Dr. Boozman's Check-up

It seems Congress isn’t alone in the struggle to get a straight answer out of the Obama Administration on the true extent of the crisis at our southwest border.

The Administration also continues to dodge press questions on the number of Unaccompanied Children (UACs) from Central America who crossed the Mexican border, were detained and then released into the U.S.

According to the Associated Press (AP), on seven separate occasions in the past two weeks, senior U.S. officials declined to say how many immigrant families the Obama Administration has released in recent months. The Administration knows the exact number, but it refuses to share it with Congress or the American people.

In avoiding Congressional and public scrutiny, the President has found a strong ally in Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid who blocks Republican oversight amendments, dismisses calls to investigate Administration stonewalling and, at times, even chastises the American people for caring about accountability in Washington.  

This is yet another serious matter where instead of exercising oversight, Majority Leader Reid covers for the President’s team as it stalls, delays and pleads ignorance on this, and virtually every other matter upon which the Administration is challenged.

The AP reports that the UACs crisis has significant ramifications on our justice system, border patrol resources and our national security:

“The mystery figure is significant because the number of families caught crossing from Central America represents a large share of new immigration cases that will further strain the overwhelmed U.S. immigration courts system. It also affects federal enforcement strategy, such as where to deploy the border patrol, and political calculations about whether Congress or the White House will relax American immigration laws or regulations before upcoming congressional elections in November.” 

The reality is we do have an unprecedented humanitarian crisis, but it is a crisis that has been shaped and exasperated by the President’s failure to enforce the law. The Administration’s misguided policies create the idea that if children make it to the U.S. illegally, they won’t be turned away.  This is a far cry from the laws on the book—the very laws that many of my colleagues and I have demanded time and time again that the President respect. 

The Administration denies any wrongdoing and claims to be working to change this “misconception,” but the heads of the relevant agencies don’t have the necessary answers to Congressional inquiries and the Senate Majority refuses to ensure this is indeed happening. Not once has Majority Leader Reid questioned the Administration’s account, much less asked the Department of Homeland Security or the White House to provide accurate, detailed information

While the Senate Majority plays defense for the President, the House held a hearing yesterday on this crisis, an additional hearing today, and more likely on the way. I support as many hearings as necessary to get straight answers from the Administration. If Majority Leader Reid would follow the House’s lead, we might actually get them. Better yet, he could follow House Speaker John Boehner’s lead and create a working group to develop solutions to the crisis. The fact is the records show that the Administration knew the surge at the border was coming and did nothing to stop it. This is why a Senate hearing on the crisis is unlikely as Majority Leader Reid will continue to walk lock step with the President.

Majority Leader Reid’s actions are not an accident. His strategy is designed to protect the President and allow his actions to continue unfettered. This needs to change. The American people are demanding accountability. They want the government to adhere to the laws on the books and quickly and legally repatriate anyone here illegally. Majority Leader Reid needs to stop blocking Republican efforts to answer their calls.

It was great to join Jonesboro’s KASU radio to talk about the issues impacting Arkansas. We discussed a number of topics in the news right now like the bill the senate approved last week to reform VA healthcare, foreign affairs and EPA rules that unfairly target Arkansas. You can listen to the interview here.

June Dairy Month

Jun 17 2014

June Dairy Month isn’t just a great excuse to enjoy some ice cream, it is also a wonderful time to reflect on the importance the dairy industry has on our great state.

Traditionally, milk has been a prominent source of dietary needs for all Arkansans, yet has also been crucial to the development of rural communities in Arkansas.  As the decades have passed, the capability and progression of modern milk-processing practices have secured the importance of dairy industry in Arkansas.  Today, the dairy industry is the second largest segment of American agriculture and an integral part of Arkansas’ farm sector.  Arkansas farm families who derive their income from the sale of milk contribute over $100 million to the state’s economy; and hundreds of other Arkansas are employed to process a vast array of dairy foods.

Just like many Arkansans, I feel it is clear that we should celebrate dairy not just in June, but all year long.  So while you’re enjoying Arkansas’ official state drink, milk, or a refreshing ice cream cone this summer be sure to remember the contributions the dairy industry has made to Arkansas and the United States. 

Arkansas Dairy Facts:

  • Arkansas dairy farms produced approximately 12 million gallons of milk last year
  • Arkansas farms generate approximately $24 million in milk sales annually
  • In Arkansas, the average dairy cow produces about 3.7 gallons of milk per day. That’s more than 1,356 gallons of milk over the course of a typical year
  • It takes about 48 hours for milk to travel from the farm to the dairy case

If you’ve been waiting to talk to a federal representative in person about disaster aid from the April 27th storm, time is running out.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) disaster recovery centers in Mayflower will shut down for good after they close at 2 pm on Saturday, June 14th.

The addresses and hours for the two sites are as follows:

Mayflower Disaster Recovery Center
600 Highway 365
Mayflower, AR 72106
Hours: Monday–Friday: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Saturday: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Vilonia Disaster Recovery Center
1122 Main St.
Vilonia, AR 72455
Hours: Monday to Friday: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. 
Saturday: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

After Saturday, the Mayflower center will transition to a Small Business Administration (SBA) Disaster Loan Outreach Center on Monday, June 16th.

