Breaking the Gridlock: Real Solutions to Moving America Forward

DEAR KANSANS,

Throughout our campaign we have been offering Kansans our positive agenda that we would take to Washington if we had the privilege of representing Kansas in the United States Senate. This booklet, “Breaking the Gridlock: Real Solutions to Move America Forward,” puts these ideas in one place.

 In order to move forward, we will need to break the gridlock in Washington so both parties start to act in the interests of the American people, rather than the narrow agendas of the special interests in Washington. I believe these plans represent a common sense forward-looking vision that can bring people together to break the gridlock and actually start moving our country forward.

 I grew up one of six children, which forced me to quickly figure out how to work well with others. We didn’t have a lot, and I learned early the value of hard work. I earned my first paycheck when I was 13, working at the warehouse of my father’s furniture store in Stanley, Kansas. It was at my father’s store that I first developed a passion for business. I was lucky to get a great education thanks to strong public schools, and – with the help of student loans – worked my way through college and eventually started my own business.

 As a businessman, I learned that successful enterprises take care of their employees, develop efficient, practical solutions to problems, and know when to take new directions. If given the privilege, I will go to Washington as a problem-solver - not a partisan. I will embrace the best ideas, wherever they come from, and I will not be beholden to any party, party leader, or special interest. My only interest will be what’s best for Kansas.

 This booklet details my common sense, forward-looking plans for: 

  • Congressional Reform 
  • Encouraging and growing small businesses
  • Campaign Finance Reform
  • College Affordability
  • Ensuring veterans get all the benefits they deserve
  • The “All of Kansas Initiative” to support rural communities

These plans represent the values I grew up with and would take with me to the Senate. I invite you to take a moment to review these plans in more detail in the pages that follow. If these plans make sense to you, I would appreciate your support in my campaign to represent you in Washington. I truly believe that Kansas and the nation are ready to break the partisan gridlock and finally get Washington working again, for every American.

 Sincerely,

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Greg

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ENACT A CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT CREATING TERM LIMITS

Public service is supposed to intersect your life for a brief period of time, not become a life unto itself.  For far too many elected officials this isn’t the case. When someone spends decades in Congress they become part of Washington and lose their connection to the people they were elected to serve. Even Governor Brownback noted this when he left the Senate after two terms, saying “you ought to have a change of blood and a change of ideas.”[1]

 If elected I will propose a constitutional amendment to limit service in the U.S. Congress to 12 years. In addition, I will lead by example and pledge to serve no more than two terms in the Senate.

END CONGRESSIONAL PENSIONS

Congressional pensions only encourage Members of Congress to stay in office for extended periods of time. In fact, Congress is one of the only jobs in this country where you can be fired and still get paid for the rest of your life.  My view is pretty simple: Congress isn’t a career, and Members shouldn’t get retirement benefits that aren’t generally available to every American.

 It has been 30 years since there has been any action to address this issue. In 1984, Congress made an indefensible system slightly less egregious by lowering the total benefits Members received. As a result of these changes, Members elected after 1984 get $42,048 a year in average benefits, compared to $71,644 for those in the previous system.[2] the longest serving Members can receive benefits in excess of $139,000 annually. For comparison, the average per capita income in Kansas is $26, 845.[3]       

 When asked, many Members defend their pension by noting that they are in the same system as other federal workers. While this isn’t exactly a strong defense, it also isn’t true. As the Annenberg Public Policy Center noted, “Members of Congress get more pension credit for each year of service”[4] than regular federal workers.

A 2005 study by the National Taxpayer Union Foundation noted three key facts about congressional pensions[5]:

  • ·Lawmakers enjoy better pension formulas and eligibility rules than rank-and-file workers
  • ·Congressional pensions are two to three times more generous than those offered to similarly-paid executives in the private sector
  • ·Individual pension amounts for Members of Congress are not a matter of public record.

 This system costs the taxpayer more than $36 million[6] a year and must end. If elected I will decline my congressional pension and sponsor legislation to abolish pensions for Members of Congress.

INSTITUTE A LIFETIME BAN ON LOBBYING FOR MEMBERS OF CONGRESS

Congress should not be a stepping-stone to a six or seven figure job lobbying your former colleagues to get money from the federal government. Holding elected office should be about public service not self-service. Yet for nearly half of all elected officials this is no longer the case.

 In 1974, 3 percent of retiring members of Congress became lobbyists. Today, half of all senators and more than 40 percent of congressmen do.[7] In fact, there are more than 415 former Members of Congress lobbying today.[8] One report estimates that taxpayers pay nearly $25 million a year in pensions to former members registered as lobbyists.[9]

 If elected I will sponsor legislation to enact a lifetime ban on lobbying by former Members of Congress who are elected after 2014. In addition, after serving I will not become a lobbyist, “strategic advisor,” “historian”[10] or any other job that involves someone paying me to get more taxpayer money for their employer.

