It was a quick stop for Senator Pat Roberts Monday afternoon as Marion County was the 102nd county on his 105-county listening tour.
A nearly packed house greeted the senator for a noon meal at the Wohlgemuth Center on the Tabor College Campus in Hillsboro.
The senator used humor and personal stories in the beginning of his speech, before he tackled difficult subjects that included rural health care, alternative energy, Medicare reform, funding special education, and the much-dreaded subject of taxes.
Roberts recently visited a manufacturing company in Minneapolis where there was a need for welders. He also related to the nurse and teacher shortage.
He also lent his support to rural health care and the need for more Kansans being served.
And then it was on to the subject of energy.
“The U.S. is the only country deliberately refusing to develop its own resources,” Roberts said.
He continued saying there was an electric car available in California that can go up to 80 mph and travel 300 miles on a single charge.
“We don’t need the government to issue tire gauges,” Roberts said, referring to the promotion of keeping vehicle tires properly inflated for optimum fuel mileage. He continued that he hoped in the September session Congress could get to realistic conclusions.
A current bill drives exploration off-shore, Roberts said, and the agriculture committee wants Congress to wait on adopting any energy bills.
“We are at a crossroads for energy,” he continued. “We need to use local resources.”
Roberts said health care professionals have stated they couldn’t take any more price cuts from Medicare or they will have to tell their Medicare patients they can’t accept their insurance.
“The Medicare reform bill is a good bill,” he said.
Roberts said the rural health care bill needed to be salvaged and preserved.
“There are 83 critical access hospitals in Kansas that are hanging on by a thread,” he said, and he wasn’t going to let Kansas Department of Health & Environment play budget games with those hospitals.
A federal mandate requires special education to be fully government funded. Right now funding is at 14 percent.
“Think what our Kansas schools could do if funded at 40 percent or even 100 percent,” Roberts said.
He also would like to see more flexibility with the No Child Left Behind program with credit given for forward progress.
Tax relief bills were passed in 2001 and 2003, Roberts said, with nearly $1 million given to Kansans. He would rather put more money in Kansas families’ pockets instead of the government’s.
During a brief question and answer period, Dr. Michael Reeh of Hillsboro thanked Roberts and his office staff in Wichita for assisting him with a Medicare payment “glitch.”
Reeh continued that he was concerned about people without health insurance. He said people were required to have liability insurance on their vehicles and if that requirement wasn’t enforced, some people wouldn’t have vehicle insurance. He also believes that health is important for production by workers in the workplace.
Roberts responded that he supported effective health care for everyone in Kansas having basic choices, provider choices, patient access, and the care would be market-driven.
“We need to look at the true needs of health care,” he said. “We need universal health care.”
Roberts said 35,000 children qualify for Health Wave, free and reduced health insurance, but a much smaller number receive it. Assistance should be targeted for those at the 200 percent poverty level.
Pat Jackson of Marion asked the kind of tax reform Roberts supported — flat tax or fair tax.
Roberts explained that flat tax was when taxpayers paid a certain percentage with no exemptions and a fair tax was a consumption tax that some think is not fair for the poor. He said there was a lot of support for the consumption tax which is a simple tax.
“Tax reform will be a lead item in September,” Roberts said, and both types will be seriously considered.
He continued that neither tax change would affect Social Security checks.
“We’re not going to touch Social Security,” Roberts said. “In 2018, Social Security won’t match the amount being paid in.”
And as time goes on, it will get worse, he said, with today’s younger workers believing they won’t see any of their contributions.
Roberts then went on to his next stop on his whirlwind tour.