Senator Lankford Highlights 2019 Legislative Successes, Discusses House’s Impeachment on Senate Floor
CLICK HERE to watch Lankford’s floor speech.
WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) spoke on the Senate floor to highlight the Senate’s work and successes over the past year and specifically the areas in which Lankford and his team were able to make progress in 2019. Lankford outlined the Senate’s work on the First Step Act, National Defense Authorization Act, de-listing the American burying beetle, repealing burdensome federal taxes like the medical device tax, supporting grants for first responders, supporting national medical research initiatives, and others. He also discussed the House’s historic move yesterday to impeach President Donald Trump and the next steps of that process in the Senate.
It's a historic day and a busy week here in the Senate. The historic day is happening just south of us right now. There is debate in the House of Representatives over impeaching the President of the United States—only the third time that that has ever occurred in our nation's multi-century history. Current impeachment conversation is an interpretation of a phone call that President Trump had with President Zelensky that if you twist that phone call just the right way, it sounds like he's trying to influence the President of Ukraine, except the President of Ukraine never said he felt influenced by that. They never took any action that President Trump is being accused of. Five different meetings happened in the days after that phone call, and none of those meetings ever included any conversation about Rudy Giuliani or Hunter Biden or Joe Biden. The money did go to Ukraine in time. It was the 11th September 11, and the deadline was the 30th September for it to arrive. The whole time the Ukrainians, who apparently were threatened by President Trump, according to the articles of impeachment, the whole time the Ukrainians said they never knew they were threatened. I have a feeling that if President Trump wanted to threaten somebody, they would know it. But apparently in this situation, the House is currently impeaching the President because they perceive the President meant to do something that he didn't actually do, when the whole time the President said, no, that was never his intent. And the only one fact witness that the House called through the entire process, the one fact witness that they called said they actually talked to the president and the president said, ‘No, there is not any quid pro quo. Of course I don't want to do that.’ But they're going through impeachment anyway.
That will then come to the Senate in January, and all of January will be consumed with walking through the two articles of impeachment that the House is choosing to send over. It is really ironic to me today that earlier today in the Senate, Michael Horowitz, who is the Inspector General for the Department of Justice, was in a hearing here in the Senate today talking about the process on the Russia investigation. I happened to be on that Committee as we went through the process, and it was very ironic to me in the line of questions and the issues and the things that were coming up from the Horowitz report, one of the things that probably the media will never report on, but Michael Horowitz, the Inspector General, pulled out through this process was in October of 2016, Christopher Steele, famous for the dossier that was an opposition research project from the Democrat National Committee on President Trump leading up to the election that was supposedly all his dirty information about Russia, Christopher Steele was contacted by someone in the State Department, the Obama-led State Department. In October of 2016, Christopher Steele was invited to the State Department, where at that time State Department officials gave Christopher Steele information that they said was from a Turkish businessman who had been visiting with a Russian member of the FSB, that was derogatory to President Trump, and they were encouraging Steele to take that back and then use it before the election.
The irony of the day today for me is while the House is impeaching the President, at the same time that's being debated, Michael Horowitz, the Inspector General, is giving testimony about individuals in the Obama-era State Department getting information from foreign individuals, slipping it to individuals working on the Clinton campaign, and literally using foreign sources to fight against candidate Trump from Hillary Clinton’s staff at the State Department. Sometimes the world feels more upside down than others. This is one of those weeks. I think about a year ago today. A year ago today the Senate was working in a bipartisan fashion to be able to pass the criminal justice reform bill called the First Step Act. It was a landmark piece of legislation dealing with helping us in federal prisons deal with recidivism. That was a good day for us here in Congress. We started getting more job training to people that are in prison, more opportunities for faith-based programs to be able to be in our federal penitentiaries, and just like they are in our state penitentiaries, more opportunities for prisoners to be able to connect with their families, because the vast majority of prisoners in our federal prisons will be released one day, and it will be helpful if they had job training, they had faith-based background if they choose to,, they had connection with their families. It helps us bring down the crime rates in the days ahead. That was a year ago today in the Senate, instead of fighting through impeachment processes that's happening now.
