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By Mike Scott, NEMOnews Media Group
United States Senator Roy Blunt held a six-community tour of northeast Missouri on Wednesday, June 30, addressing several important topics of interest to Missourians. The tour started in Perry, where he met with members of the Mark Twain Regional Council of Governments. There he discussed infrastructure and the response efforts to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Blunt spoke about the importance of getting a COVID-19 vaccine and urged all Americans to consider doing so. “My advice, for what it’s worth, is that you should take the vaccine, unless your doctor has advised you against it,” he told a small crowd later in the day in Clarence. He continued, stating that new evidence shows the vaccination may be effective for a longer period of time than previously thought. During his time as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Service, Education and Related Agencies, Blunt led efforts to provide $47.6 billion for coronavirus vaccines and treatments development and procurement, and $8.75 billion for vaccine distribution in the five bipartisan COVID-19 relief bills signed into law last year. Next up was a stop in Hannibal to promote Missouri tourism. As a member of the Senate Commerce Committee and co-chair of the Senate Travel and Tourism Caucus, Blunt has long championed efforts to support tourism in the U.S. as a way to drive economic growth.
In February, Blunt introduced legislation that will help improve the tourism industry across the country by studying the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the travel and tourism industry and identifying policy recommendations to assist struggling businesses.
In 2019, Congress passed and the president signed legislation Blunt introduced to reauthorize Brand USA, a public-private partnership that enhances tourism across the country by promoting international travel to the U.S.
In Monroe City, Blunt stopped at Lakeside Casting Solutions, zinc die casting company, to discuss jobs and the economy.
Blunt next appeared to a small group, including several South Shelby FFA students, at Chinn Feed Mill in Clarence, discussing agriculture, broadband, tax policy and farm regulations.
Missouri Farm Bureau President Garrett Hawkins introduced Blunt, praising him as an example of servant leadership, and his willingness to listen and find solutions.
“I hope we have many more opportunities to say ‘Thank You’, to him in the next year and a half,” said Hawkins.
Blunt spoke about the pending infrastructure bill in Congress, rural broadband, tax policy and regulations.
“I’m for an infrastructure bill,” Blunt said. “But who knows if I’ll be in favor of the final bill. We’ll see what else gets put in, besides a lot more money for the IRS.”
He commented that democrats in Congress want to add “social infrastructure” spending, such as federally sponsored Pre-K and federally sponsored elderly at home care.
“Those are discussions we should have, but it should be a separate bill,” he said.
He noted that President Biden may not sign the infrastructure bill unless those “social infrastructure” items are included.
Blunt also discussed the need for rural broadband.
“A lot of people have found how much appeal there is in a community,” he said. “There are a lot of communities in Missouri, if people had the option to live there, they would. Broadband makes that possible.”
“One of the good things to come out of the pandemic was getting the federal government involved in tele-medicine, although that’s about five years too late,” he said.
As a member of both the Senate Commerce and Appropriations Committees, Blunt has helped lead efforts to end the digital divide that has left more than one-third of rural Missourians without access to broadband services.
In December 2020, Blunt announced that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) awarded 17 Missouri broadband providers a total of more than $346 million to expand high speed internet in rural areas.
The Blunt-backed FY2021 government funding bill, which was signed into law in December 2020, provided $635 million for the ReConnect Pilot Program, which targets areas that currently lack access to broadband and includes provisions that prevent overbuilding existing infrastructure.
In addition, in 2018, the FCC Connect America Fund Phase II auction awarded $255 million in broadband funding to communities across the state. Missouri received about 17% of the total amount allocated nationwide.
The next topic was tax policy, specifically, the inheritance, or ‘death tax’.
“Twenty-five years ago, there was a $1,000,000 exemption. We’ve gotten the ‘death tax’ in pretty good shape over the last 25 years. It would be disastrous to go back,” he said.
According to Blunt, the Biden administration is seeking to return to a $1,000,000 exemption, and levy a capital gains tax on the difference between the current property value and the original purchase price. The impact, he said, would be catastrophic on farmers.
“The value of the equipment alone can approach a million dollars,” he said.
“A number of people in Congress can think of ways to spend money,” he said, adding that they want to roll back the 2017 tax cuts made under President Trump.
“The motivator seems to be to get back to where we were under President Obama, and start adding (taxes) to that,” he said.
This year, Blunt helped reintroduce legislation to permanently eliminate the devastating federal death tax on family farms, ranches, and small businesses.
Blunt also worked to include several Missouri priorities in the FY2021 government funding bill. The legislation prioritized rural broadband expansion, increased resources for agriculture research, and included grants for water infrastructure projects in rural communities.
Blunt also praised the regulatory reform under President Trump, particularly the replacement of the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule, which was replaced in 2019, and said that he and Congressman Sam Graves are opposed to the Biden administration plan to return to the old rule.
“The Clean Water Act gave the EPA the right to the jurisdiction of navigable waters,” said Blunt. “Under President Obama, and water that could ever run into any water that could run into navigable waters could be regulated by the EPA.”
Blunt told the audience he had taken a map of Missouri to the Senate floor several times, showing that roughly 99.7 percent of the state would be covered by the WOTUS rules.
“The EPA could decide whether you could put in a sidewalk or driveway, or whether a utility could put a new pole in the ground. It puts a big obstacle in front of all commercial activity,” Blunt said.
Blunt also touched on cyber security.
“Cyber challenges are big,” he said. “We have to get better at responding. We need a cyber offense to penalize those who allow cybercriminals to work within their borders. We have got to find a way to push back.”
The final stops on Blunt’s swing through northeast Missouri were Macon and Moberly. In Macon, he spoke about energy and broadband at Macon Electric Cooperative, and had a roundtable discussion with local officials and Chamber of Commerce members in Moberly.