Jeff Flake - U.S. Senator ~ Arizona

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By Sen. Jeff Flake 
Feb. 19, 2018

Having spent the better part of two decades trying to tackle the challenges we face as a country, I sometimes feel a little defensive when I hear someone say Congress is incapable of solving big problems.

But that’s a hard point to argue after watching the Senate squander its best opportunity to pass legislation both to protect young immigrants affected by the uncertain future of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and to strengthen security along the border.

Somehow, despite sweeping public support for both these items, we could not find a compromise that 60 senators could agree with. To say it was a disappointment would be an understatement.

I do appreciate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s attempt to facilitate an open debate to deliver an effective piece of bipartisan legislation. Senators on both sides of the aisle made a concerted effort to forge consensus. Unfortunately, the siren call of politics brought too many of us back into partisan trenches and blocked any hope of real results.

But there are teachers, students and members of the military who are DACA recipients. They are friends and colleagues who represent the very best of America — hard workers and productive members of their families and communities — and they do not have the luxury of accepting defeat and moving on to the next agenda item.

Likewise, those of us from border states know that law enforcement officers tasked with patrolling the border and protecting our neighborhoods cannot just give up and go home.

But if I’m being candid, after what we’ve experienced over these past weeks, I can’t see this Congress agreeing with this president on a package that includes a path to citizenship for DACA participants coupled with significant changes to our legal immigration structure. That comprehensive immigration reform has proved to be beyond our grasp.

That is why, when the Senate reconvenes next week, the first action I will take will be to introduce a bill extending DACA protections for three years and providing $7.6 billion to fully fund the first three years of the administration’s border-security proposal. I’ll be the first to admit this “three for three” approach is far from a perfect solution, but it would provide a temporary fix by beginning the process of improving border security and ensuring DACA recipients will not face potential deportation.

Congress has become entirely too comfortable ignoring problems when they seem too difficult to solve. This issue is not something we can ignore.

In the days following the introduction of this DACA extension, I’ll be on the floor to offer a unanimous-consent request for an up-or-down vote. I can’t promise that one of my colleagues won’t object — effectively blocking such a vote — but I promise that I’ll be back on the floor, again and again, motioning for a vote until the Senate passes a bill providing relief to those struggling.

We may not have been able to deliver a permanent solution to these problems, but we cannot abdicate the responsibility of Congress to solve them. There are too many people with too much at stake.

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By Sen. Jeff Flake 
Oct. 17, 2017

Herd how alpacas could derail tax reform?

What do the cute, mild-mannered pets have to do with federal tax policy?

Earlier this year, I issued an oversight report entitled “TAX RACKETS: Outlandish Loopholes to Lower Tax Liabilities,” demonstrating how clever accounting allows nearly anything imaginable to become a write-off, including alpacas. To illustrate the point, the report outlined how local and federal tax bills can be sheared by claiming the exotic pets as livestock to turn backyards into barnyards.

That’s when the fur started to fly.

Alpaca owners associations that once brazenly touted the tax fleece as a key selling point of the animals now feigned outrage at the suggestion. The association tried to pull the wool over the eyes of taxpayers by retaining a professional PR consultant and launched a media campaign inundating my office and others with phone calls, social media messages, and letters and photos of alpacas.

If this mere mention of a tax break costing about $10 million annually enjoyed by relatively few elicited such an outmeasured and aggressive response, imagine the backlash to attempts to actually eliminate tax preferences benefiting powerful corporate and special interests to the tune of billions of dollars.

There are more than 200 loopholes buried throughout the tax code that collectively cost $1.23 trillion annually. This exceeds the total amount spent annually by the federal government for all discretionary programs, which includes defense, education, transportation, foreign aid and the environment.

These exemptions increase the bill for the average taxpayer and complicate the tax code, leading most individuals to hire a professional to prepare or buy software to help file their tax returns. More than 74,000 pages in length, no one — not even those in Washington who write the laws or enforce them — truly understands the tax code. But special interests are taking advantage of this confusion by hiring armies of accountants and Washington lobbyists to dodge taxes and cash in on the complexity of the code.

Developers are claiming $8 billion in tax credits every year supposedly to construct low-income housing. But with fewer homes being built and no basic accountability requirements, it is nearly impossible to track how the money is being spent. “IRS and no one else in the federal government really has an idea of what’s going on,” a government auditor admitted in testimony before Congress earlier this summer.

