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Sunday, January 20, 2019

Continuing Achievements

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As Congress reaches the final stretches of its 115th session, the House can reflect on a long list of accomplishments it has achieved since the beginning of the session. Despite the constant discussions that partisan gridlock may be the new norm, it has been quite the opposite. Since the beginning of the 115th Congress, the House has passed 598 bills – 470 of which are sitting in the Senate with no action. That means almost 79% of all legislation passed thus far have yet to see the Senate Floor or the President’s desk. However, since President Trump took office, we have worked in concert with the Administration to advance good legislation that will support America’s economy and wellbeing.

One of the first legislative initiatives that Congress approached was the successful work to deregulate harmful government regulations and Obama-era federal rules. Congressional Review Acts served as the catalyst to end the many bureaucratic red-tape practices that have slowed industrial growth, regulated thousands of workers and hampered American ingenuity. So far, Congress has passed, and the President has signed, 15 Congressional Review Acts. Regarding deregulatory action alone, no Congress and Administration have done more than the current ones.

The most significant accomplishment of the 115th Congress so far has been the passage and implementation of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which reforms the current tax code and incentivizes businesses to invest into the American economy. This year, Americans filed their taxes for the last time under the antiquated tax system and will begin to reap the benefits of the new system’s individual tax brackets. Businesses have begun to reinvest in corporate expansion, and have awarded thousands of dollars in bonuses to employees. As a result, the passage of the tax reform bill is projected to contribute to economic growth in the United States in the years to come.

During this Congressional session, the federal government, unfortunately, faced multiple continuing resolutions and even a government shutdown. The House has been diligent in the past year by passing all twelve appropriations measures to send to the Senate promptly. However, it was ultimately the Senate that made it impossible for the bill to be sent to the President’s desk on time. The Fiscal Year 2018 omnibus spending bill, which funds the entire federal government, was finally passed by both chambers and signed into law by President Trump in March of this year. It is important to note that this year’s omnibus funding bill does not direct any funds to Planned Parenthood, and includes many provisions to protect the sanctity of life. Legislative amendments like the Hyde Amendment prohibit federal funds to be used for abortion, and the Weldon amendment protects doctors and nurses that do not want to perform abortions from discrimination.

Our national security has become a top priority in the past year as well. In the Fiscal Year 2018 omnibus spending bill, the Department of Defense received its largest funding boost in 15 years, which will lift the military out of the harmful sequester. These investments in the military will bolster critical programs that support troop training, equipment, and facility maintenance, improving technology, research, and development and fulfill any readiness shortfalls. Furthermore, the funding increase will expand troop numbers, so that the U.S. military is a more robust and able fighting force.

Additionally, reforming the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) systems has also been a significant accomplishment of the 115th Congress. A vast number of legislative reforms have been signed into law that are directed at creating more transparency and accountability at the VA. In the Fiscal Year 2018 omnibus bill, the VA received the largest dollar amount increase in history. The Department of Veterans Affairs received $85.1 billion which will help care for 7 million patients. It will also address shortfalls at the VA by reducing patient wait times, improving electronic health records and addressing the disability claims backlog.

In addition to completing the Fiscal Year 2019 funding bill this year and in regular order, the House will still maintain a busy legislative agenda to finish before the end of the year. Many major actions, like the 2018 Farm Bill and the creation of stronger border security will need to be addressed. As we reach the home stretch of the year, it is imperative that the House, Senate, and the White House continue to successfully pass bills that will advance regulatory reform, economic growth, public health and wellbeing and ultimately, the American taxpayer.

Senators Lankford, Shaheen, and Tillis Introduce Bill To Stop Transfer of Fighter Aircraft To Turkey

Bill Comes As Turkish President Erdogan Continues To Imprison Dr. Andrew Brunson

WASHINGTON, DC – Senators James Lankford (R-OK), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), and Thom Tillis (R-NC) today introduced a bill to prevent the transfer of F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft to Turkey. The bill would also block Turkey’s role as a maintenance depot for the aircraft. Under the US-led, multinational Joint Strike Fighter program, Turkey was expected to purchase more than 100 aircraft.

