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This letter was sent by OpenCongress user libertywmn214 on March 24, 2013 in opposition to S.336 Marketplace Fairness Act of 2013.
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S.336 Marketplace Fairness Act of 2013

I oppose S.336 - Marketplace Fairness Act of 2013, and am tracking it using OpenCongress.org, the free public resource website for government transparency and accountability.

Sincerely, Kimberly Reinitz

This letter was a reply from the office of Tom Harkin on March 28, 2013.
Reply from Senator Harkin

March 28, 2013

 

 

 

 

Mr. Kimberly Reinitz

1624 Rustin St

IA  -

Dear Kimberly:

Thank you for contacting me.  I am always glad to hear from my fellow Iowans.

I appreciate the benefit of your thoughts and concerns regarding the Compassionate Care Act.  Your input on access to experimental drugs and therapies for terminally ill patients is important to me.  At this time, the Compassionate Care Act has not yet reached the Senate for consideration.  Should this bill be introduced during the 113th Congress, know that I will remember your concerns and give your views careful attention.  Again, thank you for contacting me.  Please do not hesitate to contact me again about any issue that concerns you.

 

Sincerely,

 

 

Tom Harkin

United States Senator

This letter was a reply from the office of Tom Harkin on March 28, 2013.
Reply from Senator Harkin

March 28, 2013

 

 

 

 

Mr. Kimberly Reinitz

1624 Rustin St

IA  -

Dear Kimberly:

Thank you for contacting me. I am always glad to hear from you.

I appreciate having the benefit of your views and concerns regarding the regulation of Pyridoxal - 5' - Phosphate. Your input on this matter is helpful to me. As I examine this issue, I will certainly give your views every consideration.

As you know, I have long championed the cause of health prevention, and I strongly believe that safe, properly labeled dietary supplements can be an important part of a healthy lifestyle. In 1994, I joined with Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah to pass the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA). DSHEA struck an important balance. On the one hand, it recognized the importance of enhancing consumer access to vitamins, minerals, and other dietary supplements, and it recognized the virtues of scientific research and education on the benefits and risk of supplements. On the other hand, it recognized the need for important regulatory safeguards to protect consumer health, including new safety standards, penalties for mislabeling or adulterating dietary supplements, and rules to ensure the scientific substantiation of claims regarding dietary supplements. As a result, over the last 15 years, Americans have enjoyed unprecedented access to a range of safe products that help improve their health.

As a principal author of DSHEA, I strongly support maintaining the FDA's established regulatory authority. In fact, you may be pleased to know that on May 25, 2010, I introduced the Dietary Supplement Full Implementation and Enforcement Act of 2010. This legislation calls upon Congress to provide the FDA with the necessary resources to enforce DSHEA, in order to ensure that the public has access to safe and effective dietary supplements.

Thank you, again, for contacting me. Please do not hesitate to contact me again if you have any additional questions or concerns.

 

Sincerely,

 

 

Tom Harkin

United States Senator

This letter was a reply from the office of Tom Harkin on April 02, 2013.
Reply from Senator Harkin

April 2, 2013

 

 

 

 

Mr. Kimberly Reinitz

1624 Rustin St

IA  -

Dear Kimberly:

Thank you for contacting me regarding proposals to impose a sales tax on out-of-state internet transactions. I appreciate hearing your thoughts on this issue.

Online retail and other remote sales create a number of tax collection problems for local and state governments, many of which are already experiencing budget shortfalls. In the past, I have supported legislation that sought to level the playing field between local and out-of-state merchants, while also reducing for businesses the administrative burden of complying with different tax codes. For example, before the Internet popularized remote sales, I supported efforts to more efficiently subject mail-order purchases to sales taxes. In the 103rd Congress, I co-sponsored the Tax Fairness for Main Street Business Act of 1994. In addition, I have supported legislation which would have allowed the collection of sales taxes in states that agreed to uniform requirements.

The complexity and variability of definitions in local and state tax codes, as well as the geographical borders of these areas, have proven to be barriers to past efforts to allow states to require remote sellers to collect tax. However, the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement has greatly reduced that burden in the states in which it has been adopted. Twenty-four states, including Iowa, have passed legislation that conforms to the Streamlined Sales Tax, which was created in 1999 by the National Governor's Association and the National Conference of State Legislatures. By making retail sales tax laws simpler and more uniform, states and local governments have eased the way for federal action to allow collection of sales taxes.

Recently, I joined as a cosponsor of S. 336, the Marketplace Fairness Act, which was introduced by Senator Mike Enzi (R-WY). The legislation would authorize states who have signed the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement to require remote sellers with more than $500,000 in annual sales to collect and remit sales tax on purchases made by residents of that state. Under this legislation, states must implement streamlined tax collection procedures to make it easier for remote sellers to comply.

This legislation is under the jurisdiction of the Senate Finance Committee, of which I am not a member. Rest assured, however, that should this legislation come up for a vote, I will keep your thoughts firmly in mind.

Thank you again for contacting me. Please feel free to contact me again on any issue that concerns you.

 

Sincerely,

 

 

Tom Harkin

United States Senator

This letter was a reply from the office of Tom Harkin on April 11, 2013.
Reply from Senator Harkin

April 11, 2013

 

 

 

 

Mr. Kimberly Reinitz

1624 Rustin St

IA  -

Dear Kimberly:

Thank you for contacting me regarding government spending and the federal budget. I appreciate hearing from you about this critical issue.

Our nation's fiscal situation has deteriorated over the past decade. In 2000, our nation was in a budget surplus and beginning to pay down the debt. Unfortunately, this surplus was squandered by irresponsible budget practices, including tax cuts for the wealthy, two expensive wars that were put on the nation's credit card, and failure to follow the "Pay As You Go" budget rules, which require that any new spending or tax cuts be paid for with revenue or spending reductions from elsewhere in the federal budget. This fiscal imprudence, as well as the decline in tax revenues and increase in emergency spending in the wake of the financial crisis and recession, has increased the federal budget deficit, causing our national debt to balloon to nearly $17 trillion.

Recently, the U.S. Senate, with my support, passed, S. Con. Res. 8, the Fiscal Year 2014 Senate Budget. This measure, though not binding, sets forth the Senate's budget priorities for the next year -- creating jobs by investing in broad based economic growth while reducing our debt and deficit in a responsible way.

Many of the proposals contained in the budget mirror proposals that I have introduced in the past two years to bolster the middle class and spur economic growth. Accordingly, I was proud to vote in favor of this budget. Among other things, the budget seeks to strengthen the middle class by making important investments in job training and education to ensure workers are prepared for the jobs of the future. It also provides funding for research and development in key industries to help expand and improve our nation's innovation ecosystem and boosts investments in infrastructure projects to rebuild our roads and bridges that will improve our nation's competitiveness and bolster job creation.

I was also pleased that the Senate budget would achieve an additional $1.85 trillion in new deficit reductions and put our debt on a sustainable and responsible path. It accomplishes this in a balanced way that combines targeted spending cuts with new revenue raised by eliminating wasteful tax loopholes that benefit primarily the wealthiest Americans and largest corporations.

Importantly, if enacted into law the Senate budget would permanently repeal and replace the $85 billion in across-board-cuts known as sequestration that took effect on March 1st. These cuts will impose significant harm on our economy while compromising the integrity of important public programs by slashing funding for air traffic controllers, job training and education, child care assistance, defense and military capabilities, border security, national parks, and many others. These cuts are also directly impacting some families who will see their unemployment benefits reduced by over 10% at a time when they need every penny in order to pay their basic living expenses while searching for a job.

I was disappointed that the House majority offered an alternative budget that again proposed the same top down economic policies that have failed our country in the past. The House budget again puts tax cuts for wealthy families and corporations ahead of important investments that boost the middle class and grow our economy. For example, the House budget would increase taxes on middle class families by $3,000 and while offering a $245,000 annual tax break to millionaires. It would also retain sequestration and impose an additional $700 billion of cuts on the same programs already impacted by those cuts. Finally, the House budget includes $3.3 trillion in cuts to programs that serve people with low or moderate incomes, like Medicaid and nutrition assistance. Overall, the House Budget neglects to put forth policies that will build an economy where every individual receives an equal chance at success as long as they work hard and play by the rules.

Thank you again for contacting me regarding the important fiscal policy decisions that lie ahead in the coming months. Rest assured that I will keep your thoughts firmly in mind as I continue my work on these issues here in the Senate.

 

Sincerely,

 

 

Tom Harkin

United States Senator

This letter was a reply from the office of Tom Harkin on April 12, 2013.
Reply from Senator Harkin

April 12, 2013

 

 

 

 

Mr. Kimberly Reinitz

1624 Rustin St

IA  -

Dear Kimberly:

Thank you for contacting me with your concerns regarding the nomination of Caitlin Halligan to be United States Circuit Judge for the District of Columbia. I appreciate your comments on this issue.

