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Congressman reflects on
session, events of Sept. 11

by Kim Fickett
Landmark reporter

In a recent interview with Missouri Congressman Sam Graves, he reflected on the most recent legislative session, as well as the turmoil the country has faced since the events of Sept. 11.

"It's been an incredible year of priorities. With the first part of the year focusing on tax cuts, the education packets, lockbox security and the farm package," stated Graves.

"Since Sept. 11, there's been a huge swing towards military improvements and airline safety."

One of Graves' largest priorities was recently passed by the U.S. House of Representatives. President Bush's education package included two critical amendments offered by Graves. The amendments require that 95 percent of every federal education dollar be spent in the classroom, "instead of bureaucratic red tape" and it will protect teachers from frivolous lawsuits.

"I discussed this matter with my wife who's a teacher and she said there are teachers who are scared to death of discipline in the classroom for the fear of being sued," said Graves.

"No matter what the bureaucrats in Washington think, teaching and learning happens in the classroom. That is where we need the resources. I want to empower the local teachers and the local school boards in our district—not the federal bureaucracy," explained Graves.

The bill also consolidates several federal programs and allows greater flexibility for local schools to transfer funds to the most pressing needs. Additionally, the bill provides greater resources for schools to increase teacher salaries and training.

In Missouri, 454 schools will become immediately eligible for additional funding to expand tutoring, after-school services, and other programs to supplement their regular education.

Another important package is still awaiting approval, the Economic Stimulus Package. The package offers incentives for businesses offering job creation, as well as tax cuts for low and middle income families. While other parts of the package are awaiting approval, the tax cuts were implemented immediately.
Graves stated that a main priority in the Congress since Sept. 11 has been the farm bill.
"The bill, which is reauthorized every five years, provides a safety net for farmers and maintains a safe and cheap food supply in our nation.

The bill also helps ensure trade and sell products overseas. The House of Representatives has passed the farm bill, while the Senate is currently working on its version.

Since Sept. 11, the shift in priorities has focused on aviation security. Graves state, that congressional oversight has been established to ensure baggage safety.

"The implementation of the congressional oversight will ensure that all baggage that got passed by airline security was searched appropriately and that the baggage handlers are doing their job," said Graves.

Graves complimented Americans across the U.S., as well as people from the district on their patriotism and generosity offered since the trying times of Sept. 11.

"It's amazing the amount of patriotism we're seeing and recognizing how vital and important our fire fighters and rescue workers are. I have both a mixed feeling of pride and sorrow," said Graves. "America has entered a new phase in American history.

"The generosity from our district has been amazing. People have opened their hearts and wallets for the victims in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. We have good people and it shows through on something like this."

Graves also commended the U.S. military on efforts in Afghanistan and in trying to bring Osama bin Laden to justice.

"When we were first briefed on the situation we never thought we'd be as far as we are right now," said Graves. "Our initial thoughts were it'd be six to twelve months before we'd be as far as we are right now.

"We're going to wrap this up soon as far as Afghanistan is concerned and I believe we're close to wrapping up our goal of getting bin Laden and his cohorts, if he is where we think he is," Graves continued.

With the controversy of the recent bin Laden tape that was released to the United States public, Graves felt the government made the right decision leading up to the airing of the video on television.

"I felt they made the right decision with the videotape. They made sure the translation was correct and took their time," stated Graves. "The tape is extremely revealing of how the guy is thinking. They're out to ruthlessly kill as many Americans as they can. They hate us just because we are Americans."

With Christmas less then a week away and many people still apprehensive about flying, Graves commented on the airline situation.

"In my personal opinion, I feel airplane travel is as safe now as it ever has been. I know that I will continue to travel."