“Senators Shaheen and Tillis have worked diligently with me and others in Congress to address America’s rapidly deteriorating relationship with Turkey,” said Lankford. “I applaud our State Department for their ceaseless work to improve the US-Turkey relationship, but President Erdogan has continued down a path of reckless governance and disregard for the rule of law. Individual freedoms have been increasingly diminished as Erdogan consolidates power for himself, and Turkey’s strategic decisions regrettably fall more and more out of line with, and at times in contrast to, US interests. These factors make the transfer of sensitive F-35 technology and cutting-edge capabilities to Erdogan’s regime increasingly risky. Furthermore, the Turkish government continues to move closer and closer to Russia, as they hold an innocent American pastor, Andrew Brunson, in prison to use him as a pawn in political negotiations. The United States does not reward hostage-taking of American citizens; such action instead will be met with the kind of punitive measures this bill would enact.”

 “Given my steadfast commitment to NATO and the transatlantic alliance, it is with regret that our relationship with Turkey has reached a point where we must consider severing defense and business ties in order to free American hostages held in Turkey,” said Shaheen. “Turkish President Erdogan’s choice to take hostages and imprison innocent Americans, to try to gain leverage over the United States, is egregious and unlawful. Erdogan and his government must abide by the rule of law within his own country and abroad, and release Pastor Andrew Brunson and other Americans unlawfully held in Turkey. There must also be an immediate end to the harassment and detainment of locally-employed staff at the U.S. mission. Until that occurs, I’ll continue to join with Senators Lankford and Tillis to call for punitive action, including blocking the transfer of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.”

 “America is not going to forget about Andrew Brunson and the other Americans who are being wrongfully imprisoned by the Turkish government,” said Tillis. “Turkey has long been a vital NATO ally and America understands the unique national security threats it faces; however, denying the rights of law-abiding Americans undermines the relationship between our two countries. The Erdogan government should understand that Congress will pursue measures to protect the interests of American citizens, including stopping the transfer of F-35 aircraft to Turkey.”

On April 19, Lankford and Shaheen announced their decision to pursue targeted sanctions against Turkish officials in this year’s Fiscal Year 2019 State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs spending bill. On April 20, Tillis and Shaheen led a 66 Member letter to the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, demanding the release of Andrew Brunson.

Cole Statement on the Passage of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018

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Washington, D.C. – Congressman Tom Cole (OK-04) released the following statement after the passage of H.R. 4, the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018. The bill was passed in the House by a vote of 393-13 with Cole’s support.

The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 reauthorizes the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) through 2023.

“The Federal Aviation Administration plays a critical role in the safety and transparency of our air travel, and I am pleased that it was passed today with broad support,” said Cole. “The FAA also has a significant impact on Oklahoma’s economy and workforce as one of the largest employers in the state.”

“Furthermore, I am pleased that the proposal to privatize Air Traffic Control (ATC) was not included in the final bill. A privatized ATC would be unfair and would endanger the transparency and standards of the aviation industry. Privatization would also pose harm to the federal workforce, especially to facilities like the Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center in Oklahoma, which employs 6,200 federal workers.”

“Congress has always provided key oversight of the FAA and ATC to keep our skies safe and efficient. Because of its balanced approach to regulation and operational standards, the FAA has made our skies the safest and most reliable airspace in the world.”

Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma Opposes Cuts to Hunger Relief in House Farm Bill Calls on Rep. Lucas to put Oklahomans facing hunger first

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(OKLAHOMA CITY) – April 17, 2018 – The following statement is from Katie Fitzgerald, Chief Executive Officer of the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma:

 “The Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma expressed dismay at language included in the 2018 Farm Bill by the House Agriculture Committee that would significantly reduce food assistance to Oklahomans living with hunger. Particularly, the deep cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) will be devastating to the clients we serve, and there is no way charities like ours can make up the difference.

