October 25, 2014

Sen. Johanns calls for travel restrictions to battle Ebola (AUDIO)

Sen. Mike Johanns

Sen. Mike Johanns

Sen. Mike Johanns supports temporary travel restrictions in wake of the Ebola outbreak.

Johanns says news reports that health officials say a nurse should never have flown commercially shortly before being diagnosed with Ebola prompted him to back travel restrictions.

“I’m not calling for a ban, but I am calling for travel restrictions to help us fight this problem and get on top of it,” Johanns tells Nebraska Radio Network.

Johanns says he has to acknowledge a couple of things in calling for travel restrictions. One, travel restrictions aren’t a perfect barrier to a virus. Second, American citizens have responded to the tragedy in West Africa and should be allowed to return, with proper screening.

Johanns says the only way to really combat Ebola is by the United States providing humanitarian aid to Liberia and other African countries suffering from the disease.

Johanns says Ebola is a very dangerous disease that must be treated very seriously.

“There’s not room for error whatsoever,” Johanns says. “Once exposed, the chances of death are very, very high.”

Johanns also worries about the capacity of American hospitals to treat those who contract the disease. The University of Nebraska Medical Center has one of the few bio-containment units in the country that can treat a patient with Ebola. It has successfully treated one and currently is treated a second victim.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:45]

Sen. Johanns: EPA shouldn’t garnish wages without court consent

Sen. Mike Johanns doesn’t want the Environmental Protection Agency to garnish the wages of Americans without a court order.

Johanns has introduced legislation with South Dakota Sen. John Thune to prevent the EPA from moving forward with a new rule.

“With all the new federal regulations being issued, I find it troubling that the EPA is now seeking authority to garnish wages for unpaid fines or penalties without a court order,” Johanns tells Nebraska reporters during a conference call.

Johanns says if the EPA has a legitimate reason to collect a fine, it shouldn’t be hard to get a judge’s blessing.

Johanns says the bill would provide a check on the expanding power of the EPA.

“Given EPA’s regulatory zeal, especially in ag circles, it’s just common sense that EPA should not have unilateral authority to take money out of American’s paychecks without seeking court approval,” Johanns says.

Johanns also has written EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, requesting EPA not to move forward until it receives public input.

Sens. John Barrasso (R-WY), Mike Enzi (R-WY), Deb Fischer (R-NE), Jeff Flake (R-AR), Jim Inhofe (R-OK), Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Rand Paul (R-KY) and Pat Roberts (R-KS) are original cosponsors of the Johanns-Thune bill.

Johanns’ office says the Johanns-Thune legislation specifically states EPA must receive a court order before taking any wage garnishment actions established by the 1996 Debt Collection Improvement Act (DCIA). The 1996 law gave federal agencies the authority to garnish up to 15% of a worker’s wages to pay debts owed to the federal government.

Russian threat to cut off farm imports not seen as big to Nebraska (AUDIO)

A threat from Russia to cut off agricultural imports from the United States isn’t seen as significant for Nebraska.

Sen. Mike Johanns says exports to Russia have declined over the years as Russia has proven to be an unreliable trade partner.

Johanns, the former Secretary of Agriculture, adds the problem could be resolved rather quickly.

“This can be solved tonight, today, this morning, if Putin just says, ‘Look, we’re not going to invade Ukraine. We’re not going to try to take over Crimea. These are sovereign areas that we’re going to leave alone,’” Johanns tells Nebraska Radio Network.

If that were to happen, normalized trading between Russia and the United States could resume, according to Putin.

Russian President Vladimir Putin made the threat in retaliation to economic sanctions imposed because of Russian aggression toward Ukraine. Putin has ordered Russian authorities to draw up a list of agricultural products from countries that have participated in the economic sanctions against Russia, purportedly banning all products from the United States.

The biggest impact in Nebraska would be the sale of dry beans. Nebraska is a major producer and has a substantial market share in Russia. Other Nebraska farm exports to Russia, such as beef, have declined over the past few years.

Nebraska Farm Bureau President Steve Nelson doesn’t perceive the threat as substantial.

“It could become a bigger issue, but I guess at this point, I’m not sure that it’s going to be that big of an issue,” Nelson tells Nebraska Radio Network.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:45]

Sen. Johanns joins legislation to address border crisis (AUDIO)

Sen. Mike Johanns has backed legislation to resolve the crisis which has allowed an estimated 57,000 children to cross the southern border illegally.

Johanns co-sponsors a bill that would tweak the 2008 law on illegal immigrant children, create a swifter immigration process for the children, and add 40 immigration judges.

“In Nebraska, immigration court dates are being set more than two years out, 800-and-some days out, with 5,000 undocumented immigrants awaiting a hearing, not even counting what we’re dealing with here,” Johanns says.

The senator refers to the 200 children the federal Department of Health and Human Services has placed in Nebraska.

Johanns blames President Barack Obama in large part for the problem. Johanns says the president’s promise during the 2012 campaign that minors illegally brought into the country will not be deported has been exploited by unsavory people in Central America.

The so-called coyotes have spread the word through the region that children making it to America will not be turned away or sent back, according to Johanns. They have shaken down families, according to the senator, with the promise of a better life for the children only to take them on what Johanns calls the “trip from Hell.”

The legislation would amend the 2008 law on unaccompanied minor children from Central America, would speed up the immigration process for the minors, would add 40 immigration judges to handle the backlog of immigration cases, would secure high-traffic areas of the border, and would authorize governors to send National Guard troops to the border.

Johanns gives President Obama’s request for $3.7 billion to address the problem no chance of passing.

“I think the administration has got to reach out and start working with people, because I don’t believe their original request is going to go anywhere. I just don’t think it’s going to be funded.”

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:50]

Johanns asserts 6.1% unemployment rate doesn’t reflect reality (AUDIO)

Sen. Mike Johanns has questioned the Federal Reserve chairwoman on whether she is satisfied with the progress on the federal unemployment rate.

Johanns, during a Senate Banking Committee hearing, told Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen that while a 6.1% percent unemployment rate looks impressive, only about 63% of Americans are actually in the labor market.

“We haven’t seen those kinds of numbers since Jimmy Carter was president,” Johanns told Yellen.

Johanns asserted the unemployment rate’s decline doesn’t reflect the reality that many Americans have become discouraged and have dropped out of the labor market. Others, according to Johanns, have been forced into part-time jobs often working two or three to try to make ends meet.

Yellen agreed, in part.

The Federal Reserve chairwoman told Johanns some of the drop in labor market participation has to do with demographics. In particular, as the country’s population has aged, more and more people leave the labor force.

Still, Yellen said there are discouraged workers out there. She predicted they would return to the labor force as the economy continues to improve. The influx of more workers will keep the unemployment rate from dropping as it has recently.

Yellen denied the Fed is satisfied with a 6.5% unemployment rate.

“So, that’s never been our target and 6.1% is not our target either,” Yellen replied to Johanns.

The Fed has been keeping interest rates extremely low and propping up the economy through its monthly bond-buying stimulus program.

Johanns praised Yellen for reducing the purchases, but expressed concern that the Federal Reserve purchases have grown to $4.4 trillion.

Yellen said that if the labor market shows improvement into the fall and inflation stays in check, the Fed would likely end the stimulus program in October.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:45]