Dr. Boozman's Check-up
The following column was published in the April 22, 2015 edition of The Hill.
Improvements needed in IRS customer service
By Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.)
Did filing your taxes go off without a hitch? To comply with the tax deadline, Arthur in Cave City, Ark., has relied on the IRS forms provided at the local library for decades. Imagine his surprise when those papers weren’t available this year. What followed for Arthur was very inconvenient and time consuming, just to get the forms to comply with the law. He called the IRS only to be put on hold, transferred and given the website to print out the forms. Unfortunately Arthur, like many other Arkansans, doesn’t have the ability to print the paperwork. He turned to my office for help, and we provided him with the documents he needed to file his taxes. Stories like this are becoming all too familiar, because the IRS fails to make customer service a priority.
According to the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS), a division of the IRS, taxpayer service is the IRS’s most serious problem. IRS Commissioner John Koskinen estimates that only 50 percent of taxpayer phone calls will be answered, and taxpayers who suffer patiently like Arthur will face wait times of at least 30 minutes. According to the TAS, “taxpayer service has reached unacceptably low levels and is getting worse.” I agree. The IRS must make taxpayer service a priority, but right now, taxpayer service is on hold, while the IRS focuses on other priorities.
Koskinen testified before the Appropriations subcommittee on financial services last month asking for $12.9 billion, a $2 billion increase in the agency’s current budget. This request is out of touch with the fiscal reality of our country. Instead of using existing funds to improve customer service, the agency is diverting money to implement ObamaCare. This law expands the role and power of an agency that too often fails to accomplish its duties. The IRS requested nearly $500,000,000 to implement ObamaCare in this year alone. The agency is already facing mounting criticism in its failure to properly collect the medical device tax, one of more than 20 new taxes created by ObamaCare. Assigning new responsibilities to an agency that has a proven track record of misuse of taxpayer money, problems with enforcement of tax laws and challenges with waste, fraud and abuse was never a good idea.
The agency has forgotten that its most important customers are the American people. We expect customer service to be a priority for the IRS, because more Americans deal with it than any other federal agency. As chairman of the subcommittee responsible for appropriating the annual IRS budget, I am concerned that the IRS is giving tax dollars to illegal immigrants, bonuses to its employees and choosing not to implement inspector general recommendations to prevent tax fraud by prisoners. Instead, the IRS should prioritize its funding to assist millions of Americans and Arkansans like Arthur. I will work with my colleagues to ensure common sense is used, when the IRS makes decisions as to how it spends taxpayer dollars.
Boozman is Arkansas’s senior senator, serving since 2011. He sits on the Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry; Appropriations; Environment and Public Works; Rules and Administration; and Veterans’ Affairs committees.
Apr 21 2015
“But that’s not going to happen in the future. It’s just not going to happen.”
This is the response I received from Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Robert McDonald when I pushed for a response to wasteful spending at VA facilities at a hearing today in the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction & Veterans Affairs.
As an example, I highlighted the construction of solar panels at the Little Rock Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC) that were never activated because they were not compatible with the local electricity grid.
As I stated to the Secretary, eight million dollars for a failed project is a large amount of wasted taxpayer money. VA can’t waste taxpayer money on projects that fail well before they can get off the ground. Every dollar VA wastes negatively impacts the services and benefits our veterans receive.
The American people need to be assured that this is not systemic and that it must not happen again. The Secretary was adamant it won’t on his watch. That is encouraging, but only stringent oversight will ensure that goal is met.
But it runs deeper much deeper. As I mentioned to the Secretary, these are issues of trust.
Another perfect example of a breach of trust on VA’s part is the ongoing delays providers are facing from VA when they seek reimbursements after providing medical care for veterans.
These delays have a negative impact on veterans’ healthcare. Working together to resolve billing and payment matters will ensure our veterans receive the healthcare they earned and our health facilities get the payments they are owed.
In Arkansas, we have 75 hospitals with 4,400 claims pending with VA, worth a total of $24 million. Some claims have been pending for years. I raised this to Secretary McDonald who laid out the Department’s strategy for rectifying this problem.
These are among the many serious trust issues at VA. If the public can’t trust VA to be wise with taxpayer money, Americans will lose faith. If the Department refuses to meet its obligations to providers, veterans will lose service. These problems require an immediate course correction on VA’s part and Congress must remain committed to holding the Department accountable.
Apr 17 2015
Read about how Little Rock recruitment center victims will be awarded overdue honors, how we are working to protect whistleblowers, Congressional efforts to eliminate the death tax and more in this Week in Review.
