Economic challenges amid fentanyl crisis, government overreach

Each month I want to provide you with regular updates about what’s going on in our nation’s capital and throughout the 4th District of Kansas. Here’s what happened in August.

Fitch Downgrade

In August Fitch Ratings downgraded the U.S. credit score from its highest rating to AA+.

Government spending that outpaces revenue is an entrenched problem in Washington that jeopardizes our nation, causing Fitch to take note.

Americans know that Washington has a spending problem, and Fitch’s report says they expect the “deficit to rise to 6.3% of GDP in 2023, from 3.7% in 2022, reflecting cyclically weaker federal revenues, new spending initiatives and a higher interest burden.”

The debt-per-citizen today is already more than $97,000. That’s $97,000 for every man, woman and child – it’s an outrageous burden that will cripple future generations.

Out-of-control spending simply isn’t sustainable, and the credit downgrade is a reminder of how serious the problem is. We urgently need to rein in this unchecked spending, which is why I’m on the steering committee of the Bipartisan Fiscal Forum, a bipartisan group of members working to advance responsible budget and spending reforms.

Bidenomics’ Woes

Multiple recent headlines locally and nationally pointed to the failure of Bidenomics.

Locally, two news stories highlighted the budget struggle of Kansans. KSN ran a story reporting that gas prices are up 10% over last month. While the article correctly points out that seasonal factors can cause higher gas prices in the summer, the reality is that they have been up significantly since Biden took office. The average national price the week before the January 2021 inauguration was $2.379. The most recent AAA average as of writing this column was up to $3.823. It’s only slightly better here in Kansas at $3.573.

KWCH had a story the next day highlighting parents spending less on school supplies this year – but not because prices are down. Parents are doing everything they can to spend less on school supplies due to their own budget constraints.

These two stories don’t paint a good picture for family economies.

At the national level, the New York Federal Reserve reported that aggregate credit card balances have topped $1 trillion for the first time ever. More and more Americans are needing to use credit cards to cover spending due to high inflation. High interest rates mean this will be an ongoing problem for families.

Additionally, a Bank of America survey shows that many Americans are making hardship withdrawals from their 401(k) accounts at what CNN describes as “an alarming rate.” This means families are taking last-resort measures.

Contrast these four headlines with the most recent Consumer Price Index announcement. Inflation rose 3.2% year-over-year. That means the average price for everyday goods is up 3.2% over last year, but prices were already high then. The Biden administration touted this data as a win for Bidenomics, but are Americans really feeling good about the cost of goods and services? Do they feel like they have breathing room in their budget? These four stories don’t seem to indicate that’s the case.

That’s because inflation is actually up over 16% since Joe Biden took office. And wages haven’t kept up with inflation. Even if you’ve received a raise, it’s likely not enough to compete with Bidenflation.

I have voted against all of the bloated spending bills that contributed to these high prices that are hurting Americans, and I’ve introduced and cosponsored legislation encouraging American energy production to reduce gas prices. Unfortunately, common sense legislation and reduced spending aren’t going anywhere under a Biden administration.

One Pill Can Kill

Did you know that fentanyl is now the leading cause of death nationwide for adults ages 18-45? This illicit substance is ravaging our communities and killing young people in record numbers. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration now reports that of the fentanyl-laced pills it tests, 6 out of 10 pills contain a potentially lethal dose of fentanyl.

These are sobering facts that should motivate us to action, especially as students return to school.

Throughout the week of Aug. 21 as students were in their first few days of school, I joined my colleagues in the Kansas delegation to raise awareness about the danger of fentanyl. Together, we’re making sure that individuals, students, families, schools and communities know that just one pill can kill. We’re working to ensure families and communities understand the risks and have access to the resources they need.

Too many lives in Kansas and across the country have been lost to this drug. Please join me in helping to spread awareness and stem the tide of this epidemic.

Improving Affordability for Medicare Patients

Kansas seniors on Medicare deserve access to the full range of treatment and care they need, unimpeded by outdated policies that result in costly bills. I recently helped introduce legislation to improve health care affordability for Medicare patients. The bipartisan Improving Access to Medicare Coverage Act updates Medicare’s policy on skilled nursing care to make it more efficient and lead to better outcomes for patients.

The common sense legislation helps Medicare patients by fixing an arbitrary Medicare policy that excludes coverage of skilled nursing care for certain patients, resulting in exorbitant and unexpected out-of-pocket costs.

Under current Medicare policy, a beneficiary must have an “inpatient” hospital stay of at least three days for Medicare to cover skilled nursing care, but hospitals are increasingly holding patients under “observation status”—an “outpatient” designation. Under outdated Medicare rules, patients who receive hospital care on “observation status” do not qualify for the benefit of skilled nursing care, even if their hospital stay lasts longer than three days and even if their care team prescribes it. These patients are either forced to return home without the treatment they have been prescribed or, as often happens, are unexpectedly billed astronomical amounts after their stays in a skilled nursing facility.

The Improving Access to Medicare Coverage Act would ensure Medicare covers doctor-recommended, post-acute care by counting the time spent under “observation status” toward the requisite three-day hospital stay for coverage of skilled nursing care.

Biden Overreaches (Again) on WOTUS

The Biden administration released their revised Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule at the end of August, yet again demonstrating the appalling overreach by the federal government that has plagued Kansas ranchers, farmers and energy producers for years.

The WOTUS rule clearly violates the Supreme Court’s decision in Sackett v. EPA, highlighting the Biden administration’s prerogative to simply ignore the courts in pursuit of their own extreme agenda. Additionally, the administration’s actions disregard Americans by shutting them out of a comment period for this rule. This is another attempt by Washington bureaucrats to impose burdensome regulations on others and I will continue to push back on these policies that hurt Kansans.

Afghanistan: Two Years Later

Two years ago, 13 American service members made the ultimate sacrifice while serving in Kabul, Afghanistan. President Biden’s hasty and disastrous withdrawal led to chaos and the unnecessary loss of these and many other lives. Please join me in prayer for these brave men and women and the families they left behind. We are indebted to you for your service and sacrifice.

Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Darin T. Hoover, 31, of Salt Lake City, Utah.

Marine Corps Sgt. Johanny Rosario Pichardo, 25, of Lawrence, Massachusetts.

Marine Corps Sgt. Nicole L. Gee, 23, of Sacramento, California.

Marine Corps Cpl. Hunter Lopez, 22, of Indio, California.

Marine Corps Cpl. Daegan W. Page, 23, of Omaha, Nebraska.

Marine Corps Cpl. Humberto A. Sanchez, 22, of Logansport, Indiana.

Marine Corps Lance Cpl. David L. Espinoza, 20, of Rio Bravo, Texas.

Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Jared M. Schmitz, 20, of St. Charles, Missouri.

Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Rylee J. McCollum, 20, of Jackson, Wyoming.

Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Dylan R. Merola, 20, of Rancho Cucamonga, California.

Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Kareem M. Nikoui, 20, of Norco, California.

Navy Hospitalman Maxton W. Soviak, 22, of Berlin Heights, Ohio.

Army Staff Sgt. Ryan C. Knauss, 23, of Corryton, Tennessee.

– Ron Estes has been the U.S. representative for Kansas’s 4th congressional district since April 2017. A member of the Republican Party, he previously served as the 39th Kansas State Treasurer from 2011 to 2017