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WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sens. John Kennedy (R-La.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) wrote a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer urging him to include conditions from their legislation, the Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act, during discussion of a trade deal with China.

The bill introduced would require foreign companies to comply with U.S. auditing standards by requiring them to meet the Public Accounting Oversight Board standards (PCAOB). The PCAOB is a nonprofit corporation established by Congress in 2002 that administers performance audits of public companies in order to protect investors.  The PCAOB has entered into cooperative agreements with foreign regulators around the world but has not been able to reach an agreement with China. 

“The current failure of China to comply with our laws and play by the same rules as everyone else puts American investors and the credibility of our markets at risk…” the senators write. “The fact that China stands alone in its noncompliance with PCAOB standards is yet another example of how it fails to play by the same rules as other countries. China’s failure to comply with our disclosure laws has already impacted investor confidence and the integrity of our financial markets.”

 

The full text of the letter is available here and below:

Dear Ambassador Lighthizer:

As you continue your work on a fair trade deal with the Chinese government, we urge you to include conditions in the deal that would require Chinese companies listed in the United States to comply with U.S. auditing and reporting requirements. The current failure of China to comply with our laws and play by the same rules as everyone else puts American investors and the credibility of our markets at risk.  Because of this negligence, we introduced the Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act, which we believe should be a guidepost for your negotiations with the Chinese government on this issue.

In 2005, the Public Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB), began inspecting foreign auditors “in order to assess those firms’ compliance with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the rules of the Board, the rules of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and professional standards in connection with their performance of audits, issuance of audit reports, and related matters involving U.S. public companies, other issuers, brokers and dealers.” The PCAOB is able to inspect these firms because it entered into cooperative agreements with foreign regulators around the world.

Achieving these agreements, has not been easy, but our regulators have been able to come to an agreement with virtually every other country except for China. To put this into perspective, in 2013, the PCAOB was unable to conduct inspections of foreign auditors in 15 countries. In just six years, they have been able to come to an agreement with every country except for China and Belgium, and it is our understanding that Belgium has made meaningful progress with the PCAOB.

The fact that China stands alone in its non-compliance with PCAOB standards is yet another example of how it fails to play by the same rules as other countries. This point was underscored in December when the Chairmen of the PCAOB and the SEC said in a joint statement that “for certain China-based companies listed on U.S. stock exchanges, the SEC and PCAOB have not had access to the books and records and audit work papers to an extent consistent with other jurisdictions both in scope and timing.”

China’s failure to comply with our disclosure laws has already impacted investor confidence and the integrity of our financial markets. As you may be aware, in 2009, the U.S. markets saw a boom of Chinese companies registering on the U.S. exchanges. By circumventing our laws, many of these fraudulent companies merged with American shell companies and got access to U.S. investors without an initial inspection by the SEC. Because of this, many of these Chinese-based companies crashed in 2011.  This crash, commonly referred to as the “reverse merger fraud crisis,” led to the loss of billions of dollars in market capitalization.  According to a 2013 McKinsey and Company report, the losses were over $40 billion in market value.

The SEC, PCAOB, and the U.S. exchanges responded to the reverse merger crisis in a number of ways. For example, the SEC filed numerous enforcement cases against Chinese companies and their attorneys, auditors, and “gatekeepers.” Additionally, the New York Stock Exchange and NASDAQ delisted over 50 Chinese companies between 2011 and 2012.

Despite these actions, we still do not have complete information regarding Chinese companies listed in the U.S. In order to remedy the fact that China will not comply with our regulators, we introduced the Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act. Our bill would amend Sarbanes-Oxley to impose stronger requirements on SEC registered companies based in foreign countries. The bill expressly requires foreign companies that are registered with the SEC to allow the PCAOB to review their books.  While the bill does not specifically name any country, it would solve this ongoing issue the PCAOB and the SEC have with China.

We ask that you include the substance of this bill in your trade negotiations with the Chinese government, in order to protect the everyday American investor. Thank you for your attention to this matter.

 

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By U.S. Sen. John Kennedy

Just a few years ago, a study found that 36 million Americans failed to refill their prescriptions because the cost was too much.  That means a population the size of Louisiana, Texas and Arkansas combined is skipping medicine that controls diabetes, lowers cholesterol and battles depression.

Across America, the contents of our medicine cabinets now rival expensive jewelry in price.  The cost of insulin doubled in the U.S. between 2012 and 2016.  Nexium, which treats acid reflux, will set you back more than $7 per pill. 

