LARNED — Tuesday afternoon, Congressman Ron Estes, representing Kansas’ District 4, stopped at Carr Auto-Electric in Larned to visit with Pawnee County voters. Up for re-election in November, Estes was visiting counties in his district, visiting Hutchinson and St. John earlier in the day. He spent about an hour providing updates and fielding questions.
Paula Carr welcomed Estes, noting that Pawnee County is split between District 1, represented by Congressman Roger Marshall, and District 4, represented by Estes.
“We have double the responsibility because we have double the influence, double the buzz, and double the participation and that really enables us to find out about the issues for a larger amount of the state.”
Pawnee County is unique, Estes agreed, because there is only one other county in the state that is split. Miami County is the other.
Estes acknowledge campaign season, but he brought the conversation back to things that have been accomplished in the past two years. He pointed to funding for the military, including support for a pay raise and support for additional training and additional spare parts.
“About a year ago, half of the carrier fleet couldn’t fly because of spare parts being missed,” he said. He blamed the budget sequestration process supported by the Obama administration.
“The easiest places to cut were training — you just don’t send people to training — and spare parts — you just don’t order them,” he said.
This was aggravated further by the legislature’s failure to follow regular order and appropriate a full year’s spending. Instead, they put into play continuous resolutions that lasted two to three months at a time, with passage of an omnibus bill later in the year. These measures didn’t account for the long lead-times the military requires to place orders and reach fulfillment, he said.
The 2018 appropriations act was passed in March, allowing the military the funding it needed up front. With the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, Estes said work on the 2019 bill has already begun.
Congress put a lot of effort into additional funding for opioid treatments, mental health and research, and the economy is showing 4.1 percent growth, double what was seen over the previous ten years, he said.
Farm Bill update
Estes spoke about the 2018 Farm Bill, currently in conference committee after versions have been passed in both the House and Senate. He said a sticking point will be the requirement the House inserted that SNAP recipients between the ages of 18 and 59, not caring for a child under six years old, and not disabled should work at least 20 hours a week, or work on education.
“We’ve got 6.7 million job openings, and only 6.3 million unemployed people,” he said. “It’s part of that cycle of getting people back to work. If they don’t have the education, then we’ll help them get the education so they can support themselves and support their families.”
He then opened the floor to questions.
One visitor commented, “I don’t see a lot of pushback from our Congressional representatives and Senators against what’s going on against Mr. Trump. They are so silent, you don’t even see a quote in the newspaper, or anything.”
Estes responded from his own experience. He said he is overwhelmingly supportive of Trump administration’s policies, and mentioned the Congressional Review Act, regulatory reform, tax cuts, and other reorganization going on as positive developments he was both surprised and delighted to see.
“But, when it comes to tweets, he probably should do three tweets or so less,” Estes added. “I think we’d all be happier if he did.”
He sees Trump having found an avenue to bypass the media that wants to filter and slant the stories people see. “He’s using social media to get around that. Some of that is good, but there are those tweets each week that don’t make sense.”
Estes has been confronted by members of the media who have asked him what he thinks of the President’s tweets on any given morning, and he admits he often doesn’t know what the latest one pertained to.
“I just try to get to an understanding of what was said and why,” he said. “I believe some of it is outlandish, but I also believe some of it is strategic for a long direction. Some of the things he’s planting seeds for now are going to be taken up a year or six months from now, and I’m not sure about which ones are which, so I don’t get too jumped up on any of them until I see the full story of how that plays out.”
Estes not in favor of tariffs
One thing Estes has pushed back on is the president’s tweets about tariffs. He said he is in favor of free and fair markets, and he doesn’t believe tariffs are the solution. He also suspects the president doesn’t like tariffs either, despite tweets from him that “tariffs are the greatest.” He pointed to recent G8 talks in Canada, Trump suggested all nations get rid of tariffs.
“He talked about how bad it was that European tariffs were higher than U.S. tariffs, and then he threw out on the table, “well let’s get rid of all of them,” and then they all backpedaled.”
Estes noted that automobiles from Europe coming into the United States are slapped with a 2 percent tariff, while cars shipping from the United States into Europe are slapped with a 20 percent tariff.
“I think at the end of the day, he doesn’t want tariffs as a solution to trade, but its an means to an end to get there.”
Family planning funding amendment in the works
Defunding of Planned Parenthood was another topic of concern. Congress, Estes assured voters, has asked for the reinstatement of Title 10, which says family planning funds should not be used for abortions.
“Legitimate family planning funds should be used for family planning,” he said.
He said he is in the process of drafting an amendment to the appropriations process for Health and Human Services. They want to ensure entities that violate state laws pertaining to reporting of underage pregnancies or suspected cases of sexual abuse and human trafficking. There is some evidence that some groups, including Planned Parenthood, aren’t following state laws in doing those reporting.
“If you aren’t going to follow the state law, you’re going to lose Medicaid funding,” he said.
He will sit down with his Chief of Staff and the Health and Human Services appropriations person to make sure that amendment is buttoned up, he said.
“There is no direct funding designated for Planned Parenthood, but through HHS budget there is the family planning pocket and there’s the Medicaid pocket that organizations like Planned Parenthood have taken advantage of,” he said. “We just want to see that people get medical treatment.”
Other’s asked about the latest developments with the FBI investigations an how long they will continue, about mislabeling of foreign meat products inspected by the USDA, tax cuts, and more.
LSH comments fielded
It was also brought to Estes attention by more than a few in attendance of recent issues concerning Larned State Hospital. Larned Mayor William Nusser noted there are currently over 200 positions available there, but there is no local advertising for these positions, and finding positions on the state’s website is hard to navigate, leaving many in the area in the dark about opportunities there. Meanwhile, he said, officials in Topeka earlier that summer commented they felt the reason jobs remain unfilled is due to a lack of available workers. Other aspects of the problem were commented on by others there. Estes has relationships in Topeka still, he said. Before he left to attend his next engagement, he agreed to look into the issue further.