ELIMINATE CONGRESSIONAL LEADERSHIP PACS

Following the historic political scandal in 2006 involving former Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff and Members of Congress, the U.S. House and Senate passed legislation in an attempt to reform the cozy relationship between Capitol Hill lobbyists, Washington special interests and Members of Congress from both parties. While these were important reforms at the time, they left a major loophole: Congressional Leadership PACs.[11]

 Leadership PACs were initially created as a tool for Members of the House and Senate leadership to dole out favors and use cash to help maintain their positions. Not exactly a noble beginning, but since then things have gotten worse. These so-called “leadership” accounts have essentially become political slush funds that help Members “advance their political agendas, their careers and, in many cases, their lifestyle.” Donations made from a leadership PAC can “be used for literally anything.” [12] 

John Edwards, the disgraced former presidential candidate who also served in the U.S. Senate, used a leadership PAC to pay a mistress $114,000. A California Republican used $32,000 from a leadership PAC to pay for tours of California wineries with representatives of the defense industry. In the last few cycles lobbyists and other special interests have poured more than $355 million into leadership PACs.[13] Donations by lobbyists to these leadership PACs shouldn’t be used to maintain the special lifestyles of Members of Congress, and if elected I will propose legislation to ban these committees.

 In the event an outright ban isn’t possible, I will propose to limit the definition of acceptable uses to the same limitations imposed on federal campaign committees so that these accounts aren’t used to enhance the lifestyles of Members of Congress.

[1] “The Exit Interview: Sen. Sam Brownback,” NBC News, 9/13/2010

[2] “Retirement Benefits for Members of Congress,” Congressional Research Service, 6/13/2014

[3] “Kansas State & County QuickFacts,” United States Census Bureau

[4] “Congressional Pensions,” Annenberg Public Policy Center, 12/26/2007

[5] “Study: Congressional Retirees Reap Huge Taxpayer-Funded Pensions,” NTUF, 1/6/2005

[6] “Retirement Benefits for Members of Congress,” Congressional Research Service, 6/13/2014

[7] “A Confederacy of Lunches,” Buckley, New York Times, 7/25/2013

[8] “Former Members,” Center for Responsive Politics, Accessed 7/20/2014

[9] “Former Congressmen make huge salaries as lobbyists while still collecting congressional pensions,” New York Daily News, 5/24/2014

[10] “Newt Gingrich and Freddie Mac: Is he being misleading?” Washington Post, 11/17/2011

[11] “Leadership PACs: Let the Good Times Roll,” ProPublica, 9/26/2009

[12] “Washington's open secret: Profitable PACs,” Kroft, 60 Minutes CBS News, 10/21/2013

[13] “Leadership PACs: Let the Good Times Roll,” ProPublica, 9/26/2009

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FIX DODD-FRANK TO INCREASE SMALL BUSINESS LENDING

Dodd-Frank was supposed to prevent “too big to fail” from ever happening again.  Instead, smaller banks and credit unions are merging into larger institutions because of the increasing cost of regulations.[1]  Rather than spreading risk and reducing asset concentration, these regulations have actually increased both. 

Banking regulation should focus on ensuring that those originating loans have skin in the game (by requiring that they keep a share of loans they originate) and maintaining proper capital requirements.  Instead of using these basic guiding principles, Dodd-Frank tried to imagine every potential scenario and come up with a rule for it.  This process has been absurdly slow, and it is ripe for special interest influence.  Four years after its passage there are still nearly 100 rules not yet finalized.[2]

Underwriting restrictions for Regional and Community Banks and Credit Unions need to be relaxed to give bankers the flexibility to serve their communities.   These institutions should be trusted to make decisions that are in the best interests of their customers and shareholders without being second-guessed or subjected to burdensome regulatory hurdles.

REVIEW EVERY FEDERAL REGULATION AT LEAST ONCE A DECADE

While Congress can’t seem to get anything done, the Executive Branch still turns out thousands of rules and regulations every year.  Since 1997 there have been at least 56,569 new federal rules and regulations issued.[3]  Complying with federal regulations cost Americans $1.863 trillion last year.[4]

Even worse, these regulations have a disproportionate impact on small businesses.  The Competitive Enterprise Institute found that “Firms with fewer than 20 employees pay an average of $10,585 per employee, compared to $7,755 for those with 500 or more employees.”[5]

While regulation is important, and many are needed, there are clearly those that have outlived their purpose.  That is why I would support a Regulatory Reduction Commission, modeled off of the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission.[6]  The groups would look at one tenth of all regulations each year and come up with a list of those that should be eliminated.  This recommendation would then go to Congress for a straight up or down vote.  This idea has been proposed by both the left-leaning Progressive Policy Institute[7] and the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute.

REFORM STUDENT LENDING AND BRING ACCOUNTABILITY TO HIGHER EDUCATION SPENDING

To remain competitive in the global marketplace, we need to keep college education affordable for the middle class, but rising college tuition makes that harder to accomplish.

