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USDA to Invest in Supply Chain


WASHINGTON, June 8, 2021 – Citing lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic and recent supply chain disruptions, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today announced plans to invest more than $4 billion to strengthen critical supply chains through the Build Back Better initiative. The new effort will strengthen the food system, create new market opportunities, tackle the climate crisis, help communities that have been left behind, and support good-paying jobs throughout the supply chain. Today’s announcement supports the Biden Administration’s broader work on strengthening the resilience of critical supply chains as directed by Executive Order 14017 America’s Supply Chains. Funding is provided by the American Rescue Plan Act and earlier pandemic assistance such as the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021.

Secretary Vilsack was also named co-chair of the Administration’s new Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force. The Task Force will provide a whole of government response to address near-term supply chain challenges to the economic recovery. The Task Force will convene stakeholders to diagnose problems and surface solutions—large and small, public or private—that could help alleviate bottlenecks and supply constraints related to the economy’s reopening after the Administration’s historic vaccination and economic relief efforts.
USDA will invest more than $4 billion to strengthen the food system, support food production, improved processing, investments in distribution and aggregation, and market opportunities. Through the Build Back Better initiative, USDA will help to ensure the food system of the future is fair, competitive, distributed, and resilient; supports health with access to healthy, affordable food; ensures growers and workers receive a greater share of the food dollar; and advances equity as well as climate resilience and mitigation. While the Build Back Better initiative addresses near- and long-term issues, recent events have exposed the immediate need for action. With attention to competition and investments in additional small- and medium-sized meat processing capacity, the Build Back Better initiative will spur economic opportunity while increasing resilience and certainty for producers and consumers alike.
“The COVID-19 pandemic led to massive disruption for growers and food workers. It exposed a food system that was rigid, consolidated, and fragile. Meanwhile, those growing, processing and preparing our food are earning less each year in a system that rewards size over all else,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “The Build Back Better initiative will make meaningful investments to build a food system that is more resilient against shocks, delivers greater value to growers and workers, and offers consumers an affordable selection of healthy food produced and sourced locally and regionally by farmers and processors from diverse backgrounds. I am confident USDA’s investments will spur billions more in leveraged funding from the private sector and others as this initiative gains traction across the country. I look forward to getting to work as co-chair of the new Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force and help to mobilize a whole-of-government effort to address the short-term supply challenges our country faces as it recovers.”
The Build Back Better Initiative will strengthen and transform critical parts of the U.S. food system. As it makes investments through this initiative, USDA will also seek to increase transparency and competition with attention to how certain types of conduct in the livestock markets and the meat processing sector have resulted in thinly-traded markets and unfair treatment of some farmers, ranchers and small processors. Among other investments in the food system and food supply chain, Build Back Better will specifically address the shortage of small meat processing facilities across the country as well as the necessary local and regional food system infrastructure needed to support them.
Funding announcements under the Build Back Better initiative will include a mix of grants, loans, and innovative financing mechanisms for the following priorities, each of which includes mechanisms to tackle the climate crisis and help communities that have been left behind, including:

  1. Food Production: Food production relies on growers, including farmers and ranchers, workers, and critical inputs. But a diminishing share of the food dollar goes to these essential workers. USDA will invest in the current and future generation of food producers and workers throughout the food system with direct assistance, grants, training and technical assistance, and more.
  2. Food Processing: The pandemic highlighted challenges with consolidated processing capacity. It created supply bottlenecks, which led to a drop in effective plant and slaughter capacity. Small and midsize farmers often struggled to compete for processing access. USDA will make investments to support new and expanded regional processing capacity.
  3. Food Distribution & Aggregation: Food aggregation and distribution relies on people working together throughout the food system and having the right infrastructure to gather, move and hold the food where and when it is needed. This system was stressed during the pandemic due to long shipping distances and lack of investment in local and regional capacity. USDA will make investments in food system infrastructure that can remain resilient, flexible and responsive.
  4. Markets & Consumers: The U.S. spends more on health care and less on food than any other high-income nation; yet the U.S. has higher rates of diet-related illness and a lower life expectancy than those nations. At the same time, many socially disadvantaged and small and mid-sized producers do not have equitable access to markets. USDA will support new and expanded access to markets for a diversity of growers while helping eaters access healthy foods.

