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Wednesday, July 8, 2020
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Cole Applauds Full-Year Government Funding for FY 2020

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Washington, D.C. – Congressman Tom Cole (OK-04), Vice Ranking Member of the House Appropriations Committee, released the following statement after President Donald Trump last night signed into law two full-year government funding packages for fiscal year 2020. The two packages include all 12 appropriations bills, which cover annual operations across the entirety of the federal government.

“One of the most fundamental duties of Congress is to fund the government and to keep it open and operational. By coming to bipartisan agreement on full-year appropriations, I am very proud that lawmakers in both chambers not only prevented a government shutdown, but they avoided the need for another short-term continuing resolution. I applaud President Trump for signing these critical packages into law, responsibly providing certainty for the federal government and the thousands of supporting federal workers.”  

Earlier this week, Cole made extensive remarks in support of the funding packages on the House floor. Video is available here

Cole also explained the importance of funding with full-year appropriations, instead of continuing resolutions, in a recent column here.

Honoring the Bravest Among Us

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Each year on the eleventh of November, we rightly pause to honor and remember the bravery and boldness of the men and women who selflessly answered the call of duty and wore one of the many great military uniforms of the United States of America. Without question, we owe a constant debt of gratitude to generations of veterans, including many of our own family members, who made sacrifices to ensure the safety of our homeland and who faithfully fought to promote and preserve America’s precious freedoms. 

On Veterans Day, I am certainly reflecting on the military service rendered by my own relatives. Each day, I am reminded of my namesake and late uncle Tom’s tremendous courage and sacrifice. A prisoner of war during World War II, he was forced to walk the infamous Bataan Death March, and he was held in the Japanese prison camps of Cabanatuan in the Philippines and Hanawa on the main island of Japan. He kept a booklet with the names of the brave men that he met in the prison camps because he never wanted to forget those with whom he served. I was honored to be given his little book after he passed away, and I keep it in my DC office alongside several photos of him, including a picture that was taken of him and his brothers in arms on the day Hanawa was liberated. 

I am also always thinking of my father, who I greatly admired while I was growing up in a military family. My dad joined the Army Air Corps on the eve of World War II, and when he left the service, he was the second most senior master sergeant in the Air Force and generally recognized as one of the best to run a crew (or dock) that fixed airplanes. He was an amazingly talented mechanic and won the prize for “dock of the month” so many times at McGuire Air Force Base that they quit giving it out. When he was placed at Dover Air Force Base for his last command, he was given the worst dock assignment and still managed to win the same award seven out of 12 times there—another testament to his impressive skill. Following his retirement in 1960, our family returned to Oklahoma, where my dad served another 20 years as a civilian defense worker at Tinker Air Force Base.

My uncle and my dad were not the only people in my family who served. My grandfather on my mom’s side retired as a naval captain and fought in several engagements in the Pacific. My brother served in the Air Force during the Vietnam War era. And my favorite cousin retired as an Air Force lieutenant colonel after serving in Iraq.

Of course, in a sense, the families of all these brave men served, too. They supported them when they deployed. Spouses missed anniversaries, children missed birthdays and all were sometimes separated and worried over Thanksgivings and Christmases. But they never wavered in supporting their family member in uniform. Millions of other families are making those same sacrifices today, so each of us can enjoy the upcoming holidays in peace, security and freedom.

Just as stories of military service and heroism are numerous within our families, so too is the current population of veterans in communities across the nation. According to the Census Bureau, there are more than 21.3 million civilian veterans living in the United States, including more than 67,000 in the Fourth District of Oklahoma. As a grateful nation, we have a solemn duty to these veteran heroes, including many who sustained life-altering injuries fighting for the cause of freedom.

It is indeed right to set aside one day each year to recognize America’s veterans, but we can rightly honor their sacrifices every day of the year by ensuring they receive their earned benefits. Unfortunately, there are still too many instances of our veterans not getting adequate care or the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) system not meeting their needs. While I was encouraged that Congress came together last year to address some of the issues, efforts must continue to keep the VA accountable and ensure promises made to our veterans are always kept. And I remain committed to finding solutions to improve the care and benefits received by our veterans.

If you are a veteran and have experienced problems related to your earned benefits, please contact my Norman office at (405) 329-6500, so my staff can help you get answers.

Changing the Course of the Opioid Epidemic

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While it takes time to change the course of a national health crisis, I am encouraged that noticeable progress has been made to combat the epidemic of opioid abuse and addiction in the United States. Because of bipartisan solutions in Congress in recent years and the Trump Administration’s focus on related initiatives, the course of the opioid addiction crisis is indeed starting to change.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), provisional estimates of overdose deaths dropped by 5 percent between 2017 and 2018. And as HHS Secretary Alex Azar recently pointed out when speaking about the National Institutes of Health’s HEAL Initiative, this is the first time in more than 20 years that there has been a decrease in this sobering statistic.

