Dr. Boozman's Check-up

I joined 112 of my colleagues to support Arkansas and 25 others states in their fight to stop the President’s unconstitutional immigration actions, cosponsored legislation to push back against the EPA’s carbon emissions mandates that target Arkansas for cuts stricter than 44 other states and supported a Senate-passed resolution calling on Iran to release American hostages. Read more about what happened in this Week in Review. 

  • Fighting the President’s Unconstitutional Immigration Action: Arkansas and 25 other states have challenged President Obama's moves to ease deportations for immigrants living in the country illegally. This week I joined my colleagues in filing an amicus brief support of a continued injunction against President Obama’s executive overreach.

  • Pushing Back on EPA: EPA’s proposal limiting carbon emissions threatens to increase energy prices and reduce reliability. That’s why I joined Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton and several of our colleagues to introduce the Affordable Reliable Energy Now Act to fight back against this proposal.

  • VA Inspector General to Review Solar Panel Activation Failure: The VA’s Office of Inspector General notified Congressman French Hill and I that it’s adding the Little Rock Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC) to its national project on VA’s Green Management Program Solar Panel Projects after we asked for a review of the agency’s renewable energy program because of problems with the Little Rock VAMC’s solar panels.

  • Broadband Access: Access to affordable and reliable Internet is vital in this modern age. According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), 84 percent of rural Arkansas lacks access to broadband. This is an important issue in our state. That’s why I asked FCC Chairman Wheeler this week when the current, antiquated rules would be updated. He to implement reforms “by football season.”
  • Fort Smith Airport Fire Protection Grant: The FAA awarded the Fort Smith Regional Airport nearly $600,000 for firefighting equipment. The funds will be used to buy a new fire truck and four fire protection suits to assist the airport in meeting safety requirements. This grant is important to the operation of the airport and economic development in the community. 

There are some new developments in the ongoing legal challenge to President Obama’s executive overreach on immigration.

Earlier this year, U.S. District Court Judge Andre Hanen issued an order blocking the government from carrying out the President’s executive overreach on immigration.

This was welcome news. The President’s plan is misguided and it is clearly an overreach of the office. His actions essentially amount to granting amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants without the approval of Congress.

In his 123-page decision blocking the President’s immigration policy Judge Andre Hanen wrote, “These changes go beyond mere enforcement or even non-enforcement of this nation’s immigration scheme.” 

A federal appeals court in New Orleans recently heard arguments from the Administration asking for an emergency stay of Judge Hanen’s ruling. The President wants to be able to carry out his actions during the appeal process, despite the ruling against him. 

I strongly disagree with that assertion. 

That’s why I signed an amicus brief filed with the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in support of a continued injunction against the President’s actions. The brief, signed by 24 of my Senate colleagues and 88 members of the House of Representatives, states that the President unilaterally created deferred action programs for unlawful immigrants are unconstitutional and are contrary to the will of Congress.

The direction the President is taking with his executive action is the wrong one and he himself has acknowledged nearly two dozen times that he doesn’t have the authority to grant this executive action before he announced his unilateral plans. Yet he continues to press forward with it and is actively seeking ways around the court decision. We will continue to seek ways to stop this legislatively while making the legal case that the President overstepped his Constitutional authorities when he issued this executive action. 

Today we recognize the heroism, service and sacrifice of Army Master Sergeant James Holt. He is being laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery. In early February the citizens of Hope welcomed MSG Holt home after 47 years missing in action in Vietnam. His remains were returned to his hometown after positive identification was made. These are the remarks included in the Congressional Record honoring his bravery and in recognition of his homecoming.

Mr. President, this Saturday, February 7, 2015, members of the Hempstead County community will gather for a memorial service for MSG James William Holt of Hope, AR, who was killed in action in Vietnam in 1968. 

The service will take place on the 47th anniversary of Master Sergeant Holt's heroic actions and will coincide with the return of his remains for proper burial. 

In the early morning hours of February 7, 1968, the North Vietnamese Army launched a massive, coordinated tank and infantry assault on the Special Forces Camp at Lang Vei that created numerous casualties among the troops defending the base. 