The same may be true for the hundreds of other tax loopholes.

A luxury yacht can qualify as a second home and be eligible for the mortgage interest deduction. Alaskan ship captains can expense costs for whaling as charitable deductions, even though no money goes to charity and whaling is illegal. High rollers can even itemize the cost of gambling trips, including entertainment. Even the cost of losing lottery tickets can be deducted, a scratch-off write-off.

Only the IRS knows who is taking advantage of these loopholes, and the agency cannot even verify that those claiming the tax breaks are eligible.

However, as tax reform begins in earnest on Capitol Hill and some of these loopholes are threatened we certainly will see forces mobilized to protect them. In fact, we could see many who would rather scuttle tax reform and threaten everyday Americans keeping more of their own paycheck than see these loopholes hit the wastebasket where they belong.

I look forward to highlighting some of these loopholes for the waste that they in fact represent and working to ensure that tax reform gets passed even over the objections of Washington’s special interests.

In addition, with an eye toward the future, I plan on introducing the Tax Expenditures Accountability Act, which will require the Treasury Department to disclose the corporate and special interests receiving tax credits.

As the alpaca lobby demonstrated, riding herd on tax breaks will cause every special interest benefiting from the code’s complexity and unfairness to bray. To achieve real reform that reduces tax bills for everyone, however, we cannot be deterred.

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By Sen. Jeff Flake
Oct. 3, 2017

For those of us fortunate enough to call ourselves Arizonans and Westerners, there’s an undeniable streak of independence that comes from our unique upbringings. It’s a particular type of common-sense thinking shaped by long, hot days working the land, anxious weeks praying for rain and untold hours roaming vast — often federally owned — landscapes. It comes from a sense of community built on a shared set of values that drive us to help one another and genuinely care about our neighbors.

I happen to believe this outlook, when applied to our government, produces thoughtful deliberation on ideas and good policies that help people while staying out of their way whenever possible. I have always sought to ensure this thinking is well represented in government leadership. That’s why I am a strong proponent of placing well-qualified Westerners in senior government positions whenever possible.

This is one of the many reasons I pushed so hard to get Judge Neil Gorsuch confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Hailing from Colorado, Justice Gorsuch is sure to bring this much-needed Western sensibility to the court’s rulings.

Another reality Westerners face is the significant impact seemingly small federal land management decision can have on our lifestyles and livelihoods. That’s why I consider it especially important to the best and the brightest from Arizona and across the West in these key administration posts.

It’s why I worked so hard to ensure that Arizona’s own Brenda Burman was named commissioner at the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which oversees water policy issues for the Western states at the Department of the Interior.

Shortly after the election, knowing Brenda’s deep background in navigating complicated Western water issues, I reached out to my old friend and colleague, Vice-President-elect Mike Pence, and recommended Brenda for the job. Once the administration came to the inevitable conclusion that Brenda was the best candidate, I quickly moved her nomination through the Senate.

I was also happy to see Governor Ducey’s chief operating officer, Henry Darwin, would be fulfilling that same role at the Environmental Protection Agency. Having previously led Arizona’s Department of Environmental Quality and having played a key role in the governor’s groundbreaking push to make government operate more efficiently, I know Henry will be a valuable asset to EPA administrator Pruitt as he rolls back burdensome Obama-era regulations.

Most recently, I was pleased to hear Arizona Corporation Commissioner Doug Little is planning to join the administration as a deputy assistant secretary for intergovernmental and external affairs at the Department of Energy. I know Doug’s depth of experience working with Arizona’s public utilities will prove invaluable to Secretary Perry and the Department of Energy.

From Secretary Zinke on down, the Department of the Interior is well stocked with Westerners. These include influential Interior officials such as Assistant Secretary David Bernhardt, of Colorado; Assistant Secretary for Land & Minerals Joe Balash, of Alaska; and Interior Solicitor Ryan Nelson, of Idaho. There are still more spots to fill at the Department of the Interior, including director of the Bureau of Land Management, assistant secretaries for Fish, Wildlife and Parks, and for Water and Science. I have prioritized filling these roles as soon as possible, and I am hopeful we will soon see even more Arizonans and Westerners in these and other positions.