There are a lot of people that have said to me recently, ‘Nothing’s getting done.’ Well that was true actually for the past couple of months while we’ve been waiting on the House to move on a lot of other issues.
But this week has been a pretty busy week moving through pieces of legislation. Jim Inhofe, who is the Chairman of the Armed Services Committee here, has led this Senate and has led, quite frankly, all of Congress through a process on what's called the NDAA, the National Defense Authorization. That got passed this week. That's an incredibly important bill, not just to us in Oklahoma, but to us across the nation and for our national security. It included things like a pay raise for all of our service members. It included additional benefits and things going to our family members as they move from place to place living with their service member and helping them in their transition. It addressed the issue of housing, which is so important to Oklahoma because we have had problems with private contractors in some of our bases in Oklahoma not living up to the standards of their contract. Jim Inhofe has been the one actually fighting to be able to get that fixed. He has been the one that's taken the lead on that. This is incredibly important to us in Oklahoma for our five bases and posts as well as our National Guard and our Reservists. Just in Oklahoma, $2.2 billion for the K.C.46-A refueling tankers, that they’ll be trained actually in Altus and they’ll be repaired and serviced at Tinker Air Force Base. The authorization for the TX program for Vance Air Force Base is incredibly important, the improvements to military family housing I have already talked about.
I included something in the bill that was an amendment that was included dealing with Reservists and what's called the D.D. 214. If you are not in the military you have no idea what that is. If you are in the military, you know exactly what that is. There was a problem that Guard and Reservists didn't have the same kind of records in the D.D. 214 that active duty do. We're fixing that now so when Guard and Reservists get close to retirement, their records are all in place. We have a continuation of the Paladin Integrated Management System that’s at Fort Sill. We have the authorization of the Fort Sill barracks that are so incredibly important to be able to have better living facilities there as well. The fuel storage complex at the Tulsa International Airport which is very important for the 138th to the Fighter Wing in the Air National Guard. Language to enhance our direct hire authority, which is so incredibly important. We expand that again to be able make sure civilians that are being hired in places like McAlester and at Tinker continue to be able to serve there. And those civilian service folks are so incredibly important to our national security. That was just in the NDAA that passed this week.
There are 12 appropriations bills that we have been working on for months. I'm glad the House has finally come to a decision to be able to work through this impeachment process; we can actually get on to the 12 Appropriations bills because they affect a lot of things for Oklahoma.
Appropriations bills that are moving through tomorrow will have things like $50 million for medical student education that is really important to us for the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University in the awards that they have received from medical education.
We have been through our share of disasters this year and flooding in Oklahoma. The funding to be able to continue those grants and that process is in this set of bills.
We have $710 million for SAFER grants. That deals with fire departments throughout the states. Incredibly important because they are the first responders to acts of terrorism.
The Ag bill itself is moving through right now and deals with a lot of the disaster supplementals that are incredibly important to those of us. In fact, many of us in western Oklahoma.
This bill, set of bills, not only does 3. 1 percent increase for our military service members, but it also does an increase of 3.1 percent for our civil servants. Many of them that work in Oklahoma, and they do a remarkable job of being able to serve our neighbors.
There's a lot of different areas that deal with things like military construction projects that are all over our state that affect not only the military, but civilians and those who have retired as well.
There's a lot of changes here including dramatic funding increases for the Department of Veterans' Affairs to be able to fulfill what's called the MISSION Act that allows more veterans to be able to get care closer to home. Where they're not having to drive 100 miles to go get radiology work. They can do that at a rural hospital close by. They can connect with their family doctor just like their spouse does. This gives them greater opportunity to be able to do this.
This set of bills also deals with the electronic logging delays that are so incredibly important to those that are hauling ag and livestock.