President Obama nominated Ms. Halligan on January 4, 2013. Unfortunately, a minority in the Senate refused to permit an up or down vote on her nomination, and on March 22, 2013, Ms. Halligan informed President Obama that she was withdrawing her name from consideration for the position.

I supported Ms. Halligan's nomination because I believe she is exceptionally qualified. After law school, she clerked for Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer and for Judge Patricia Wald on the D.C. Circuit, the court to which she was nominated. In addition, she has served as Solicitor General of New York State and General Counsel for the New York County District Attorney's Office.  Throughout her career, she has earned a reputation as a leading appellate lawyer and her nomination received widespread support from law enforcement and legal professionals across the political spectrum. Most importantly, in her confirmation hearings, she demonstrated that she understood the difference between the role of an advocate and that of a judge.

In his annual, year-end report in December 2010, Chief Justice John Roberts noted the damage done to our courts, and to those who rely on them for fair adjudication, by the increasing number of vacancies in our court system.  Without an adequate number of judges, litigants cannot get their case timely heard.  And, justice delayed is often justice denied.  In fact, seven Republican appointed judges  wrote in a letter to Senate leaders asking for quicker action on nominees that "hile there are many areas of serious need," there is a "desperate need for judges."

Ms. Halligan was nominated to fill one of now four vacancies on the D.C. Circuit, a court that is now more than a quarter vacant and in urgent need of additional judges. Given these vacancies, it is disheartening when imminently qualified nominees like Catilin Halligan cannot receive an up or down vote.

Again, thank you for your input on this matter. Please do not hesitate to contact me in the future with any questions or concerns you may have.

 

Sincerely,

 

 

Tom Harkin

United States Senator

This letter was a reply from the office of Tom Harkin on April 25, 2013.
Reply from Senator Harkin

April 25, 2013

 

 

 

 

Mr. Kimberly Reinitz

1624 Rustin St

IA  -

Dear Kimberly:

Thank you for your recent letter regarding our electoral process and voting rights. I appreciate hearing from you on this issue.

Nothing is more important to our democratic process than ensuring that our elections are fair and accurate. Every eligible citizen must have the opportunity to exercise the right to vote on election day regardless of race, gender, creed, or disability, and any appearance of impropriety, fraud, or intimidation with respect to a federal election must be identified, investigated, and prosecuted.

Unfortunately, too many states are erecting needless barriers to voting, arbitrarily purging voting rolls, and making it more difficult for eligible voters to exercise their right to vote. For example, voter identification laws have increasingly been enacted throughout the country. Regardless of the stated intent of these laws, they are solutions in search of a problem. Studies show little evidence of polling-place fraud that ID laws seek to stop. At the same time, such laws will cause widespread voter disenfranchisement by making it harder for millions of disabled, young, minority, rural, elderly, homeless, and low income Americans - individuals who often do not have a driver's license - to vote. Indeed, studies show that as many as 11 percent of eligible voters nationwide do not have a government issued-ID. That is why I joined 15 of my colleagues in writing the Attorney General encouraging him to review these voter identification laws and scrutinize their implementation. And, I am pleased that courts around the country have recognized these laws for what they are - measures designed to suppress the vote - and have blocked their implementation.

Voting is the most fundamental right in our democracy. We should be working to expand the right to vote and encourage more people to participate, not making it harder for eligible citizens to have their voices heard.

Please be assured that I will continue to work to ensure that all eligible Americans have the opportunity to exercise the right to vote and to uphold the soundness of our electoral process.

Again, thanks for sharing your views with me. Please do not hesitate to let me know how you feel on any issue that concerns you.

 

Sincerely,

 

 

Tom Harkin

United States Senator

This letter was a reply from the office of Tom Harkin on April 30, 2013.
Reply from Senator Harkin

April 30, 2013

 

 

 

 

Mr. Kimberly Reinitz

1624 Rustin St

IA  -

Dear Kimberly:

Thank you for taking the time to write my office with your concerns regarding a Constitutional amendment stipulating that the law needs to apply to Members of Congress in the same way that it does to United States citizens. With few exceptions, we have changed the United States Constitution only to protect individual rights, expand participation in our democracy, or to make structural changes in our system of representative government, and I do not see that there is immediate need to do regarding this specific issue.  However, your letter raises many points and I will do my best to thoroughly address your questions.

First, I wish to address the issue of pay for Members of Congress. On the issue of Congressional pay raises, you are likely aware that since 2009, Members of Congress have not received an adjustment in pay. Given the weakness of the American economy in recent years and the tens of millions of Americans who have struggled to make ends meet, it is only reasonable for members of Congress to live within their means as well.  In the past, I have also supported enactment of the 27th Amendment to the Constitution, which prevents Congress from giving itself a pay raise without an intervening election.

There have also been calls for members of Congress not to be paid until they produced a budget. In fact, earlier this year Congress enacted a law stipulating that both House and Senate members would not be paid in this fiscal year unless each chamber passed a budget. On March 23, the Senate did just that, by a vote of 50 to 49 voting in favor of Senate Concurrent Resolution 8, which established a budget for Fiscal Year 2014.

This measure, though not binding, sets forth the Senate's budget priorities, and would achieve an additional $1.85 trillion in new deficit reductions and put our debt on a sustainable and responsible path. It accomplishes this in a balanced way that combines targeted spending cuts with new revenue raised by eliminating wasteful tax loopholes that benefit primarily the wealthiest Americans and largest corporations.

In our nation’s current economic climate, it is painfully clear to me that Americans across the country are finding it harder and harder to make ends meet. In this time of economic difficulty, the economic well-being of Iowans and all Americans is my top priority. Additionally, let me address your concern about retirement benefits. Members of Congress are eligible for a pension at the age of 62 if they have completed at least five years of service. Members are eligible for a pension at age 50 if they have completed 20 years of service, or at any age after completing 25 years of service.  The amount of the pension depends on years of service and the average of the highest three years of salary. By law, the starting amount of a Member's retirement annuity may not exceed 80% of his or her final salary.

Further, except as articulated in Article I, Section 6 of the Constitution – which states Members of Congress are exempt from prosecution for official acts -- Members of Congress are not exempt from prosecution for violating state and federal criminal laws. In addition, in 1995, Congress enacted the Congressional Accountability Act, which applied civil rights, labor and workplace safety regulations to the legislative branch. Because I believe Congress should not impose rules on the private sector while exempting itself, and because I believe Congressional employees are entitled to the same protections as all other workers, I supported that legislation.

Moreover, not only can Members of Congress be criminally prosecuted, Members of Congress and most other officers and employees of the federal government also forfeit their federal employee retirement benefits if convicted of a federal crime that relates to espionage, treason, or several other national security offenses against the United States, or if convicted of any one of a number of federal laws concerning corruption in office.

Finally, I appreciate your concerns regarding Member health care plans. The federal government is the largest employer in the United States and the Federal Employee Health Benefits Plan (FEHBP) is the largest employer-sponsored health insurance program. Federal employees, including Members of Congress, congressional staff, their eligible family members, as well as qualified retired Members of Congress, are all eligible to participate in this program. FEHBP covers about eight million individuals and approximately 85% of all eligible federal employees participate.

Members receive the same benefits under the same rules as other federal employees.  FEHBP offers three types of participating plans to its enrollees and the premiums, deductibles, and coverage levels vary by plan. Members, like other federal employees, pay approximately 30% of their monthly health insurance premiums and, like so many other Americans who receive health care through their employers, all must pay deductibles and copays.

For many years, FEHBP has offered several consumer protections. FEHBP plans are all required to cover preexisting conditions, may not limit annual or lifetime benefit levels, and may not require a waiting period before benefits kick in. I have long believed that these protections offered by FEHBP should be afforded to all Americans and was pleased when the majority of these protections were broadly extended to all private plans last year with passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, with preexisting condition coverage effective in 2014.

Again, thank you for contacting me. I look forward to hearing from you in the future.

 

Sincerely,

 

 

Tom Harkin

United States Senator

This letter was a reply from the office of Tom Harkin on May 01, 2013.
Reply from Senator Harkin

May 1, 2013

 

 

 

 

Mr. Kimberly Reinitz

1624 Rustin St

IA  -

Dear Kimberly:

Thank you for contacting me. I am always glad to hear from my fellow Iowans.

I appreciate your thoughts and concerns regarding Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authority to collect and publish data about antibiotic use in food-producing animals. As you know, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), which I chair, recently debated this issue during consideration of the Animal Drug User Fee Act (ADUFA) reauthorization. I welcome your input on this matter and I believe that responsible use of antibiotics is critically important to maintaining their effectiveness in medical and veterinary applications.

