Dr. Boozman's Check-up

In this edition of 'From the Mailbag' I respond to an email from Lauren in Little Rock who wrote about the need to stop the cycle of short-term extensions to fund inrastructure projects and support a long-term bill.

The last week before the August in-state work period begins was a busy one with a vote to defund Planned Parenthood, another harmful EPA mandate announced and my introduction of a bill to provide flexibility to federal child nutrition summer meals programs. Read about these and more in the Week in Review.

On Saturday my office hosted a Veterans History Project workshop in Springdale to teach Arkansans how they can help capture the experiences of our veterans and have them included in the collection at the Library of Congress. I am proud to see so many people are interested in participating in the project and sharing the stories of our veterans. Thanks to KNWA for this story on the workshop. 

Later today, the Senate will hold a procedural vote to try to move forward a bill to defund Planned Parenthood. Earlier today, I visited with Neil Cavuto on Fox Business about why I think the organization has crossed a line and why we need to stop the flow of taxpayer dollars to Planned Parenthood. If you missed the segment, you can watch it here.

Another busy week in Washington comes to a close with passage of a long-term highway bill and the announcement of an upcoming vote to defund Planned Parenthood. Read about these and more in the Week in Review.

  • Thank You Summer Interns: Our second session of summer interns have wrapped up their time in DC and are headed home. I appreciate the enthusiasm, commitment and dedication of these interns for the hard work they’ve done this summer alongside my staff and myself to address issues that affect Arkansas. This internship in Washington has presented them with excellent opportunities to gain insight into the legislative process, constituent service and other work being done in the nation’s capital on behalf of Arkansans.

Today is recognized as National Whistleblower Appreciation Day. As a member of the Whistleblower Protection Caucus, I believe that whistleblowers play a critical role in exposing wrongdoing. Unfortunately, these brave Americans often face retaliation for doing what is right. As a member of the Veterans Affairs Appropriations subcommittee, I heard testimony today from VA officials as we reviewed whistleblower claims at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). 

We need to encourage VA employees to report misconduct because our veterans earned the best care we can offer.

It was a busy week in Washington that included committee passage of my legislation to rein in federal spending, urging the Secretary of Defense to revise a policy to better protect our service members and honoring a fallen soldier. Read more in this Week in Review. 

  • In Honor of SSgt David Wyatt: SSgt David Wyatt, a Russellville native, was killed by a gunman last week in an attack at a military facility in Chattanooga, Tennessee. I spoke about his service and sacrifice on the Senate floor. Please keep his family in your thoughts and prayers.

  • Investigate Planned Parenthood: I joined my Senate colleagues in requesting an investigation into Planned Parenthood following the release of videos showing senior executives discussing in horrific detail the organization’s role in harvesting organs of unborn babies. You can read the letters I sent to the Attorney General and Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.

  • Protecting Service Members at DoD Military Installations: I called on the Secretary of Defense Ash Carter to revise the Department of Defense policy to allow service members to carry firearms at military bases and reserve centers. Read the bicameral letter my colleagues and I sent to the secretary here. 
  • Five Years of Dodd-Frank: There was no celebrating the fifth anniversary of Dodd-Frank. This law hurts community banks. We need a regulatory system that allows small banks to succeed instead of penalizing them. I was happy to approve provisions in the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill that reduces these overly burdensome regulations and eases the restrictions on our community banks. 
  • Reining in Spending: The Senate Committee on Appropriations approved the Financial Services and General Government (FSGG) Appropriations bill. As chairman of the FSGG subcommittee, I worked to write a bill that puts us on the path to fiscal responsibility. The bill is $1.3 billion below the spending levels of the current budget year. This is a great step in promoting financial security. 
  • Funding for Arkansas Higher Education: 23 Arkansas colleges, universities and other postsecondary institutions will share nearly $7 million to provide opportunities for academic development and assistance to students in the Natural State. Read what schools received funds from the U.S. Department of Education funding for Student Support Services. 
  • Talking with KASU: In case you missed our interview with Jonesboro’s KASU radio, you can listen to the interview here. We talked about foreign affairs issues including Iran and the next steps for Congress to take on the nuclear deal, efforts to defeat ISIS and the need to support to our allies in the region.

