Dear Oklahoma Friends and Neighbors,
This year has already been busy in DC, with numerous debates on immigration policy, government funding, and national security, just to name a few. Last week, I was able to spend my first full week in Oklahoma visiting Durant, Pauls Valley, Tulsa, Purcell, and OKC to hear concerns and answer questions. If we weren’t able to connect last week, I hope to see you in the days ahead around your community.
Before March 23, 2018, Congress will need to fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year. Members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees have been in negotiations since mid-February to provide a path forward to fund the government through the end of Fiscal Year 2018.
I opposed the Continuing Resolution passed on February 9, 2018, because the budget deal offered would increase the debt limit and roll back spending caps without making any reforms that would decrease our nation’s staggering deficits. While I support budget certainty and increased military funding, the long-term consequences of the final bill were too significant. We need a healthy economy and limited spending to finally address our debt and deficit.
This week, I was asked to participate in a small bi-partisan group to propose serious budget reforms. This Senate Select Committee will be responsible for developing a new budget process to fix our current broken budget process that has only worked four times since its enactment in the 1970s. We cannot get a better budget product until we get a better budget process.
Earlier this month, the Senate pushed for immigration policy that would strengthen border security, provide a permanent solution for DACA students, reform the long family sponsorship policy, and reallocate the Visa lottery program. Four bills were debated on the Senate floor, and each was a variation of the four pillars proposed by the President during his State of the Union address in January. All four bills had bipartisan support, but all four bills failed to receive the required 60 votes to move to the next step in debate. One of the bills was the Secure and Succeed Act, which I introduced with six of my colleagues in early February of 2018. I was confident that this bill met the minimum requirements set by the President to be signed into law.
I have taken part in numerous meetings and private conversations over the past five months with Senators on both sides of the aisle to find a reasonable solution that would pass the House and Senate and would be signed into law by the President. I am disappointed that the Senate was unable to move forward on a bill to reform immigration policy, but it is essential that we keep working until we find a solution that protects the future of all Americans.
A federal court has recently ruled that the DACA program will continue to operate until there is a final court ruling. But whatever the court determines will only be a temporary and partial response to the bigger immigration issues we face as a nation. We need to finally address the important issues of immigration with a law, not executive actions or temporary court decisions.
Pain-Capable Bill in the Senate
The last week of January, the Senate voted on the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which Senators Lindsey Graham, Joni Ersnt, and I introduced in October 2017. The bill would ban elective abortions after five months of pregnancy.
The US is one of four countries that allow for late-term abortions. Only Vietnam, North Korea, China, and the United States still allow elective abortions on viable children after 24 weeks of pregnancy. There’s no question that a child is a child at five months; he or she has ten fingers, ten toes, a functioning nervous system, a beating heart, and unique DNA that is different than the mom and dad. Science and medical technology have dramatically changed over the past few years, allowing many children to live healthy lives even though they were born between 20 and 24 weeks. We need to protect the lives of these children and see what a majority of the world sees. A child at five months of development is a child.
To continue to support children and families, the recently passed tax reform bill included a tax incentive to employers who give paid family leave to employees who make less than $74,000 a year. That new benefit is now law.
Senate Intel Hearing on Worldwide Threats
Two weeks ago, the Senate Committee on Intelligence held a hearing on the rising domestic and national security threats the country faces. I used this opportunity with the nation’s top US and national security leaders to discuss drug trafficking, cyber threats, and the recent arrest of Naif Abdulaziz Alfallaj in Weatherford, OK. This serves as a reminder that there are those around the world who wish to do our country and our state harm. We must be prepared to protect and defend our nation.
Federal Hiring Problems and Solutions
Yesterday, I led a Senate hearing on the growing problem with federal hiring. Thirty-one percent of federal employees are now retirement eligible, and it takes an average of over 100 days to hire a single federal employee. Unfortunately, federal hiring has become an unnecessary challenge for agencies and the people who want to serve our nation. To recruit the best talent, we need to have an efficient hiring system and quality training for the managers in federal service. I was grateful to bring the leadership of the Office of Personnel Management together with two agency Chief Human Capital Officers to discuss solutions to this growing issue. We have dedicated and capable people serving our nation, but they are often trapped in a bureaucratic maze that keeps them from leading and serving in the ways they would like.
If you are interested in serving your neighbors in federal service, take a look at USAjobs.gov to see how you can use your gifts to help our nation. But be aware that we are in the process of fixing a broken hiring system, so it may take some time to get you on board.
CLICK HERE to read my full statement on yesterday’s hearing.
Keeping You in the Loop
- Our office has experienced a few staff changes. Michelle Altman, my current Legislative Director, has been promoted to the position of Chief of Staff. Sarah Seitz has been promoted to Legislative Director. Both are committed to serving Oklahomans and our nation. My current Chief of Staff Greg Slavonic is in the final stages of an appointment to the Pentagon to serve as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Manpower and Reserve Affairs. He will do an excellent job serving our nation and the men and women of the Navy in his new role.
- In February, I was honored to receive the Agricultural Retailers Association’s Legislator of the Year award. Farmers and ranchers respect the land, their neighbors, and the rules, but they also believe the rules should be fair. Regulators who live their lives on concrete should listen to the insights of families who live their lives on the soil before making policy decisions that directly impact the ag community. I’m honored to continue the work to protect our air, water, and freedom. We can do all three. CLICK HERE to read more.
- In celebration of Black History Month, I was honored to recognize former Rep. JC Watts, Jr., Ambassador Sam Brownback, Rep. John Lewis, and former Senator Max Cleland for their roles in the creation of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. I am grateful for their leadership and vision establishing a museum that honors the contributions of African-Americans to the development of our nation. CLICK HERE to read more.
- At the beginning of February, Senator Coons (D-DE) and I were named co-chairmen of the 2019 National Prayer Breakfast. The announcement was made at the 66th annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, DC. One of the nation’s greatest freedoms is the freedom of religionthe right to live your chosen faith or have no faith at all. It is fitting that we continue to recognize this basic freedom and the important role it plays in the lives of many Americans. I look forward to serving with my colleague and friend, Senator Coons, to continue a tradition that started in 1956 with President Eisenhower.CLICK HERE to read the full statement.
- Last week was National FFA week and along with a bipartisan group of Senators, I introduced the National FFA Organization’s Federal Charter Amendments Act to update and modernize the charter for the FFA to reflect agriculture education in the 21st century.CLICK HERE to read more.
- Last week, I joined State Senator Kevin Matthews and the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot Centennial Commission to unveil the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot online toolkit for Oklahoma schools. This will give schools free materials to help teach the tragic story of one of the lowest days in Oklahoma. When we learn about our past, we prepare for a better future. To learn more or to download the materials, CLICK HERE.