“Our food bank is part of the fabric of central and western Oklahoma and feeding neighbors in need is a shared responsibility. Each day we see the partnership reflected among our community-based partner agencies, volunteers and donors in the 53 counties we serve. But the nonprofit sector cannot do this alone — for every one meal provided by Feeding America’s network, of which the Regional Food Bank is a member, the SNAP program provides 12. SNAP is a cornerstone federal nutrition program and vital to addressing hunger in Oklahoma and across the country.  It is also critical to our state’s economy, generating business for retailers and related jobs.

“While we understand that a piece of legislation like the Farm Bill involves compromises and competing priorities, ensuring that Oklahomans and all Americans have the ability to put food on the table should be considered fundamental. Any reductions to the SNAP program whatsoever should be deemed unacceptable by Congress.”

About the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma

The Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma is the state’s largest hunger-relief organization and a member of Feeding America’s network of Food Banks. The 501(c)(3) nonprofit provides enough food to feed more than 136,000 hungry Oklahomans each week through a network of more than 1,300 schools and charitable feeding programs in 53 central and western Oklahoma counties. Since its inception in 1980, the Regional Food Bank has distributed more than 613 million pounds of food to feed Oklahomans living with hunger. For more information, visit http://www.regionalfoodbank.org; find us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/regionalfoodbank or follow us on Twitter at www.twitter.com/rfbo.

Out With The Old Tax System, In With The New

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This week, millions of Americans will file their taxes under an antiquated system for the last time. What was once an onerous task will become a more simple, easier process in the years to come. Filing taxes for the past 32 years was done under a complicated, invasive tax code. The burdensome process grew and evolved under the changes of society, and we are left today with a system that allowed for many loopholes and unfair tax brackets. Now that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is law, millions of Americans and thousands of businesses will truly begin to thrive financially.

The complex nature of the individual tax brackets had severely moved out of touch with regular tax filers in the past decades. Smaller paychecks make it harder for the average taxpayer starting a new job or for a family of five trying to sustain basic wellbeing. Now, larger paychecks and smaller taxes are no longer a far-fetched thought. When millions of hard-working Americans earn their paychecks this year, they will begin to see more money back into their pockets. Lower tax rates at all income levels and a doubled standard deduction ($12,000 for individuals and $24,000 for families) will boost income and allow many to do things like buy a new home or save for college.

Along with reduced individual tax rates, there are more tax credits for families to apply for. The new code doubles the Child Tax Credit from $1,000 to $2,000, supporting millions of parents trying to raise a family. Child and Dependent Care and Adoption tax credits are also preserved under the new law. To further help individuals, the law also eliminates the Obamacare individual mandate. This unfair tax will no longer force Americans to buy government-backed health insurance. Relief from the burden this tax brought on will allow people to have the freedom to choose their own health care.

Welcome announcements of employee bonuses have also become a large part of the good the new tax law has already done. Almost immediately, hundreds of companies awarded bonuses to thousands of their respective employees as a result of the new corporate tax rate. And it hasn’t slowed down. Companies big and small in Oklahoma have reaped the benefits of the new tax code, with many awarding bonuses, providing raises and expanding operations. Express Employment Professionals, based in Oklahoma City awarded $2,000 bonuses to its employees. Larger companies like Southwest Airlines and Lowe’s, which employ thousands of Oklahomans, also followed through with bonuses. In the long run, corporate investment back into the American economy will not only support the overall well-being of the economy, it will support families and consumers across the nation.

There is reason to celebrate Tax Day this year. As we say goodbye to the old tax system, we can anticipate the benefits of the new one next year. Even the IRS has updated its tax withholding calculator to reflect the new changes. Next year, Americans will have a fairer, simpler code to work with – making Tax Day a day we no longer have to dread.