As a Special Forces medic, Master Sergeant Holt raced around the compound, while under heavy fire, to administer aid to the wounded and move them to safety. His valiant actions during the assault did not end there. 

While not a weapons specialist, Master Sergeant Holt nonetheless was a professional Special Operations soldier who knew how to fire every weapon in that camp accurately and effectively. He was also a decisive leader who took charge of a silent 106 mm recoilless rifle and brought it to life, destroying three enemy tanks before running out of ammunition. 

Master Sergeant Holt then supplied himself with light anti-tank weapons and charged into the face of the enemy, single-handedly attacking the tank formation, and allowing time for his brothers-in- arms to fight their way to safety. When two enemy tanks broke through the perimeter, Master Sergeant Holt delivered deadly fire on them, scoring a direct hit on one of the armored vehicles. 

The Battle of Lang Vei was a short, but costly battle that could have even worse for American forces if it were not for Master Sergeant Holt's heroics. For his acts of bravery, Master Sergeant Holt was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for gallantry in action and the Purple Heart. 

I was at the ceremony in 2013 when Master Sergeant Holt was posthumously inducted into the Arkansas Military Veterans Hall of Fame and I wish I could be on hand when the community honors him this weekend. These tributes will help ensure Master Sergeant Holt's remarkable story of bravery and selfless sacrifice forever lives on. 

The Senate voted to provide the American people with a voice in any proposed agreement with Iran, I cosponsored legislation to rein in the EPA and direct the agency to revise its Waters of the United States proposal and we recognized the engines of our economy, small businesses, during National Small Business Week. 

  • Giving Congress a Voice in Iran Negotiations: We have a responsibility to ensure that Iran never achieves its goal of becoming a nuclear power. The Senate overwhelmingly passed the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act. Without this bill, there will be no review of the Iran deal. There would be nothing stopping President Obama from signing a bad agreement with Iran. There would be no limitation on the President’s ability to waive sanctions and it would be much more difficult for Congress to reinstate sanctions should Iran fail to live up to its end of the bargain.  
  • Reining in EPA: I cosponsored The Federal Water Quality Protection Act, legislation that would protect our nation’s waters and the rights of landowners against an overly burdensome and costly regulatory power-grab by Washington. This bill directs the EPA to revise its “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) rule to exclude waters that have never been controlled by the federal government like isolated ponds, ditches and agriculture water that lack enough flow to carry pollutants to navigable waters.

  • National Small Business Week: This week marks the 52nd annual National Small Business Week, a time to celebrate the innovations, ideas and hard work of our entrepreneurs. To recognize these engines of our economy, I joined with Sen. Tom Udall to introduce legislation that would ease tax preparation for business owners who operate primarily out of their homes. Creating an economic environment that reduces the regulatory burdens on small businesses gives these job creators the predictability to boost growth and development. 
  • Young Arkansas Volunteers Recognized: Congratulations to Arkansas's 2015 recipients of The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. Colbe Cortez, a 7th grader from Benton, used money he received for Christmas to rent a plot in his church’s community garden. He grew vegetables that he sold to benefit a local shelter for working homeless families. Heather Jackson, a senior from Caddo Gap, earned this recognition for educating her community on disaster preparedness through presentations, brochures, a day camp and home disaster packs. 
  • Protecting Investors:  The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) shelved a proposed regulation that carried serious privacy issues for the general public. This proposal was universally opposed from the start, and it was wise of FINRA to listen to the concerns that resulted from this misguided regulation. I serve as the Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government and believe this is the right approach to protect both investor privacy and ensure that the industry is not unduly burdened with another poorly drafted mandate.

In this Week in Review watch my speech honoring the life of Congressman John Paul Hammerschmidt, join with me in celebrating the resiliency of Mayflower and Vilonia and read about my concerns with the critical habitat designation for two types of mussels in Arkansas’s rivers. 

