Dr. Boozman's Check-up

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)
Jonesboro Sun
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.

Ag Committee examines the impacts of the EPA’s proposed overreaching water rule, Arkansas veterans getting a new state veterans home, Franklin and Yell counties improving first responders capability and the Senate approves a budget. Read more about this busy week in Washington in this Week in Review. 

  • Rein in the IRS: As Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee I'm working to rein in the IRS and hold the agency accountable to the taxpayers. Read my blog post. 
  • Obamacare Anniversary: On Monday, we recognized the fifth anniversary of Obamacare becoming law. It’s not an anniversary worth celebrating. With a price tag in the trillions, the law creates more problems than it solves. It drives up health care costs, busts our budget, stifles job growth and raises taxes on hardworking Arkansans. 
  • North Little Rock State Veterans Home: We received great news for Arkansas veterans. The Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs approved a 30 acre land transfer. This is a critical step in building a new veterans home in central Arkansas. 
  • Golden Triangle Video: Members of the Golden Triangle Economic Development Council updated me on the economic improvements and needs of South Arkansas. I appreciated hearing about their efforts and how we can help create an environment that encourages job growth and development. MyArklaMiss highlighted a video of the group’s visit. 

Secretary of State John Kerry once said, that when it comes to negotiating with Iran about its nuclear weapons program, “No deal is better than a bad deal.”

Now it appears he is negotiating for any deal.

The Obama Administration is considering what was once unacceptable—allowing the Iranians to maintain the capacity to continue enrichment activities at Fordow. This is no ordinary site. It is a fortified, underground military bunker built into the side of a mountain. It was constructed in secret and serves one purpose—to covertly produce weapons-grade highly enriched uranium. 

The Associated Press reports that “[I]n return, Iran would be required to scale back the number of centrifuges it runs at its Natanz facility and accept other restrictions on nuclear-related work.” 

Citing officials involved in the talks on background, the Associated Press story indicates that instead of uranium, any centrifuges at the Fordow facility “would be fed elements such as zinc, xenon or germanium for separating out isotopes used in medicine, industry or science.” 

Any agreement of this nature would rely on Iran’s commitment to allow international inspectors to verify compliance. This is far too much trust to place in a regime that regularly deploys double-talk, delay tactics and manipulation when it comes to dealing with the international community. There is absolutely no reason, given the regime’s history, to believe that international inspectors will have the ability to honestly see what is going on at Fordow. None. 

This troubling report shows the negotiations have moved a long way from the Obama Administration’s original position that Fordow must be shuttered. We have reached a point in the negotiations where the U.S. and our allies have conceded the upper-hand to the Iranians.

If this report is accurate, we will not achieve what the President promised at the onset of these talks. If President Obama is unwilling to walk away from a bad deal, once the guiding principle of the negotiations, Congress must have the authority to reject it.

Reining in the IRS

Mar 25 2015

It’s clear why Americans distrust the IRS. From abusing its enforcement of tax laws to paying millions of dollars in bonuses to employees, this agency is known for misusing taxpayer dollars.

The American people deserve better.

Instead of making taxpayers its number one priority, it’s clear that IRS Commissioner John  Koskinen’s primary focus is IRS employees. Last week he sent an email to more than 80,000 IRS workers touting his ability to cut the budget to protect the priority of the IRS’ union – no furlough days this year.

Instead of working to regain the public’s trust, the IRS wants more money and more authority over the speech of political groups.

The President’s budget requests a $2 billion increase for the IRS in the next fiscal year. This is unrealistic and busts the budget cap established by the Budget Control Act.

And what exactly does the agency need this money for?

Koskinen says the agency is considering expanding “a yet-to-be-released rule governing 501(c)(4), “social welfare” groups, to include political groups known as 527s, which focus on elections” according to Politico. It appears that he has yet to learn lessons that cost his predecessor her job.

The IRS has a history of overreach. Two years ago we learned the agency targeted political groups, singling them out for additional scrutiny because of their ideological views. Now it wants authority to police political non-profits.

The agency needs to focus on regaining the trust of the American people, but I’m concerned this potential rule will continue to erode the already fragile relationship that the public has with the IRS.

The White House is celebrating five years of Obamacare today. The President’s website calls it a “historic law that has transformed the lives of millions of Americans.”  I would agree with his claim that it has changed the lives of millions. I would disagree with his assessment that this change was for the better.