What’s really frustrating is that the spiraling cost of prescription drugs is limited to the U.S.  That exact same Nexium pill only costs three bucks in Canada.

Somehow, we’ve turned medication that is as necessary as air and water into a luxury item in America.  Drugs that prolong the lives of everyone from infants to senior citizens are increasingly becoming unaffordable.  People are shaking their heads at the pharmacy counter and walking away without their prescriptions.

Simply living in the U.S. means you pay more for pharmaceutical drugs.  Move to Switzerland, Japan, Germany, Canada, Ireland, Belgium or any other similarly blessed country in this world, and you’ll pay less at the pharmacy.  Consider this:  In America, per capita spending on pharmaceutical drugs is $1,162; in Denmark, it’s $282.

There are many reasons why Americans pay more for prescription drugs than residents of other countries.  Through legislation, I’m tackling two of those reasons: the middleman and the abuse of our patent system.

To help senior citizens, I’ve filed the Phair Pricing Act of 2019 to reduce patients’ costs at the point of sale.  Here’s how it will work.

Negotiations with drug manufacturers on prices that health plans pay are conducted by what are known as pharmacy benefit managers.  It used to be that these companies just processed claims.  Now they’re deciding which drugs your health plan will cover and the price you and your health plan will pay.

On the surface, it sounds like a great idea to have someone haggling with drug companies on costs.  But pharmacy benefit managers have consolidated over the years, making them an elite club that operates in shadows. 

What we suspect is that pharmacy benefit managers are making out like bandits through dubious business practices.  For example, pharmacy benefits managers negotiate discounts with drug manufacturers and then some pocket the money.  The result is higher costs at the pharmacy counter for patients while the pharmacy benefit manager makes a hefty profit.

The Phair Pricing Act of 2019 makes it clear that savings achieved through price negotiations must benefit the patient – not the middleman.

I am also cosponsoring the Affordable Prescriptions for Patients Act.  This legislation will eliminate the games the pharmaceutical drug industry plays with the patent system to block competitors.  Competition lowers prices.

Some companies blanket their products with multiple patents to discourage cheaper alternatives from developing.  Most often, this happens with especially expensive drugs.  It’s one thing to protect a newly developed drug.  It’s another thing to game the system and gouge patients by repeatedly reissuing patents on an old drug.

For example, if a patent is expiring, a drug company might slightly change the dosage instructions in order to qualify for another patent.  This creates a loophole in the patent expiration system.

The Affordable Prescriptions for Patients Act puts patients first by limiting unfair tactics like this.

Prescription drugs help us live longer.  They improve our quality of life.  I’m not anti-drug companies; I congratulate them on their success and thank them for their products. But their products only help us if we can afford them.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) today pointed to the Louisiana Medicaid program’s $400 million in savings from income eligibility checks as further evidence that more widespread checks are needed of taxpayer-funded programs.

Both Sen. Kennedy and Congressman Ralph Abraham, M.D. (R-La.), have introduced legislation to reduce fraud in taxpayer-funded government assistance programs – including Medicaid, food stamps and welfare - by requiring states to use federal tax information to verify income eligibility.  Louisiana purged thousands of people from its Medicaid rolls after income verifications showed they earned too much money to qualify for the program.

Sen. Kennedy also called on the Louisiana Department of Health (LDH) to look into whether some Medicaid recipients purposely lied to the state about their income.  News reports indicate that more than 1,600 Medicaid recipients brought in minimum earnings of $100,000 in 2017.

“Government assistance programs like Medicaid are funded through the hard work and generosity of American taxpayers.  These programs should only benefit those who truly are in need.  People with six figure salaries shouldn’t be on Medicaid,” said Sen. Kennedy. “Simple income checks unfortunately revealed waste within Louisiana’s program.  Even worse, some of the waste may have been because of deliberate fraud.  The state should legally pursue anyone who lied about their income.  The legislation that Rep. Abraham and I filed will eliminate similar waste across the country.  We need to make sure that not a single penny of taxpayer money is wasted.”

“The Medicaid savings show what can happen when the government simply checks whether someone should be on Medicaid in the first place,” said Rep. Abraham.  “There’s absolutely no reason that your tax dollars should be wasted on people who don’t really need the help.  Sen. Kennedy and I have been saying this for months: Checking eligibility before doling out benefits is basic common sense, and that’s why we’ve been working to pass legislation to make it an across-the-board practice.”