  • Congressman John Paul Hammerschmidt Tribute: I honored the life of longtime Third District Congressman John Paul Hammerschmidt on the Senate floor. Congressman Hammerschmidt passed away April 1. He was a true statesman who never forgot the people who elected him to serve in Washington. His dedication to his constituents during his career in public service was unmatched and is a marker I strive to meet. 
  • Critical Habitat Designation – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced its final critical habitat designations for the Neosho mucket and rabbitsfoot mussels under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA). While the agency trimmed its original designation I still have concerns about the real economic cost. 
  • Marshall Islands National Day: Arkansas is home to thousands of people with roots in the Republic of the Marshall Islands. Today we recognize the 36th anniversary of the nation’s independence. This is truly a reason for celebration and recognizing the unique relationship between our countries. That’s why it was concerning to me when I learned of Iran’s seizure of a Republic of the Marshall Islands flagged-vessel. The Marshall Islands entered into a Compact of Free Association with the U.S.  in 1986 which means the U.S. is obligated to defend the Republic of Marshall Islands, making this seizure of the ship that much more precarious. 
  • Cuba Trade in the News: Last week I introduced the Agricultural Export Expansion Act with Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND). Here are some of the highlights about the importance of this bill and our efforts to support and improve the export of American agricultural commodities to Cuba. 

As the death toll from the devastating earthquake and resulting avalanche in Nepal continues to rise, there is a sliver of good news to report. U.S. forces have rescued three Americans who were trekking in the Langtang area of Nepal when the earthquake struck. They survived the earthquake then lived in a cave for five days with about two-dozen people before they were found. 

Along with search and rescue teams, the U.S. is helping on-the-ground with emergency relief and humanitarian assistance. The website for our embassy in Nepal is a good resource if you are interested in more details about U.S. efforts to help in wake of this tragedy as well as constantly updated travel alerts for the region. 

For assistance regarding U.S. citizens in Nepal, the Department of State has established a public email address (NepalEmergencyUSC@state.gov) for all inquiries concerning U.S. citizens affected by the earthquake. You may also contact 1-888-407-4747 (from the U.S. & Canada) or +1-202-501-4444 from overseas. 

Nearly one-third of Nepal's population has been affected by the 7.8 earthquake that struck the central part of the country. That’s more than eight million people across 39 of the country’s 75 districts. 

The United Nations (UN) reports that approximately 2.8 million people countrywide are displaced following the earthquake which caused widespread damage and destruction.

The most tragic number is the fatalities. Over 5,800 have died, including four American citizens, with the death toll expected to rise to over 15,000. 

Whenever natural disasters of this magnitude occur, the spirt and generosity of the American people become the bright spot in such a dark time. 

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has cataloged the humanitarian agencies that are helping in the recovery.  If you are interested in giving, but uncertain to which organization, there are “Watchdog” groups that offer information on responding organizations that can help you decide if you are unsure which organization you would like including The Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance, The American Institute of Philanthropy, GuideStar, and Charity Navigator.

Please join me in keeping the people of Nepal, India, and Bangladesh in your thoughts and prayers in the aftermath of this tragedy.

Last week I introduced the Agricultural Export Expansion Act with Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND). This legislation would change a provision in current law, 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. 

Here are some of the highlights about the importance of this bill and our efforts to support and improve the export of American agricultural commodities to Cuba. 

Asa Hutchinson: John Boozman 'On The Right Track' With Cuba

John Lovett reports that the move to normalize relations with Cuba and extend credit lines for agricultural products is supported by members of the Arkansas delegation, with Gov. Asa Hutchinson saying that U.S. Sen. John Boozman is "on the right track" with his efforts to extend credit lines to Cuba. (The Times Record, “Hutchinson: Senator ‘On The Right Track’ With Cuba,” 4/27/15) 

Cuba: “a market we should be dominating”

Glen Chase of the Arkansas Democrat Gazette reports that Cuba trade would be a ‘boon to the farm community’ and Arkansas produces the type of rice preferred by Cubans. Rich Hillman, Vice President of the Arkansas Farm Bureau, called Boozman's bill “a first step toward normalizing trade with Cuba, which the bureau supports.” (Arkansas Democrat Gazette, “State's rice, proximity called ideal for Cuba,” 4/27/15)

Finding Compromise in Cuba Trade

Although a broad embargo governs trade with Cuba, agricultural products have been granted some leeway, although the financing restrictions mean trade is far from free and open.”