USDA will continue to make announcements through the Build Back Better initiative in the months to come. Today’s announcement is in addition to the $1 billion announced last week to purchase healthy food for food insecure Americans and build food bank capacity, putting the total announced thus far at more than $5 billion.
USDA touches the lives of all Americans each day in so many positive ways. In the Biden-Harris Administration, USDA is transforming America’s food system with a greater focus on more resilient local and regional food production, fairer markets for all producers, ensuring access to safe, healthy and nutritious food in all communities, building new markets and streams of income for farmers and producers using climate smart food and forestry practices, making historic investments in infrastructure and clean energy capabilities in rural America, and committing to equity across the Department by removing systemic barriers and building a workforce more representative of America. To learn more, visit www.usda.gov.

Cole Announces 2021 Congressional App Challenge for OK-04


Washington, D.C. – Congressman Tom Cole (OK-04) today encouraged middle school and high school students in the Fourth District of Oklahoma to participate in the 2021 Congressional App Challenge. This annual competition is designed to promote innovation, engagement and excellence in computer science through student development of an application (“app”).

“I am delighted to invite students living in the Fourth District of Oklahoma to participate in this year’s Congressional App Challenge. This educational initiative is a fantastic way for students to explore, sharpen and hone their coding and computer-based skills, which could inspire and prepare them to pursue potential careers in STEM fields. As this unique challenge gets underway, I look forward to seeing the new ideas and creativity of students.”

While this year’s Congressional App Challenge will officially launch later this month, interested students can already pre-register by visiting congressionalappchallenge.us. Beginning June 24, contest submissions will be accepted on the site’s portal with the final deadline of 11 a.m. CT on Monday, November 1, 2021. Following the submissions period, entries from the Fourth District will be judged and the winner selected by a local panel of relevant experts.

Questions can be directed to StudentSupport@CongressionalAppChallenge.us or by calling Cole’s Norman office at (405) 329-6500. Additional information can also be found atcole.house.gov/services/app-challenge.

Background on the Congressional App Challenge

Launched by the U.S. House of Representatives in 2015, this national contest invites students to create an application (“app”) for desktop/PC, web, tablet, mobile, raspberry Pi or other devices using any programming language – such as C, C++, Java, JavaScript, Python, Ruby or “block code.” The competition is open to all students who meet the eligibility requirements, regardless of their coding experience. Winning apps from congressional districts across the country are eligible for display in the U.S. Capitol and featured on the U.S. House of Representatives’ website at House.gov.

More information is available at congressionalappchallenge.us.

Congressman Lucas Introduces Legislation Increasing Scrutiny of Foreign Investment in Agricultural Businesses

Washington, DC – Today, Congressman Frank Lucas (OK-03) introduced the Agricultural Security Risk Review Act, legislation that would formally place the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary as a member of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS). The Agricultural Security Risk Review Act ensures that CFIUS is operating effectively and efficiently to determine if a transaction, including agricultural, threatens to impair the national security of the United States.
“Protecting America’s agriculture security is a critical part of our national security,” said Congressman Lucas. “CFIUS is authorized to ensure that our country’s national security isn’t threated by foreign investment, and with an increasing amount of foreign investment in U.S. agriculture, including the Secretary of Agriculture as a member of CFIUS is long overdue. I know firsthand just how important our agriculture industry is, which is why Congress must remove the hurdles that keep USDA from having a permanent seat at the table with CFIUS’ review of foreign transactions.” The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) is an interagency committee that reviews potential national security threats of foreign investment in the United States. CFIUS consists of nine members, chaired by the Secretary of the Treasury, and includes the Secretaries of State, Defense, Homeland Security, Commerce, and Energy, the United States Trade Representative, the Attorney General, and the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy. CFIUS members informally screen proposed foreign investments into the United States before launching a formal review. Currently, in order for the Department of Agriculture (USDA) to be included in investigations, the Secretary of the Treasury must designate USDA as a part of the review. Without this designation, USDA does not participate in any of the review process and is not consulted in the CFIUS recommendation to the President. Foreign ownership of U.S. farmland and agricultural businesses has steadily increased. The growing concentration of foreign investment in the U.S. agricultural sector should necessitate that expert analysis of this sector be available to the Committee. CFIUS has the authority to review food and agricultural transactions to ensure the safety and resiliency of U.S. food supply but lacks the agricultural expertise of USDA in the review process.

Cole Statement on President Biden’s Outrageous FY 2022 Budget Request


Washington, D.C. – Congressman Tom Cole (OK-04) released the following statement after President Joe Biden sent a $6 trillion budget request to Congress for fiscal year 2022. Cole is the Vice Ranking Member of the House Appropriations Committee. 