Since 1980 the inflation adjusted cost of college tuition at public universities has tripled and more than doubled at private universities.  We now have one trillion in student loan debt[8], up from $350 billion a decade ago.[9]

This massive debt load students face upon graduation is now preventing many of them from being able to start their own businesses.  That’s why the Kauffman Foundation recently noted that student loan debt was a top inhibitor to entrepreneurship and business creation.[10]

While many have argued that the solution is increasing the dollar amount of loans to students, this has actually been counterproductive.  Many colleges and universities have seen high demand and increased loans as a reason to increase their tuition and spending.  Over the last 25 years, American colleges and universities added more than 517,000 administrators and other non-teaching employees, more than doubling the previous total.[11]  During that same time student enrollment is up only 48%.[12]

As I have previously proposed, I believe that schools that benefit from government aid should be required to limit their cost increases to the inflation rate. Had we done this sooner, we wouldn't have the higher education affordability and student loan crisis that we have today.

Institutions that want to continue to raise their costs unfettered, can do so -- just without our money. Holding colleges and universities accountable for affordability should go hand in hand with the dollars we spend supporting their industry.

FORCE SMALL BUSINESS REGULATORS TO WORK TOGETHER

Small businesses are subject to a variety of different regulations by both the state and federal government.  These regulators don’t regularly talk to each other, and as a result small business owners have to repeatedly set up multiple visits from a variety of different agencies.  These regulators should respect small business owners’ time.  To accomplish this we should offer incentives for a state to begin a trial program that integrates state and federal regulators so that they can regulate businesses together, similar to the way state regulators work with the FDIC to regulate banks.  If these demonstration projects are successful we should eventually make such coordination mandatory.

Small business owners shouldn’t be subject to multiple government inspections every year where regulators simply look to identify violations, no matter how insignificant, as a way to justify the regulator’s existence.

STREAMLINE AND EVALUATE EXISTING SMALL BUSINESS PROGRAMS

Small business can currently get assistance from:  “the Economic Development Administration, the Employment and Training Administration, the Small Business Administration, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Agriculture, and a swath of other federal agencies.”[13]  There is no single website where a business owner can go to review all of the programs available.  Instead, the SBA should work with other agencies to create a one stop shop website for small business owners.

We should also apply the same rigorous standards the private sector uses to these programs.  Many of these programs have little accountability and strive to spend their entire budget at the end of the fiscal year just so that they can be fully funded the next year.  Each program should be forced to issue a standardized annual report to Congress that shows exactly how money was spent and what the taxpayer got for it.  We should end the programs that aren’t working and use the savings to reduce the deficit and invest in programs that are working.

[1] “Four years into Dodd-Frank, local banks say this is the year they’ll feel the most impact,” Washington Post, 2/7/2014

[2] “Dodd-Frank Progress Report,” Davis Polk, 9/2/2014

[3] “Counting Regulations: An Overview of Rulemaking, Types of Federal Regulations, and Pages in the Federal Register,” Congressional Research Service, 5/1/2013

[4] “Ten Thousand Commandments 2014: An Annual Snapshot of the Federal Regulatory State,” Competitive Enterprise Institute, 2014

[5] “Ten Thousand Commandments 2014: An Annual Snapshot of the Federal Regulatory State,” Competitive Enterprise Institute, 2014

[6] “Reining in the Executive Branch Bureaucracy, Part 10: Congress Should Create an Annual Regulatory Reduction Commission,” Competitive Enterprise Institute

[7] “Regulatory Improvement Commission,” PPI, 5/2013

[8] “$1 trillion student loan debt widens US wealth gap,” Thompson, AP, 3/27/2014

[9] “Household Debt and Credit: Student Debt,” Federal Reserve Bank of New Your, 2/13/2013

[10] “Jonathan Ortmans presents testimony on the changing rate of business creation in America,” Kauffman Foundation, 9/10/2014

[11] “New Analysis Shows Problematic Boom In Higher Ed Administrators,” Marcus, Center for Investigative Reporting, 2/6/2014

[12] “Age Distribution of College Students 14 Years Old and Over, by Sex: October 1947 to 2013,” United States Census

[13] “Big Ideas for Small Business: A Common Application for Federal Programs,” Center for American Progress, 11/10/2011

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REQUIRE FULL DISCLOSURE OF BUNDLING

After the Jack Abramoff scandal, Congress passed the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007 which required lobbyists who “bundle” (collect checks on behalf of a candidate) $16,000 or more for a candidate to disclose that information. Lobbyists have found creative ways around this, like holding events for multiple candidates at the same time to avoid reporting requirements. In addition, the burden to report this information falls on the campaign, not the lobbyist. This system must be changed. I will support legislation that requires the following:

Federal lobbyists should have to report every single donation they played a part in, regardless of the amount

State lobbyists and unregistered employees of firms that employ lobbyists should have the same requirements when giving to federal candidates

Campaigns should have to report all bundling no matter the source

PREVENT DONATIONS BY LOBBYIST AND PACS WHILE CONGRESS IS IN SESSION

When Congress is in session, members should be doing the people’s business, not raising money from special interests. This is not the case today. In fact, Congressional Democrats recommend their members spend four hours a day fundraising when they are in Washington.

