US Senator John Thune’s Weekly Column: Transportation Reforms Strengthen, Provide Certainty toFarmers, Ranchers, and Businesses

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Transportation Reforms Strengthen, Provide Certainty to
Farmers, Ranchers, and Businesses
By Senator John Thune

John_Thune,_official_portrait,_111th_CongressWith all the Senate has accomplished this year, it is hard to believe that we are just six months into the Republican majority. The Senate has passed nearly 50 bipartisan bills since January, and we are on pace to pass many more. We have made bipartisanship a cornerstone of the GOP-led Senate because when the two parties work together, the American people win.

With a new majority, came a fresh set of leaders at the numerous Senate committees, which is where the important groundwork is laid before legislation comes to the Senate floor. For years, this process was ignored under Democrat leadership, and the legislative process suffered because of it. Thankfully, that has changed, and our committees are once again hard at work.

I was among the new set of committee leaders that took over earlier this year, and am humbled that my colleagues selected me to lead the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, which has broad jurisdiction over significant issues that are important to South Dakota, including telecommunications, aviation, rail, highway safety, and interstate commerce. The committee has already passed a number of improvements this year.

South Dakota businesses and agriculture producers faced numerous challenges last year during the nine-month labor dispute at 29 West Coast container ports. During this prolonged slowdown, many businesses and agriculture producers faced inventory challenges during the holiday season because shipments on the West Coast were severely backed-up.

Some estimates say that these disputes cost the economy up to $2.5 billion per day, and the resulting strife was widely cited as a contributing cause to the anemic 0.2 percent annual growth rate of the U.S. economy in the first quarter of 2015.

To help prevent a reoccurrence, I led a group of senators in introducing a set of common-sense sunshine reforms that would help with early identification of port labor disruptions before they inflict damage on the economy. These reforms would also require yearly port metrics reporting, which would create a new level of transparency and accountability for U.S. ports and give businesses and agriculture producers across the country greater certainty. Last month, my bill cleared the Commerce Committee, and I am hopeful that the full Senate will consider this legislation soon.

Freight rail is another issue that is critically important to South Dakota businesses and agriculture producers because of our dependence on transporting commodities and products across the country and around the globe. Because of the serious rail backlogs that occurred at the end of 2013 and into early 2015, I introduced legislation last Congress, and again this year, to provide common-sense reforms to the Surface Transportation Board to address the added costs and uncertainty that many South Dakota agriculture producers and businesses encountered when they were unable to get reliable rail transportation they depend on.

I have worked with numerous South Dakota groups for years on this bill, which has strong bipartisan support and the endorsement of organizations like the American Farm Bureau Federation, the South Dakota Grain & Feed Association, the National Rural Electric Cooperatives, and the South Dakota Farmers Union. This bill passed the Senate unanimously late last month and is awaiting consideration in the House.

Once these reforms are in place, South Dakota farmers, ranchers, and businesses will be in a stronger position to ensure that they get a fair deal on critical shipments, coming or going.

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Thune Sets Mark-Up of Transportation Bill With Regulatory andConsumer Protection Reforms

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Thune Sets Mark-Up of Transportation Bill With Regulatory and
Consumer Protection Reforms

Bill Includes Passenger Rail, Regulatory Relief for Livestock Transportation and Custom Harvesters, Grant Reform and Consolidation, and Transparency Improvements

John_Thune,_official_portrait,_111th_CongressWASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, today announced the committee will convene on Wednesday, July 15, to consider and vote on S. 1732, the Comprehensive Transportation and Consumer Protection Act of 2015. The legislation authorizes the office of the secretary of transportation for the next six years (fiscal years 2016 through 2021) and contains key reforms to enhance safety, provide regulatory relief, streamline grant programs, and improve the accountability and efficiency of oversight efforts.