Based on my concerns about the availability of information about this issue, I recently coauthored a letter to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requesting that the agency assess data needs relating to the use of antibiotics in food-producing animals under the existing collection authorities, and whether more data collected under these authorities could be made public. The letter also encourages the agency to provide final guidance relating to injudicious use of antibiotics in animals. I have closely monitored this issue for some time, and in the past I have requested and obtained a number of studies from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on issues relating to antibiotic resistance. I also worked to support more research into antibiotic resistance through measures like the 2008 Farm Bill.

Rest assured I will continue to pay careful attention to this issue as it develops. Again, thank you for contacting me. Please do not hesitate to contact me again about any issue that concerns you.

 

Sincerely,

 

 

Tom Harkin

United States Senator

This letter was a reply from the office of Tom Harkin on May 02, 2013.
Reply from Senator Harkin

May 2, 2013

 

 

 

 

Mr. Kimberly Reinitz

1624 Rustin St

IA  -

Dear Kimberly:

Thank you for contacting me regarding the proposed United Nations (UN) Arms Trade Treaty.

The UN General Assembly passed the treaty on April 2, 2013, with only three countries voting no - Iran, North Korea and Syria. The treaty is designed to control the international trade of weapons that kill tens of thousands of persons around the world each year, including, tanks, armored combat vehicles, large-caliber weapons, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles, and launchers. The intent of the treaty is to reduce the risk that arms fall into the hands of those who engage in terrorism, genocide, and war crimes.

In March, the Senate voted 53-46 for a nonbinding amendment to a budget resolution opposing the treaty. I voted against the amendment because I felt the matter was premature. At the time of the Senate vote, the United Nation's had not yet passed the treaty. Accordingly, the President hadn't even had the opportunity to determine whether or not to sign the treaty and to send it to the Senate. And the Senate had not yet examined nor debated the treaty, either at the committee level or on the floor of the Senate.

Some people have raised concerns that the treaty could infringe on the legitimate rights of law-abiding American gun owners. Notably, the treaty's preamble expressly reaffirms "the sovereign right of any State to regulate and control conventional arms exclusively within its territory, pursuant to its own legal or constitutional system." The treaty also recognizes "legitimate trade and lawful ownership, and use of certain conventional arms for recreational, cultural, historical, and sporting activities, where such trade, ownership and use are permitted or protected by law." In other words, the treaty only applies to international arms sales, not important gun ownership rights of American citizens.

Again, thank you for sharing your views with me. Should the treaty come before the full Senate for consideration, I will certainly keep your views in mind. Please do not hesitate to let me know how you feel on any issue that concerns you.

 

Sincerely,

 

 

Tom Harkin

United States Senator

This letter was a reply from the office of Tom Harkin on May 07, 2013.
Reply from Senator Harkin

May 7, 2013

 

 

 

 

Mr. Kimberly Reinitz

1624 Rustin St

IA  -

Dear Kimberly:

Thank you for contacting me regarding pending legislation to give states the authority to require out-of-state retailers to collect sales tax on remote purchases.  I appreciate hearing your thoughts on this matter.

I have long supported legislation to level the playing field between local and out-of-state merchants, while also reducing for businesses the administrative burden of complying with different tax codes. Recently, I voted in favor of S. 743, the Marketplace Fairness Act, which was introduced by Senator Mike Enzi (R-WY). The legislation would authorize states to require sellers with more than $1 million in remote annual sales nationally to collect and remit sales tax on purchases made by residents of that state. This threshold will exempt 99 percent of all sellers nationwide and over 40 percent of all online commerce. I believe this exemption is generous to small sellers, especially given that no brick-and-mortar business is exempted from even a dollar of sales tax.

Currently, as a result of various court rulings, states cannot require merchants who sell goods online to collect sales taxes unless they have a physical presence in the state.  While these taxes are technically still due, it is up to the buyer to subsequently remit the tax owed directly to the state. Unsurprisingly, almost no one does this in practice, and as a result states across the country lose a significant amount of tax revenue each year - as much as $23 billion by some estimates. This reduces states' ability to pay for critical government services and may force states to raise revenue in other, less-preferred ways.

In addition, traditional brick-and-mortar retailers, who are required to collect sales tax on all transactions, face an unfair disadvantage relative to online retailers, who usually do not collect sales tax. In a free market system, a business should succeed or fail based upon the quality and price of the goods it sells rather than because it either does or does not have a tax advantage relative to its competitors. Online retailers already have an advantage over traditional retailers because their business costs related to rent, salaries, advertising costs, local taxes, and inventory tend to be lower. In fact, this is one reason why online retailers have been so successful, and it has brought major benefits to consumers. There is simply no reason to provide them with another artificial advantage that has nothing to do with market competition.

As I've travelled throughoutover the years, I've heard countless times from Main Street business owners concerned that they are losing business because online competitors do not have to collect sales tax. One frequent story I hear is about customers who come into a retail store browsing for an item. Once they find the item they want, they will then go on the internet to find the identical product at a cheaper price - cheaper because the item is untaxed. The brick-and-mortar business then loses that sale, despite having provided all of the services that led to the purchaser's decision to buy. This state of affairs is commonplace today and puts the livelihood of business owners inand across the country at risk.

The legislation is also timely because technical barriers to its implementation have eased.  In the past, such barriers made it difficult to require the collection of tax on remote sales. The complexity and variability of definitions in local and state tax codes, as well as the geographical borders of these areas, acted as barriers to implementing a tax collection framework. However, the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement has greatly reduced that burden in the states in which it has been adopted. Twenty-four states, including Iowa, have passed legislation that conforms to the Streamlined Sales Tax, which was created in 1999 by the National Governor's Association and the National Conference of State Legislatures. By making retail sales tax laws simpler and more uniform, states and local governments have eased the way for federal action to allow collection of sales taxes.  In addition, the computer software used by online retailers to determine the sales tax liability of the purchaser has steadily improved and is already in use by many companies who must collect tax from buyers in states where the company has a physical presence. Under any legislation, this software will likely be available to retailers at little or no cost. With this in mind, the burden on retailers to collect and remit taxes will be minimal under any new online sales tax regime.

Fundamentally, I support S. 743 because I believe it will level the playing field between traditional brick and mortar retailers inand internet merchants and thus, require them to compete based on the free market rather than on the basis of tax advantages available to some businesses and not to others.

Thank you again for contacting me. Please feel free to contact me again on any issue that concerns you.

 

Sincerely,

 

 

Tom Harkin

United States Senator

This letter was a reply from the office of Tom Harkin on May 08, 2013.
Reply from Senator Harkin

May 8, 2013

 

 

 

 

Mr. Kimberly Reinitz

1624 Rustin St

IA  -

Dear Kimberly:

Please allow me to apologize for the delay in getting this response to you.  Please know that your input is valued, and allow me to share with you my thoughts on this critical issue.

I appreciate hearing your thoughts about the use of drones - or remotely piloted aircrafts (RPA's) - to target terrorists and for other military operations.

The development of RPA's has dramatically changed the way war is conducted, giving the military access to areas and targets that would be inaccessible via traditional piloted aircraft.  Because they are unmanned, RPAs have reduced casualties among our troops and also enabled our military to undertake missions that previously would have been unsafe.  It is for these reasons that the number of missions using RPA's has increased substantially in recent years - resulting in a number of successful attacks on terrorists who are actively attempting to attack the United States.

I believe it is critical that Congress exercises careful scrutiny and thorough oversight of the military's use of these weapons.  While RPA's enable our government to better target terrorists who wish us harm, we must remain vigilant to prevent their misuse, the abuse of authority, and arbitrary action.  For instance, I am deeply concerned with the risk to civil liberties and due process, as well as the amount of collateral damages and the loss of civilian lives that has resulted from some RPA strikes

Throughout our history, but especially since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, critical issues of national security have too often been decided in secret without appropriate public engagement and oversight. Under the banner of security, we as a nation have far too often betrayed our highest values. I vigorously opposed the Bush Administration when it eavesdropped on Americans without a warrant or court order, when it utilized interrogation techniques long considered immoral, ineffective, and illegal, and when it intentionally put detainees beyond the rule of law. 

President Obama has sought to rid our national security apparatus of the secrecy and worst abuses that characterized the years immediately after 9/11.  With respect to RPA's, I am heartened that the Justice Department made available the legal justification for the use of RPA's to the Senate Committee on Intelligence.    Similarly, I am pleased that due to increased public scrutiny, the Obama Administration made clear that a domestic strike involving RPA's has never occurred and that it could not envision a situation where it would be legal or ever be ordered.  But more and can should be done to provide due process and to ensure the civil liberties of American citizens, including a robust role for Congress, such as a hearing that was held on April 23 before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the use of RPA's. 