Right now, a Member of Congress can be handed a check by a lobbyist as he or she is walking from their office to the Capitol. Alternatively, a lobbyist can hold the check until after the vote. Even the current Speaker of the House has admitted to giving members campaign cash on the House floor. As Bloomberg News reported, “Boehner handed out campaign checks from the tobacco industry to members on the House floor at a time when lawmakers were considering eliminating a tobacco subsidy.”

This is deeply corrupt — essentially legalized bribery — and why29 states currently ban lobbyists from donating during legislative sessions. I will support legislation that bans members of Congress from accepting donations from PACs or lobbyists while Congress is in session.

BAN FEDERAL CONTRACTOR PACS AND LOBBYIST FROM DONATING TO CANDIDATES

A recent study found that “the more companies give in campaign contributions, the more they get in contracts, on average.” For each $200,000 in donations a firm could expect to add 107 additional contracts. If a company decides to peruse a government contract the company and its lobbyist should be prohibited from donating money to federal candidates.

Ban Congressional Leadership PACs

As I noted in my Congressional Reform Plan Leadership PACs have basically become slush funds for Members of Congress. LeadershipPACs were initially created as a tool for members of the House and Senate leadership to dole out favors and use cash to help maintain their positions. Not exactly a noble beginning, but since then things have gotten worse. These so-called “leadership” accounts have essentially become political slush funds that help members “advance their political agendas, their careers and, in many cases,their lifestyle.” Donations made from a leadership PAC can “be used for literally anything.” I will support legislation to end this practice if elected.

A CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT BANNING CITIZEN’S UNITED

I believe the Supreme Court made a mistake in giving corporations the same rights as people. Citizens United ultimately increased the influence of special interests on our political process and put a “for sale” sign on Congress.

While labor unions and Political Action Committees (PACs) were already putting too much money into our political system, Citizens United made this far worse. The ruling basically allows any corporation, labor union, or individual to spend unlimited amounts of money on elections, even if a corporation is established for the sole purpose of raising and spending money on elections. The decision also enables organizations called 501(c)4s to spend unlimited amounts of money in politics without reporting who is funding them. This excessive spending and lack of transparency isn’t good for the American political process.

Even more alarming is that the decision opens up the door for significant foreign influence in US elections. Because donations can be made through any US corporation, even one with significant foreign ownership,foreign countries could exert significant influence in US elections.

If elected I will support a Constitutional Amendment to overturn this verdict to ensure we can keep the unlimited flow of dark money out of politics.

INCREASED DISCLOSURE REQUIREMENTS

Citizens United is now the law of the land, but that doesn’t mean we should accept unlimited donations made in secret. All political spending should be subject to the same rigorous disclosure requirements made of candidates for federal office, thereby allowing voters to make informed decisions about candidates.

Any group that spends more than $5,000 to elect or defeat a candidate in a federal election should be required to file with the FEC within 24 hours of spending near an election, just as regulated outside groups are required to today. Whether it is a labor union, a (c)4 organization, or direct spending by a corporation or individual, the public has a right to know who is spending money to influence our elections.

In addition, they should be required to file regular reports with the FEC just like parties and PACs are required to today. It is important that charitable giving be kept private, but that cannot be used as an excuse to hide donations meant to influence an election as is done today.

1 “The Exit Interview: Sen. Sam Brownback,” NBC News, 9/13/2010

2 “Retirement Benefits for Members of Congress,” Congressional Research Service, 6/13/2014

3 “Kansas State & County QuickFacts,” United States Census Bureau

4 “Congressional Pensions,” Annenberg Public Policy Center, 12/26/2007

5 “Study: Congressional Retirees Reap Huge Taxpayer-Funded Pensions,” NTUF, 1/6/2005

6 “Retirement Benefits for Members of Congress,” Congressional Research Service, 6/13/2014

7 “A Confederacy of Lunches,” Buckley, New York Times, 7/25/2013

8 “Former Members,” Center for Responsive Politics, Accessed 7/20/2014

9 “Former Congressmen make huge salaries as lobbyists while still collecting congressional pensions,” New York Daily News, 5/24/2014

10 “Newt Gingrich and Freddie Mac: Is he being misleading?” Washington Post, 11/17/2011

11 “Kansas State & County QuickFacts,” United States Census Bureau

12 “JOIN CONGRESS - SEE THE WORLD,” CQ Moneyline, 2013 total

13 “Hero Miles,” the Fisher House

14 “Members-Only House Gym Subsidized by Taxpayers,” ABC News, 6/14/2011

15 “Members-Only House Gym Subsidized by Taxpayers,” ABC News, 6/14/2011

16 “House Gym Remains Open Despite Shutdown,” NBC4, 10/9/2013

17 “Gyms Washington, DC,” Yelp.com accessed 7/20/2014

18 “Leadership PACs: Let the Good Times Roll,” ProPublica, 9/26/2009

19 “Washington's open secret: Profitable PACs,” Kroft, 60 Minutes CBS News, 10/21/2013