“As the Senate works to consider a multi-year plan to fund highway and other infrastructure projects, we also have the opportunity to enact reforms for the Department of Transportation that are vital for our economy and the safety of travelers in South Dakota and around the country,” said Thune. “This bill incorporates numerous proposals from the administration, bipartisan proposals put forward by senators, and proposals that have been previously considered and embraced by a consensus of the Commerce Committee. Among the many improvements this bill makes, I’m especially glad that we can provide some much-needed regulatory relief to our agriculture transporters, who are vital to South Dakota’s agriculture industry.”

By tradition, following committee approval, S. 1732 will be combined with S. 1647, the DRIVE Act, and component legislation from other Senate committees on the Senate floor as early as next week to form legislation commonly referred to as “The Highway Bill” or the “Surface Transportation Reauthorization Bill.”

Mark-up agenda:

  1. S. 1732, the Comprehensive Transportation and Consumer Protection Act of 2015

Executive Session Details:

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

10:00 a.m. EDT in Senate Russell Office Building, Room 253

A live video of the mark-up and additional information will be available at http://1.usa.gov/1LUiwCz

Highlights of S. 1732:

Regulatory Reform, Relief, and Transparency

Cutting Red Tape – Provides permanent regulatory relief for drivers who transport livestock and bees by permitting hours of service exemptions.

Custom Harvester Protection Would allow the operation of vehicles that provide fuel for agricultural operations to be exempt from the requirement of obtaining a hazardous materials endorsement, which would help individuals like custom harvesters.

Transparency – Requires the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to maintain updated records relating to regulatory guidance, and provides for regular review to ensure consistency and enforceability.

Port Performance Act – Includes legislation previously approved by the Commerce Committee to increase transparency of port operation by providing currently non-existent key metrics on port operations to help provide earlier warning of disruptions to various sectors of our economy following the recent nine month labor dispute at 29 West Coast container ports.

Freight: TIGER Reformed and Refocused

Develops a National Freight Strategy and Strategic Plan – Sets goals to enhance U.S. economic competitiveness by improving freight transportation networks that serve our agriculture, retail, manufacturing, and energy sectors. Focuses freight planning efforts in the Office of the Secretary with the Undersecretary for Policy to provide multimodal coordination.

Authorizes a Freight Grant Program – Formally authorizes the TIGER transportation grants program, and refocuses funding efforts on freight infrastructure. The bill reforms the project selection processes to increase accountability and transparency of grants.

Improved Project Delivery and Department of Transportation (DOT) Management

Project Streamlining – Building on the Administration’s proposed GROW AMERICA Act, the bill provides additional authority to streamline delivery of infrastructure projects and consolidate burdensome permitting regulations.

Responsible Management – Prohibits designating a single individual as a long term agency head without formally nominating a qualified candidate who is subject to formal consideration by the U.S. Senate.
Flexibility for States

Provides for Flexible State Planning – Improves freight planning efforts to ensure that freight planning is multimodal and addresses the links between highways, railroads, ports, airports, and pipelines.

Grant Consolidation – As proposed by the Administration GROW AMERICA Act, the bill consolidates FMCSA state trucking enforcement grants to provide additional flexibility to states to administer enforcement programs.

Grant Flexibility
Increases emphasis on National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) highway safety grants, allocated according to state population and road mileage, to address each state’s unique highway safety challenges and provide additional opportunities for states to obtain grants to combat impaired and distracted driving.

24/7 Sobriety Programs –
Amends the grant for alcohol ignition interlock devices to include eligibility for states that provide 24/7 sobriety programs.

NHTSA Oversight and Improvement

Vehicle Recalls Improves consumer awareness of vehicle safety information and requires franchised dealers and car rental companies to provide consumers with notification of open safety recalls. Increases the time consumers have to seek a free remedy for tire recalls and creates a state pilot grant to inform consumers of open vehicle recalls at the time of motor vehicle registration.