Despite these positive steps, I continue to share your concerns regarding the use of RPAs, particularly without established standards for their use and appropriate oversight.  After thorough consideration, however, I have concluded that my concerns are less about the technology itself, which can be used for both good and ill in military, commercial, and law enforcement capacities, than with the need for that technology to be deployed within an appropriate legal framework and with sufficient checks and balances that ensure the protection of our civil liberties.  Ultimately, it is up to the public and its elected officials to remain vigilant to ensure that our government strikes an appropriate balance that both ensures national security and protects our fundamental values.  Please rest assured that I will continue to fight to ensure proper oversight and prevent abuse of executive authority.

Thank you for sharing your views with me, and do not hesitate to let me know how you feel on any issue that concerns you.

 

Sincerely,

 

 

Tom Harkin

United States Senator

This letter was a reply from the office of Tom Harkin on May 28, 2013.
Reply from Senator Harkin

May 28, 2013

 

 

 

 

Mr. Kimberly Reinitz

1624 Rustin St

IA  -

Dear Kimberly:

Thank you for sharing with me your thoughts and concerns regarding the use of hydraulic fracturing methods for accessing natural gas deposits as well as your concerns regarding expanding exports of liquid natural gas (LNG). 

Advances in directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing technologies over the last several years have significantly expanded supplies and lowered prices of domestic natural gas - reducing our dependence on foreign fuels and offering significant human and environmental health benefits associated with reduced consumption of coal and petroleum.  Compared to coal and petroleum, natural gas, when burned as fuel, releases far fewer contaminants into the atmosphere, including carbon dioxide.  City transit systems that have switched from diesel buses to natural gas buses have experienced a significant improvement in air quality. 

However, there are potential dangers and challenges associated with hydraulic fracturing that must be addressed.  For instance, because natural gas consists mostly of methane, which is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, releasing it into the atmosphere during production, transport, and use is more damaging to the environment than emissions associated with combustion of fossil fuels.  Thus, we must work to ensure that when natural gas is extracted, transported, and consumed, methane leaks are avoided. 

Many have expressed concerns about the potential direct or indirect impacts of hydraulic fracturing on water resources.  To better understand any potential impacts on drinking water and ground water, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), at the request of Congress, is conducting a study.  A first report on the study was released in December, 2012.  A final draft is expected in 2014.  To learn more about the study, I encourage you to visit the EPA web site here, http://www2.epa.gov/hfstudy

Regarding review of export opportunities of LNG, the Department of Energy is generally required to approve natural gas exports to countries that have a free trade agreement with the U.S.  For countries that do not have a free trade agreement with the U.S., DOE is required to grant LNG export applications unless they are deemed not in the public interest given potential economic, energy security, and environmental factors.  For more information on this DOE review process as well as access to a study on LNG exports, I encourage you to visit the DOE website here, http://fossil.energy.gov/programs/gasregulation/. 

Thank you again for sharing your thoughts and concerns.  I assure you that I will continue to follow these issues closely as more scientific information and analyses become available. 

Please do not hesitate to contact me in the future on any matter of concern to you.

 

Sincerely,

 

 

Tom Harkin

United States Senator

This letter was a reply from the office of Tom Harkin on May 28, 2013.
Reply from Senator Harkin

May 28, 2013

 

 

 

 

Mr. Kimberly Reinitz

1624 Rustin St

IA  -

Dear Kimberly:

Thank you for contacting me. I am always glad to hear from you.

I appreciate having the benefit of your views and concerns regarding http://ftc.gov/opa/2013/01/pom.shtm. Your input on this matter is helpful to me. As I continue to follow this issue, I will certainly give your views every consideration.

 

Sincerely,

 

 

Tom Harkin

United States Senator

This letter was a reply from the office of Tom Harkin on May 29, 2013.
Reply from Senator Harkin

May 29, 2013

 

 

 

 

Mr. Kimberly Reinitz

1624 Rustin St

IA  -

Dear Kimberly:

Thank you for your support for policies that encourage and provide assistance to farmers who produce and market sustainably-grown food on a local or regional scale. 

I am pleased to let you know that on April 9th, I joined thirteen senators in becoming an original co-sponsor of S. 679, a bill introduced by Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio.  S. 679 largely mirrors the Local Farm, Food, and Jobs Act of 2011, S. 1773, which I helped develop as a senior member of the Agriculture Committee.  Iowa's farming infrastructure has benefited from enabling schools to purchase food from local farms.  S.679 would extend the opportunity for families that qualify for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to buy locally at farmers markets and would provide technology for farmers selling at farmers markets to accept electronic benefits. 

In conjunction with S. 679, I am also a co-sponsor of the Growing Opportunities for Agriculture and Responding to Markets Act of 2013, S. 678, a bill introduced by Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, which would establish a revolving loan fund program that would support local farm businesses and market gardens.  Grants and loans administered by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) through S. 678 would spur new market opportunities, create jobs, and support small and midsize farms who serve their local communities.  This program would provide assistance to beginning farmers and family-owned farms to help them expand their operations and sell locally. 

We achieved a good deal of progress in local food initiatives in the 2002 and 2008 farm bills, enacted while I was chairman of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee.  In that legislation, we adopted and dedicated funding to a number of initiatives that benefit farmers and consumers by promoting opportunities for producers to grow and sell more food through local and regional marketing channels.  Both bills also strengthened conservation assistance, which is of particular help to farmers producing for local, regional, or organic markets.  I am proud that both the proposed new farm bill passed by the Senate last year and the largely similar one recently passed by the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee build upon the successful initiatives of previous farm bills.

I assure you that I will continue to support legislation that supports and strengthens marketing channels for local farmers.  Please do not hesitate to contact me on any matter of concern to you.

 

Sincerely,

 

 

Tom Harkin

United States Senator

This letter was a reply from the office of Tom Harkin on May 29, 2013.
Reply from Senator Harkin

May 29, 2013

 

 

 

 

Mr. Kimberly Reinitz

1624 Rustin St

IA  -

Dear Kimberly:

Thank you for contacting me regarding proposed gun safety legislation and improvements needed to our mental health system.

Senseless gun violence is a daily fact of life in communities all across America. It has been four months since the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, which followed a seemingly endless stream of mass shootings including those at Columbine, Virginia Tech and in Arizona. After Sandy Hook, I hoped that Congress would be able to come together to pass sensible legislation to prevent future gun violence. Unfortunately, the Senate recently blocked several commonsense gun safety measures, despite the fact that each of them enjoyed majority support in the Senate. 

For example, Senators Toomey and Manchin - two lifelong gun-rights advocates - negotiated a very modest measure that would have closed the loopholes in the current background check system that exempt sales over the Internet and at gun shows.  Improving background checks is supported by 90 percent of the public and in no way would have impeded any citizen from lawfully owning a weapon. The background check measure failed due to a filibuster even though it received 54 votes.

I was particularly disappointed that a minority of Senators even blocked passage of an amendment to make it a federal crime to buy a gun for a felon or otherwise dangerous criminal who couldn't pass a background check on their own. The amendment in no way prevented a law abiding Iowan from owning a weapon and yet would have made a difference in keeping our communities safe. This measure failed as well, falling two votes short of the 60 needed to overcome a filibuster.

I am committed to protecting fundamental Second Amendment rights and could not support unduly burdensome gun control. However, I also believe that we can respect the rights of gun owners while taking reasonable steps to protect our communities. The measures that were considered in the Senate would have achieved that balance, making it more difficult for felons and other individuals who wish to hurt our families to access weapons, but in a way which did not infringe on the ability of law abiding Iowans to have access to a gun. That is why I was deeply saddened and disappointed that a minority of senators blocked these common sense measures.

I hope that we will revisit this issue in the future with different results. Only then, will we have appropriately honored the memory of the victims of Sandy Hook and thousands of other Americans who die from senseless gun violence each year.

The tragedy of Newtown also shined a light on the state of our country's mental health care system. For years, I have fought for mental health reform and achieved historic gains through the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). For the first time, the ACA prohibits insurance companies from denying coverage to individuals with pre-existing conditions, including mental illness. In addition, beginning next year, the ACA requires health plans to cover mental health and substance abuse services as part of the plan's essential benefits package. These benefits must be provided at cost and treatment level parity with other covered medical services. The law also addresses the critical shortage of trained mental health professionals in rural states like Iowa, by establishing loan repayment programs for professionals who practice in underserved areas. Finally, the ACA provides grants to support mental health practitioner training, particularly for child and adolescent mental health professionals, graduate psychology, and social work programs.