“Looking at the price tag alone, President Biden’s budget request is utterly outrageous and unrealistic,” said Cole. “While Congress is ultimately responsible for providing the annual funding for the federal government, the Biden Administration has demonstrated yet again that its solution for everything is to tax, spend and then spend some more. Such misguided and unnecessary expansion of government is not sustainable for America’s future. Moreover, we simply cannot afford it.  

“Our country’s enormous and growing debt already exceeds an astounding $28 trillion. The last thing America needs is President Biden’s proposed tax-and-spend monstrosity. To be clear, navigating the coronavirus pandemic response and recovery greatly strained communities across the nation, which led to five bipartisan and massive packages to support emergency efforts. But the situation has changed dramatically since then. Communities are reopening. People are getting vaccinated. Life is starting to return to a relative normal. Rather than proposing trillions in spending on non-pandemic related programs and initiatives, the president should be focused on fostering the nation’s economic recovery.

“Despite promises made on the campaign trail not to raise taxes on those with low and middle income, the president’s budget would let existing tax cuts expire, which would immediately increase the tax burden on hardworking Americans. As individuals, families and small businesses continue to recover from the coronavirus pandemic, such levels of unprecedented spending and taxation would only lead to inflation, slowed economic growth and the highest national debt level in American history.

“In his earlier budget outline, President Biden prioritized programs to appease the far-left faction of his party, such as vastly expanding Medicare, while also proposing effective cuts for our national defense. Now more than ever, we should be bolstering our common defense as our adversaries such as China and Russia are growing their militaries by the day.

“Fortunately, for the American people, Democrats do not have the majorities capable of passing this level of expansive programs on their own. Moreover, Congress holds the purse strings. In the days and weeks ahead, it is my hope that Congress can negotiate spending that is actually reasonable and won’t lead to financial disaster.”

The Supreme Court is Not a Political Tool


Earlier this month, Democrats in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate introduced legislation to add four justices to the bench of the Supreme Court. Ushering in such a drastic change to one of our nation’s most fundamental institutions would represent an outrageous power grab and set a precedent of using our nation’s highest court as a partisan political tool.

While true that the Supreme Court has been expanded and shrunk at different points in U.S. history, that has not been the case for some time. In fact, it was 1869 – more than 150 years ago – that lawmakers stopped this practice to ensure the Court would remain an apolitical institution for the American people. Moreover, the majority of Americans are against expanding the Court since it is seen as a way for Democrats to rubber stamp their progressive policies. 

Structurally changing the Supreme Court, as proposed in recent legislation, is something also previously opposed by past and present left-leaning justices. For example, the late Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg once stated, “Nine seems to be a good number. It’s been that way for a long time.” In addition, Associate Justice Stephen Breyer, who currently sits on the bench of the Court, recently said in a lecture that institutional changes would lead to severe distrust in the Court and cause it to no longer be viewed as a fair institution by the American people

In 1983, then-Senator Joe Biden adamantly disapproved of packing the Supreme Court, calling it a “bonehead decision” and “terrible, terrible mistake.” Those previous statements made by now-President Biden makes his newly established Presidential Commission on the Supreme Court of the United States, tasked with studying reform of the Court, hypocritical and misguided. Make no mistake, when Democrats talk about reforming the Supreme Court, they mean they are attempting to expand it. 

While Democrats may claim that former President Trump “packed” the Court by putting forward a nomination when a vacancy came up, let’s be clear. There is a difference between filling a vacant seat and adding extra justices to politically sway decisions. Moreover, this could trigger a terrible precedent of either expanding and shrinking the Court whenever shifts in power in Congress and the White House occur in the future. This would inherently erode the checks and balances our Founding Fathers created to ensure that minority parties, but more importantly, the American people are protected from one party gaining too much control. We must keep the nine. 

Cole Votes Against D.C. Statehood


Washington, D.C. – Congressman Tom Cole (OK-04) released the following statement after the U.S. House of Representatives voted on H.R. 51, the Washington, D.C. Admission Act. Passed along party lines by a vote of 216-208, Cole opposed the legislation related to granting statehood to the District of Columbia. 

“At its core, H.R. 51 has nothing to do with ensuring proper representation for the residents of the District of Columbia and everything to do with Democrats hoping to seize more favorable power in Congress,” said Cole. “But more alarming, the action outlined by the legislation is unconstitutional and would undermine the 23rd Amendment, which describes a District – not beholden to any state – to serve as the seat of our nation’s government.