With a price tag in the trillions, the law creates more problems than it solves. It drives up health care costs, busts our budget, stifles job growth and raises taxes on hardworking Arkansans.

In its brief five years of existence, Obamacare has managed to point every indicator the wrong direction. Access to care went down. Cost of care went up. Coverage options shrunk. New taxes were created.

I remain hopeful that the case currently before the Supreme Court will end Obamacare. While the President’s law has survived a challenge in front of the Supreme Court before, the latest challenge taking on the law’s subsidies has his supporters rightly worried. If the Court rules against the President, Congress has to be prepared to have an immediate replacement in place.

This week, the Senate is considering a budget resolution that will clear the way for the repeal of Obamacare and reserve funds for programs that will strengthen the doctor-patient relationship, expand choice, and lower health care costs. We are prepared to address this crisis with market-based reform that puts patients in control and forces insurance companies to compete for their business. An approach that emphasizes flexibility, portability and fairness, not government mandates. 

In the previous session of Congress, I voted to repeal, defund, and chisel away at parts of Obamacare. I will continue to support these efforts as we move forward in this session of Congress. We need to make this anniversary Obamacare’s last.

The Senate debates legislation to fight human trafficking, leading efforts to honor our Guard and Reserve members and grants for rural Arkansas. Read about these and more in this “Week in Review.” 

  • Supporting Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act: The Senate has an opportunity to pass legislation to fight human trafficking and give justice to victims of this heinous crime. Unfortunately, Senate Democrats are blocking this bill. I encouraged the Minority to support this legislation during a speech on the Senate floor
  • Honoring Guard and Reserve Members as Veterans: I am proud to introduce legislation to honor our Guard and Reserve members as veterans. The Honor America’s Guard-Reserve Act of 2015, a bipartisan, bicameral bill honoring as veterans, Guard and Reserve retirees who served honorably for a minimum of 20 years but do not meet the active duty service requirement to qualify them as veterans under existing law. 
  • Improving Highway Safety: I am leading efforts to improve the safety on our roads and highways by introducing The Drug Free Commercial Driver Act of 2015. This legislation would eliminate a hurdle in the commercial trucking industry’s pre-employment drug screening process and enhance industry standards by allowing trucking companies to use a more effective screening option. 
  • #ARFarmFriday: Follow me on Instagram as I highlight Arkansas’s agriculture community with a new picture each week of our state’s farms, ranches and agriculture producers using #ARFarmFriday. Post your picture to Instagram using this tag and I may feature your picture one week. 
  • USDA Rural Development Grants: Infrastructure is a critical component to providing citizens the services we rely and depend on to meet our needs.  That’s why I was proud to announce that Campbell Station and Mountain Top Public Water Authority in Heber Springs and received funds to improve water infrastructure in the communities. 
  • KASU interview: I joined Jonesboro’s KASU radio station to talk about the current debate in the Senate on human trafficking, Loretta Lynch's nomination, the Iran letter, reforming the Earned Income Tax Credit and legislation to improve mental health services for our servicemembers and veterans. Listen to the discussion here
  • Save Your Vision Month: March is Save Your Vision Month, which is aimed at promoting the importance of regular and comprehensive eye care. The campaign focuses on healthy eyesight and vision in the 21st century, a time where adults spend five to seven hours per day using computers, smartphones, tables, or other handheld electronic devices that put stress and tension on our eyes.


What I Co-Sponsored This Week

S.301—Boys Town Centennial Commemorative Coin Act
Tags: Banking
S.313—Prevent Interruptions in Physical Therapy Act of 2015
Tags: Healthcare
S.628—Improving Access to Maternity Care Act
Tags: Healthcare
S.751—The Clean Air, Strong Economies (CASE) Act
Tags: Jobs/Economy/Energy/Government Reform
S.801—Representation Fairness Restoration Act
Tags: Jobs/Economy
S.828—A bill to clarify that a State has the sole authority to regulate hydraulic fracturing on Federal land within the boundaries of the State.
Tags: Jobs/Economy/Energy/Government Reform
S.Con.Res.10—A concurrent resolution supporting the designation of the year of 2015 as the "International Year of Soils" and supporting locally led soil conservation.
 

