“What’s one vote you’d go back and change?”
This was the first question posed to Representative Lynn Jenkins at her “Coffee with Your Congresswoman” event at Pittsburg Public Library last Wednesday morning.
“I rarely look back,” Jenkins replied. “We vote on thousands of bills, so I don’t have time to look back and relitigate past mistakes.”
However, we at the Appeal feel that a properly functioning democracy calls for an examination of our leaders’ actions. So let’s take a look at some of the issues addressed.
When asked how to address Southeast Kansas’s “manufacturing crisis,” Jenkins cited her vote for House Resolution 594: Waters of the United States Regulatory Overreach Protection Act of 2015, which President Obama vetoed just days before her visit, as one way she has worked to help business. The bill would have kept the Environmental Protection Agency from “developing, finalizing, adopting, implementing, applying, administering, or enforcing the…’Definition of “Waters of the United States” Under the Clean Water Act.'”
While Jenkins said “Waters of the United States” is an example of “unreasonable regulation,” Congress’s action would have prohibited the Environmental Protection Agency from protecting American waterways, including the Flint River, whose water has poisoned thousands in Flint, MI. Critics of H.R. 594 point to the heavy influence lobbyists have had on the bill, arguing that representatives like Jenkins have put corporate interests over the welfare of Americans.
Related to her views on regulation is her stance on taxes. Jenkins stated that the US has “the highest corporate tax rate in the organized, developed world,” which, she argued, is keeping American businesses from competing globally. Technically, she is correct; the United States ranks highest among 34 most advanced industrialized nations when you look at the base tax rate applied to corporate profits. However, our system of deductions and write-offs skews that number downward. When all is said and done, the average federal tax rate for U.S. corporations is 12.6%, and Jenkins herself recognized that corporations like GE have paid no corporate income tax. (Some of the most profitable American companies, including Prudential and CBS Corp., have gotten away with paying zero income tax for years.)
But, as co-sponsor of “The Fair Tax,” zero corporate income tax is what Jenkins proposes. The so-called Fair Tax would eliminate all federal taxes and replace them with a 23% nationwide sales tax. But sales tax is regressive and puts a greater burden on middle and low income families. Kansans have seen firsthand the effects of cutting income tax and raising sales tax to make up for it–namely in the state’s budget shortfalls in the hundreds of millions of dollars and border hopping to avoid higher sales tax.
Acknowledging the unlikelihood of much getting done in Congress, Jenkins blamed “vetoes from the president’s office” for the lack of action. It is true that her visit came shortly after Obama’s veto of H.R. 594 (see “Regulation” above), but President Obama has in fact vetoed fewer bills than every president since Warren G. Harding in 1923. Furthermore, Obama’s 8 vetoes are nearly one tenth of Republican Ronald Reagan’s 78. Meanwhile, the 114th Congress has passed the lowest percentage of bills introduced of any Congress in the last decade.
Medicaid Expansion in Kansas
When questioned about Kansans lacking healthcare coverage, Jenkins passed the buck to Topeka, encouraging constituents to reach out and educate their state representatives. “You have to win the hearts and minds of the people in Topeka,” Jenkins advised.
This struck a nerve with some in attendance. “The thing that really disappointed me was…when she [said] ‘Go back and tell your state people,'” Michael Fienen said. “Leaders don’t say, ‘Well, that’s not my problem.'”
Lynn Grant, chair of Crawford County Democrats and wife of late state representative Bob Grant, added, “She is a state leader. She is one of 6 in Washington, and she does have influence with the State leadership. If she didn’t, she wouldn’t be in the position she is.”
Money in Politics
Once in that position of power, Jenkins claimed that campaign contributions do not affect the way she votes. “Corporations can’t make donations. It’s individuals that fund my campaign,” she said. “There are PACs that are set up by corporations, but all the money that comes into that is from a human being–an individual. It’s not like corporations can do squat to get me elected.”
But considering her record suggests otherwise. For instance, since 2009, a political action committee (PAC) run by QC Holdings, Inc., an Overland Park payday loan company, has been Jenkins’s largest contributor. During the 2011-2012 election cycle, QC Holdings nearly tripled their donations to Jenkins from the previous year. It was at this same time that Jenkins co-sponsored H.R. 1121, “The Responsible Consumer Financial Regulations Act of 2011,” which critics of the bill argue would render the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the agency responsible for consumer protection in the financial sector, “less effective and less accountable.”
In fact, The Campaign for Accountability filed an ethics complaint against Jenkins’s colleague and fellow co-sponsor of H.R. 1121, Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.), pointing to the $24,800 QC Holdings gave to Yoder’s campaign just before he co-sponsored the bill in March of 2011. Two months later, Jenkins also co-sponsored the bill, and she received $51,300 from QC Holdings that same campaign cycle.
Although politicians like Jenkins argue these contribution have no effect on the way they vote, studies have shown large donations’ impact extend beyond a “yea” or “nay” and actually shape the wording of bills, earmarks, and whether a bill ever goes to a vote. And while few politicians are found guilty of quid pro quo corruption, the American people recognize that corporations like QC Holdings and billionaires like David and Charles Koch are getting something for their generosity. What’s worse, the views of average Americans have “little to no influence” on public policy, according to this Princeton study.
At the very least, a sizable donation buys a politician’s ear. Studies have shown that not only are politicians more likely to meet with donors when requested, those donors also have greater access to senior staffers than constituents. And it is not likely the victims of payday loan schemes (whose average annual income is $26,000 and who are paying average interest rates of 339%) could afford some of Jenkins’s time.
You can contact Representative Lynn Jenkins here.