“While it is certainly important for all Americans to feel fully represented in their national government, there are other solutions for the District of Columbia’s residents that are both fair and, more importantly, actually constitutional. For example, in 1846, Congress reinstated Virginia’s control of Arlington and Alexandria to provide representation to citizens living in those areas. The same could be done now if areas of D.C. were to become part of the nearby state of Maryland. However, that sort of constitutional solution wouldn’t deliver the intended power grab Democrats are hoping to achieve in their push to make D.C. the 51st state.”

Cole Remembers Oklahoma City Bombing on 26th Anniversary


Washington, D.C. – Congressman Tom Cole (OK-04) released the following statement on the 26th anniversary of the bombing that occurred at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995.

“Twenty-six years ago today, our state and country experienced one of its most solemn tragedies,” said Cole. “In an act of senseless terror, 168 innocent people lost their lives and hundreds more were injured or had their lives forever changed. As we pause today to remember those taken, we also grieve with the many families and loved ones left behind. I vividly remember that day, and although it was tragic, I was extremely proud of the outpouring of heroism and support from every first responder, government official and bystander who worked together in rescue and recovery for the hours and days afterward. Indeed, communities across the state, through their outpouring of support, set the Oklahoma Standard.”

A Vaccine in Record Time


When this year began, none of us expected to face a global pandemic that would steal hundreds of thousands of American lives, inflict unprecedented damage on our economy, disrupt business as usual and uproot life as we know it. But although the United States certainly did not create the coronavirus crisis, our country has led in the mission to eliminate the virus and restore our way of life by seeking to deliver a vaccine in record time. As we celebrate Christmas this week and look toward 2021, I am grateful that vaccines are already beginning to reach frontline health care workers and the most vulnerable in our communities, providing hope for better days ahead.

I urge you not to miss how remarkable this achievement is for our country and for humanity. Historically, delivery of a vaccine has never been completed in less than a year. In fact, while the fastest a vaccine has been discovered and deployed is four years, the vaccine development process usually takes as long as 10-15 years. But thanks to Operation Warp Speed (OWS), two vaccines are now ready to aid in the fight against COVID-19, with more likely to be approved for emergency use in the coming days and months. 

As you might know, OWS was initiated by the Trump Administration in mid-May and established a public-private partnership between relevant federal agencies – including the Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Defense – and pharmaceutical companies. Since it was created, OWS has not only supported some of the scientific vaccine research but it has enabled more rapid development and testing of vaccine candidates. This accelerated timeline is not from cutting corners or sacrificing safety. It is made possible by smart adaptations to the usual process. Notably, OWS has allowed promising vaccine candidates to undergo clinical trials at essentially the same time as regulatory approval and preparation for mass production. Moreover, OWS has led to the pre-purchase of hundreds of millions of doses. That means that once a vaccine candidate is deemed safe and effective and approved for emergency use, it can be distributed almost immediately.

Indeed, we have already begun to see this rapid distribution happen with the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech and with Moderna’s soon to follow. Because the federal government pre-purchased hundreds of millions of vaccine doses months ago, manufacturing could take place at the same time as clinical trials. Since the testing and manufacturing steps in the process were simultaneous, that enabled the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines to start shipping out immediately after receiving emergency use authorization (EUA) from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The first doses arrived in Oklahoma just a few days later and reached Lawton’s own Comanche County Memorial Hospital, where the ultra-cold freezer necessary is available and can serve as a safe and central storage site supporting distribution efforts in Southwest Oklahoma.

At the recommendation of the Office of the Attending Physician and to demonstrate my total confidence in our nation’s vaccine efforts, I received my first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine over the weekend. While vaccinations are a personal decision, defeating this terrible coronavirus is a war we must fight and win together. We can all do our part by taking the free-of-charge vaccine as soon as it becomes available. In the meantime, please continue taking the same practical precautions we have learned this year to slow the spread of COVID-19. Please continue to wear a mask, social distance and frequently wash your hands. For details and ongoing updates on Oklahoma’s four-phase vaccine distribution plan, please visit oklahoma.gov/covid19/vaccine-information.

We Still Give Thanks


This has been a very trying year, filled with challenges and difficulties none of us expected to face. While I wish the trials had reached their end, we must hang on and continue to persevere. But as we do, we should also find some comfort in the blessings that exist even in such dark circumstances and recognize the hopeful light at the end of the tunnel. For in times of great abundance or of great hardship, Americans find strength when we come together to give thanks.