The frontier spirit of Western states lends itself to skills that are helpful in crafting federal land management policy that actually works for Arizona and other Western states. I could not be more pleased to see that President Trump has assembled a team of experts and leaders who hold these values that those of us who grew up in the West hold so dear.

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By Sen. Jeff Flake
Aug. 15, 2017

Growing up on the F-Bar ranch in Snowflake, I know how important the cattle ranching industry is to Arizona’s economy. I also know ranching is both hard and humbling. Ranchers do not need the federal government making it any more challenging.

This is why I am disturbed by the unwillingness of many federal agencies to appropriately take into account the priorities and concerns of our hard-working ranchers. This failure is especially difficult for a state like Arizona, where 42 percent of our land is under the control of the federal government.

The recovery process for the Mexican gray wolf has proved to be another example of the federal government’s disregard for local concerns.

Back in 1976, the Mexican gray wolf was listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act in order to address the declining numbers of Mexican gray wolves in Arizona and New Mexico.

This original plan set a recovery goal of 100 wolves, a target that was exceeded in 2014. However, instead of celebrating the recovery plan’s success by delisting the wolf and returning management to the states, the federal government decided to move the goal posts.

Late last month, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released a revised recovery plan for the Mexican gray wolf that does not reflect an honest attempt on behalf of the federal government to work with those most directly impacted by wolves on the landscape.

The newly proposed plan fails to create a path for the wolf to be delisted. Instead of automatically removing the wolf from the endangered species list once the new population goals are reached, the plan only calls for the wolf to be “considered for delisting.” This means there is no end in sight for Arizona ranchers and other rural residents who are forced to operate under the onerous ESA regulations.

Unfortunately, this recovery plan also fails to take into account any of the provisions I put forth in the Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Plan Act, which was crafted in conjunction with local, affected ranchers and residents. By ignoring these provisions, USFWS is only continuing the trend of failing to listen to and cooperate with the local citizens most impacted by these federal policies.

Finally, the true kicker of this revised plan is the incredible cost and time associated with recovering the wolf. The USFWS estimates their revised plan could take up to another 35 years to complete, and will cost taxpayers an estimated $262,575,000. Based on the new population goals for wolves in the U.S. this plan would cost $820,546 per wolf. These are figures that should concern, not only all Arizonans, but all American taxpayers.

The Department of the Interior, which oversees the USFWS, has asked for public comments on this revised recovery plan. I intend to make it clear the most recent draft has substantial flaws and that the agency must better take into account the voices of Arizona’s ranchers and rural residents. Our ranchers, like all our citizens, certainly deserve the opportunity to express their concerns over the policies directly impacting their livelihoods.

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By Sen. Jeff Flake
Aug. 7, 2017

Today, nearly three years after a scandal at the Department of Veterans' Affairs revealed staggering wait times for care, we still have veterans being forced to wait far too long for critical care.

Meanwhile, an arcane practice within the federal government, known as "official time," allows those VA employees entrusted with the care of veterans to spend their time on the clock working for unions instead of the jobs taxpayers pay them to do.

In fact, a report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that federal employees were paid with taxpayer dollars for over one million hours of exclusively union work during the 2015 fiscal year. Even as veterans in Arizona were forced to wait up to 300 days for critical appointments to receive care.

For veterans in need of urgent medical care, the misuse of public resources presented by "official time" can create life-or-death situations.

The same GAO review showed that, in addition to the hundreds of thousands of part-time hours dedicated to official time, the VA paid and is likely still paying more than 340 salaried employees to perform full-time union work. These employees include nurses, mental-health providers, and other health-care professionals - people who are key to caring for veterans.

According to the Office of Personnel Management, the VA spent nearly $50 million on official time during fiscal year 2014, the most recent year for which data is available.

Official time across the federal government costs taxpayers more than $162 million every year. With our staggering $20 trillion in debt, we would like to completely eliminate paid union time, but beginning with an agency as crucial as the VA seems a good place to start.

Veterans are waiting - and, in some cases, dying in the process - for care. Three years after the VA inspector general found lengthy wait times for care had contributed to the death of veterans, the VA remains plagued by untimely care. As of August 2015, there were still some 22,000 patients waiting for an appointment at the Phoenix VA. Of those, nearly 5,000 veterans had been waiting for more than 30 days to see a provider.

