By BECKY KISER
More than 70 people attended last week's town hall meeting with U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., at BriefSpace in downtown Hays.
Earlier in the afternoon, Moran was a guest speaker at the Camber Children's Mental Health ribbon cutting for its new youth acute and residential mental health treatment facility near the Hays Regional Airport.
Then it was on to his first town hall meeting of this congressional session, where Moran told the crowd he was "home for a dose of common sense" from his Hays constituents.
Moran started his talk with a review of his anticipated committee assignments, including reappointment to Veterans Affairs, which he has chaired. Although he is not a veteran, when he became a member of Congress, "I decided my responsibilities were greater than just paying respect, and so we work to try to make sure that the promises were made to those who served are promises that are kept."
Moran said he is one of the longest serving Republicans ever on Veterans Affairs, first as a member of the U.S. House and now the Senate.
Working with Democrats has been fairly smooth, according to Moran, and he is particularly happy with community care legislation that allows veterans in rural areas to access their federal healthcare close to home, instead of having to travel to Veterans Administration centers in Topeka, Wichita or Leavenworth.
More recently, legislative work has been done on issues of veteran suicide, as well as toxic chemical exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam or southeast Asia burn pits, which is still being implemented.
"I'm not looking for another big piece of legislation. Let's just do what we said we're going to do and do it well, do it right.
"It's time for us to do oversight on a department that is always struggling to do what they're supposed to do by law and take care of people that they are legally responsible for caring for."
The senator recently made his fourth visit to the southern U.S. border, near El Paso and in New Mexico, which he described as "a mess."
"In my view, the issue is you're not legally entitled to be here," he said of the amassed immigrants wanting to cross into the United States, "and therefore we ought to enforce the law.
"There's a process by which you can become entitled, so go through the process."
Moran believes the U.S. is "shortchanged" on the border.
"The president is wrong to eliminate Section 42 which allows for the administration to insist those people claiming asylum stay on the other side of the border until their asylum claim is determined."
Moran added that the U.S.-built border wall is "important."
"It helps our border patrol narrow the places they have to pay the most attention to," he said, and expressed support for more border agents to be hired.
Moran also is concerned about other U.S.-Mexico border issues — the longtime flow of illegal drugs across the border, particularly today's deadly fentanyl, and human trafficking.
Around the globe, Moran considers the Chinese "our greatest adversary challenge ... and they now have a relationship with the Mexican cartels."
After returning to the U.S., Moran and a number of his colleagues want to revive law enforcement efforts at the border.
"This administration is doing way too little."
Despite considering himself an optimist, Moran said he is "as concerned about our country's future as I've ever been."
Inflation, and lack of an energy policy are other issues that concern Moran. He supports all types of energy production, including renewables and passive.
"We ought to be encouraging more production, not discouraging more production. That's a component of inflation, but it's a component of our national security. Don't be dependent on somebody else for our energy supplies.
"Think about the European countries that are trying to stand up to Russia and they're nervous and sometimes unwilling to do so because who has the keys to their energy?"
During the question-and-answer portion of the meeting, Moran came under fire from several people in the audience for voting with Democrats for the $1.7 trillion budget bill, which kept the federal government from going into a partial shutdown just before the Christmas holiday recess.
"I know my vote is controversial," he acknowledged. "I had people tell me to 'just shut the government down. It doesn't matter to us.' [But] I have too many examples where people are hugely harmed during that period of time."
Moran pointed out that the appropriations bill included half a billion dollars in new money for the U.S.-Mexican border and patrol agents. More money is allotted for defense spending overall than the rate of inflation.
"In my view that we're in a dangerous world, our military men and women and the equipment that we provide them is hugely important to us being in a position to make sure that fear I have because of China and other adversaries, that we're prepared for."
Junior Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., voted against advancing the 4,155-page omnibus spending plan.
When it comes to the $31.45 trillion government debt, Moran agreed with another audience member that, unfortunately, it's "much easier to spend money than to not spend money. It does take people saying no. We can't continue doing what we're doing. Now that we have a Republican majority in the House, we'll see if we can do something that moves us in a different direction."