Senator Lankford Urges Trump Administration To Resolve Trade Deals Soon, Warns Against Retaliatory Trade Action

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WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today delivered a floor speech on free and fair trade and the importance that international trade plays in supporting Oklahoma jobs. Lankford also reiterated the urgency needed for trade negotiations, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the US-Korea (KORUS) deal, to conclude expeditiously to provide stability to American workers and businesses.

 

During the speech, Lankford gave several examples regarding how free trade benefits Oklahoma farmers, manufacturers, and the oil and gas industry. While applauding President Trump’s willingness to confront China’s unfair trade practices, Lankford also cautioned the Administration about tariff and trade policies which would result in harmful retaliatory trade measures against the US economy.

Watch the video Here https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=3&v=rDQiv-EBex8

Excerpts:

 

(:06-1:04) Let me do a quick history lesson with this body. 1773, as colonies, we were getting more and more frustrated with King George, and we had a lot of issues that we had to raise with him, like a lot of taxes, things that were happening in the judiciary, things that were arbitrary that were coming down. Then it boiled to a head. In December of 1773, a group of American colonists went out to Boston infuriated with the tariff policy over tea. The British East India company had special access that no one else had. They had no taxes and everyone else had a tax – a tariff. And it pushed out all of the other companies except for the British East India company. And a group of American colonists went out to one of the ships, grabbed all the tea in the harbor, threw it overboard, creating the legendary Boston Tea Party.

 

(1:07-2:35) It was an argument about tariffs. It was an argument about international trade. It was an argument about can American companies trade fairly? And we still talk about it today. It’s interesting to note that in our letter that Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1776, which we now call the Declaration of Independence, in the long list of grievances that we wrote out to King George, we included in it this line, “cutting off our trade with all parts of the world” as one of our big grievances. By the way, that grievance happened to be in between the British government allowing British soldiers to murder inhabitants in America and doing our taxes without consent. Right in between those was cutting off our international trade. We’ve been free traders as a nation since before we were even a nation, and we’ve been passionate about keeping it fair but keeping it free and keeping it open. Free trade is a big issue for us, and for some reason, it has become this big, national conversation again. Should we have free trade and fair trade? Should we continue to engage? What does it mean to have a deficit in our trade? Does it have to be equal with every country that they buy as much from us that we buy from them? Suddenly this has become a brand-new dialogue again.

 

(3:34-4:51) So let me walk through just a practical view of what it looks like. Charlie and Mary Swanson, they’re Oklahomans. They’re third-generation farmers and ranchers who live in Roosevelt, Oklahoma, a population of a whopping 241 in Roosevelt, by the way, if you want to know, but the agricultural products that they produce help feed the world. They raise wheat, cotton, cattle, and milo. Every year their crops are coming in and they use John Deere equipment. We look at that John Deere tractor and its beautiful green and we think that’s a great American company. Except for part of that equipment also comes in their tractor in its original form from Mexico. Part comes from India. Parts come from Germany and most of it is from the United States. They employ about 60,000 people in the United States. It is a great American company, John Deere is, but their calves are made in Germany, their hydraulic cylinders are made in Mexico. The castings are from Iowa, but the guidance products are from California. Some of the transmission electronic parts they actually come from India. Other parts are from Missouri. But we see that as a great American tractor.