In recent years, Congress has prioritized financial resources to address the opioid crisis. And I am proud that the first significant federal investment in funds to target opioid addiction came while I was chairman of the subcommittee that directs funding to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While shepherding the funding bill for fiscal year 2017 in the House, my subcommittee included the first ever flexible grant to states for prevention, treatment and recovery services related to opioid substance use disorder.

Lawmakers have continued to prioritize and increase funding for resources to prevent and treat opioid addiction in communities. In fact, as part of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, funding for programs addressing opioid substance use disorder was increased by $3 billion, and the fiscal year 2018 appropriations bill included more than $4.6 billion in total funding for opioid addiction and treatment services. Since 2017, HHS has received more than $10 billion to fund these vital programs. The largest program is opioid response grants for states, including millions allocated to fight the opioid epidemic in Oklahoma communities.  

Since opioid addiction exists in most—if not all—American communities, confronting the epidemic has never been a partisan undertaking in Congress. For example, at the end of last year, both chambers passed and President Trump signed into law the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act. Made up of several bills introduced throughout last Congress to prevent and end the cycle of opioid abuse, the historic legislation sought to address the symptoms of the epidemic and confront underlying causes of the crisis. This included solutions to improve treatment and recovery options, support non-addictive opioid alternatives for pain management, discourage the high opioid prescription rate and empower law enforcement to keep harmful drugs from entering communities. 

Certainly, the fight against the opioid crisis is far from over, but I am heartened that past efforts seem to be making a real difference. In the days ahead, I will continue to work with my colleagues to ensure states and communities have the resources needed to prevent opioid abuse and save lives.

We Stand with Israel

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The United States has been a long-time friend and ally of the Jewish state of Israel. For decades, our country has rightly supported the nation of Israel as one of our greatest allies on the international stage. But in recent years, Israel has been subject to an increasing amount of unfair criticisms. 

Since its inception, Israel is a shining example of western civilization and democracy in a region of the world that has been characterized by chaos and terror for years. The Middle Eastern countries and terrorist organizations that heap so much scorn upon Israel would certainly benefit if they followed Israel’s example. However, many in this part of the world simply despise western values. Additionally, Israel has been an indispensable ally in the war on terror.

The unfair criticisms hurled at Israel stem from land disputes with the Palestinians. While I certainly sympathize with Palestinians who want a peaceful solution to their disagreement with Israel, we cannot forget the influence that the terrorist organization of Hamas—who is funded by the Iranian government, the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism—exerts on the Palestinians. Just recently, a senior Hamas official even went as far as saying that Palestinians across the world have a duty to kill all Jews. Israelis have been supportive of a two-state solution with a sovereign Palestinian state, but as long as Hamas continues to target civilians, including women and children, Israel has every right to defend itself.

Last month, we passed a resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives condemning the anti-Semitic Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which is designed to destroy Israel’s economy. Leaders of the BDS movement have repeatedly refused to distance themselves from Hamas. Generally speaking, people around the world who participate in the movement refuse to do business with companies from Israel. While I of course supported the resolution to condemn the BDS movement, I was disappointed that the measure was simply non-binding words.

Rather than etch anti-BDS sentiment into policy like the Senate has done in a bipartisan fashion, we simply condemned it. The Senate passed a bill earlier this year by a margin of 77-23, that actually puts some teeth on the condemnation. It is not—as some people have suggested—an infringement on the freedom of speech. The legislation does not prohibit people or companies from participating in BDS either. It simply allows states and local governments to refuse to do business with those who participate in BDS. In fact, courts have ruled that the U.S. government has a substantial interest in preventing American citizens from participating in the BDS movement.

It is our duty to stand with our Israeli friends, who are courageous defenders of western values. We must not allow those who sympathize with the terrorist organization of Hamas to dangerously control the narrative.

An Enduring Alliance

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On April 4, 1949, the North Atlantic Treaty was signed, and the United States entered the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as one of 12 founding member countries. Seven decades later, the transatlantic alliance endures, and it has grown to include 29 countries, pledging still to face aggressors and security threats together.

In reflecting on this historic and lasting partnership, it was an honor to recently hear from NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg during a joint session of the United States Congress. While his address was a sobering reminder of the security threats and difficulties we have experienced alongside our NATO allies, it was encouraging also to remember the steadfast cooperation that has existed all the while in promoting and preserving freedom. As Secretary General Stoltenberg poignantly remarked, “The strength of NATO is that despite our differences, we have always been able to unite around our core task. To defend each other. Protect each other. And to keep our people safe.”