This deals with the Fish and Wildlife Service. For those of us that are in southeast Oklahoma, we know how incredibly important it is to resolve the American Burrowing Beetle, that no one else will pay attention to, but it is incredibly important to us that the Fish and Wildlife service finally get this downlisted. This gives them instructions to be able to do this.
There are oversight dollars for the USDA to oversee the SNAP program—what is often called food stamps, which is actually SNAP—that program gets greater oversight to be able to deal with fraud so people that need the help get the help and the people that are abusing it are confronted.
This set of bills also deals with what's called the Rural Act. Really important to our co-ops all across the state that they deal with the cost of doing business, which continues to provide inexpensive energy all across our state.
The border wall funding remains. It's the exact same dollar amount as it was last year. That was quite a fight in a conversation to be able to go through the House and the Senate. There are some that believe we should have no fences and no barriers and open borders. But I'm amazed how many people do not know that the last four presidents, now five in a row, including President Trump, have all built border fencing. For the previous four presidents, they didn't face the same fight that President Trump does in building border fencing. In the previous four presidents, it was all about national security, and it's important that we have fencing in certain areas to be able to keep that area secure, but for President Trump it is suddenly a divisive issue. But we maintain that funding for the border fence to be able to make sure that continues through these bills that are moving through.
There's a repeal of what's called the nonprofit parking tax. Now, a lot of folks aren't following this, but if you work for a nonprofit you certainly are. Something that was in the tax bill that should not have been there, and it caused great confusion for all of our nonprofits and all of our churches all over the country and certainly all over my great state. This section is something that I and Chris Coons from Delaware that we have worked on for months and months and months to finally get fixed for all these nonprofits. For those of us that know and love the work that nonprofits do all over the country, this is one of their prime issues that they want to finally get resolved so they can get back to focusing on taking care of people that are homeless and hungry and needy rather than having to count parking spaces and turn in literally a 30-page form to the IRS.
Finally, dealing with the Medical Device Tax, which has lingered for years. It's an important issue for us to be able to resolve because it's raising the cost of people getting medical devices.
We did a boost in funding for NIH (National Institutes of Health). That deals with an increase in funding of things like Alzheimer's that we should continue to invest in. That also deals with things in Oklahoma on some of the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, Stevenson's Cancer Center at OU , and also some of the rural health care programs. Especially dealing with telemedicine, because if you're in a rural area in Oklahoma, it's a long way to go to be able to get health care.
This bill also deals with something called the SECURE Act. The SECURE Act deals with seniors' retirement. Right now, you can't continue contributing to your IRA past 70 and a half. You're forced to take it. Lots of folks are now choosing to work later and later. Some retire earlier. That's fine. That's their choice. But for folks that choose to retire a little bit later, they don't want to be forced to take IRA. They want to be able to still contribute. This allows them to do this. This also allows part-time workers to participate in 401K plans. Its incredibly important for a lot of people saving for their own retirement. People should not count on just Social Security. People should also set aside their own retirement funds as well, in addition to Social Security. This allows more folks to do that and to continue doing that.
There are several things on foreign policy that maybe some Oklahomans aren't paying attention to but are important to us. Things like the F-35 program to Turkey, one of the areas that I led in this bill saying Turkey should not continue to be allowed to have the F-35 defense systems. They purchased Russian air defense systems. They're turning towards Russia. Why would we sell to Turkey our most precious highly technical, highly secure technology like the new F-35 when Turkey is unknown on the direction that they're headed in the days ahead? So this bill stops the delivery of the F-35 to Turkey.
This bill also finally gives victims of terrorism their day in court. Decades ago victims of terrorism asked to be able to hold to account organizations like the Palestinian Authority and the PLO in the areas where they carried out acts of terrorism that killed or injured Americans. We decided as a Congress decades ago to allow that. But the courts stepped in and stopped it with this little loophole, and we as Congress have never fixed it. I worked with Chairman Grassley and with multiple others to be able to p get to a point that we could resolve it. This bill includes the fix so that victims of terrorism can finally get their day in court.