- Little Rock Recruitment Center Shooting Victims Will Receive Purple Heart: The Army has determined that two servicemembers attacked outside of a Little Rock Army recruiting center in 2009 will be awarded the Purple Heart. Private William Long of Conway was killed and Private Quinton Ezeagwula of Jacksonville was wounded when a terrorist opened fire on the recruiting center on June 1, 2009. The two will finally receive the long overdue honors they deserve.
- Protecting Whistleblowers: I joined the bipartisan Whistleblower Protection Caucus this week. This group of senators is committed to raising awareness of the value and need to protect individuals who call attention to fraud, waste and misconduct.
- Kill the Death Tax: Part of the American Dream is to build an inheritance that will benefit our future generations. The death tax works against that idea by making planning and passing on family farms and businesses to the next generation even more difficult. That’s why I’ve cosponsored legislation to eliminate the death tax.
- 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, coalition efforts to defeat ISIS and the deteriorating situation in Yemen. We also discussed trade, our recent visit to Jonesboro, our efforts to get VA to reimburse Arkansas medical facilities for services they provide our veterans and the upcoming Senate Ag Committee on Cuba trade.
- Early Childhood Education Funding For South Arkansas: Families and Children Together, Inc. received a $3.2 million grant to provide comprehensive early childhood and preschool services to children and families in Calhoun, Columbia, Dallas, Ouachita and Union Counties.
- Responding to Constituents: In order to represent the people of Arkansas, I need to hear from you. One of my responsibilities is to respond to Arkansans who write and call my office to me about the issues facing our country. It is my goal to respond to those who take the time to reach out and be proactive in our government. I encourage you to let me know how you feel about the issues and policies debated in Congress. I want to share answers to some of topics I’ve been asked recently.
Apr 17 2015
Benjamin Franklin once said, “…in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”
That doesn’t mean death itself should be taxed.
Death should not force the sale of family farms or the closure of small businesses. Hardworking Americans should be allowed to pass along the results of their success, which they were already taxed on during their lifetime, to their families without having to pay even more to Washington when they pass away.
Yesterday, the House of Representatives passed a bill to permanently abolish the estate tax, more commonly referred to as the death tax. It passed the House by a bipartisan vote of 240 to 179.
Over in the Senate, we recently approved an amendment to the Budget that encourages Congress to eliminate the death tax. I supported that effort, but we still need to pass separate legislation that makes the repeal a reality.
That is why yesterday’s action in the House was so important. Likewise, a companion bill in the Senate, which I am cosponsoring, is of equal importance. I will be working with my colleagues to get either of these bills passed during the 114th Congress.
According to a study by Douglas Holtz-Eakin, the former director of the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, repealing the death tax would create 1.5 million additional small business jobs and would decrease the national unemployment rate by nearly one percent. This could be an important boost to our economy, which clearly continues to lag under the Obama Administration’s watch. Repeal of the death tax will allow job creators to grow their operations, instead setting aside those resources to pay an unfair penalty to Uncle Sam.
Part of the American Dream is to build an inheritance that will benefit our future generations. The death tax works against that idea by making planning and passing on family farms and businesses to the next generation even more difficult. That’s why the death tax needs to eliminated.
Apr 16 2015
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, coalition efforts to defeat ISIS and the deteriorating situation in Yemen. We also discussed trade, our recent visit to Jonesboro, our efforts to get VA to reimburse Arkansas medical facilities for services they provide our veterans and the upcoming Senate Ag Committee on Cuba trade.
Arkansas hospitals and other healthcare providers are facing hurdles to getting reimbursed from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) after providing medical care for veterans.
I’ve heard concerns from more than 60 health facilities around Arkansas about billing and payment issues with VA. Some claims have been pending for years.
As the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports “The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs owes Arkansas health care facilities approximately $24 million for care they've given to VA patients, according to the Arkansas Hospital Association.”
I’m concerned that the reimbursement times will have a negative impact on veterans healthcare. Working together to resolve billing and payment matters will ensure our veterans receive the healthcare they earned and our health facilities get the payments they are owed.
On Wednesday, my office hosted an event with Arkansas healthcare providers and VA officials from Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN 16) in Flowood, Mississippi, and the Veterans Health Administration Chief Business Office, Purchased Care in Denver, Colorado, to address issues that can influence the time it takes for reimbursement to Arkansas healthcare facilities including processing and coding.
Learn more about this issue and the meeting:
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette “$24M in claims still unpaid, Arkansas hospitals tell VA” (subscription required)
Arkansas Business Journal “John Boozman’s Staff Talks Reimbursement with Health Providers”
Apr 09 2015
Jonesboro – U.S. Senator John Boozman toured Northeast Arkansas and heard from business owners, service organizations and veterans program organizers how federal laws, rules and regulations are impacting their growth and services.