Provides Increased Oversight of NHTSA Following a record number of recalls for defects linked to fatalities, high profile failures by the auto safety regulator and expert testimony that the most immediate needs are to fix fundamental problem of NHTSA’s defect identification and investigation process and not substantial increased funding, the bill requires the DOT Inspector General and NHTSA to provide updates on how NHTSA is addressing these problems and directs audits of NHTSA’s management of vehicle safety recalls, public awareness of recall information, and NHTSA’s research efforts.

Promoting Crash Avoidance Technology – Adds a requirement that crash avoidance information, such as active braking and lane-tracking technology, be included next to the 5-star information on the car sticker for consumers purchasing new vehicles.

Rail

Passenger Rail Includes the bipartisan Railroad Reform Enhancement and Efficiency Act, which was amended and passed the Commerce Committee by unanimous voice vote, increasing safety, improving infrastructure, cutting red tape, and empowering state and local officials.

Click here for text of the bill as introduced.

Click here for a section-by-section summary.

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Thune, Cardin Submit Business Income Tax Working Group Report to Finance Committee

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Thune, Cardin Submit Business Income Tax Working Group Report to Finance Committee

John_Thune,_official_portrait,_111th_CongressWASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.), co-chairs of the Senate Finance Committee’s Business Income Tax Working Group, today submitted the working group’s report to the full committee. The report, developed with the input of the fourteen members of the working group, represents the culmination of a months-long examination of business tax issues in an effort to evaluate the challenges and opportunities posed by reforming America’s business income tax system.

Earlier this year, U.S. Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), chairman and ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, asked Thune and Cardin to lead the Finance Committee’s Business Income Tax Working Group. Additional working groups were tasked with examining an array of subjects, including the individual income tax, savings and investment, international tax, and community development and infrastructure.

“We accepted this request because we believe that American businesses deserve a better tax system than the current tax code,” said Thune and Cardin. “We view the working group process as a demonstration of the importance that the chairman and ranking member place on enacting tax reform, a goal that we share. We took on the challenge of co-chairing the working group knowing that progress toward real tax reform will not be fast or easy, but rather will entail thoughtful deliberation around a number of very complex and difficult decisions.”

The report includes several principles, considerations, options, and recommendations that are designed to modernize U.S. business taxation to help spur economic growth and job creation, address structural biases in the tax code, and promote American innovation.

In particular, the report:

  • Highlights the challenges related to business tax reform, including potential hurdles to corporate rate reduction.
  • Discusses the effect of reform on pass-through businesses, which make up a majority of U.S. small businesses
  • Addresses major structural issues and options for pro-growth reform, including corporate integration proposals and moving the U.S. tax system closer to a consumption-oriented base
  • Details proposals that promote American innovation, including a strengthened R&E credit, an innovation box, and technology- and source-neutral energy incentives
  • Discusses simplification and other administrative proposals that could help both businesses and charities

A copy of the full report can be found here.

A full list of co-chairs and members of the working groups can be found here.

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Thune, Rounds & Noem note – USDA to Pautre Fire Victims: We’re Not Responsible

USDA to Pautre Fire Victims: We’re Not Responsible

USDA Fails to Acknowledge Negligence and Pay for Damages Resulting From Pautre Fire

John_Thune,_official_portrait,_111th_CongressWASHINGTON, D.C.– U.S. Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) and U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.) today expressed their frustration with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Forest Service (FS), and Office of General Counsel’s (OGC) refusal to determine that FS employees were negligent when they started a prescribed burn in April 2013, which due to extremely dry and windy conditions, burned out of control. The devastating Pautre fire consumed 16,000 acres of standing grass on public and private pasture land and damaged or destroyed fences, bales of forage, buildings, and trees.

As a result of USDA’s refusal to determine negligence, all Pautre fire claims will be denied by FS. However, claimants may file suit against the federal government in U.S. district court within six months of the date they received their determination letters.

