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Archive for Thursday, December 28, 2000

Kansas lawmakers have 2001 wish lists

Tax cuts, farm policy and foreign trade are areas of interest for Sunflower State delegation

December 28, 2000

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— Tax cuts and farm policy top the 2001 agenda for the Kansas delegation in Congress, though half of its members will be focused on their political futures, too.

The new GOP White House and closely divided Congress may prove fertile ground for tax breaks that were vetoed in 2000. And lawmakers will be mapping a plan, due in 2002, for a sequel to the 1996 farm bill.

The two Kansas senators and four House members are preparing for the Jan. 3 swearing-in of the 107th Congress:

Sen. Pat Roberts, Republican

Add national security to the agenda for Roberts, who will be running for a second six-year term in the next general election. Though Roberts has been a player in agriculture issues throughout his 20 years in the House and Senate, he also has delved into defense policy as a member of the Armed Services and Intelligence committees.

Roberts expects another trip to Russia next spring, and he will continue as chairman of a special panel assessing the threat of terrorism to the United States, particularly from attacks using biological weapons or assaults on computer networks.

On the farm front, Roberts is buoyed going into debate on the next farm bill by a major expansion of federally subsidized crop insurance that was signed into law last May. It was coupled with a $7 billion bailout of the struggling farm economy.

The $8.2 billion infusion made it much cheaper and more widely available. Passage of the plan, 18 months in the making, was "big-time event" in reinforcing the safety net cast by the market-oriented "Freedom to Farm" reforms of 1996, Roberts said.

Sen. Sam Brownback, Republican

Brownback spent some of the year's final days in Brazil, laying groundwork to push for expanded trade and further development of carbon sequestration, which is removing harmful carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it in the soil.

The anti-pollution idea is promoted both by Brownback and Roberts as a way to contain worldwide warming trends.

Measures proposed by Brownback would reward landowners for these conservation methods and allow farmers to sell carbon-storing credits to businesses that produce the greenhouse gases.

Brownback also wants to expand research into how genetics are tied to cancer, a subject now under study by Kansas and Missouri researchers.

A member of the Commerce Committee, Brownback expects the panel to battle next year about controversial proposals to boost Internet access in rural areas, which places local phone companies at odds with long distance providers.

"We need action on it in the coming year, because rural areas have less than five percent service on high-speed internet," said Brownback, sponsor of a plan to ease restrictions on local carriers. "Suburban and urban areas have 70 percent access to high-speed internet, so you really have a digital divide."

Rep. Todd Tiahrt, Republican

Despite the GOP's slim majority, Tiahrt is enthusiastic about the prospects a Republican White House holds for repealing both estate taxes and the so-called marriage penalty that hits about half of all married couples, two measures vetoed by President Clinton. Tiahrt also will keep up the Appropriations Committee work that has helped bring flood control, road and bridge and defense dollars back to Kansas.

Politically, the conservative lawmaker has spent the past two years positioning himself for the possibility of running for higher office, namely for the wide-open race for governor in 2002. He has raised campaign money for countless other Republicans and worked to build friendships with the moderates who control his party in Kansas.

"In the next couple of months, I'm going to be looking at that and talking with people, making the rounds," he said.

Party leaders have long felt that Tiahrt and another possible contender, GOP Rep. Jerry Moran, would never run in the same primary, which would roil the division between conservatives and moderates, giving a leg up to the top Democratic contender, Insurance Commissioner Kathleen Sebelius.

Tiahrt was noncommittal, saying the possibility of running against a colleague "won't be part of my decision."

Rep. Jerry Moran, Republican

Moran is more cagey, saying he has not ruled anything out but is focused on making himself more effective, as with his membership on the GOP steering committee that helps determine who will chair committees in the new Congress.

Moran also is the newly appointed chairman of a coalition working to improve health care in rural areas. Moran's legislative agenda also will focus heavily on farm policy as Congress prepares to draft a new farm bill.

The scope of a conservation program, whether to increase the loan rate on various commodities and whether to reintroduce production controls will all be on the table, though Moran vowed to look for new ideas as well.

Moran, who played an important role in easing the nearly 40-year-old embargo on U.S. trade with Cuba, hopes to further expand trade: "Our farmers and ranchers ought to have access to each and every market around the world," he said.

Rep. Dennis Moore, Democrat

Moore, the delegation's only Democrat, is returning from a hard-fought race for a second term in his heavily Republican district. At the top of his list is dealing with soaring natural gas prices with tax credits for production, whether by new wells or by revitalizing existing wells.

"You think people are complaining about the price of gas at the pump; wait till they see their heating bill," said Moore, whose district includes Lawrence.

A subject of continued emphasis will be campaign finance reform, said Moore, who raised a record $1.6 million in his re-election bid. Moore was among sponsors of a new law forcing popular but secretive political groups to disclose who is paying for anonymous attack ads and other activities.

Unlike some colleagues, Moore appears uninterested in seeking higher office. There are at least two indicators he will seek a third term: Moore recently received his first contribution for another U.S. House race; and he and his wife are considering buying a house in Washington, where they now rent.

Rep. Jim Ryun, Republican

Also happy with his current job is Rep. Jim Ryun, who like Moran begins his third term Jan. 3.

Ryun plans to renew efforts to pass dependent care tax credits to help families expand their child care options. He also wants to give families with stay-at-home mothers a $2,400 tax credit.

A member of the Armed Services Committee whose district includes Fort Riley and Fort Leavenworth, Ryun also hopes to expand medical treatment options for military personnel.

"We had a good year this year, but there is more we can do to improve military health care," he said.

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