Indeed, the unifying American tradition of giving thanks has been woven into our history since before our nation came to be. However, it’s worth noting that Thanksgiving was made a permanent national holiday by President Abraham Lincoln during a period of extreme difficulty and crisis for the United States: The Civil War. In fact, President Lincoln’s Thanksgiving proclamation came just a month and a half before delivering his famous Gettysburg address halfway through the war and amid great uncertainty, uneasiness and what were feared irreconcilable differences. 

As we continue to navigate and seek to overcome the coronavirus crisis of our own time, our Thanksgiving celebrations will look different than we’re used to. Whether we gather around a smaller table or see our loved ones virtually, I hope you’ll join in gratitude not only for each other but for the courage and commitment of those continuing to selflessly serve on the front lines of this awful pandemic.

We are truly indebted to those who have gotten up each day, left their houses and gone out to fulfill several key roles. We’ve seen it in our doctors, nurses and health care workers, who have risked their own lives every day to treat COVID-19 patients as well as those with other illnesses and ailments. We’ve seen it in those transporting essential supplies and making critical deliveries. We’ve seen it in our farmers and ranchers monitoring our food supply, along with workers in food processing facilities, meat packing plants and grocery stores, who are ensuring we have food to eat. We’ve seen it also in our military service members, who are still in the field protecting us at home and abroad. And we’ve seen it in our teachers, who have creatively adapted to educate our children in undesirable circumstances. 

All the while, our incredibly talented scientists and researchers have been working around the clock to discover, develop and deliver a vaccine and life-saving treatments to defeat COVID-19 and restore our way of life. In just the last few weeks, very promising data has been released about the effectiveness of three potential vaccines, including one developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, one by Moderna and another by AstraZeneca. In test trials for Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, both vaccine candidates have shown to be more than 94 percent effective and the latest data from AstraZeneca’s vaccine developed by Oxford University reveals up to 90 percent efficacy, which is outstanding news. And thanks to Operation Warp Speed initiated by the Trump Administration in mid-May of this year, these companies already have contracts with the federal government to provide 100 million doses of their vaccines. That means that once the vaccines are approved by the Food and Drug Administration for emergency use, they can immediately start reaching Americans and saving lives. 

Although we are not out of the woods of the pandemic yet and the losses of this year have been difficult to bear, there is still a lot to be grateful for as a nation this Thanksgiving.

The Work Left To Do


As the end of the year draws nearer, unfinished legislative work remains for lawmakers in both chambers of Congress. In the coming days and weeks, it is critically important that members come together to tackle the pressing work left to do.

First, Congress needs to provide full-year funding – also called appropriations – for the federal government. As you might know, annual appropriations support government programs that touch nearly every aspect of our daily lives as well as various facets of the economy – including national defense, operating national parks, law and immigration enforcement, health care research and a host of other activities. All of these activities should be funded through 12 annual appropriation bills passed by Congress and signed into law by the president before the start of the fiscal year on October 1. Unfortunately, that legislation has not been completed yet for fiscal year 2021. As a result, government operations are temporarily being funded by a short-term “continuing resolution” through December 11. I am encouraged that the Senate Appropriations Committee recently unveiled their version of annual funding legislation. However, it will ultimately require time, bipartisanship and good faith negotiation to ensure both chambers can pass and the president will sign any legislation into law.  

Along with continuing the government’s regular functions and preventing a shutdown, Congress still needs to act on additional coronavirus relief for the American people. Both chambers have already shown it’s possible to deliver relief in a bipartisan manner, as it did four times earlier this year. Unfortunately, Speaker Pelosi has for months intentionally stalled progress on a fifth relief package even though bipartisan agreement exists on many things, such as extending the small business saving Paycheck Protection Program.  

Finally, another critical piece of legislation that awaits completion is the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). This annual legislation authorizes funding for the U.S. military and other critical defense priorities and ensures our troops and their families have what they need to defend our nation. The enactment of this complex legislation has been passed each year, for 59 years. In the coming weeks, I am hopeful that differences can be sorted out and we can send the NDAA to President Trump to be enacted to support our common defense and ensure protection of U.S. interests around the world.

Before the end of the year and the start of a new Congress, current members on both sides of the aisle and across the Capitol must work together to keep the government funded, act on another coronavirus relief package and authorize funding to support our common defense. I remain committed to finishing that important work, and I urge my colleagues to do the same for the good of all Americans.