In addition, earlier this year, as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (HELP), I convened a hearing that analyzed some of the shortcomings of the mental health care system. Building off of this hearing and other committee discussions, I worked with my committee colleagues to unanimously approve the Mental Health Awareness and Improvement Act, a bipartisan measure that increases awareness, prevention, and early identification of mental health conditions, particularly among young people. This measure focuses on prevention in school settings, encourages school-based mental health partnerships, and increases support for suicide prevention and traumatic event recovery programs. The measure also provides mental health awareness education, training, and resources for teachers and school personnel. On April 18, 2013, the full Senate adopted this measure as an amendment to the broader gun safety measure under consideration by Congress. While that legislation remains stalled due to the filibuster of measures such as the background check, I am eager to see my mental health measure enacted into law and look forward to continuing to support improving our mental health.

Again, thank you for your input on this matter. Please do not hesitate to contact me on any issue that concerns you.

 

Sincerely,

 

 

Tom Harkin

United States Senator

This letter was a reply from the office of Tom Harkin on May 30, 2013.
Reply from Senator Harkin

May 30, 2013

 

 

 

 

Mr. Kimberly Reinitz

1624 Rustin St

IA  -

Dear Kimberly:

Thank you for taking the time to contact me regarding proposed legislation that would repeal certain provisions pertaining to energy efficiency that were included in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA),which was signed into law by President Bush on December 19, 2007. EISA mandated energy efficiency improvements in a variety of areas, including vehicles, appliances, and lighting. Recent energy efficiency requirements for vehicles and appliances have resulted in many new and more efficient models, as well as significant energy savings for consumers, and the vehicle and appliance efficiency requirements in the 2007 energy bill will do the same. Similarly, the requirements for lighting in EISA are already leading to more efficient products that will save both energy and money for consumers.

Lighting accounts for a significant amount of the energy we use in our homes and businesses but, traditionally, lighting systems have been very inefficient. At the same time, energy consumption is continuing to rise across the globe even while conventional energy resources are becoming more scarce and costly. I supported EISA due to my strong conviction that we need to ensure that future generations can also meet their energy needs. Improvements in energy efficiency are crucial in reducing our overall energy consumption and reducing our dependence on non-renewable resources. I have long supported research and development of alternative energy, including both energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies, as well as policies that encourage their adoption and use. We owe this sound stewardship of resources to our children and grandchildren and generations to come.

Again, thank you for contacting me. I will certainly keep your concerns in mind.

 

Sincerely,

 

 

Tom Harkin

United States Senator

This letter was a reply from the office of Tom Harkin on May 31, 2013.
Reply from Senator Harkin

May 31, 2013

 

 

 

 

Mr. Kimberly Reinitz

1624 Rustin St

IA  -

Dear Kimberly:

Thank you for sharing with me your thoughts and concerns regarding the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act of 2011, S. 1211.  I appreciate having the benefit of your views on this issue.  As you may know, this bill was introduced during the 112th Congress and was still pending when Congress adjourned.  As such, this legislation will need to be reintroduced during the current session of Congress in order to be considered again. 

The discovery of antibiotics was one of the most significant advances in protecting both human and animal health.  Over time, however, strains of microbes have grown resistant to antibiotics that were previously highly effective.  This is a matter of significant concern for both human and animal health. 

Responsible use of antibiotics is very important to maintaining their effectiveness in medical and veterinary applications, and this issue has been a priority for my office.  I recently coauthored a letter to the Food and Drug Administration requesting that the agency assess data needs relating to the use of antibiotics in food-producing animals, and asking whether more data about this issue could be made public.  The letter also encouraged the agency to provide final guidance relating to injudicious uses of antibiotics in animals. Previously, I have also requested and obtained studies from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on issues relating to antibiotic resistance, and I worked to support more research into antibiotic resistance through measures such as the 2008 Farm Bill.  Rest assured I will continue to closely monitor this issue as it develops.

Again, thanks for sharing your views with me.  Should antibiotic issues come to the floor of the Senate during the 113th Congress, please know that I will certainly give your views careful consideration.

 

Sincerely,

 

 

Tom Harkin

United States Senator

This letter was a reply from the office of Tom Harkin on June 25, 2013.
Reply from Senator Harkin

June 25, 2013

 

 

 

 

Mr. Kimberly Reinitz

1624 Rustin St

IA  -

Dear Kimberly:

Thank you for contacting me with your views on the need to reform our immigration laws.

Since 2007, our country has significantly increased its focus on enforcing existing immigration laws and securing our border.  Our government spends more than $18 billion annually on immigration and border enforcement - an amount greater than all other federal law enforcement agencies combined - including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Drug Enforcement Agency, Transportation and Security Administration, the United States Park Police, the Secret Service and many others.  The number of Customs and Border Patrol Agents stationed on the border has nearly doubled since Congress last took up this matter.  As a result, the number of undocumented immigrants arriving to the United States across the southern border has declined by 80 percent.  In addition, annual deportations are higher than they have ever been - approaching 400,000 people annually.  In short, we have made significant strides in enforcing immigration laws and securing our border.  Progress made in these respects now provides an opportunity for our country to address those aspects of our immigration system that continue to call out for change.

A bipartisan group of eight of my colleagues introduced S. 744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, which is currently before the full Senate.  I welcome their contribution and look forward to an open debate on how to address our broken immigration system.  I have long supported taking an accountable, common-sense approach to immigration reform that creates a long-term solution and fixes our immigration problem once and for all.  Such an approach should include continued enforcement of immigration laws, maintaining a secure border, assuring that all immigrants pay their taxes, requiring employers to verify that their employees are authorized to work in the United States, helping unite families, and offering a practical solution to the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently present in the United States, particularly those brought over as children through no fault of their own.  Based upon what I have thus far learned about S. 744, there is much in the legislation that is consistent with my principles for immigration reform.

This legislation does, however, include new and expanded visa programs for temporary workers that concern me.  Specifically, the provisions regarding H1-B visas for highly skilled workers, which were agreed upon by the Judiciary Committee, give me pause.  According to the Economic Policy Institute, unemployment in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields is twice as high as it was last decade, and wages in high tech fields are stagnant - a sign that there's currently no generalized shortage of qualified workers applying for high tech jobs.  Despite these facts, a small number of companies continue to utilize H1-B visas rather than offer higher wages for qualified American workers, driving down wages for qualified American workers.  This also leave little to no visas for other professions and regions that urgently need them, such as medical professionals in rural Iowa.  Any deal to increase the number of H1-B or other visas for temporary workers should include greater protections for domestic and foreign workers so that wages and labor standards are not lowered across entire industries.

I hope that as the Senate continues to debate this legislation on the Senate floor that we can achieve a bill that will strengthen protections for American workers and increase the availability of good, middle class jobs while at the same time creating a humane, family-based immigration system.

Again, I thank you for contacting me on this issue.  Please rest assured that I will keep your views in mind as the Senate debates S. 744, and considers amendments to this legislation.

 

Sincerely,

 

 

Tom Harkin

United States Senator

This letter was a reply from the office of Tom Harkin on June 26, 2013.
Reply from Senator Harkin

June 26, 2013

 

 

 

 

Mr. Kimberly Reinitz

1624 Rustin St

IA  -

Dear Kimberly:

Thank you for sharing with me your thoughts regarding the Water Resources Development Act, S. 601, which was passed by the Senate with my support on May 15th by a vote of 83-14.

S. 601 authorizes water resource projects related to flood and storm risk reduction, inland waterway and coastal navigation, and ecosystem restoration through the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps). This legislation is critical to Iowa. We depend on the Mississippi River and Missouri River watersheds and related Corps projects for water supplies and recreation. And the work carried out by the Corps is vital to flood control and recovery. Accordingly, this legislation is crucial in facilitating the successful study, construction, and maintenance of Corps flood protection and mitigation projects throughout our state.

In addition,agricultural producers and other shippers depend upon navigation along the Mississippi River and Missouri River to gain access to markets throughout the country and the world. The channels, locks, and dams throughout our inland waterways system are the infrastructural elements that allow the system to safely and efficiently support this activity.

In particular, I appreciate your concerns regarding Title X of the bill, which authorizes a five year pilot program to allow the Environmental Protection Agency and the Corps to provide loans or loan guarantees for certain eligible water infrastructure projects. I generally believe that the Federal Government, states, and municipalities should adopt pay-as-you-go strategies for infrastructure projects. However the funding amounts needed to maintain, improve, and construct water infrastructure projects throughout the country significantly exceed the levels of funding that Congress has been able or willing to appropriate, particularly in today's very challenging budgetary environment. This pilot program is intended to enable states and local entities the ability to move forward on critical water resource projects. Please be assured that I will be closely following the effectiveness of this pilot program and its impacts on all water resource project stakeholders, particularly smaller communities.

It is now my hope that the House of Representatives will also pass a water resources development authorization bill, and that the Congress can send a new WRDA bill to the President for his signature sometime this year.

Thank you again for contacting me and please do not hesitate to do so in the future.