  • Honoring the Northwest Arkansas Council: The Northwest Arkansas Council celebrated its 25th anniversary this week. The Council has transformed the region into an economic powerhouse. I recognized these achievements in the Congressional Record

When the Senate Appropriations Committee considered the Financial Services and General Government bill yesterday, my colleagues and I took the opportunity to add language that would move forward efforts to change U.S. policy toward Cuba.

The committee agreed to add three Cuba-related amendments, including one I sponsored, to the bill. The bill itself was approved by the Appropriations Committee and now awaits consideration by the Senate.

My amendment—cosponsored by Senators John Tester (D-MT), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI)—would help support and improve the export of American agricultural commodities to Cuba. It mirrored a bill I introduced with Senator Heitkamp (D-ND) earlier this year.

The number one barrier that farmers and agricultural exporters in Arkansas and across the country have faced when trying to export to Cuba is a prohibition against providing lines of credit. Current law prohibits any kind of financing of exports to Cuba and requires cash payment up front, essentially preventing farmers and ranchers from being able to ship their products to Cuba.

My amendment would lift the ban on private banks and companies from offering credit for agricultural exports to Cuba and help level the playing field for U.S. farmers and exporters. The private lenders themselves would assume all the risk.

As I told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, we need to look for every available path to normalize relations with Cuba, so the appropriations bills are good vehicles to move changes forward.

My colleagues who support normalizing relations are of equal mindset. That is why Senators Moran and Tester offered additional amendments to help ease travel and trade restrictions with Cuba. Senator Moran’s amendment was identical to a bill that I cosponsored with him and several other senators from both sides of the aisle. It would end restrictions on travel to Cuba unfairly imposed on American citizens and legal residents. Senator Tester’s amendment would eliminate a law that prevents any ship that has docked in Cuba from loading or unloading any freight in the United States for 180 days.

These are steps in the right direction. We have been following the same policy of isolation for over fifty years and nothing has changed in Cuba. It is far more effective to have an open line of communication and a working relationship with governments in need of democratic assistance, rather than shut them out. In normalizing relations, you not only trade goods, but ideas. The two go hand-in-hand. Normalizing relations will allow us to remain competitive and create jobs at home, while pushing for human rights and democratic change in Cuba.

When President Obama signed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act into law five years ago, he said he it was a victory for American people.  The President lambasted “powerful interest groups” who he claimed were working against this bill and said the law would “bring the shadowy deals that caused this crisis to the light of day.”

For all of President Obama’s populist rhetoric that day, the heavy-handed regulations generated from this law have done more to hurt the average American than it has any of the “big banks” or “investment houses” the President criticized that day.

The law does not end “too big to fail.” Instead, it creates the potential for permanent bailouts for major financial institutions. At the same time, it puts the squeeze on small community banks that are vital to rural America’s economy.

This one-size-fits-all approach to regulating our banks is not the answer. Community banks didn’t cause the 2008 financial crisis and they simply can’t afford the burdens of complying with the increased regulation. Dodd-Frank is pushing them out of business.

In small communities all over Arkansas, these banks are the only choice in town. Without community banks, it would be much more difficult for farmers and small businesses in rural America to get the credit they need to survive and thrive. Small business is the backbone of our economy, but community banks are the backbone of small business.

We need a regulatory system where small, medium and large banks can succeed. With Dodd-Frank, we created a system where some banks are too big to fail and others are too small to succeed.

Today, the Senate Appropriations Committee passed my Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill which includes a number of provisions that provide much needed regulatory relief for community banks and credit unions. Our bill includes common sense reforms to ease certain regulatory burdens rather than apply a one-size-fits-all approach to small financial institutions. 

As we mark the five year anniversary of the passage of the flawed Dodd-Frank law, it’s about time Congress stepped in to provide commonsense regulatory relief for the engines of economic growth and community development. 

In case you missed our interview with Jonesboro’s KASU radio, you can listen to the interview here. We talked about foreign affairs issues including Iran and the next steps for Congress to take on the nuclear deal, efforts to defeat ISIS and the need to support to our allies in the region. We also discussed the normalizing of relations with Cuba, the benefits it would have for Arkansas agriculture in addition to the upcoming Veterans History Project workshops my office is hosting.