20 “Leadership PACs: Let the Good Times Roll,” ProPublica, 9/26/2009

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REFORM STUDENT LENDING AND BRING ACCOUNTABILITY TO HIGHER EDUCATION SPENDING

As I noted in my small business plan, the incentives are all wrong when it comes to higher education spending.  To remain competitive in the global marketplace, we need to keep college education affordable for the middle class. But rising college tuition makes that hard to accomplish.

Since 1980, the inflation-adjusted cost of college tuition at public universities has tripled and more than doubled at private universities.  Americans now have one trillion in student loan debt[1], up from just $350 billion a decade ago.[2]

The massive debt load students face upon graduation is now preventing many of them from being able to start their own businesses.  That’s why the Kauffman Foundation recently noted that student loan debt was among the top inhibitors to entrepreneurship and business creation.[3]

Student loan debt is now even becoming a problem for seniors.  Borrowers 65 and older now have nearly $20 billion in student loan debt, compared to just $2.8 billion a decade ago.  The Government Accountability Office recently noted that “Available data indicate that borrowers 65 and older hold defaulted federal student loans at a much higher rate, which can leave some retirees with income below the poverty threshold.”[4]

While many have argued that the solution is increasing the dollar amount of loans to students, this has actually been counterproductive.  Many colleges and universities have seen high demand and increased loans as a reason to increase their tuition and spending.  Over the last 25 years, American colleges and universities added more than 517,000 administrators and other non-teaching employees, more than doubling the previous total.[5]  During that same time student enrollment is up only 48%.[6]

As I have previously proposed, I believe that schools that benefit from government aid should be required to limit their cost increases to the inflation rate. Had we done this sooner, we wouldn't have the higher education affordability and student loan crisis that we have today.

Institutions that want to continue to raise their costs unfettered can do so -- just without our taxpayer money. Holding colleges and universities accountable for affordability should go hand in hand with the dollars we spend supporting their industry.

REDUCE THE MARKUP ON FEDERAL STUDENT LOANS

The student loan program has seen major changes over the last few years.  In 2010 the student loan program was moved away from private lenders to the federal government, creating an estimated savings of $61 billion.[7]  In 2013 a bipartisan bill changed the way rates for borrowers were calculated, tying it to the 10 year Treasury note plus 2.05%.[8]  This means that students will pay 4.66% for loans next year[9], despite the fact that the 10 year Treasury is trading at 2.2%.

We should take some of that savings and reduce rates for borrowers.  In the Senate, I will introduce legislation to cut the markup in half, to 1%, reducing borrowing costs by more than 20%.   Lowering the interest rates on student loan debt should reduce default rates, accelerate the time frame for graduates to become full contributors to our economy, and help rectify the policy failure outlined above that we have allowed to persist for far to long.

INCREASED TRANSPARENCY AND DISCLOSURE (CARD ACT FOR STUDENT LOANS)

Markets cannot work effectively unless both sides understand the transaction.  Too often the real costs of private student loans are hidden from the borrower.  The CARD Act required credit card companies to simply explain on a bill how long paying debt off will take and how much interest one will end up paying over that time, and the results have been impressive.[10]  We should require the same for student loans, and start this process before any loans are actually made.  This change would help students understand on the front end exactly what they are signing up for and potentially force colleges to lower their prices to attract students.  At a minimum it would ensure students are aware of just how much debt they are taking on.

ENHANCED ONLINE TOOLS FOR UNDERSTANDING THE REAL COST OF COLLEGE LOANS

Progress has been made in recent years as the Department of Education launched on online college cost calculator (http://collegecost.ed.gov/catc/) but this portal needs serious work.  As the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators notes, “the figures may not be useful for transfer students, part-time students, or those who are not eligible for grant aid.”  The portal should be expanded to help walk students with these more complex scenarios through the process.

REFORM GOVERNMENT COLLECTION PRACTICES AND PRIVATE LOAN TRANSFERS

Public Collection

Discharging student loan debt is rightly a difficult practice.  At the same time it shouldn’t be impossible.

Educational Credit Management Corporation is a company given the exclusive agreement to pursue those who try to seek relief from federal student loans in court.  While this is obviously a necessary function, recent press stories have exposed a group that the New York Times cited in its report that “pursuit of student borrowers has veered more than occasionally into dubious terrain”[11]  The company has even gone after people who had already fully paid off their loans.  We must reform this program and bring common sense to the practice.  In addition, the law needs to be changed so that payment plans that modify principal do not have a tax impact on the loan recipient.