 

Sincerely,

 

 

Tom Harkin

United States Senator

This letter was a reply from the office of Tom Harkin on June 26, 2013.
Reply from Senator Harkin

June 26, 2013

 

 

 

 

Mr. Kimberly Reinitz

1624 Rustin St

IA  -

Dear Kimberly:

Thank you for contacting me to express your views regarding the privacy of your personal communications. I share your concerns that, according to recent news reports, government surveillance activities are being carried out via secret court order and with no public transparency.

It was recently reported that, pursuant to a FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) court order, the National Security Agency (NSA) has collected information regarding calls made and received by wireless telephone customers, as well as the time the call was made and its duration.

It was also reported that the government has been secretly collecting information on foreigners overseas from Internet companies including Google, Facebook and Apple in search of national security threats. The program collecting this information, known as PRISM, has been operational since 2007 and is authorized by the Patriot Act. Unlike the collection of call records, this surveillance can include the content of communications and not just the metadata.

I am not a member of the Intelligence Committee, which has been privy to considerable detail on these activities. As a result, I do not know the details of the PRISM program, about which only certain details have been released more broadly. Similarly, the FISA court order is classified. However, based on publicly available information, I have some concerns.

If reports are correct, the PRISM program allows the NSA to obtain targeted communications without having to request them from the service providers and without having to obtain individual court orders. With this program, the NSA is able to reach directly into the servers of the participating companies and obtain both stored communications as well as perform real-time collection on targeted users.

While, under the law, the primary aim of these activities is obtaining foreign intelligence from foreign targets, it appears that US communications that are inadvertently collected as part of this process can still be collected, retained, and used. This troubles me greatly. I believe that American citizens who have done nothing wrong rightfully expect that information relating to their phones call or emails cannot and should not be accessed and stored by the government. Indeed, the potential breadth of what the government could obtain is one reason I voted against the FISA Amendments Act in 2008.

While the Administration has stated that there are procedures in place to ensure that the data collected is only accessible if there is a reasonable suspicion of a terrorist act, conspiracy, or planning, it is critical to me that these checks are meaningful and that they are absolutely followed. Furthermore, I strongly believe that there should be considerably more transparency pertaining to these government activities. If these activities are vital to the security of our citizens, then the Administration should, within the confines of national security, explain to the American public what the activities are and why they are so critical.

Nothing is more important to me than the security of our country and I take the responsibility to protect our country very seriously. However, ensuring the national defense must be done without violating the rights of American citizens who have done nothing wrong and who have a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Again, thank you for contacting me. Please do not hesitate to let me know how you feel on any issue that concerns you.

 

Sincerely,

 

 

Tom Harkin

United States Senator

This letter was a reply from the office of Tom Harkin on June 26, 2013.
Reply from Senator Harkin

June 26, 2013

 

 

 

 

Mr. Kimberly Reinitz

1624 Rustin St

IA  -

Dear Kimberly:

Thank you for sharing with me your thoughts and concerns regarding Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) and the ongoing Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations. TPA is the authority Congress grants to the President to negotiate trade agreements and to allow implementing legislation to be considered under expedited legislative procedures.

TPA provided by the Bipartisan Trade Promotion Authority Act of 2002 (BTPAA) expired in 2007. As the Administration seeks progress on TPP, Congress will decide whether or not to renew TPA for purposes of negotiating TPP and other trade agreements. I assure you that I will be following this issue very closely and will keep your thoughts and concerns in mind.

Also, please allow me to share my thoughts with you regarding TPP, a proposed regional free trade agreement (FTA) being negotiated among the United States, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. Most recently, on April 24, President Obama notified Congress of his intent to include Japan in the negotiations. This started a 90-day consultation period with Congress and the American public. The 17th round of negotiations took place May 15 through 24 in Lima, Peru. For more information on TPP I encourage you to visit the Office of the United States Trade Representative website here, http://www.ustr.gov/tpp.

It is important to monitor the performance and consequences of existing trade agreements and to very carefully examine proposed agreements such as TPP. I believe that trade agreements must be judged by whether they provide economic benefits to workers and businesses inand our nation as a whole, as well as on whether they are environmentally responsible and meet responsible labor standards. Particularly for farmers and others in agricultural industries, trade on fair and reasonable terms is very important to the future prosperity of Iowans.

Trade agreements should counteract -- and certainly not encourage -- the ability of certain businesses and investors to gain economic advantage by seeking to do business in countries with lower labor or environmental standards. Disparities in standards set up an inherently tilted playing field. To help ensure that these fundamental concerns are being addressed throughout the TPP negotiations, I joined 22 Senators in signing a letter to President Obama last November that called attention to certain policies designed to avoid damaging trade activities. Specifically, the letter urged inclusion of an enforceable obligation to protect fundamental labor rights in other countries, as well as strong rules of origin to prevent non TPP countries from depressing U.S. markets. In addition, the letter urged the President to maintain domestic government procurement requirements and to include safeguards against off-shoring incentives and currency manipulation.

Thank you for again for contacting me to express your views on the TPP, the status of which I will continue to monitor closely. Please do not hesitate to contact me in the future on any matter of concern to you.

 

Sincerely,

 

 

Tom Harkin

United States Senator

This letter was a reply from the office of Tom Harkin on June 26, 2013.
Reply from Senator Harkin

June 26, 2013

 

 

 

 

Mr. Kimberly Reinitz

1624 Rustin St

IA  -

Dear Kimberly:

Thank you for sharing with me your concerns about the regulation and oversight of genetically engineered (GE) plants and foods.

It is essential for our nation to have a comprehensive and effective federal regulatory and oversight system to analyze potential risks of this technology to health or the environment and to adopt and enforce appropriate protective measures. Federal regulation of agricultural biotechnology is presently divided among the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Department of Agriculture (USDA). USDA's main authority and responsibility is under the federal Plant Protection Act, subject to the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) for federal agencies to analyze the environmental effects of their actions.

FDA has the critically important responsibility of protecting consumers by reviewing and ensuring the safety and appropriate labeling of GE foods and foods containing GE-derived ingredients. Under current FDA policy, consumer food labels must indicate all material facts about any food product, whether GE or traditional. For this reason, FDA requires labeling of GE foods to indicate, for example, if the GE food is significantly different from its traditional counterpart, has significantly different nutritional properties from its traditional counterpart, or includes an allergen that consumers would not expect to be present based on the name of the food.

In addition to requiring labeling under these circumstances, FDA also allows voluntary food labeling that informs consumers whether the food is or is not made using GE-derived ingredients. FDA has not, however, required that all GE foods be labeled as such, stating that the agency "has no basis for concluding that bioengineered foods differ from other foods in any meaningful or uniform way, or that, as a class, foods developed by the new techniques present any or greater safety concern." It is also important to note that any use of labeling to inform consumers about GE foods should not be viewed in any way as lessening FDA's fundamental responsibility to ensure the safety of GE foods and protect consumers.

Thank you again for sharing your views concerning the issues and ongoing discussion regarding GE foods. Please do not hesitate to contact me in the future.

 

Sincerely,

 

 

Tom Harkin

United States Senator

This letter was a reply from the office of Tom Harkin on July 01, 2013.
Reply from Senator Harkin

July 1, 2013

 

 

 

 

Mr. Kimberly Reinitz

1624 Rustin St

IA  -

Dear Kimberly:

Thank you for taking the time to share your support for S. 696, the Safe Chemicals Act of 2013, of which I am an original co-sponsor. Most recently, I also co-sponsored the Chemical Safety Improvement Act, S. 1009.

As consumers, we daily encounter a myriad of chemicals in nearly all aspects of our lives. Consumers generally take for granted that these chemicals are safe when used as intended. Thus, it is crucial that this consumer confidence rests upon a foundation of appropriate oversight and science-based approval of chemicals.

Under the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 (TSCA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is authorized to regulate new commercial chemicals before they enter the market, to regulate existing chemicals when they pose an unreasonable risk to human health or the environment, and to regulate the distribution and use of chemicals. However, due to the significant expansion of chemical development and use in the last three decades, our oversight of chemical safety is now seriously deficient. As such, we need to review and renovate our chemical regulatory tools and processes. Any changes to these tools and processes should improve the scientific scrutiny of chemicals to protect human and environmental health, without preventing or limiting beneficial uses of safe materials and products.

S. 1009 would amend the TSCA to further enable the EPA to protect consumers from toxic chemicals - requiring the EPA to categorize chemicals in the marketplace as either high priority or low priority, relative to their risks. The bill also defines a safety standard for chemicals, requiring that "no unreasonable risk of harm to human health or the environment will result from exposure to the chemical substance". Currently, the bill is before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. It is my hope that the full Senate can consider the bill sometime this year for debate and improvement.

Please do not hesitate to contact me in the future on any matter of concern to you.