In case you missed our interview with Jonesboro’s KASU radio, you can listen to the interview here. We covered a wide range of issues including the current debate in the Senate on human trafficking, the Earned Income Tax Credit and legislation to improve mental health services for our servicemembers and veterans.  

Preventing the erosion of our Second Amendment rights, protecting religious freedom worldwide and prohibiting illegal immigrants from receiving the Earned Income Tax Credit. Read about these and more in this “Week in Review.” 

  • Protecting Religious Freedom: Rabbi David Saperstein, the State Department’s Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom, testified before the Appropriations State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee. I shared my concerns about the Administration’s refusal to blame the Islamic State group’s brand of radical Islam for its persecution of Christians and Jews. 
  • Increasing Access to Mental Health Care for Servicemembers and Veterans: Senator Joe Donnelly (D-IN) and I introduced the Frontline Mental Health Provider Training Act. This legislation would help address mental health provider shortages and increase access to care for our servicemembers and veterans. 
  • English as the Official Language: We are a nation of immigrants but our national identity and culture is firmly grounded in the English language. For that reason, I cosponsored the English Language Unity Act, legislation that would make English the official language of the United States. 
  • Senate Air Force Caucus Leader: I’m proud to join Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), John Hoeven (R-ND) and Jon Tester (D-MT) to lead the Senate Air Force Caucus in the 114th Congress. This bipartisan group includes 35 members and focuses on issues impacting the U.S. Air Force. The caucus sponsors briefings, base visits and meetings with Air Force personnel throughout the year. 
  • UAPB Grant: The University of Arkansas Pine Bluff received a $1.4 million grant from the Department of Health and Human Services to develop and strengthen partnerships for higher quality education services to children. Providing young Arkansans with a learning environment to help improve their education is important to ensure success. 
  • Hot Springs City Leaders Visit Washington: Leaders of the community were in the nation’s capital for the National League of Cities (NLC) Congressional City Conference. I had the opportunity to meet with the mayor and other city officials to discuss issues important to the community including the future drinking water supply of Hot Springs and the region. Watch the video.

What I Co-Sponsored This Week 

S.678—The English Language Unity Act
Tags: Immigration Reform

S.686—A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to provide a limitation on certain aliens from claiming the earned income tax credit.
Tags: Tax Policy/Immigration Reform

S.697—Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act
Tags: Government Reform/Infrastructure

S.714—The Frontline Mental Health Provider Training Act
Tags: Veterans/National Security

S.Con.Res.4—A concurrent resolution supporting the Local Radio Freedom Act.

This week, the Appropriations State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee held a hearing on our efforts to protect religious freedom abroad.

Rabbi David Saperstein, the State Department’s Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom, was among the witnesses who testified.

It was a good opportunity to ask why the President and members of his administration has refused to identify the real motives behind the gruesome actions of the Islamic State (ISIS) group.

For example, when the Administration publicly responded to the beheading of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians in Libya, they failed to mention the faith and religious beliefs of the victims was the primary reason they were slaughtered by ISIS.

The Administration refuses to state the underlying reason this massacre happened, namely the ongoing, systematic religious persecution of Christians and Jews by the Islamic State group.

Ambassador Saperstein claimed there have been efforts to call attention to the terror group’s heinous acts of persecution, but I advised him that the average person simply doesn’t see anyone in this Administration forcefully making that case.

The Ambassador’s reply of “If that is the case then we have some work to do” says it all.

One easy place to start would be to clearly speak out against egregious atrocities ISIS continues to commit against those in the Middle East who do not share their warped view of Islam.

If we don’t identify or talk about the problem, we can’t solve it.

We need to encourage the same religious tolerance we embrace at home to be the norm around the globe, even if doing so at times requires us to call out acts of oppression committed by those who have twisted religion to fit their own radical agenda. 

If anyone embodies a twisted view of radical Islam, it is the Islamic State group. 

These terrorists are devoted to establishing a new Caliphate, ruled by Sharia law, where all would be forced to convert or die. There would be no religious freedom under ISIS rule. They are committed to destroying all who stand in their way. The US needs to be clear and resilient in our commitment to destroy ISIS.

In this edition of 'From the Mailbag' Senator Boozman responds to an email from Paul in Fayetteville who said that he is opposed to the proposal by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) to ban a popular bullet used for the AR-15.