Private Loan Transfers

Too often loans are bought and sold by private lenders, leaving the person paying the bill confused as to where payments must be made.  We should require clear notice in the mail and electronically at least 60 days before a change is to occur and a mandatory grace period during such transfers.

PROTECT TROOPS FROM PREDATORY LOANS

The GI Bill helped millions of veterans afford college, and the Post-9/11 GI Bill has extended that help to veterans of our more recent wars.[12]  These programs have been overwhelmingly successful, but now many institutions see these service members as a way to cash in.  Some institutions lock students in to massive debt with promises of guaranteed jobs and then actively work to force students out.[13]  The problem is so pervasive that the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America foundation has created a program to help veterans escape this crippling debt.[14]  As this issue has received attention, some progress has been made, and the most abusive practices have been reduced.  There is still more work to do.

We must increase the resources used to investigate institutions that are taking advantage of our troops, increase loan forgiveness for our troops, and consider rules that hold these institutions receiving taxpayer dollars accountable for their graduation rates.

[1] “$1 trillion student loan debt widens US wealth gap,” Thompson, AP, 3/27/2014

[2] “Household Debt and Credit: Student Debt,” Federal Reserve Bank of New Your, 2/13/2013

[3] “Jonathan Ortmans presents testimony on the changing rate of business creation in America,” Kauffman Foundation, 9/10/2014

[4] “Inability to Repay Student Loans May Affect Financial Security of a Small Percentage of Retirees,” U.S. Government Accountability Office, 9/10/2014

[5] “New Analysis Shows Problematic Boom In Higher Ed Administrators,” Marcus, Center for Investigative Reporting, 2/6/2014

[6] “Age Distribution of College Students 14 Years Old and Over, by Sex: October 1947 to 2013,” United States Census

[7] CQ House Action Reporters, 111-26

[8] “Text of the Bipartisan Student Loan Certainty Act of 2013,” Gov Track, 8/1/2013

[9] https://studentaid.ed.gov/about/announcements/interest-rate

[10] “Card Act Cleared Up Credit Cards’ Hidden Costs,” Norris, New York Times, 11/7/2013

[11] “Loan Monitor Is Accused of Ruthless Tactics on Student Debt,” Kitroeff, New York Times, 1/1/2014

[12] “The Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008 (Post-9/11 GI Bill): Primer and Issues,” Congressional Research Service, 7/28/2014

[13] “Educating Sergeant Pantzke,” Frontline, 6/28/2011

[14] “Loan Relief for Vets and Family Members,” IAVA

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KEEP OUR PROMISES TO VETERANS AND BRING PRIVATE SECTOR ACCOUNTABILITY TO THE DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS

Our obligations to our troops don’t end when the last bullet is fired, yet that is how it feels to many veterans today.  From the backlog of disabilities claims to the tragic healthcare scandal, it is clear that the Department of Veterans Affairs is not currently capable of handling the inflow of veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Washington has not honored its sacred commitment to our soldiers and is jeopardizing veterans’ lives long after they leave the battlefield.  

It took a crisis that embarrassed officials for important changes to finally be passed into law.  It is now much easier for veterans in rural areas or those who have had to wait months for care to receive treatment at private facilities.  Modest accountability measures have also been put into place for the most senior management of the VA.[1]   These are important changes for the short term but as funding constraints reemerge in the future we must be vigilant and ensure veterans continue to receive the care they need.  We cannot simply lurch from crisis to crisis, ignoring our veterans until their plight makes it into the news cycle again.

Over the long term, we must fundamentally change the way the Department of Veterans Affairs does business and bring private sector-style accountability to the VA bureaucracy. We must ensure that all veterans receive care now and ensure that our commitment to veterans doesn’t end because combat is over.

Increase Support for Veterans Families

We need to recognize that the longest war wasn't just fought on foreign soil. A soldier’s family often worried themselves sick and felt all helpless as their loved ones fought terror into submission. They sent care packages to bases in far off places. 

As soldiers return from war, more often than not our military families are battling to care for their loved ones. The stress and struggle of a wounded veterans spouse is under appreciated. We need to provide more resources for those caregivers, those brothers, sisters, mothers, and wives who are on the frontline of maintaining America’s commitment to its Veterans.

BRIDGE LOANS TO VETERANS IN CLAIMS BACKLOG

There are more than 244,000 veterans who have been awaiting a decision for more than 125 days.[2]  The overwhelming majority of these veterans will be approved for some level of disability payment but are given nothing while they wait.  The fact that the VA isn’t able to process their claims in four months isn’t their fault, and veterans should not be penalized for the VA’s delays.  To remedy this I propose we create a fund to provide bridge loans to troops who apply for disability to immediately pay 50% of a veteran’s claim while he or she waits.  If the claim is approved then the loan is repaid automatically out of the back payments.  As long as a veteran’s claim is not deemed fraudulent, he or she will not be required to pay penalties or interest.