“I’m disappointed that the USDA has refused to acknowledge negligence and accept responsibility for the out-of-control Pautre fire that had such a devastating impact on property in northern South Dakota,” said Thune. “USDA’s denial leaves many South Dakota farmers and ranchers – who have already waited more than two years for a USDA decision – with the inability to have their claims resolved any time soon. We must prevent situations like these from occurring in the future, which is why I’ve introduced the Prescribed Burn Approval Act of 2015 that would require a federal agency to timely pay for losses that result from an out-of-control fire that it starts.”

“The impact of the Pautre fire will be felt by South Dakotans for many years to come,” said Rounds. “I MikeRounds official Senateam surprised that the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, and Office of General Counsel have denied responsibility and relief to the South Dakota farmers and ranchers affected by the fire. It is my hope that South Dakotans will still be able to recover their losses through other legal avenues available to them.”

“I have been disappointed by the federal government’s snail-paced decision-making process over the last 26 months, but the USDA’s refusal to take responsibility for the Pautre Fire damages is unbelievable,” said Noem. “Whether the USDA admits it or not, South Dakota farmers and ranchers lost thousands of dollars’ worth of fences, buildings, bales, tree rows, and more as a result of the federal government’s actions. We must make sure disasters like this kristi noem headshot May 21 2014are prevented in the future, but that is going to require the federal government to admit to and reconcile previous mistakes.”

Earlier this month, the delegation wrote to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack urging the USDA, FS, and OGC to determine negligence and accept responsibility for the fire so victims’ claims could be processed.

The Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) provides claimants two years from the date of an incident to submit claims against the government. The FTCA generally holds the federal government liable when federal employees commit acts of negligence in the course of their employment.

Thune’s legislation, which was introduced earlier this year, is designed to help prevent reckless prescribed burns, similar to the Pautre and Cold Brook fires. The legislation would require appropriate collaboration between federal and local officials before initiating a prescribed burn on federal lands when fire danger is high.

 

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US Senator John Thune’s Weekly Column: Celebrating the Red, White, and Blue

thuneheadernewCelebrating the Red, White, and Blue
By Senator John Thune

John_Thune,_official_portrait,_111th_CongressFourth of July is right around the corner, and as South Dakotans fire up their backyard barbecues or embark on family vacations to celebrate this summer, it’s important to take a moment to reflect on the true importance of Independence Day.

Nearly 240 years ago, our Founding Fathers took a bold stand for freedom by declaring independence from Great Britain. It hasn’t always been a smooth road, but through the bravery and sacrifice of one great generation after another, America has remained a strong beacon of hope and opportunity for people around the globe.

From our nation’s heroes who fight hard for the red, white, and blue, to the farmers and ranchers who start their day long before the sun even rises, America’s collective strength is borne out of hard work, unity, and love of country.

Today the Fourth of July means many things to many people. It’s an opportunity for cities and towns to come together for picnics and parades. It’s a time for friends and families to share old stories and create new memories. Most importantly, it’s a chance to celebrate all of the blessings and opportunities that come with being an American.

This holiday has a special meaning for me and my family because my dad, Harold, a member of the Greatest Generation, sacrificed an unbelievable amount for his country and his family. He was one of many young men who served on the USS Intrepid during World War II. Just a few months ago, I was fortunate enough to visit the Intrepid and walk through the same halls that my dad did so many years ago, under much different conditions.

Whether your family is traveling or spending time at home this year, I hope you enjoy a safe, fun, memory-filled week. Happy Fourth of July, and remember that our freedom is not free.

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US Senator John Thune (and guest’s) Weekly Column: Accelerate Customer Service at the IRS

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Accelerate Customer Service at the IRS

By Senators John Thune (R-S.D.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa)

John_Thune,_official_portrait,_111th_CongressThe IRS stumbled its way through tax season, still struggling to try to restore its reputation after its political targeting scandal gravely undermined confidence in the federal tax-collecting agency’s ability to fairly administer tax laws.

With the 2015 tax-filing season fading in the rearview mirror, now is the time to look to the road ahead and make serious repairs at the beleaguered federal agency.