Boozman, toured the Food Bank of Northeast Arkansas. The facility opened in 2013 and serves more than 90 nonprofit agencies in 12 counties in the region. As a member of the Congressional Hunger Caucus, Boozman is committed to promoting public-private partnerships to combat hunger and food insecurity.
Boozman also toured Hytrol Conveyor Company, Inc. Hytrol designs and manufactures some of the most advanced conveyor systems in the material handling industry. In 1962 the company relocated to Jonesboro and today it employs more than 700 people.
The Senator discussed Second Amendment issues at the Black Iron Shooting Range with the owners, including the recent attempt by the Obama Administration to reclassify common rifle ammunition as “armor-piercing.”
As a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Boozman is committed to providing our veterans with the benefits and services they earned for their service to our country. Boozman toured ASU’s Beck Pride Center to discuss veteran issues including legislation introduced and passed by Congress to improve VA mental health services and the VA’s recent expanded eligibility for veterans to qualify for the Choice Act.
Learn more about his visit:
Jonesboro Sun - Boozman discusses Iran, gun rights (subscription required)
Talk Business & Politics - Sen. Boozman Tours Hytrol Factory In Jonesboro
The Paul Harrell Program – John Boozman interview 4-8-15
Mountain Home – U.S. Senator John Boozman toured Mountain Home’s Eaton Corporation on Tuesday, April 7. Eaton, a world leading power management company, employs more than 400 people in the Mountain Home area. The north Arkansas facility is one of the world’s largest producers of synthetic rubber and hydraulic hose for commercial construction. Following the tour, Boozman visited with KTLO about ways Washington can help create an economic environment that encourages job growth.
Apr 03 2015
There is a lot going on in Washington. I joined KFFB’s Bob Connell to talk about the debates underway in the nation’s capital and some of the issues that are concerning to Arkansans. If you missed our conversation earlier this week you can listen to the interview here where we talk about preventing a nuclear Iran and protecting our Second Amendment and the second part of our interview when we discussed improvements to veterans health services and our efforts to prevent illegal immigrants’ ability to claim the Earned Income Tax Credit.
I wrote the following piece for the Jonesboro Sun (subscription required) about the EPA's overreaching efforts to exert federal control over almost all state and local waters.
Let Arkansans Have a Say in Environmental Protection
by U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-AR)
Sunday, March 29, 2015
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) bureaucrats in Washington, DC want you to think there are only two options: either give them wide-ranging power to control how we protect our environment, or live with dirty air and dirty water.
Arkansans know better. State and local work to protect the environment makes sense. It empowers citizens to speak up and be heard, and it allows us to weigh the costs and benefits of new rules. The frustration shared by many Arkansans is the direct result of an agency that often abuses its authority, forcing unnecessary costly mandates on them. And to add insult to injury, many times these mandates fail to provide honest environmental protection.
Last March, the EPA proposed the “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) rule that could impose federal mandates over ditches, puddles and other waters that have never been controlled by Washington. This EPA power-grab violates the intent of the Clean Water Act (CWA), which provides water quality protection through partnerships between the federal government and the states. CWA does not provide unlimited power to the federal government.
Earlier this week, Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge testified on this topic before the Senate Agriculture Committee. As a member of the Committee, I appreciated her testimony. She highlighted the “questionable legal basis for the proposed rule.” While displaying a printed copy of the massive rule, she explained that it “fails miserably at offering any clarity” for farmers and other land owners.
Over one million comments have been submitted to the EPA. Unfortunately, the Obama administration has doubled down on this rule, despite the opposition of more than 160 agricultural organizations and more than 70 non-agriculture organizations, including Arkansas groups like the Arkansas Associated Builders and Contractors and Arkansas Cattlemen’s Association.
For the past year, thousands of Arkansas farmers, ranchers, foresters and landowners have shared their concerns with me about the impact of the proposed WOTUS rule. The costs of permits and extended delays would add up quickly. We all pay these costs when we go to the grocery store or the lumber yard. As a voice for the Natural State, I am fighting against this agency overreach.
My colleagues and I have questioned the head of the EPA, Gina McCarthy, at several hearings. We have urged the Obama Administration to withdraw this harmful proposal. Despite what the proposed rule says, during our hearings, the head of the EPA has testified that the agency does not intend to take additional control of water. Since the EPA says it does not want to grab more power, at a minimum Congress should vote to hold the EPA to the commitments made in these hearings. Ultimately, I believe Congress must pass legislation to completely reject this rule and protect the role of states, local communities and citizens.
We must protect water quality, but we can do this without giving all power to Washington. Local citizens, including farmers and landowners have rights we must defend. I will continue to stand for Arkansas as long as I serve as your Senator.