’t stick to that policy.

The deal the administration reached this summer will fuel instability in the Middle East and around the globe. I will continue to work with my colleagues to do what we can to protect our nation and our allies from the effects of this agreement.

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Noem Votes Against President’s Iran Nuclear Deal

noem press header kristi noem headshot May 21 2014Noem Votes Against President’s Iran Nuclear Deal

WASHINGTON D.C. – Rep. Kristi Noem today voted against the President’s nuclear deal with Iran, joining the majority of House members in her opposition to the deal.

“The President’s agreement with Iran was poorly negotiated, fails to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapon capabilities, and ultimately undermines the security of the United States and our allies,” said Noem.  “We need to walk away from this agreement – there’s no other way to put it.”

In addition to joining the House in voting down the President’s nuclear deal with Iran, Noem helped the House pass legislation this week to take away the President’s authority to waive, suspend, or reduce existing sanctions on Iran until January 2017, when a new President would take office.  She also supported legislation that asserts the President has failed to fully comply with the law by not submitting to Congress two additional side agreements.

“From the very beginning, the United States entered these negotiations with the goal of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.  This agreement fundamentally fails to ensure that,” said Noem.  “What’s more, the President’s proposal eliminates Iran’s sanctions almost immediately, neglects anywhere-anytime inspections, and allows this State Sponsor of Terrorism to keep its nuclear infrastructure intact. It’s a bad deal and it must be stopped.”

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Thune Statement on Anniversary of 9/11 Attacks

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Thune Statement on Anniversary of 9/11 Attacks

WASHINGTON, D.C.—U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) today issued the following statement on the 14th anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks:

“Today we honor and remember the nearly 3,000 victims whose lives were lost on September 11, 2001, during the deadly terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and Flight 93. We also remember with gratitude the heroes who emerged to save lives and rescue those in trouble, and how in the dark days after the attacks, our nation rallied to show the very best of the American spirit.

“Today is also a day to thank our first responders and the men and women of our armed forces, and their families, who continue to serve at home and abroad as our nation continues to fight terrorism. We must never forget those we lost on 9/11 and the current threats we face from those who hate our nation and what she represents.”

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Congresswoman Noem’s Weekly Column: Infrastructure Investments: Building blocks for a healthy economy

noem press header kristi noem headshot May 21 2014Infrastructure Investments: Building blocks for a healthy economy
By Rep. Kristi Noem
August 28, 2015

There’s hardly anything our family consumes that isn’t somehow impacted by rail.  From the food we eat to products we use in our homes, the reliability of our nation’s railways is critical.  In South Dakota, that importance is even more prominent.  Nearly every commodity we produce is exported and shipped via rail.  Disruptions or delays have an immediate and costly impact, as we saw early last year.  If our infrastructure crumbles, so does our economy.

Earlier this month, I met with the Rapid City, Pierre, and Eastern Railroad (RCP&E), which covers 670 miles of track stretching from Minnesota to Wyoming and running straight through the middle of South Dakota.  Railroads like RCP&E along with the state government are making meaningful investments to help avoid the backlogs that occurred last year.  I’m optimistic it’s been enough to ensure our rails can run smoothly and on time this year, but as is true for our nation’s roads and bridges, continued investments are necessary.

With nearly every farmer, rancher, and consumer relying on a well-maintained rail infrastructure, investments here should be a national priority.  It’s one of the reasons why I’ve been supportive of offering tax incentives to those willing to devote financial resources to improving our railroads.

One such incentive is the Short Line Tax Credit, which helps smaller railroads.  If you are investing in our railroads, you are creating jobs; you are increasing the speed of commerce; you are making products more affordable for hardworking families across the country.  The federal government has a responsibility to make those investments easier and offering tax credits like this helps accomplish that.

I am proud to have co-sponsored legislation in the House to extend this credit through 2016 and because it has broad bipartisan support, I’m hopeful we can see it enacted soon.

I’ve also encouraged the U.S. Department of Transportation to use existing grants to make greater investments in South Dakota, as so many of our nation’s commodities are shipped out of our state.  Moving wheat, soybeans, and corn more efficiently in South Dakota will reap countless benefits for consumers throughout the entire country.  It’s worth the investment.

For more than a century, rail has connected our coasts and enabled American commerce to thrive.  Still today, it remains one of the most efficient and cost-effective ways to ship our goods, moving 40 percent of our nation’s intercity freight traffic and bringing one-third of U.S. exports to port.

Together with investments in roads and bridges, investments in our railroads help enable commerce to happen.  They are the building blocks of a healthy economy and a requirement for sustainable economic growth.

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Thune Statement on Injunction Blocking Obama EPA’s WOTUS Implementation

thuneheadernew John_Thune,_official_portrait,_111th_CongressThune Statement on Injunction Blocking Obama EPA’s WOTUS Implementation

“The recent ruling by a federal district court in North Dakota shows that the Obama EPA is not only defying common sense, but is also defying the original intent of the Clean Water Act.” 

WASHINGTON, D.C.—U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) issued the following statement in response to an injunction by a federal district court in North Dakota that temporarily blocks the Obama Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from implementing its burdensome Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule in South Dakota and 12 other states:

“The Obama EPA’s WOTUS rule is one of the largest federal land grabs in recent memory,” said Thune. “It will drive up compliance costs for farmers and ranchers and expose homeowners and property owners across the country to massive new fines. The recent ruling by a federal district court in North Dakota shows that the Obama EPA is not only defying common sense, but is also defying the original intent of the Clean Water Act. The EPA should immediately suspend the enforcement of this regulation across the country. The ruling is yet another reason we need to enact a permanent stop to EPA’s overreach.

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