A look under the IRS’ hood exposes systemic troubles that continue to throttle quality taxpayer services. Even 16 years after Congress passed sweeping taxpayer rights laws, a culture of mismanagement continues to steer the IRS away from sorely needed public redemption. Instead, misguided decisions and more violations of taxpayer privacy clog its core mission to serve the taxpaying public with integrity.

Consider that wait times nearly doubled for calls placed to the toll-free hot lines during the 2015 tax season, according to the IRS’ internal watchdog. And for taxpayers whose calls made the connection, the IRS would answer only “basic” questions. What’s more, the National Taxpayer Advocate also reported in January that the IRS would not answer any tax law questions for the 15 million taxpayers who file after the April 15 deadline. And yet the IRS prioritized $60 million in bonuses to its employees.

It’s time to flush out a mindset of self-service and retool the agency with quality customer service.

It’s even harder for taxpayers to swallow gross mismanagement that includes hours on the taxpayer dime devoted to union activity, federal employees who remain on paid administrative leave for years without doing their jobs, and federal workers whose tax delinquency adds up to $3.5 billion.

These are head scratchers that taxpayers and good-government watchdogs (like us) are itching to see fixed.

No doubt, the IRS has a tall order to fill, processing nearly 150 million tax returns and receiving 100 million phone calls each year. Tasked with an increasingly complex federal code, the IRS also bears the burden of implementing expansive tax law changes that go above and beyond revenue collection to administering dozens of complicated new provisions created by Obamacare.

What’s worse, the Government Accountability Office found that the IRS sent out $5.8 billion in fraudulent tax refunds in 2013. Considering the recent massive data breaches at the IRS and Office of Personnel Management, the federal government is clearly facing a steep curve to thwart cyber crimes that put sensitive personal information at risk of piracy.

Taxpayers sacrifice substantial shares of their hard-earned money to finance public services for the public good.  Our system of voluntary compliance depends on the IRS responsibly collecting taxes and administering federal tax laws with integrity and fairness. The last thing the IRS ought to be doing is squandering tax dollars or leaving taxpayers vulnerable to identity theft.

Basic principles of good government should be the rule, not the exception. This includes shielding taxpayer information, treating individual taxpayers with respect and professionalism, and providing first-rate customer service. So when the IRS underperforms when it comes to these fundamental functions of its mission or the taxpaying public perceives unfair bias in its performance, it is clear the IRS needs a new map to get back on track.

Law-abiding taxpayers play by the rules and expect the same in return.  The IRS needs to get serious about mending fences and rebuilding trust with the taxpaying public.

Building from bipartisan reforms enacted in 1988, 1996, and 1998, we just introduced new legislation that would root out misconduct and restore sagging credibility caused by poor customer service and violations of taxpayer rights.

Our Taxpayer Bill of Rights Enhancement Act of 2015 sends a strong signal to those entrusted with administering the nation’s tax laws. The IRS needs to remember that it conducts the people’s business when it enforces and administers the nation’s tax laws. Our bill shows that Congress means business when it comes to tax fairness and taxpayer privacy.

Take a look at a few points of interest on our legislative route to upgrade taxpayer service at the IRS. Our bill would:

  • establish a statutory requirement for the IRS commissioner to ensure that IRS employees abide by the “Taxpayer Bill of Rights” adopted last summer by the federal agency;
  • update termination requirements for misconduct by an IRS employee who violates the “10 deadly sins” originally in theIRS Restructuring and Reform Act of 1998, clarifying that abusing official actions for political purposes qualifies as a job-losing offense;
  • increase criminal and civil penalties for the unauthorized disclosure of taxpayer information, forbid use of personal email accounts for official business, and install confidentiality firewalls for government contractors; and
  • enhance accountability by requiring timely updates to victims of alleged wrongdoing by IRS employees.