Following the devastating conflict of World War II, NATO allies banded together with the shared commitment to defend against future threats and the shared desire to prevent future conflicts, particularly with the Soviet Union. A partnership which started in the thick of the Cold War, NATO allies remained watchful and ready to defend against potential attacks during the early decades. However, it was not until 2001 that NATO allies invoked Article 5 of its treaty: “An armed attack against one or more of them…shall be considered an attack against them all.” 

After the heartbreaking September 11 terrorist attacks on our soil, NATO allies quickly came to the aid of the United States. Our treaty allies fought and died alongside us during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, where terrorism had taken root. 

I am proud that Oklahoma’s Fourth District has played a part in supporting our NATO allies – including the use of Fourth District airspace for training exercises conducted by Sheppard Air Force Base, which hosts the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Program. And last year, AWACS aircraft from Tinker Air Force Base were part of one of the biggest NATO exercises in the last 20 years.

Although President Trump has rightly put pressure on our NATO allies to contribute two percent of their gross domestic product (GDP) toward defense spending, not all contributions toward NATO’s collective mission can be measured in dollars. Aside from military funding and support, countering the unique threats of today requires strong alliances to confront new challenges. Current threats include cyber, hybrid warfare and terrorism, transcending borders and calling for fresh approaches in deterrence. Sharing the burden requires infrastructure investments as well. 

Certainly, NATO remains a vital component to defending freedom and ultimately ensuring a safer and more peaceful world. While we have disagreements between members, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg was indeed right when he said, “It is good to have friends.”

Senator Lankford Votes to Fully Fund the Government, Provide Border Security

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WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today voted to support a bill to fully fund the federal government for the remaining seven months of the fiscal year (ends September 30, 2019). The bill, which passed in a bipartisan vote of 83 to 16, includes funding for the Department of Homeland Security and related agencies after a Conference Committee negotiated the final version following passage of a continuing resolution on January 25, 2019. It also contains funding for the six remaining appropriations bills: Commerce, Justice, Science; State and Foreign Operations; Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development; Interior; Agriculture; and Financial Services and General Government.

“Finishing last year’s work in February is reprehensible, and it means we must immediately prioritize the funding plan for the next fiscal year,” said Lankford. “Though the funding bill public debate centered on border security, the funding package also included vital funding for 25 percent of the federal government’s operations. In addition to the vital provisions on border security fencing, the bill funds new immigration judges, increases border security agents, and maintains ICE’s ability to detain individuals who do not have legal status. The Democrats fought hard to restrict ICE’s ability to enforce key immigration laws, but the final negotiated bill demonstrates our commitment to the important work of ICE agents.”

Last Congress, Senator Lankford served as Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government (FSGG). The bill that passed today contains the Senate-passed version of the appropriations bill his Committee offered last year, which received wide bipartisan support when it passed the Committee in 2018 for the first time since 2007. Lankford spoke on the Senate floor about the benefits to Oklahomans in the FSGG bill like funding for tax reform implementation, law enforcement support, and combating drug trafficking.  

Lankford now serves on the following Appropriations Subcommittees: FSGG; State and Foreign Operations; Homeland Security; Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education; and Legislative Branch.

Lankford Commemorates Black History Month

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WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today praised the important work in the US Senate to honor Black History Month and to continue to address improving race relations in the US. This week, Lankford cosponsored a Senate resolution to formally commemorate Black History Month. Lankford also joined Senators Kamala Harris (D-CA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Tim Scott (R-SC) to finally address the crime of lynching through theJustice for Victims of Lynching Act.

“In February, our nation pauses to reflect on the achievements of so many black Americans who have courageously, inspiringly, and often in the face of great adversity paved the future for our nation and helped heal the wounds of racism we still sadly face,” said Lankford. “As Americans, I believe we can and should highlight members of our communities who lead and serve others. In Oklahoma, leaders in the black community from businessmen and women to government leaders to teachers help improve our communities and work to inspire young Americans.

“Our work is ongoing even today to address the stain of racism on our nation’s history. Most of the issues associated with racism in our nation cannot be solved by legislation; they are heart issues. However, there are some areas in which government can and should step forward and provide a solution. I cosponsored the Justice for Victims of Lynching Act because I believe we should once and for all condemn and criminalize lynching as ‘a pernicious and pervasive tool’ that ‘succeeded slavery as the ultimate expression of racism in the United States.’ This bill seeks to right a wrong and provide a tool that DOJ needs to fully prosecute this type of crime. I am grateful for the work of Senators Scott, Harris, and Booker to bring this bill to the floor.”