 

Sincerely,

 

 

Tom Harkin

United States Senator

This letter was a reply from the office of Tom Harkin on July 03, 2013.
Reply from Senator Harkin

July 3, 2013

 

 

 

 

Mr. Kimberly Reinitz

1624 Rustin St

IA  -

Dear Kimberly:

I appreciate hearing your support for dietary supplements.  I have long championed the cause of health prevention, and I strongly believe that safe, properly labeled dietary supplements can be an important part of a healthy lifestyle.  In 1994, I joined with Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah to pass the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA).  DSHEA struck an important balance.  On the one hand, it recognized the importance of enhancing consumer access to vitamins, minerals, and other dietary supplements, and it recognized the virtues of scientific research and education on the benefits and risk of supplements.  On the other hand, it recognized the need for important regulatory safeguards to protect consumer health, including new safety standards, penalties for mislabeling or adulterating dietary supplements, and rules to ensure the scientific substantiation of claims regarding dietary supplements.  As a result, over the last 15 years, Americans have enjoyed unprecedented access to a range of safe products that help improve their health.

As a principal author of DSHEA, I strongly support maintaining the FDA's established regulatory authority.  In fact, you may be pleased to know that on May 25, 2010, I introduced the Dietary Supplement Full Implementation and Enforcement Act of 2010.  This legislation calls upon Congress to provide the FDA with the necessary resources to enforce DSHEA, in order to ensure that the public has access to safe and effective dietary supplements.

Thank you, again, for contacting me.  Please do not hesitate to contact me again if you have any additional questions or concerns.

 

Sincerely,

 

 

Tom Harkin

United States Senator

This letter was a reply from the office of Tom Harkin on July 15, 2013.
Reply from Senator Harkin

July 15, 2013

 

 

 

 

Mr. Kimberly Reinitz

1624 Rustin St

IA  -

Dear Kimberly:

Thank you for contacting me about tax policy. I appreciate hearing from you about this important topic.

Our tax code is in dire need of reform. Comprehensive tax reform, coupled with smart spending cuts, is necessary in order to reduce our budget deficits. More broadly, reform is imperative because our tax system has failed to adapt to the changing structure of our society and economy. However, it must be carried out in a balanced way that does not harm our most vulnerable citizens, reduce economic opportunity for the middle class, or compromise our competitiveness.

I strongly believe that tax policy is an important tool to rebuild a strong middle class and strengthen our economy. By ensuring that the most fortunate among us pay their fair share, we can make the important investments that give each person a chance to ascend the ladder of opportunity. Accordingly, we need to simplify the tax code and make it work for working families by building upon measures with a proven track record, including the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Work Opportunity tax credit, the Child tax credit, and the American Opportunity Tax Credit for higher education. While expanding these measures, we should strip out other loopholes and benefits for special interests. For example, I have for years fought to end a tax provision that effectively rewards American companies that shift their activities overseas. By re-tooling our tax code to benefit average Americans rather than special interests, we can take important steps to strengthen the middle class and restore economic security.

Unfortunately, over the past 30 years the tax code has increasingly favored the wealthy and corporations over working Americans. The decades-old principal of progressivity in our system - that wealthier folks pay a higher portion of their income in taxes - has diminished as top marginal rates on income and capital gains have repeatedly been cut. The results of these policies are clear: millionaires paid an average tax rate of 25% percent in 2010, down from 30% in 1995, when economic growth and job creation were at historic highs. 

For this reason, I am a co-sponsor of the Paying a Fair Share Act. Under current rules, high-income Americans who benefit from a variety of tax deductions and loopholes may pay a lower effective tax rate than many working Americans. The Paying a Fair Share Act would ensure that people who earn more than $2 million per year pay at least 30 percent of their income in taxes, an idea known more commonly as the Buffett Rule. The Paying a Fair Share Act would establish a minimum tax rate so that a hedge fund manager does not end up paying a lower rate than a truck driver. Recently, I was disappointed when a minority of senators voted to filibuster this bill and prevented it from receiving an up-or-down vote on the floor of the Senate.

Additionally, I have also introduced the Wall Street Trading and Speculators Act. This bill would impose a tiny tax (just 3 pennies on $100) on trades of stocks, bonds, and derivatives that are commonly carried out by banks and financial firms. Because the tax rate is so small, it would have a minimal impact on productive economic activity. It would, however, curb the high-speed, speculative trading in complex instruments that helped precipitate the financial crisis of 2008, and the ensuing economic downturn. This tax is estimated to raise more than $350 billion over ten years, which can help to reduce the budget deficit while also enabling us to finance critical investments in education, infrastructure, and research that will allow us to compete with other nations and attract the jobs of the future.

Earlier this year, I voted against the American Taxpayer Relief Act, which was signed into law by the President in January. I opposed this legislation because I did not believe that it did enough to protect middle class families or raise enough revenue to put our nation on a path to fiscal sustainability. While I was pleased that middle class families did not experience a tax increase, extending tax rates for many wealthy individuals will reduce revenues by hundreds of billions of dollars over the next decade. By not allowing tax rates on wealthy households earning between $250,000 and $450,000 to revert back to Clinton-era levels - a time when economic growth was robust and job creation was at all-time highs - we increase the risk to important benefits for the middle class. 

Thank you again for contacting me. Please do so again in the future if you have any other questions or concerns.

 

Sincerely,

 

 

Tom Harkin

United States Senator

This letter was a reply from the office of Tom Harkin on August 27, 2013.
Reply from Senator Harkin

August 27, 2013

 

 

 

 

Mr. Kimberly Reinitz

1624 Rustin St

IA  -

Dear Kimberly:

Thank you for contacting me. I appreciate your comments regarding compounded pharmaceutical products for animals and humans.

As you may know, a viral meningitis outbreak that began last fall has, as of June 3, claimed the lives of 58 people and gravely sickened more than 745. The outbreak was traced to a fungal contamination contained in drugs compounded by the New England Compounding Company (NECC), which ignored existing protocols for drugs compounded under sterile conditions. The company's gross negligence caused one of the worst public health outbreaks in recent memory. Patients across 20 states are still struggling with recurring infections and the serious side effects of anti-fungal medication prescribed to treat the infection.

Following the outbreak, as Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (HELP), I acted quickly to initiate an investigation into the causes of the outbreak and to convene committee hearings to examine the NECC outbreak. These actions helped us develop a better understanding of the regulatory and legal gaps that allowed this tragedy to occur. The result of over 8 months of careful deliberation is the development of bipartisan legislation that will ensure the safety and accessibility of compounded drugs. On May 22, 2013, the HELP Committee unanimously approved the bipartisan Pharmaceutical Quality and Accountability Act, S. 959.

This legislation makes clear the conditions under which state or federal oversight is responsible for regulating compounders. Compounding manufacturers that compound sterile products without a prescription and ship them across state lines will be subject to federal oversight, and will be required to register with and be inspected by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). At the same time, the bill provides for other compounders - including traditional pharmacies - to continue to be regulated by state law.

Because some confusion persists over the certain aspects of this bill, let me take a moment to set the record straight:

The bill does not ban the compounding of any specific products. Rather, the bill revises the conditions under which a compounded drug may use an active pharmaceutical ingredient that may pose safety concerns or represent a health fraud risk. The bill authorizes FDA to identify ingredients that have only attained monographs from the United States Pharmacopoeia (USP) or the National Formulary (NF) as not suitable for compounding due to public health concerns. The bill requires FDA to seek stakeholder input through a transparent rulemaking process, publish its reasoning for concluding an ingredient poses a risk, and accept public comment for at least 60 days.

The bill does not subject traditional compounders to current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP), the federal quality standards that apply to pharmaceutical manufacturers. Traditional compounders would continue to be subject to state pharmacy law requirements.

The bill does not require compounders to submit new drug applications (NDAs).  Any compounder that satisfies the requirements of this bill as either a compounding manufacturer or a traditional compounder is exempt from the federal NDA requirements.

The bill does not require physicians to submit any documentation to justify the need for the compounded drug, other than the prescription itself. The bill maintains current law that prohibits compounding exact duplicates of approved drugs, but explicitly allows compounders to fill doctors' prescriptions for compounded variations of approved drugs. Thus, patients will continue to have access to compounded drugs that, for instance, omit a particular ingredient due to patient allergy concerns.

This legislation is necessary to prevent another catastrophe like last fall's meningitis outbreak. As the Director of the Center of Drug Evaluation and Research stated at a HELP Committee hearing on drug compounding and the NECC contamination tragedy, "If action is not taken, this will happen again. It's not a question of whether. It's a question of when."