America can’t afford to have taxpayers lose faith in their government’s ability to fairly administer revenue collection.  Enforcing meatier taxpayer rights at the IRS will help flesh out better customer service and move toward fixing bone-deep grievances.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, a former chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, championed the 1988, 1996, and 1998 taxpayer rights laws currently on the books. Sens. Grassley and Thune currently serve together on the Finance Committee and are joining forces to make the right to quality service a high priority at the IRS.

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Senate Passes Bipartisan Surface Transportation Board Reforms

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Senate Passes Bipartisan Surface Transportation Board Reforms

“Passage of my bipartisan legislation will make the STB more accountable and effective in addressing rail rate and service disputes.”

WASHINGTON, D.C.U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the lead sponsor of S. 808, the Surface Transportation Board (STB) Reauthorization Act of 2015, issued the following statement on the bill’s approval by the U.S. Senate last night by unanimous consent: 

“Nearly 20 years ago, Congress established the Surface Transportation Board to oversee our nation’s freight railroad system. Passage of my bipartisan legislation will make the STB more accountable and effective in addressing rail rate and service disputes. The severe rail backlogs and service delays that began at the end of 2013 and extended through 2014 are a reminder of just how vital our nation’s rail system is for agricultural producers in South Dakota as well as many other sectors of the U.S. economy. This legislation was the result of working with a host of stakeholders across the country to find agreement on reforms that will benefit shippers and railroads alike. I appreciate the efforts of my colleagues on the Commerce Committee including the ranking Democrat, Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, for working to pass this legislation. I look forward to seeing these common sense reforms signed into law this Congress.”

Highlights of S. 808:

  • Improves the STB’s current dispute resolution process by setting timelines for rate reviews and expanding voluntary arbitration procedures to address both rate and service disputes;
  • Ensures the STB has the authority to proactively resolve problems before they escalate into larger disputes by providing the STB with the ability to initiate investigations on matters other than rate cases; and
  • Improves the STB’s structure and decision making processes by expanding the board membership from three to five and, with proper disclosure, allowing board members to talk with one another.

The Senate Commerce Committee approved the bill by voice vote on March 25, 2015.

The STB is the federal regulatory body responsible for economic oversight of the nation’s freight rail system. Run by a three-member bipartisan board, the agency has regulatory jurisdiction over railroad rates, mergers, line acquisitions, new rail-line construction, line abandonment, and other rail issues. The STB was created by Congress in 1996 as the successor to the Interstate Commerce Commission. Since that time, the STB has not been reauthorized or substantively reformed.

Thune serves as chairman of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, which has jurisdiction over our nation’s freight and passenger railroads, and is a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee. In addition, Thune previously served as South Dakota State Railroad Director under former Governor George S. Mickelson from 1991-1993. At Thune’s request, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued a report earlier this year that concluded the rail backlog in 2013 and 2014 lowered corn, wheat, and soybean prices in the Upper Midwest and caused shippers to pay record-high railcar premiums, 28 to 150 percent above the average previous levels for roughly 65 consecutive weeks.

Click here for a copy of S. 808.

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Thune Applauds passage of defense bill which will keep Ellsworth Air Force Base in strong position

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Thune Applauds passage of defense bill which will keep Ellsworth Air Force Base in strong position

“This bill rejects President Obama’s call for another round of BRAC closures, which would actually cost more money in the short term.”

WASHINGTON, D.C.—U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) issued the following statement after the Senate passed bipartisan legislation, H.R. 1735, the National Defense Authorization Act:

“Passing the NDAA is welcome news for South Dakota’s active-duty military and their families, our wounded warriors, and our veterans. This reform bill provides for our nation’s heroes while simultaneously eliminating wasteful spending. Not only does it ensure that our B-1 fleet is maintained, our airmen and women are trained, and the long-range strike bomber moves forward, but this bill rejects President Obama’s call for another round of BRAC closures, which would actually cost more money in the short term.