 

(11:20-13:11) We had unfair trade in 1773 that we protested in the Boston Harbor. We still want fair trade agreements right now. But those trade agreements need to be resolved as fast as possible. Farmers and ranchers in Oklahoma cannot wait a year to find out what’s going to happen in our trade policy. Some of them are on the edge of the knife right now on bankruptcy. They can’t get anything on the future’s market to try to figure out what’s happening in the now to be able to do the basic investment they need to do for this year’s crop. Predictability helps you just like fair and free trade does. So while I understand full well the administration is engaging in trade negotiations around the world, I encourage them to move from talking about these trade agreements to settling them. Getting them resolved with Mexico and Canada, getting the best deal that we can have, resetting this agreement with NAFTA for another generation, as it’s being reset right now, to prepare us for the future. Let’s get that resolved. We need to get resolved our trade agreement with Korea, locking that one in and then finishing out all the area around Asia as well. Twelve of those nations have already resolved a trade agreement that they’re into putting us behind. Those nations are forming contracts now that we need to engage in as soon as we possibly can. There are big issues were China in trade. They have not been fair in all of their trade agreements. We need to resolve our trade agreements with China. And I’m pleased that this administration is leaning in to resolve a long-term issue with China trade. It is about time someone does it. But we also need to get it resolved. We don’t need retaliatory tariffs moving across every industry in our nation destabilizing what we’re doing in the economy. Let’s get these issue resolved. 

Senator Lankford, Intel Committee Unveil Recommendations To Secure Election Infrastructure

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WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today participated in a Senate Intelligence Committee press conference to unveil Committee recommendations to secure America’s election infrastructure.

“It is vitally important that we secure our elections systems in America,” said Lankford. “This isn’t just about Russia – they were the ones to pursue these efforts in 2016, but it is just as likely that another state actor like North Korea or Iran or a hacktivist group will attempt these same things in 2018, 2020, and beyond. We must secure our infrastructure so that no nation-state or other actor has the ability to sow distrust or uncertainty to the very foundations of our democracy.”

In December, Lankford introduced the Secure Elections Act, a bipartisan bill that mirrors many of the Committee recommendations to strengthen election cybersecurity in America and protect against foreign interference in future elections. The original co-sponsors of the Secure Elections Act are Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Susan Collins (R-ME), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC).

During the 2016 election, intelligence reports have established that Russia hacked presidential campaign accounts, launched cyber-attacks against at least 21 state election systems, and attacked a US voting systems software company. While there is no evidence that a single vote outcome was tampered with, this dangerous precedent should be a wake-up call going into the 2018 election cycle. To protect against these threats, the bipartisan Secure Elections Act seeks to fix the existing problems and aims to bolster election systems against future threats while protecting states’ primacy in running elections.

Sen Lankford’s Statement on North Korea

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WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) made the following statement on today’s South Korean announcement regarding the possibility of North Korea denuclearization:

“The US wants a world safe for all families, including the people of North and South Korea. Currently the people of North Korea live under the oppressive reign of a dictator that has been determined to threaten the world with a nuclear weapon. I welcome any conversations that could lead to a path to denuclearization, but I am also acutely aware that North Korea has deceived the international community about its nuclear program in the past. We should maintain sanctions and tenaciously verify any ‘promise,’ but remain open to potential paths to denuclearization.”

Senator Lankford visited South Korea and the Korean Demilitarized Zone last winter. Lankford serves on the Senate Intelligence Committee and Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

National Security Superiority

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For decades, the United States has enjoyed uncontested and dominant military superiority. But just as we have come to depend on a rules-based security order, there are countries working to turn the tide and upend it. Global stability is in question with a rising China and a resurgent Russia, and provocative actions sponsored by North Korea and Iran.

Our world is now experiencing a return to a great power competition dynamic. While our military is strong, our competitive edge continues to erode as our challengers move to close the gap. We must meet these growing security challenges and fund the largest military modernization plan since the 1980’s. This is necessary in order to keep pace with technological changes and roll back the negative impacts to military readiness from years of budget gaps.

America’s military budget must be both robust and predicable. The recent bipartisan, two-year budget deal sets defense spending at $700 billion for 2018 and $716 billion for 2019, which is in line with the National Defense Authorization Act for 2018 and President Donald Trump’s budget recently presented to Congress. The budget deal also supports the President’s priorities defined in the National Security and Defense Strategies, which directs our military to protect the American homeland, promote American economic prosperity and advance American influence throughout the world.