 

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 WASHINGTON, D.C. –U.S. Sens. John Kennedy (R-La.) and Doug Jones (D-Ala.) introduced the Improving Mental Health Access for Students Act today to improve college students’ access to available mental health resources.  The legislation requires higher education institutions to print the contact information for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, Crisis Text Line and an on-campus mental health program on the back of student identification cards.

In 2017, suicide took the lives of over 47,000 people making it the tenth leading cause of death overall in the United States.  Suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students, and 39% of college students report experiencing a significant mental health issue.

“It can be really hard to be a kid in the world today. These mental health resources can be lifesaving, and college students deserve to know what help is available to them when they need it most,” said Sen. Kennedy. “I hope that this legislation will shed light on the many resources that students can access whenever they need an attentive ear or proper medical attention.”

“Over the past ten years, we’ve seen an alarming trend of rising suicide rates among young people,” said Sen. Jones. “Students should know that there are resources to help them deal with the pressures of being a college student and take care of their mental health. This bill helps remove the stigma associated with mental health issues and helps spread awareness about the resources that are available to students.”

Reps. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) and Lou Correa (D-Calif.) introduced an equivalent version of the legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives today.

“My legislation is straightforward—too many of our young people are taking their own lives, and we must act,” said Rep. Correa. “By adding crucial suicide prevention information to Student I.D.s and college websites, we can ensure at-risk students have options.”

“A loss of life at any age is tragic, but it is especially heartbreaking losing students at such an exciting and pivotal time in their lives. This bill will make existing critical resources more visible for those in crisis and improve mental health across college campuses,” said Rep. Chris Stewart.

 

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sens. John Kennedy (R-La.), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) filed the Ending the Fentanyl Crisis Act of 2019 today to ensure that sentencing penalties for trafficking fentanyl reflect the deadliness of the drug.  This legislation marks a major step toward addressing the nation’s opioid epidemic.

The bill reduces the amount of fentanyl that drug traffickers and dealers must be caught with in order for mandatory sentencing minimums to apply.  Under current sentencing guidelines, a trafficker with two grams of fentanyl is treated the same as a trafficker with five grams of heroin even though fentanyl is 50 times deadlier than heroin.

“The opioid crisis kills more than 175 Americans every single day.  Fentanyl and fentanyl analogues play a huge role in our drug epidemic.  All it takes is an amount of fentanyl weighing less than a sprinkle of sugar to kill someone,” said Sen. Kennedy. “Our sentencing laws have to reflect the potency of this drug in order for us to get it off the streets.”

“Fentanyl is one of the most dangerous drugs there is.  It killed nearly 30,000 Americans last year and has been a driving force behind the opioid crisis in the United States.  But while the epidemic has spiraled, our drug laws have been stuck in the past.  This bill will make sure, when it comes to opioid distribution and trafficking, the punishment fits the crime,” said Sen. Cotton.

“Fentanyl is fueling mass suicide,” said Sen. Sasse. “Too many of our friends, family, and neighbors are dying deaths of despair.  While families, schools, and churches are on the frontlines, there’s an important role for lawmakers: we need to give law enforcement the tools they need to put fentanyl traffickers behind bars.” 

“Fentanyl is deadly, and it is killing Americans every single day,” said Sen. Blackburn. “It’s time the punishment fit the crime for these drug traffickers.”

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) announced $9 million in grants from the Department of Transportation for Lafayette Regional Airport and Alexandria International Airport.

A $2.6 million grant for Alexandria International Airport will be used to improve runways and surrounding areas to make them safer. A $6.4 million grant for Lafayette Regional Airport will fund the reconstruction of the airport apron, a place for aircraft to be loaded, unloaded, fueled and parked.

“Our airports are a gateway for thousands of people traveling to and from Louisiana every year,” said Sen. Kennedy.  “These grants will ensure the safety of passengers and crews as they come and go through Lafayette and Alexandria.”

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sens. John Kennedy (R-La.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.) and Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-La.), filed the BE SAFE ACT of 2019 to improve emergency evacuation routes in rural areas by creating an up to $100 million competitive grant program for work on roads and bridges.

The legislation directs the secretary of transportation to establish the program for projects that would improve emergency evacuation routes though 1.) the construction of state and local connector roads that facilitate access to broader thoroughfares and 2.) the improvement or expansion of existing roads and bridges.