Tragically, in 2015, 215 patients died with VA appointments pending, and the VA inspector general found that untimely care at the Phoenix VA may have contributed to the death of at least one veteran.

These facts lead to tough questions: Why is the federal government spending huge amounts of taxpayer dollars to fund private union activity? At a time when men and women in uniform are returning home from service, why is the VA sending health-care professionals who were hired to care for them to a union desk rather than a hospital bed?

This mistreatment of veterans and abuse of taxpayer resources need to end.

The Serve Veterans First Act does that. Working together we have crafted legislation prohibiting the use of official time until the VA can certify veterans are receiving timely care.

The legislation requires that the VA inspector general - an independent watchdog agency - determine no veteran has waited for care for more than 30 days before any VA employee can use official time for union activities.

Veterans have delivered on the promises they made to us. Now it's our turn deliver on the promises we made to them.

By ensuring that the VA uses taxpayer funds for patient care rather than private union activities, we can remind those who seem to have forgotten that the VA exists to serve veterans and their families, not unions.

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By Sen. Jeff Flake and Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich
April 19, 2017

Our state is home to more than half a million veterans. They’ve stormed beaches at Normandy and Iwo Jima, patrolled the jungles of Vietnam, and fought repression and terror in the Middle East.

We are proud to call them Arizonans.

When these men and women return home from conflicts abroad, the transition back to civilian life can sometimes mark the beginning of a new battle to overcome the mental and physical tolls of combat. With the support of friends and family members, and the tireless work of Veterans Service Organizations, many veterans surmount these challenges.

Some veterans who lack support systems after leaving the military may struggle to confront obstacles on their own. For some, this means coming into contact with the criminal justice system.

While there is no justification for criminal behavior, it is important to recognize when certain actions may be symptomatic of the harrowing experiences a veteran has endured during service.

The vicious cycle awaiting veterans

Many veterans have experienced multiple deployments, which can increase the risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. It is not uncommon for this to lead to substance abuse, and in some cases, run-ins with the law.

According to a report by the Government Accountability Office, veterans who go through the justice system have high rates of mental illness, substance abuse, homelessness and other health-related issues.The GAO found that veterans often do not seek mental health treatment due to concerns over career prospects, lack of understanding or awareness, and logistical challenges in accessing care.

The combination of mental health disorders and substance abuse places veterans at higher risk of incarceration, and our criminal justice system does not provide the types of treatments that would actually address a veteran’s underlying service-connected issues.

The result is a vicious cycle: Service-connected mental illness is overcriminalized, incarcerated veterans are under-treated, and recidivism rates continue to grow.

Treatment courts offer a way out

To remedy the absence of veteran-specific treatment in our criminal justice system, the Department of Veterans Affairs created the Veterans Justice Outreach program in 2009. The program established diversionary courts that remove veterans from the regular criminal justice process and provide tailored treatments to address underlying issues such as post-traumatic stress and substance abuse.

Veterans treatment courts have a track record of preventing initial incarceration and reducing recidivism rates among the veteran population. Each court partners with a local VA medical center and hires Veterans Justice Outreach (VJO) specialists to link veterans to critical veterans court services. This is particularly important for those veterans who may not be aware of the resources available to them.

There are 293 VJO specialists in 365 veterans treatment courts nationwide. These specialists identify veterans in jails and local courts, assess their health status and help to develop a rehabilitation treatment program specific to each veteran’s needs.

What's still missing: VJO specialists

However, the VA lacks a sufficient number of VJO specialists, which has led to an underuse of available veterans court services and an inability to reach veterans in need of treatment.

According to VA data, the demand for VJO specialists is outpacing the program’s ability to serve all potentially eligible veterans. Without sufficient specialists, additional veterans treatment courts cannot be established and existing courts will be less effective.

To ensure that our veterans receive swift and appropriate access to justice, we have worked together to craft the Veterans Treatment Court Improvement Act. This legislation, set to be introduced in the U.S. Senate this month, will provide 50 additional VJO specialists for new and understaffed veterans treatment courts.