The increase in the defense budget will provide the resources needed to fund the largest military modernization efforts. In Fiscal Year 2019, the Army active force will increase by 4,000 soldiers to 487,500 troops. The service will continue to increase its size by 4,000 troops each year to reach a force of 495,500 by 2021. Additionally, it provides for Long-Range Precision Fires and short-range air defense programs which are top priorities and key to missions at Fort Sill.

Additionally, the Air Force budget will fund 1.5 million flying hours at a cost of $8.7 billion. The modernization and recapitalization of key aircraft will support buys of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and the KC-46 Tanker, as well as funding for upgrades to 4th Generation Fighters. In the near term, it will reduce the back long in aircraft maintenance and improve sustainment and logistics, which plays a critical role at Tinker Air Force Base. The size of the Air Force will increase by 4,700 military personnel to include Active Duty, Guard and Reserve Airmen.

In peace and war, America’s military has operated around the world protecting our homeland from attack and advanced our interests to include defending our allies from military aggression. The current bipartisan defense budget provides for a resilient and lethal military to keep peace: now and in the future, at home and abroad.

Putting More Pressure on North Korea

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After the recent closing of the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, its neighbor, North Korea, continues to pose one of the most persistent U.S. foreign policy challenges which has spanned the past four U.S. administrations. It is the only country to have tested nuclear weapons this century and remains the greatest and most immediate threat in the Indo-Asia-Pacific area. The hope that North Korea will resume and continue talks with South Korea after the Olympics remains a question. Whatever the outcome, confronting the North Korean threat is critical, and the U.S. must be guided by a strong sense of resolve.

While North Korea’s weapons program has been the main focus of concern, illicit activities such as narcotics trafficking, counterfeiting, and human rights violations still abound. In a recent round of new sanctions, the Trump Administration announced that it will target the illicit shipping practices of at least 56 shipping and trading companies (including vessels) that have been complicit in supporting the development of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal. In addition to already imposed economic sanctions, these maritime sanctions are some of the strongest put in place to hinder North Korea’s ability to work globally and expand its nuclear capability. Robust coordination between our allies and other countries in the region is essential to applying pressure to North Korea, and China plays a key role as well.

China has provided food, crude oil, and other essential lifelines to North Korea as its largest trading partner; however, North Korean exports to China have declined by nearly 30% in 2017. China still continues to control trade between the two countries as a way to put pressure on the Kim regime and prevent “chaos and war.” If open conflict was to occur, there would be catastrophic and significant refugee flow over the borders from the Korean peninsula into China, which would have destabilizing effects throughout the region. Some Chinese leaders see strategic value in preserving North Korea as a “buffer” between China and South Korea. For this reason, China has not been a reliable partner in exerting and implementing U.N. sanctions, although it remains essential to diplomatic engagement and economic sanctions. The United States continues to emphasize cooperation with Japan and South Korea, and U.S. diplomats continue to rally the international community to loudly condemn North Korea’s unacceptable behavior. With U.S. and international sanctions, China’s ability and willingness to pressure North Korea could not be more critical.

North Korea’s emphasis on strategic and military capabilities comes at the expense of its own people, who continue to struggle with a lifeless economy and international isolation. Reports by the U.S. government and private organizations portray extreme human rights abuses by the North Korean government over many years. These reports describe a system of prison camps that house approximately 100,000 political prisoners. However, one hopeful note is that North Korea appears to be losing its ability to control information coming into North Korea from the outside world. Defectors have revealed that growing numbers of North Koreans are wary of government propaganda and have ways to access outside sources of news.

The ongoing progress of North Korea’s nuclear and missile program, provocative and destabilizing behavior, and a burgeoning biological weapons program are all reasons why engagement and the pressure of sanctions are essential. Peace will not be achievable without the complete cooperation and elimination of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal and the end of its radical regime.

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