“By allocating taxpayer dollars wisely, the NDAA provides savings in an era of tighter budgets and bolsters the readiness of our military. This bill is only one step in the process. In order to deliver this important funding to our troops, Democrats must abandon their threats of a ‘filibuster summer’ and join Senate Republicans in the appropriations process.”

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Back in God’s Country once again! Great visit to Washington, and great meetings with the delegation!

It’s been light posting here for the last few days as I’ve been in Washington DC at the Autism Speaks Leadership Summit – which was excellent, BTW, and had us in the same room as several members of congress, especially a number of Republicans. But, as of 3AM, I’m finally in God’s country.

If you follow the SDWC on twitter (@SoDakCampaigns), I was a bit more active there than here, simply because of convenience:

And speaking of the Wednesday Sunrise Delegation Meeting in DC, I had visions of a cafeteria type room, maybe with a couple of tables, and a few people showing up. As you can tell by the photos, I was sorely mistaken.

This was held in a huge room, and it was packed! And there was another large group out the door. And despite the numbers, Congresswoman Noem, Senator Rounds and Senator Thune couldn’t have been more friendlier & gracious to each and every person in attendance. Each one of them went completely around the room chatting individually with those there, and only then did they do a brief presentation of what was happening in their respective chambers of Congress.

From there, my group broke out and we met with each member of the delegation and their staff. It was hit and miss, because they were actively meeting and voting, but we did speak with their appropriate staffers who were all up on our issues, and we did get to see them all.

Possibly because leaving the writer of South Dakota’s #1 political blog alone in their office had it’s own hazards…..

Kidding aside, and on a personal note, I have to say that I found our delegation quite supportive and receptive on our issues of ensuring the health and safety of individuals with disabilities, as well as working for progress in treating and, God willing, possibly curing some of these afflictions someday.

No issue is ever easy, but our delegation in Washington does care, and as we found, they’re always willing to listen.

But otherwise, great visit to our National’s Capitol in the very sweltering June heat & humidity!

US Senator John Thune’s Weekly Column: Putting Our Troops Ahead of Politics

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Putting Our Troops Ahead of Politics
By Senator John Thune

John_Thune,_official_portrait,_111th_CongressLast fall, Senate Republicans promised that if we were elected to the majority, we would get the Senate working again for the American people. Getting the Senate working again was not a campaign slogan – it was a commitment.

For years under Democrat leadership in the Senate, basic legislative functions went overlooked. Waiting until the last minute to pass important bills became the norm, and casting political show votes rather than striking bipartisan agreements was a sad reality.

But times are changing, and there’s new leadership in the Senate. In just the first few months of the 114th Congress, the Senate has passed one bipartisan bill after another. We’ve already allowed more roll call votes on senators’ individual priorities in the past five months than Democrats allowed in all of 2014. Last month, the Senate passed a budget – that balances – and now we’re working toward funding our nation’s heroes.

Before any money can be appropriated, though, Congress must first authorize the federal government to spend it. For more than 50 years, the National Defense Authorization Act, which the Senate is now considering, has passed with strong bipartisan support. This year’s defense bill authorizes funding for our troops at the level requested by the president and provides key reforms that will strengthen our nation’s defense and improve training, benefits, and quality of life for our service members. It’s a strong, common-sense bill, and supporting it should be a no-brainer.

Unfortunately, Democrats are threatening to derail this year’s bill and its long track record of bipartisanship over demands to spend more federal money on nondefense programs. Incredibly, the president has gone as far as saying that he would veto this vital piece of legislation. That’s right: Democrats are prepared to block a bill that authorizes funding for our troops unless Republicans agree to hike federal spending on agencies like the IRS and EPA.

This bill is too important to get caught up in politics, and I hope my Democrat colleagues come to that realization, too. I’ll continue to fight for our men and women in uniform and send a clear message to the president that prioritizing politics at the expense of our preparedness and our active-duty military is not acceptable.

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