Sen. Roberts visits with constituents in Garden City
By SCOTT AUST
With Congress on summer recess, Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) is making the rounds in the state, including a stop in Garden City on Thursday.
During a luncheon at the Clarion Inn sponsored by the Garden City Area Chamber of Commerce, Roberts talked about a variety of issues being discussed in Washington.
Roberts said one of his general concerns is the current climate of what he called, "identity politics," which separates people into categories based on race, gender, ideology and others, prompting some politicians to pander to those different interests instead of adhering to the fact that "we're all Americans."
And despite frequent reports in the news about partisan bickering and the seeming inability for Republicans and Democrats to agree on anything, Roberts said this isn't the worst time he's experienced in Washington.
Roberts said the Vietnam War "tore the country apart." During Watergate, the Republican Party was split among those who thought Nixon should resign and those who thought he should stay the course. And then there was the assassination of Martin Luther King and Washington on fire from rioting.
"I can remember those very tough days. That whole experience was pretty tough," he said.
Roberts firmly believes the country, and Kansas, are going to be fine.
"Bootstrap Kansas is alive and well," he said. "I have great confidence in this country. Every time I come back my batteries get recharged. We're okay in Kansas. Sure we've got problems. We've got problems in America. We will get the job done."
Roberts also talked about issues being discussed in several of his committees.
Regarding the farm bill, Roberts is optimistic Congress will get one that passes both chambers.
"I sure as heck hope so," he said.
Roberts said one of the problems in reaching agreement is the Senate must have a component for food stamps, but the House pulled food stamps from its bill and wants to do something separate.
In July, the House narrowly passed a version of the farm bill that stripped out the food stamp program.
"We've got about three weeks to get to conference to get a bill, work it out, so that we can get past both the House and Senate," Roberts said. "I don't like this bill, but I've decided to quit hollerin' about it."
Roberts said the finance committee, of which he is a member, is making a "pretty good attempt, an honest attempt" to look at reforms to the tax code in a bipartisan way, though he questioned whether President Obama and Sen. Harry Reid were more interested in tax reform as a means to increase revenue.
"I would really hope that the committee under the banner of tax reform that we take a look at the policy involved and how that policy affects people that have the current tax code exemptions," Roberts said.
"I know there's a hue and cry to get rid of all of them. I think you have to really have to look at how many jobs would be lost, how many jobs it would cost and how many folks would be in real trouble if we change the tax code abruptly."
Roberts clarified that it shouldn't be changed at all, but Washington ought to clearly spell out what it wants to do, and implement changes over a period of several years, "not just go in with a Lizzie Borden axe."
Roberts noted Oct. 1 is an approaching deadline when people can begin enrolling in health insurance exchange programs as called for under the Affordable Care Act. Roberts thinks the program should be more transparent so people know what they are signing up for, and also takes issue with President Obama delaying implementation of parts of Obamacare several times.
"I have no problem trying to fix something. But it seems to me he ought to be going to Congress and saying, 'This is the problem, what do you think?' He's not going to do that. He just delays things," Roberts said.
Roberts visit to southwest Kansas continues today with a 4 p.m. tour of a new cellulosic ethanol facility in Hugoton, 1043 Road P. The project, which has been under construction for nearly two years, is scheduled to be completed by the end of the year.
The plant will produce 25 million gallons of ethanol annually from corn stalks, wheat straw and other agricultural residues. It will also be self-sufficient, producing 21 megawatts of renewable electricity and steam. When operational, it will employ about 70 people full-time and have a total payroll approaching $5 million. Additionally, the company expects to spend about $17 million annually to purchase its feedstock from farmers within roughly 50 miles of the facility.