“Louisianans need reliable routes to get out of harm’s way when a natural disaster like a hurricane approaches.  We all know how bad Louisiana’s bridges and roads are.  Our infrastructure has been sadly neglected,” said Sen. Kennedy.  “Rather than forcing rural and small communities to wait for the state’s investment, this legislation will empower them to improve evacuation routes.  This will be a huge help to residents in financially challenged communities.”

“Alabamians know all too well that extreme weather can strike at any time – especially now with hurricane season upon us,” said Senator Jones.  “And while it is crucial that communities get the disaster relief they need after the fact, it is important that folks can better prepare for natural disasters and to help make our communities safer so we can reduce the impact and cost of inevitable severe weather.  This bill will help make Alabamians safer, while also improving our aging roadways in rural communities that badly need infrastructure investment.”

“When a hurricane evacuation is declared, hours can mean the difference between life and death,” said Dr. Cassidy.  “This legislation keeps Louisiana families safe, giving rural communities the resources needed to improve evacuation routes and save lives.”

 

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) co-sponsored the Affordable Prescriptions for Patients Act today to end the spiraling cost of prescription drugs.  The legislation increases patients’ access to cheaper, generic drugs by limiting tactics that reduce competition among drug companies.  The proposal will not infringe on patient rights or stifle industry innovation.

Currently, major drug companies abuse the patent system to prevent potential competitors from introducing more affordable alternatives.  The result is higher prices at the pharmacy counter. 

“We pay, in America, about $1,500 for every man, woman and child every year for pharmaceutical drugs.  Other countries pay $750.  For senior citizens on fixed incomes, this is unconscionable,” said Sen. Kennedy. “This legislation is one way we can make prescription drugs more affordable.”

 

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sens. John Kennedy (R-La.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) today filed the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act to allow news publishers, including the struggling newspaper industry, to collectively negotiate with digital platforms such as Google and Facebook for the preservation of quality journalism.

At issue is the development of an uneven playing field for the delivery of news content.  The majority of Americans now get their news from Google or Facebook.  Those social media giants decide what news their users read – whether it’s clickbait, “fake” news or quality news stories.  Those companies also control most digital advertising revenue.

Sen. Kennedy and Sen. Klobuchar’s bill will suspend federal and state antitrust laws for 48 months while the negotiations are ongoing.

“At the heart of this bill is helping newspapers survive amid shrinking circulations and massive layoffs.  Google and Facebook now control the news kingdom.  They’ve pitted themselves against newspapers in a David-and-Goliath battle in which newspapers don’t have a stone to throw much less a slingshot to put it in.  The readers are the true losers as newsrooms empty out across this country,” said Sen. Kennedy.  “Google and Facebook aren’t just companies.  They’re countries.  We can’t allow them to bully newspapers out of business.”

“Without honest and trusted journalists reporting around the world and here at home, what is out of sight truly becomes out of mind — but we’re seeing more and more independent and local news outlets close as ‘fake news’ rises,” said Sen. Klobuchar.  “It’s more important than ever that we protect the free press and establish an even playing field for negotiation with online platforms.  Our bipartisan legislation will improve the quality and accessibility of reporting and ensure that journalists are able to continue their critical work.”

 

In Sen. Kennedy’s home state, the bill is supported by multiple newspapers.  News Media Alliance, a nonprofit organization representing more than 2,000 news organizations, also is an advocate of the legislation.

“The Advocate and the Louisiana Press Association thank Sen. Kennedy for sponsoring this bill. Local newspapers compete on an uneven field with internet giants. This bill would allow us to negotiate for more fairness,” said Dan Shea, publisher of The Advocate.

“We are thrilled that two bipartisan leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee have championed this legislation, which speaks to its widely understood importance,” said News Media Alliance president & CEO David Chavern.  “We are grateful to Senators Kennedy and Klobuchar for their commitment to quality journalism and we look forward to news publishers soon having the ability to negotiate with the platforms that currently control who sees our content.”

 

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) announced today that President Donald Trump has signed his two-week National Flood Insurance Program extension into law. Without Sen. Kennedy’s legislation, the NFIP would have expired today at midnight.

“This is a short-term solution, but it is sorely needed.  I want to thank the president for swiftly signing this legislation into law,” said Sen. Kennedy. “With the Mississippi River at historic levels and hurricane season starting this weekend, we cannot afford to let the National Flood Insurance Program lapse.  Millions of people across America depend on the NFIP.  This extension will give a lot of families peace of mind.”

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