EXPANDED FEDERAL FUNDING FOR VETERAN’S TREATMENT COURTS

As the American Legion notes, “Sadly, too many veterans end up in the criminal justice system as a result of their service.”[3] Veteran’s Treatment Courts aim to help these veterans through rehabilitation rather than the criminal justice system whenever possible.  Like drug courts, these programs often end up saving money over time.  I will support dramatically expanding federal support to help these courts start up so that every veteran in the country who needs access has access.

EXPAND PARTNERSHIP WITH STATES TO END HOMELESSNESS FOR OUR VETERANS

Today there are more than 49,000 homeless veterans around the country.[4]  After years of increasing numbers progress is finally being made.  For decades the Department of Veterans Affairs looked at solving homelessness by first addressing the symptoms. It was routine to require a Veterans to attend various rehabilitation programs or overcome other barriers all while still remaining homeless or precariously housed. This approach runs against our basic hierarchy of needs; food, water, shelter. Without those basic needs being met it was no surprise what was once just episodes of homelessness transformed into chronic homelessness for our Veterans.

In 2011, Kansas became a model for the nation. The VA partnered with local agencies who were combating homelessness daily. From this partnership it became clear that the "Housing First" model was leading to tremendous positive results and long term housing stability. The simple change of providing the financial and case management resources up front to find and secure housing led to rapid rehousing and drastic increased the chances of success.  

MAKE IT EASIER FOR VETERANS TO START A BUSINESS

A few weeks ago I released my plan to help jump start small business creation and it contained some reforms that could be key for helping veterans who are planning their own start-up venture.  Presently the Department of Veterans Affairs maintains an office that implements and coordinates veteran-owed small businesses programs, including help locating government and corporate procurement opportunities. But this is just a drop in the ocean of government programs available for small businesses that veterans may want to take advantage of if they just knew where to start.  

There are programs run by the Small Business Administration, the Economic Development

Administration and a swath of other agencies, that all have their own websites, forms, procedure and requirements. This can be maddeningly difficult to navigate for a veteran trying to return to civilian life. I have proposed creating a single website that would act as a portal for this array of programs where a veteran could sign in to one place, give their information, and see what sort of programs and financing he or she may qualify for, given their veteran status, across the entire spectrum of federal small business programs. 

PROTECT TROOPS AND VETERANS FROM PREDATORY STUDENT LOANS

The GI Bill helped millions of veterans afford college, and the Post-9/11 GI Bill has extended that help to veterans of our more recent wars.[5]  These programs have been overwhelmingly successful, but now many institutions see these service members as way to cash in.  Some institutions lock students in to massive debt with promises of guaranteed jobs and then actively work to force students out.[6]  The problem is so pervasive that the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America foundation has created a program to help veterans escape this crippling debt.[7]  As this issue has received attention, some progress has been made, and the most abusive practices have been reduced.  But there is still more work to do.

We must increase the resources used to investigate institutions that are taking advantage of our troops, increase loan forgiveness for our troops, and consider rules that hold these institutions receiving taxpayer dollars accountable for their graduation rates.

[1] “A simple summary of the new VA bill,” Washington Post, 7/29/2014

[2] “Veterans Benefits Administration Reports ” U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs 11/4/2013

[3] “Veterans Treatment Courts,” The American Legion

[4] U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development 8/26/2014

[5] “The Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008 (Post-9/11 GI Bill): Primer and Issues ” Congressional Research Service 7/28/2014

[6] "Educating Sergeant Pantzke,” Frontline, 6/28/2011

[7] “Loan Relief for Vets and Family Members,” IAVA

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PUT RURAL KANSAS OVER PARTISAN POLITICS

The gridlock in Washington is having a significant negative impact on Kansas farmers.  In 2011, Standard & Poor's lowered the credit rating for the United States. It commented that the political games played by both parties in Washington made our ability to manage our finances "less stable, less effective, and less predictable." Our failure to get our act together as a country and start working toward solving our problems has reduced confidence in the American economy and is hurting Kansas.

Farm Bill

For decades the farm bill was a piece of legislation that both sides could get behind.  Every time the bill came up for reauthorization, both sides would push for tweaks and then easily pass the final legislation.  That’s not what happened last time, and the result was that Kansas farmers were left with massive uncertainty.  In the Senate, I will work with both parties to continue the long tradition of strong support for our farm bill.  In the United States Senate, I would be an advocate for federal crop insurance to guarantee that our farmers have a way to protect against the risks of an increasingly unpredictable environment. 

ENSURE SUPPORT FOR CRITICAL ACCESS HOSPITALS

The Medicare Rural Hospital Flexibility Program and its support of Critical Access Hospitals[2] saves lives and helps Kansans all over the state have access to care.  In the Senate I will work to strengthen both of these programs.  I supported the recent decision to allow veterans not receiving proper care at the VA to have access to these facilities, thus ensuring proper care and expanding support for these hospitals.[3]  As funding constraints reemerge for the VA in the future, we must be vigilant and ensure veterans continue to receive the care they need and that these hospitals are supported. 