The Pharmaceutical Quality and Accountability Act provides a robust framework with the necessary policy solutions to protect public health and ensure consumer access to high quality compounded drugs, without intruding on doctors and the practice of medicine. I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to bring this bill to the Senate floor for a vote. For more information about this legislation, including an FAQ document, updated section-by-section summary, and to read the bill text, please visit the HELP Committee website at http://1.usa.gov/14MOfBt.

Please do not hesitate to contact me again about any issue that concerns you.

 

Sincerely,

 

 

Tom Harkin

United States Senator

This letter was a reply from the office of Tom Harkin on September 04, 2013.
Reply from Senator Harkin

September 4, 2013

 

 

 

 

Mr. Kimberly Reinitz

1624 Rustin St

IA  -

Dear Kimberly:

Thank you for writing to share your views regarding the Preventing Antibiotic Resistance Act (S. 1256).

Senator Feinstein introduced S. 1256 in June, and it was assigned to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, of which I am the Chairman. This legislation would require drug companies and agriculture producers to demonstrate that antibiotics are being used to treat clinically diagnosable diseases in livestock, rather than simply being included in daily feed. The bill is intended to prevent the development of infections in humans that cannot be treated with existing medicines.

Responsible use of antibiotics is very important to maintaining their effectiveness in medical and veterinary applications, and this issue has been a priority for my office.  I recently coauthored a letter to the Food and Drug Administration requesting that the agency assess data needs relating to the use of antibiotics in food-producing animals, and whether more data about this issue could be made public.  The letter also encourages the agency to provide final guidance relating to injudicious uses of antibiotics in animals. Previously, I have also requested and obtained studies from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on issues relating to antibiotic resistance, and I worked to support more research into antibiotic resistance through measures such as the 2008 Farm Bill.  Rest assured I will continue to closely monitor this issue as it develops.

As part of a new animal drug approval process, the Center for Veterinary Medicine (a sub-agency of the FDA) developed and implemented an approach for assessing antimicrobial resistance concerns associated with the use of drugs in food-producing animals. To learn more about the FDA's approach, please visit the agency's website, found here: http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Testimony/ucm219015.htm.

As I consider Senator Feinstein's bill, I will refer to scientific data and analysis, while also keeping in mind the critical importance of antibiotics in protecting human health. Thank you again for sharing your thoughts, I can assure you that I will keep your views in mind.

 

Sincerely,

 

 

Tom Harkin

United States Senator

This letter was a reply from the office of Tom Harkin on September 09, 2013.
Reply from Senator Harkin

September 9, 2013

 

 

 

 

Mr. Kimberly Reinitz

1624 Rustin St

IA  -

Dear Kimberly:

Thank you for contacting me. I appreciate hearing your views on Senate rules reform.

The filibuster, once an extraordinary tool used judiciously and with caution,  has become a common tactic to thwart the will of the majority and to bring to a halt even the most routine business in the U.S. Senate. During the entire 19th Century, there were only 23 filibusters. From 1950-1969 there were a total of 20 filibusters. In contrast, since 2007, the majority has had to file nearly 400 motions to end filibusters. These are not just cold statistics. In too many cases, the filibuster represents the minority party blocking measures that enjoy majority, often bipartisan, support, and which are designed to improve the lives of the American people. Moreover, as used today, the filibuster, rather than being used to foster debate, is frequently used to prevent a bill or nominee from even being considered on the Senate floor-in other words, to prevent debate and deliberation.

This obstruction has been most apparent in efforts to block a majority of the Senate from voting on the confirmation of President Obama's nominees to fill critical executive branch departments and agencies, such as the Department of Labor, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Labor Relations Board, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.  In most cases, this obstruction had nothing to do with the merits of an individual nominee, but rather with the minority's opposition to duly enacted laws that these particular agencies are charged with enforcing.  In other words, the filibuster was used to block confirmation of individuals precisely so critical laws protecting rights of workers, consumers and the environment would remain unenforced. 

In response to this needless obstruction many, including me, suggested a change in the Senate rules to ensure that executive branch nominees receive an up-or-down vote.  I am glad that an agreement was reached whereby critical nominees were confirmed and vital agencies remained fully operational, but I firmly believe that the unprecedented use of the filibuster in recent years is untenable.  As I have for nearly 20 years, I will continue to advocate for rules changes that will protect minority rights, while ensuring our Senate, and our government, can fully function.

For example, on January 3, 2013, the first day of the 113th Congress, I introduced legislation to change the Senate filibuster rules.  My proposal would guarantee the minority party the right to ample debate and deliberation, as well as the opportunity to offer germane amendments, but would ensure that a majority of the people's representatives is able to effectively legislate. I first introduced my proposal in 1995 - when I was a member of the minority party.

Under my proposal, over an eight day period, the number of votes needed to end a filibuster would progressively decline from the 60 votes needed currently, down to a simple majority. Prior to the final vote for passage, both parties would be able to offer germane amendments to the bill. My resolution would guarantee the minority time to offer its views, try to shift public opinion, and attempt to persuade their colleagues, but not stop legislation from further consideration or even an up or down vote.

In addition, I strongly supported a measure which would require the minority to actually filibuster-meaning the minority would have to come to the Senate floor and offer their views to improve or amend the matter at hand. Unfortunately, because of outdated rules, today an actual filibuster rarely occurs. Too often, just the mere threat of a filibuster is all that is needed to block a measure that enjoys majority support. Similar to my proposal, this resolution would work to restore the filibuster to its original intent-to ensure the representation of minority views and foster deliberation.

Unfortunately, neither of these proposals passed.  Instead, the Senate adopted much more modest reforms designed to streamline the process for passage of bills after 60-vote cloture is invoked and to make it easier to confirm sub-cabinet and district court nominees. While a step in the right direction, I am disappointed that the Senate did not pass more meaningful reform.

While I supported these reforms in January, and am pleased that critical nominees were recently confirmed, they are far from the meaningful reforms needed to ensure the Senate is a properly functioning legislative body governed by the fundamental principle basic to our democracy-the rule of the majority in the legislative body. That is why I will continue to advocate for proposals designed to reform and to curtail the abusive use of the filibuster.

The American people elect a legislative body to effectively respond to the critical issues of our time. Please be assured that I remain committed to fighting for measures that serve this purpose.

Again, thank you for sharing your views. Please do not hesitate to contact me on any issue that concerns you.

 

Sincerely,

 

 

Tom Harkin

United States Senator

This letter was a reply from the office of Tom Harkin on September 19, 2013.
Reply from Senator Harkin

September 19, 2013

 

 

 

 

Mr. Kimberly Reinitz

1624 Rustin St

IA  -

Dear Kimberly:

Thank you for sharing your thoughts on The Protect Interstate Commerce Act (PICA). I appreciate hearing from you.

During the House Agriculture Committee's consideration of a new farm bill, Representative Steve King offered PICA as an amendment to the bill. This amendment, which was adopted by the committee, would exempt out-of-state agricultural products from having to meet standards or conditions for production set by a state. Under PICA, as long as a product meets federal standards and those set by state or local laws where the product was produced, the sale of that product cannot be restricted by another state or locality. No comparable provision has been considered in the Senate-passed version of the farm bill.

On July 11, the House of Representatives passed a version of a farm bill, modified from what the House Agriculture Committee had reported in order to omit entirely the nutrition assistance programs. The bill passed by the House did, however, retain the PICA amendment. This amendment raises a number of issues that must be seriously addressed, including its broad scope and its preemption of numerous and varied state and local laws. We in the Senate have requested a conference to resolve the differences between the version of a new farm bill passed in June and the House's version. At this time, the House has not agreed to a conference on a new farm bill.

I hope that the Senate and House will work together in conference to agree upon a reasonably balanced new farm bill that helps farm families and rural communities, reduces the deficit, and enables low-income families to put food on the table. Much work remains to develop and agree upon a final food and agriculture bill that can be sent to the President for his signature. Regarding the PICA amendment that is in the House version of the bill, you can be sure that I appreciate your concerns and will keep your thoughts in mind.

Thank you again for writing to me about this issue, and please do not hesitate to write me in the future with any concerns you may have.

 

Sincerely,

 

 

Tom Harkin

United States Senator

Note to Congressional staff & elected officials reading this: this letter was sent through Contact-Congress features on OpenCongress.org, a free public resource website, but in the future we seek to compel the U.S. Congress to adopt fully open technology for constituent communications. For more information how your office can better handle public feedback through an open API and open standards, contact us -- even today, there are significantly more efficient and responsive ways for our elected officials to receive email feedback than the status quo of individual webforms. For greater public accountability in government, we must make the process of writing one's members of Congress more accessible and empowering. Looking ahead, we will release more data from Contact-Congress letters and Congressional response rates back into the public commons. This will result in a new open data source on bills & issues people care about, as well as encourage best practices in constituent communications and make it possible to grade members of Congress on their responsiveness & citizen satisfaction.