Veterans treatment courts are an important part of the support system our veterans have earned with their service. By increasing the number of dedicated specialists at these facilities, fewer veterans will get lost in the criminal justice system and go without treatment.

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By U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake
April 7, 2017

Lost in the procedural debate surrounding the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch is the fact that the Senate confirmed an eminently qualified jurist to the Supreme Court. Instead of highlighting Judge Gorsuch’s knowledge and respect for the law and his remarkable record of cooperation and consensus building on the federal bench, the conversation has been dominated by the decision to filibuster his nomination.

That is a shame.

The Senate is a legislative body bound by tradition, and often frustratingly so. That is the beauty of this deliberative institution.

Our Founders had the wisdom to create a Senate with a strong minority to serve as a check on runaway power and to preserve our limited form of government. But while they understood the perils of an unfettered majority and the necessity of consensus, they also recognized the importance of collegiality to get things done.

The Senate’s rules have long reflected these values, though in recent years the actions of senators have not. The decision to filibuster a highly-qualified judge nominated by a recently-elected president broke with the spirit of the Senate’s rules. It was not only unjustified – it was unprecedented.

Many on the other side of the aisle cite the decision not to take up the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland as sufficient cause for their filibuster. Judge Garland was certainly qualified, but the majority’s decision to put a hold the nomination during the heat of an election year was not inconsistent with longstanding senate practice.

According to an article by law professor Jonathan Adler in the George Mason Law Review, it has been more than eight decades since a Supreme Court vacancy occurring during a presidential election year has been filled prior to election day. This was a practice embraced by presidents of both parties, and was a tradition that then-Senator Joe Biden vigorously defended on the Senate floor.

For much of that time, it was routine to confirm qualified Supreme Court nominees with overwhelming bipartisan majorities. But starting around 2003, Senate Democrats began insisting on a 60-vote threshold for confirming judicial nominees they characterized as outside of the mainstream. This label is of course subjective, and has been used to impugn the records of otherwise qualified judges.

The level of unprecedented obstruction of judicial nominees was elevated in 2006 with the attempted filibuster of Justice Samuel Alito’s nomination to the Supreme Court. Fortunately that filibuster was unsuccessful, but the attempt further eroded the foundations of bipartisan cooperation on Supreme Court nominees.

From the time Judge Gorsuch was nominated, I have promised to do what it takes to secure an up-or-down vote on confirming him to the Supreme Court. When my Democratic colleagues chose to filibuster his nomination this week, I followed through on that promise.

By voting to change the Senate’s rules, we have now made de jure what was de facto prior to 2003 when the filibuster was virtually never used on presidential nominations. Changing the rules was never my desired outcome, but I am glad that a qualified, mainstream jurist will now take his seat on the Supreme Court.

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By U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake
March 24, 2017

For three days this week, Neil Gorsuch calmly sat before the Senate Judiciary Committee and showed the country what it means to be a judge. Like an immovable pillar weathering a storm, Gorsuch held firm, exhibiting the steady confidence of a judge who knows the law.

Judge Gorsuch characterized the foundation of his jurisprudence as a commitment to apply the law fairly and equally to all litigants, irrespective of class, color, or creed. Big or small, popular or unpopular, powerful or powerless, Judge Gorsuch promised to render judgments based off of the facts of the case and the law. Nothing else.

I was particularly impressed by Judge Gorsuch’s humble respect for the law and his reverence for the role of a judge as an apolitical public servant. He was fiercely protective of his judicial impartiality, and I was glad to see him refuse to answer questions that could jeopardize his ability to serve fairly as a justice in future cases.  

Throughout the hearings, many on the other side of the aisle tried to attack his character, accusing Judge Gorsuch of being a corporate shill who never looks out for “the little guy.” Nothing could be further from the truth.

Another line of attack was that Judge Gorsuch would simply side with the Supreme Court’s Republican-appointed justices, forming majorities based on party affiliation rather than the facts and the law. This was an attempt to distract from Judge Gorsuch’s remarkable record of respect and cooperation with judges appointed by presidents of both parties.       

During his decade-long tenure on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, Judge Gorsuch participated in more than 2,700 appeals, comprising some of the most difficult cases across six states. Of those cases, 97 percent of them were decided unanimously, and Judge Gorsuch was in the majority 99 percent of the time. This is no small feat, and it is a testament to Judge Gorsuch’s ability to consider other points of view and seek out consensus when possible.  