UN Peacekeeping contributions have hit a very high number in the years past, way beyond what was set as the cap. This bill keeps us down to the current cap, so we're not over giving into the peacekeeping operations because we expect other nations to also contribute to the peacekeeping operations, not just the United States.
I'd love to say everything in these bills are good, but they are not. People talk about making the sausage here. Quite frankly, I go back and think about the very first time I ever had a bite of supreme pizza. I don't know what everybody's family was like but growing up for us when we got a hamburger pizza, the cheapest one or cheese pizza. That's pretty good pizza. But I remember the first time I went somewhere and had supreme pizza. It was loaded with everything on it and thought that's going to be great until I bit into it and I found out it had some things I like but things I really, really, really didn't like in that bite. Many times things I really, really, really didn't like overpowered the things that I did. There are some things in this bill coming up this week I cannot support. While I talked to a lot of things moving and there are a lot of things moving this week, there's also some areas like the overseas contingency fund often called OCO. It's a separate fund outside the budget that's supposed to be just for taking care of our military in the night in Afghanistan and Iraq. We've been dialing down the fight in Afghanistan and Iraq and doing less and less and less of that and the President has announced that he's going to be able to withdraw troops in a wise way from those areas. But yet this agreement that's come down the pike this week also includes not less overseas funding, $10 billion more of the overseas contingency fund. $10 billion more.
The Wind Production Tax Credit suddenly reappears. It's the zombie tax credit that we thought was already gone that now just bounced back. Five years ago Congress agreed that wind power was prolific around the country and they no longer need a federal tax benefit to be able to sustain their business. So there was an agreement five years ago to little by little by little wean wind off and 2020 would be the first year that it goes to zero—except in this bill magically the wind production tax credit reappears. In the year that it was supposed to be zero, it actually pops up higher than it even was last year to an even higher amount.
There's multiple different what are called tax extenders in this package. We've got additional tax dollars that are going to things like race tracks for horse racing. We've got tax dollars that are going to motor sports racetracks. We've got tax dollars going to craft beer breweries, because I assume craft beer breweries can't make it without getting tax dollars from their next door neighbor. Almost $1 billion worth. Almost a billion federal dollars going to be able to help folks that do craft brewing. I'm sure the folks that do craft brewing would love to have the tax benefit, but I think the nation has not run out of beer, and we're not in a position that we need to make sure that we subsidize that to make sure that we sustain that for our national benefit.
The tax side alone of one of the bills that's coming, just one of the bills that's coming is almost half-a-trillion in new debt. One of the bills. Half a trillion dollars in new debt. And for a nation that has $23 trillion, many of us were shocked late on Monday night when the bill was dropped with an additional half-a-trillion in new debt.
There's some important things going on this week, and there are also some things moving through this Congress that need more attention than impeachment, and it's not happening. I hope in the days ahead as we debate these issues and vote on these issues, we can deal with the things that are good that we all look at and say we should do that. But that we would be able to pause long enough to say should we do those things and make wise decisions. We are at the same spot we're always at—everything gets crammed to the end of the year and it becomes a if you don't vote for everything then government's going to shut down. That's why Maggie Hassan and I, the democratic Senator from New Hampshire, she and I worked so hard this year to form a bill—what we call the Government Shutdown Prevention Bill. We want to end the possibility we have government shutdowns so that there's not a time that we get to the end of the year and everyone says got to vote for all that stuff or the government will shut down and people will be on furlough. I'd like to have a moment where we say we don't ever have shutdowns again, and we debate the issues that need to be debated in the time they need to be debated so that we don't dump half-a-trillion in debt on our kids and go home for Christmas.
Let's get some things resolved. Let's solve the issues. And then let's spend some time with our families. I think the entire country needs a deep breath from the anger and bitterness and divisiveness. It needs to get a little peace on Earth and some goodwill towards men.
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