“Short of full repeal, experts said, politicians might find agreement on further relaxing financial regulations, such as the credit ban.” (McClatchy “Farm-state senators introduce bill to ease ag sales to Cuba,” 4/22/15)

Boozman pushes credit for Cuba with the main goal of exporting

The Democrat Gazette reports that “Arkansas Rice Farmers Chairman Dow Brantley of Lonoke said Boozman's bill would open credit options for rice producers and remove a trade barrier with Cuba.” Brantley says there is “financial logic” in the Boozman bill. (Arkansas Democrat Gazette, “Senator pushes credit for Cuba,” 4/23/15)

A year ago today, a massive tornado tore through central Arkansas killing sixteen people in Faulkner, Pulaski and White counties. 

Faulkner County, particularly the towns of Mayflower and Vilonia, bore the brunt of the impact. Those two towns were devastated by the tornado.  

The website of Faulkner County’s daily newspaper, the Log Cabin Democrat, today is featuring a series of stories reflecting on the disaster, detailing the recovery and remembering those who lost their lives. I encourage you to read some of these stories—both the somber remembrances and the uplifting stories of recovery. 

There was a moving gathering in Mayflower last night and one scheduled for this evening in Vilonia. These events give community members an opportunity to honor the lives of the neighbors they lost in the tragedy as well as celebrate the efforts made to rebuild in the past year. 

Residents of Mayflower and Vilonia can be very proud of the progress that their communities have made to rebuild after the storm. The recovery efforts mark the first time that the state of Arkansas has used the National Disaster Recovery Framework, which brought all federal agencies under one roof to operate in a unified and collaborative manner. By all accounts it has made a positive difference in the process. 

While tremendous progress has been made, more work remains to be done. I know that the community and state officials, as well as the entire Congressional delegation, all remain committed to finishing the job. Arkansans have always come together in the most difficult times to help neighbors in need. It’s clear that commitment continues today. 

In Arkansas, it is an unfortunate truth that we are all too familiar with the destruction that Mother Nature can leave behind. However, that still doesn’t make it any easier. On this fateful anniversary, let us remember the sixteen lives the tornado took. Please keep their families and loved ones in your thoughts and prayers.

It was a busy week in Washington that included the Senate’s vote on the Loretta Lynch nomination, passage of Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act, and the introduction of new bills requiring employers use e-verify to ensure they don’t hire illegal immigrants and expanding more trade opportunities for Arkansas agriculture. Read all about these in the Week in Review and find out where you can dispose of your unneeded and unused prescription drugs for tomorrow’s Arkansas Take Back. 

  • Voted Against Loretta Lynch: The Senate confirmed Loretta Lynch to be the next Attorney General. I voted against her nomination because she has offered her full support for the President’s unconstitutional actions, including his attempt to offer amnesty to illegal immigrants. 
  • Holding VA Accountable: Little Rock's Veterans Affairs Medical Center received an $8 million grant to the build solar panels, but since construction was completed in 2013, they were never activated because they were not compatible with the local electricity grid. Congressman French Hill and I are calling for an investigation into the due diligence failures that led to this and find out why the project was given the green light. On Tuesday, I asked the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs why this was allowed to happen and what’s being done to prevent this abuse of taxpayer dollars. 
  • Improvements Needed in IRS Customer Service: How was your experience filing your 2014 income tax? As the chairman of the Subcommittee responsible for appropriating the annual IRS budget, I’m working to hold the IRS accountable for its use of taxpayer dollars and make sure it’s addressing the needs of its customers – the American taxpayers. Read my column published in The Hill about improvements needed in the agency’s customer service.

  • Arkansas Take Back: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has classified prescription drug abuse as an epidemic. To help fight this widespread abuse I encourage you and you, your neighbors, friends and family to participate in Arkansas Take Back and get expired, unused and unwanted prescription drugs out of the home. On Saturday more than 130 collection sites across the state will take old and unneeded prescription drugs. Find a site closest to you.

  • Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce Visits: Members visited Washington as part of the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce’s 56th annual fly-in as part of the outreach to members of the Arkansas Congressional Delegation. Watch the video.

The following column was published in the April 22, 2015 edition of The Hill.

The Hill image

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.