In the weeks since his nomination, I’ve spoken at length on the Senate floor about Judge Gorsuch’s qualifications to serve on the Supreme Court.

I’ve recognized him as a champion of religious liberty, a defender of the separation of powers, and a Westerner who will bring some much-needed geographic diversity and regional perspective to the court. 

But more than anything, I’ve highlighted the fact that Judge Gorsuch is an accomplished, mainstream jurist who should be confirmed overwhelmingly to the Supreme Court.

There was a time when the Senate didn’t even require hearings for Supreme Court nominees, and as recently as the 1990s, nominees were routinely confirmed with near-universal, bipartisan support. Even President Obama’s two Supreme Court nominees were recognized for their ability to do the job and confirmed without incident.

Unfortunately, it appears that Judge Gorsuch will not be afforded the same courtesy and respect.

The Senate Democrats’ decision to filibuster Judge Gorsuch is a sad commentary on this institution, and reflects the breakdown in comity that once characterized this body. I hope they change their mind. We need this good man on the court. 

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By Sen. Jeff Flake
March 22, 2017

The complications and long wait times that veterans routinely experience at Veterans Health Administration (VHA) facilities are no secret to their families. I experienced them firsthand when my father, an 85-year-old Arizona native and U.S. Army veteran, could not get the timely care he needed. While this ordeal showed me just how much the current system is lacking, it also helped me realize what can be done to improve it.  

He had a long road ahead before he would get the care he needed, and earned, as a veteran.

During my father’s visit to his local VHA facility early last year for an exam, the clinician recommended that he see a VA dermatologist in Phoenix. This meant waiting an entire month before he could be seen by the physician, and a three-hour drive from his home in Snowflake.

As my father waited to receive care, his condition worsened, and we became increasingly worried about how long the process was taking. We were also concerned about the six hours of driving and potential for additional wait time once at his appointment. After a follow-up visit at the VA clinic in Show Low, it was clear that my father needed more immediate care.

We decided it was best to cancel the Phoenix appointment and instead find a doctor outside of the VA system. Numerous phone calls, piles of paperwork and weeks of delays later, we finally received approval to visit a non-VA doctor.

It was determined that surgery was necessary, and in just a week, my father’s surgery was scheduled and performed at a local, non-VHA medical center. The care he received there was excellent, and while the surgery was a success, it revealed that his condition had deteriorated more than we realized. Had he waited any longer to receive care, he would have needed to undergo a much more invasive procedure.

This left me wondering how much worse the situation could have been if we remained in the VA.

The process at the VA was so lengthy, overwhelming, and seemingly impossible that I wanted to dig deeper to the root of the problem.

Impressed with the care my father received, I did some research and learned that the medical center where he was treated is a facility that allows certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) independent full practice authority. This means that, as advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), CRNAs are not required to be supervised by a physician – including an anesthesiologist – when providing anesthesia to patients. This allows for much more timely access to care and was a large factor in my father’s quick and successful surgery.

However, I still wanted to learn more to better understand the challenges that CRNAs face at their jobs every day. One of the caregivers during the surgery was Mike MacKinnon, a CRNA who provided the anesthesia. I inquired further and was given permission to shadow Mr. MacKinnon for a day as he provided preoperative anesthetic care to his patients.

As he worked collaboratively with a surgeon, he explained that CRNAs are trained to treat an extensive range of cases, from a routine tonsillectomy to a complex open heart surgery. 

After the surgery, we spoke about the importance of CRNAs and the ability for some to practice at the full scope of their education and training where state laws permit it. We also discussed the current situation in the VA concerning CRNAs and access to care. I had been aware that this issue played a role in the VA’s struggle to provide timely care to Veterans, but the experience with my father allowed me to understand this problem more clearly.

As I studied what the federal government is doing to expedite access to care, I was encouraged by a rule recently published in the Federal Register to grant full practice authority to most APRNs. This is a step in the right direction, but it has a major flaw: the rule denies CRNAs the same full practice authority.

This is based on the premise that there is not currently a problem with Veterans having access to anesthesia care at the VA. After my father’s experience, I beg to differ. 

There is a front-line solution at the ready.