The recently passed Health Care Compact could threaten these facilities and Medicare coverage for our seniors.[4]  I will oppose federal legislation authorizing the Compact and I will fight to protect Medicare for our seniors.  We need to reform healthcare delivery in this country, not privatize Medicare.

SUPPORT KANSAS WIND

Today Kansas gets more than 11% of its energy from renewable sources[5] and more than 475 additional megawatts of wind power are being constructed and coming online in the near future.  As this industry has taken off in Kansas, it has also become one of the cheapest forms of energy and allows us to move towards ending our dependence on foreign oil as more and more electric vehicles become part of our fleet mix.  In fact prices are so low, yet profitable, that the Wichita Eagle recently reported, “…there will be a market for wind energy even when projects no longer qualify for the production tax credit after 2016.”[6]

This support for wind has helped our economy with cheap energy, helped our foreign policy and domestic security by keeping our dollars at home, and helped the environment.  As this technology moves forward, the next step is developing large scale storage technologies that allow us to use wind energy in a more reliable fashion. 

Too often those in Washington present a false chose, saying we have to choose between economic growth and a good environment.  Both sides have dug in and don’t believe there’s any basis for cooperation but wind energy is an example of a program that really does allow us to create jobs and protect the environment. 

I know that we can do both, and I have proven it in the private sector.  At my first company, Environmental Lighting Concepts, we designed and installed energy efficient lighting systems for commercial and industrial buildings. Our company created jobs, helped the environment, and made money for our customers.  We used the opportunity to cut energy costs and ultimately made helping the environment become a good business decision. And I think there are a lot more of those good business decisions out there that we need to work with industry on. 

ENSURE THE REST OF KANSAS HAS ACCESS TO BROADBAND AND FIBER

It has taken years, and there is still more work to do, but broadband is finally starting to penetrate into Western Kansas.  Yet just as we are making progress the technology is about to leap ahead again, with fiber already making a big impact in the Kansas City area.  We must ensure that the rest of Kansas doesn’t have to wait twenty years for this important technology to be installed.  We can speed up this process by ensuring we have the right regulatory framework to encourage the growth of fiber on both the state and federal level.    

While direct to consumer fiber is going to take a while to be a possibility, we should ensure that fiber is at least wired to each community so that we can create the same kind of incubation spaces we have in Kansas City in the rest of Kansas, creating regional fiber hubs.  At the same time we must ensure that the government doesn’t come in and distort existing market places for the technology.

SUPPORT SMALL BUSINESSES ALL OVER KANSAS

As I’ve travelled the state, I’ve frequently had the privilege of talking to groups of small business owners and farmers in rural communities. I’ve had the opportunity to hear about both the exciting new projects they’re undertaking, and the very real needs they face. Small business owners in our rural communities need not only a friendlier policy environment, but also the direct support and advocacy of our leaders.

As someone who’s helped dozens of small businesses grow and develop, I’d hope to use my background in economic development to help support communities around the state, by working as an economic development ambassador to help connect small businesses and communities with the resources and support they need to grow. I would see it as part of my job to help identify a community’s strongest attributes, and to work with local economic development agencies on strategies to attract businesses and capital to the community, as I have done for most of my adult life. As I’ve travelled the state during this campaign, I’ve already had opportunities to make some of these connections, and I’d hope to have more chances to help our state grow and to support our rural economies and entrepreneurs.

Having attended the 3i convention and talked to farmers and leaders throughout the state, it’s clear to me that farmers are natural innovators. No problem seems too large for the creativity of a farmer to solve. Bringing private sector capital to these ideas could lead to an economic boom in our agricultural communities. As a United States Senator, I would also make it my personal mission to help the agricultural community capitalize on the innovation they demonstrate daily.

A few weeks ago I released my plan for small business[7].  The plan would help ensure small businesses have access to capital and reduce the number of government regulations and inspections that small businesses must deal with.  This plan will be especially helpful for farmers and other Kansans who live and work outside of the largest cities.  Capital is especially difficult to get in many of these places and by fixing Dodd-Frank we can ensure that business people can still have a personal relationship with their local banker instead of a larger out of state bank.  The program will also streamline existing small business support programs and force the SBA to work with other agencies to create a one stop shop website for small business owners. 

[1] “State Designated Rural Health Network,” Kansas Department of Health and Environment

[2] “Critical Access Hospitals,” Kansas Hospital Association

[3] “A simple summary of the new VA bill,” Washington Post, 7/29/2014

[4] “Brownback signs health care compact bill,” Lowry, 4/23/2013

[5] http://energy.gov/maps/renewable-energy-production-state

[6] “Kansas wind energy industry set to take off,” Voorhis, Wichita Eagle, 10/6/2014

[7] Small Business Plan - Greg Orman for US Senate 

 

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Email: contact@ormanforsenate.com

Phone: 913.499.0000

Address: 22342 W 66th St

Shawnee, KS 66226

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