U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) today discussed the recent visits he made throughout South Dakota, highlighting how tax reform is benefitting South Dakota businesses. He began his remarks with a reflection on the death of former Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) and his contributions to the Senate and global security.
Thune’s remarks below (as prepared for delivery):
“Mr. President, the country lost one of its elder statesmen this week with the death of former Senator Richard Lugar.
“As members of Congress, one of the most important parts of our job is keeping our nation secure.
“We only hope that when we leave Congress, we’ll have left our nation a little safer than we found it.
“Richard Lugar never had to wonder if he’d done that.
“As the Soviet Union was collapsing, Dick stepped forward and shepherded the passage of the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, which supported the dismantling and decommissioning of nuclear weapons in former Soviet countries before the weapons could fall into the hands of terrorists or rogue nations.
“As a direct result of his efforts, over the years thousands of weapons have been destroyed – from warheads to missiles to chemical weapons.
“Thanks to his work, our nation, and our world, are more secure.
“Dick’s achievements on global security are the kind of legacy most of us can only hope to have.
“But of course, that’s not all Dick Lugar did in his Senate career.
“As Indiana’s longest-serving senator, he also served as a leader on agriculture issues and on food security.
“And even after he left the Senate, he continued to advocate for the issues he cared about as president of the Lugar Center, which, among other things, focuses on global food security and preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
“Dick will be sorely missed.
“My thoughts and prayers are with his family, particularly his wife, Char, and their four sons, Mark, Bob, John, and David.
“Mr. President, over the Easter break, I got to visit a number of South Dakota businesses, like Persona Signs in Madison and Energy Dynamics in Carthage.
“Visiting with South Dakotans is the best part of my job.
“And it’s the best way to learn how government policies are affecting South Dakotans and what South Dakotans need from Washington.
“One thing that has been wonderful to see over the past year is how tax reform is benefiting South Dakota businesses.
“Businesses are benefiting directly from things like rate cuts and enhanced expensing, and they’re also benefiting from the economic growth that tax reform has helped produce.
“I was excited to see that DeGeest Steel Works in Tea, Valley Queen Cheese in Milbank, and Royal Canin pet food in North Sioux City are all in the process of expanding.
“Tax reform was a huge step forward in creating an economy where businesses can grow, expand, and create jobs.
“But there’s more work to be done to ensure South Dakota businesses have all the resources they need to thrive.
“One big priority for Republicans is passing the United States-Mexico-Canada free trade agreement, which would help grow our economy, raise wages, and create 176,000 new jobs.
“Canada and Mexico are top markets for U.S. agricultural products, and South Dakota farmers, ranchers, and businesses would all see benefits from the passage of this agreement.
“We also want to conclude an agreement with China, which would provide a boost to South Dakota soybean farmers as well as other South Dakota businesses.
“South Dakota farms and businesses depend on trade, and I am committed to making sure they have access to the markets they need.
“With our thriving economy and low unemployment, finding qualified workers is a challenge for businesses nationwide.
“But it’s a particular challenge in our state.
“Unemployment in South Dakota is a remarkably low 2.8 percent – a full percentage point lower than the current measurement for the United States as a whole.
“While a low unemployment rate is generally a good thing, it can make it extremely difficult for South Dakota businesses to find the workers they need.
“That’s why I’ve made expanding the H-2B visa program a priority.
“Many South Dakota businesses rely on workers who temporarily come to the United States through this program.
“I was very pleased that the homeland security secretary granted the request of a number of senators – including myself – to issue additional H-2B visas for 2019.
“I will continue to encourage the Department of Homeland Security to expedite the release of these visas.
“I’ve also introduced legislation that would expand the number of H-2B visas available for states, including South Dakota, with unemployment rates at or below 3.5 percent.
“Another way to ensure businesses have qualified workers is to expand access to career and technical education.
“Career and technical education programs are key to expanding opportunity for American workers and giving them the skills they need to succeed in the 21st century economy.
“Last year, Congress passed the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act.
“This law gives states greater flexibility over career and technical education programs, and will help provide better access to training for more than 11 million students and workers.
“In addition, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee is currently working on a reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, which will also address career and technical education.
“Republicans are committed to continuing to expand opportunity for America’s workers.
“Mr. President, here in Washington, we can do a lot to help our economy by getting government out of the way – making sure small and larger businesses aren’t weighed down with heavy taxes or excessive regulations.
“But ultimately, it’s American businessmen and women who are the real drivers of growth.
“People like the four generations of Meyers who have worked at A.H. Meyer & Sons in Winfred supporting the South Dakota beekeeping industry.
“Or the three generations of DeGeests who have worked at DeGeest Steel in Tea.
“The energy and innovation and commitment displayed by businesses like these is what powers America.
“I’m grateful to all the businesses who took the time to talk with me and show me around over the last few weeks and throughout the year.
“I will continue to fight for you here in Washington.
“And I look forward to seeing more of the great work you’re doing in the future.”