My father’s story is only one example of the access problems that continue to plague the VA. He was unable to receive timely care close to home, requiring him to undergo surgery at a community hospital where, thankfully, a CRNA with full practice authority administered his anesthetic. I’m sure there are countless other stories like his, yet the VA would have you believe there are no access issues and that CRNAs with full practice authority would not improve the efficiency of care in VA facilities.

By ignoring this problem, the VA is failing to recognize that it has a readymade solution in the more than 900 VA CRNAs who are waiting to provide the same high-level of care that Mr. MacKinnon provided to my father. The professionalism, dedication and sympathy I witnessed during my time shadowing Mr. MacKinnon is exactly what our nation’s veterans deserve.

The VA should be doing all it can to provide the quickest, highest-quality care possible for those who have served our country in uniform. I support changes to the system that improve efficiency and timeliness with an “all-hands-on-deck” approach so veterans like my father don’t have to wait for the care they earned with their service.

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By Jeff Flake
March 21, 2017

If an Arizonan were to walk up the Supreme Court’s steps, past its marble columns and into its stately courtroom, they would find eight justices seated before them, along with an empty chair. While the chair was left vacant by the passing of renowned Justice Antonin Scalia, it also symbolizes a stark reality: the absence of a Westerner on the court.

Seven of the Supreme Court’s justices hail from the concrete jungles of New York and New Jersey, or the costal enclaves of California, and all are products of the Ivy League. Not a single one of them can call the West’s windswept mesas, rugged mountains, or expansive rangelands home.

In a country that prides itself on representative government, it would seem that Westerners – folks like you and me – should have a western voice on our highest court.

It hasn’t always been this way. As recently as a decade ago, Arizona’s very own Sandra Day O’Connor served with distinction as an associate justice.

As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and more importantly as an Arizonan, I cannot overstate the importance of confirming a fellow Westerner to the Supreme Court. We need a justice who understands our cultural and regional sensibilities, and who will restore a western perspective to a court desperately lacking in geographic diversity.

Judge Neil Gorsuch, President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, fits the bill.

When I had the opportunity to meet with Judge Gorsuch in my office last month, we discussed our respective western roots. I reminisced about my days growing up on a cattle ranch in northern Arizona, and he confided that his heart has always been in the American West.

You can learn a lot about a person from how they like to spend their free time, and on this count there’s no mistaking it with Judge Gorsuch: he’s a Westerner through and through.

You’re just as likely to run into Neil at the rodeo with his daughters or fly-fishing with his buddies as you are to catch him at a staid legal conference. I should note that he holds degrees from Columbia, Harvard, and Oxford – but I won’t hold it against him.

Judge Gorsuch’s Western values are also evident in his career choices, which have reflected the same service ethos as one of Arizona’s favorite sons.

Much like the late Senator Barry Goldwater, Judge Gorsuch left behind the comforts of a lucrative private sector career for life as a public servant. As a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, he’s been a staunch defender of religious liberty and the constitutional separation of powers.

Like millions of his fellow Westerners, Judge Gorsuch shares a healthy skepticism of our excessively intrusive and heavy-handed federal bureaucracy. He recognizes how federal regulations interfere with the sovereign rights of Western states to govern themselves – whether it’s the previous administration’s Clean Power Plan, its ozone rules, or even management of the Mexican gray wolf.

In numerous opinions, Judge Gorsuch’s Western disposition has shone through, giving voice to many of the frustrations experienced by folks like us in Arizona. From his criticism of the overly assertive D.C. court’s compulsion to intervene from 2,000 miles away, to his navigation of complex split-estate property rights litigation, he speaks our language.

If confirmed, Judge Gorsuch would already bring generational and religious diversity to the court. But perhaps more than anything, it would be his Western perspective that would most enrich the debate in the years to come.

This week the Senate Judiciary Committee held its confirmation hearings for Judge Gorsuch. Just as I did at the hearings, and as I have repeatedly done from the Senate floor, I will continue to make the case to my colleagues that he is an accomplished, mainstream jurist who deserves fair consideration and an up-or-down vote.

Judge Gorsuch should be confirmed overwhelmingly, and I am confident that he will be. I look forward to casting my vote to finally put a Westerner back on the Supreme Court.

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