Senator Lankford, Senator Inhofe, and Congressman Cole Commemorate 150th Anniversary of Fort Sill

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WASHINGTON, DC – Senators James Lankford (R-OK), Jim Inhofe (R-OK), and Congressman Tom Cole (R-OK) recognized the 150th anniversary of Fort Sill. Lankford and Inhofe introduced S. Res. 11 today to recognize Fort Sill’s milestone. Cole introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives.

“I am very proud of Fort Sill’s 150 years of important work to further our military’s mission and also train and equip thousands of our soldiers and Marines,” said Lankford. “Fort Sill and the Fires Center of Excellence are pivotal to our military and the surrounding communities, including and especially Lawton. I am grateful for our many Oklahoma communities who continue to serve the families who serve our nation. I would like to personally thank Fort Sill’s leadership for continuing to provide my office with important updates on activities at Fort Sill and for remaining engaged with me and my staff to help answer any questions and work through specific military legislative issues. I offer my congratulations and thanks to everyone at Fort Sill on this important milestone.” 

“I am proud to recognize Fort Sill as they celebrate their 150th anniversary,” said Inhofe. “Fort Sill and the Fires Center of Excellence play a critical role in achieving the Army’s top priorities in military readiness and modernization by ensuring our soldiers are trained and equipped to fight and defend this country. The importance of Fort Sill’s mission, coupled with unparalleled community and state support, has resulted in continued growth for the installation and I look forward to their bright future. Congratulations to the men and women of Fort Sill and the community of Lawton on this significant milestone.”

“As the home of field artillery, Fort Sill’s contributions over the last 150 years have been numerous and long lasting,” said Cole. “The Army’s Fires Center of Excellence has greatly prepared service members and indeed increased the overall strength and readiness of our nation’s total defense. During my many visits while serving the Fourth District of Oklahoma, I have had the great privilege of observing firsthand the incredible role Fort Sill plays in the development and implementation of Air Defense and Field Artillery training for the Army of the future. In celebrating 150 years of excellence, I am confident Fort Sill and the Fires Center of Excellence will remain a driving and pioneering force that prepares our military to successfully complete every mission.”

Senator Lankford Selected to Serve on Senate Finance Committee

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WASHINGTON, DC – In an announcement by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today was selected to join the Senate Finance Committee for the 116th Congress. He will retain his current assignments to the Senate Committee on Appropriations, the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, and the Committee on Indian Affairs.  

“It is an honor to be selected to serve on the esteemed Senate Finance Committee,” said Lankford. “This Committee is front and center on tax policy, healthcare, and trade, all of which are some of the top priorities for Oklahomans. As the new Congress convenes, we must create commonsense solutions that allow the American people to live their lives without fear of unnecessary government intervention. I look forward to adding Oklahoma’s voice to these important issues in the days ahead.”

Lankford has been a leading voice on a number of issues that fall under the jurisdiction of the Finance Committee, including international trade, for which he secured one of the only Senate amendments on trade policyhealthcare; and solvency of federal support programs like Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). He most recently introduced the Lessening Impediments from Taxes (LIFT) for Charities Act, which would repeal a new section of the tax code that requires some tax-exempt organizations, like churches, to pay federal taxes on employee benefits, like parking, meals, or transportation.

The Committee on Finance was established as a standing committee of the Senate in 1816 and is one of the oldest and most powerful committees in the Senate. It has the largest jurisdiction among both the House and Senate and oversees more than 50 percent of the federal budget. Its primary areas of jurisdiction include taxation and other revenue measures; bonded debt of the United States; customs; reciprocal trade agreements; tariffs; general revenue sharing; Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP, TANF, and other Health and Human Services programs financed by a specific tax or trust fund; and social security.

Tom Cole Praises Passage of Farm Bill

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Washington, D.C. – Congressman Tom Cole (OK-04) released the following statement after the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Conference Report to Accompany H.R. 2 – Agriculture Improvement Act. The legislation reflects the bicameral agreement reached to reconcile the differences between previously passed versions of the 2018 Farm Bill in the House and Senate.

“Through passage of the conference report for the 2018 Farm Bill, I am pleased that lawmakers showed bipartisan support for the continued success of our nation’s farmers and ranchers,” said Cole. “To maintain healthy crops and produce, farmers and ranchers greatly rely on the crop insurance, conservation and various other programs contained in the Farm Bill. While the reauthorization of these vital securities promotes a thriving agricultural sector, American families and consumers are also better off when certainty is provided to our food growers and producers.

“The 2018 Farm Bill builds upon the 2014 bill guided by Oklahoma’s own Frank Lucas. He also played a key role in crafting the current legislation. Oklahoma and rural America are fortunate to have such a skillful legislator working on their behalf.”