FEMA & Arkansas Department of Emergency Management (ADEM) have stated that traffic to the two remaining recovery centers has dropped dramatically, indicating the information needs of survivors in the area have been met.

I encourage anyone in Faulkner County who may be eligible for disaster aid, and hasn’t yet visited with FEMA, to stop by the Mayflower or Vilonia centers before Saturday.

For more information on disaster recovery efforts, please check here.

Our veterans deserve reliable, timely, and highest-quality health care services. Unfortunately, VA is struggling to meet the demand and that has cost our veterans timely medical care they need and earned. I am committed to ensuring that VA uses every available option it has to deliver on its mission for all Arkansas veterans who have earned this care. 

The VA launched an audit of its medical facilities in mid-May after allegations that veterans faced long wait times and data was manipulated in some facilities to hide the length of time for health appointments. 

The audit shows a clear need for immediate improvement. Our veterans who have been made less than whole as the result of their service have earned the right to the world-class care that VA is capable of providing, both in the VA system and in our local communities. We need to continue to strive for and implement reasonable solutions for all patients, especially for first-time patients an area where VA is really struggling, by eliminating the hurdles to being seen by a doctor. In some cases, the care they cannot access is for the treatment of conditions they incurred because of their service. To me, this is unacceptable and must be remedied. 

Arkansas facilities fared around the national average, but we can and need to do better. Read more about our state’s facilities in this AP story.

To commemorate the fifth anniversary of the attack on Arkansas troops stationed in Little Rock, a wreath was laid at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery today.  On June 1, 2009, Army Private William Long and Private Quinton Ezeagwula were shot outside the Army Navy Career Center in Little Rock. Private Long was killed and Private Ezeagwula was wounded.  They were shot by an American Muslim convert, Abdulhakim Muhammad, who told authorities his goal was to kill as many soldiers as possible.  Their attacker was a terrorist that claimed Al-Qaeda connections.

The murder of Private Long was an act of domestic terrorism but the federal government failed to prosecute Muhammad as a terrorist. In an interview with Little Rock’s KATV Private Long’s father said, “They weren’t on the battlefield; but apparently, the battlefield’s here.” Private Long was deliberately targeted for serving his country, and as such he deserves all the respect and honor that entails. That is why in 2013, Senator Pryor and I introduced the “Honoring Ezeagwula and Long (HEAL) Act.” This would allow Private Long and Private Ezeagwula to be eligible for the Purple Heart. Congressman Griffin (AR-2) also introduced similar legislation in the House. Though the current administration opposes recognizing this tragedy as an act of war, we owe it to these brave Arkansans to honor their sacrifice.

I’m very concerned about the EPA’s proposal to drive up the cost of electricity costs from existing power plants. That’s why I joined over 40 of my Senate colleagues in calling on President Obama to withdraw the recently announced EPA crack down.

"Our primary concern is that the rule as proposed will result in significant electricity rate increases and additional energy costs for consumers," we wrote in the letter to President Obama. "These costs will, as always, fall most heavily on the elderly, the poor, and those on fixed incomes. In addition, these costs will damage families, businesses, and local institutions such as hospitals and schools."

"This proposed rule continues your Administration's effort to ensure that American families and businesses will pay more for electricity, an important goal emphasized during your initial campaign for President, and suffer reduced reliability as well," the letter continues. "Removing coal as a power source from the generation portfolio - which is a direct and intended consequence of your administration's rule - unnecessarily reduces reliability and market flexibility while increasing costs."

Read the letter.

I will continue to join efforts with other lawmakers to urge the President to reconsider this plan that hurts American families, businesses and jobs. Coal is the largest energy producer in Arkansas and this policy stands to have a big impact on our lives. 

Here is what others are saying what these regulations mean for Arkansas: 

“…the inevitable result will be the use of more expensive fuels, such as natural gas” - Duane Highley, president and CEO of Arkansas Electric Cooperatives Corp (“As The Dust Settles, Arkansas Stakeholders Sound Off On Obama EPA Guidelines” Talk Business

“The biggest concern that I've got is the impact of the cost to customers” - Ron Bowen, general manager of Jonesboro City Water & Light (“CWL: Carbon regs will hit hard”, Jonesboro Sun

“The cost of providing power to our citizens is a concern. If the costs rise because of these regulations, everyone will be concerned about just basic power to their houses. It’s inevitable”  - Arkansas State Representative Prissy Hickerson (“Looking to Curb Carbon” Texarkana Gazette

“The EPA standards can penalize a state like Arkansas”  - Venita McCellon-Allen, president of SWEPCO (“Emissions goal bigger for state” Arkansas Democrat Gazette)

Last week, Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker returned from a diplomatic mission to Africa that concluded with a stop in Ethiopia, where she met with President Mulatu Teshome and private sector leaders to discuss ways to increase bilateral trade and investment between the U.S. and Ethiopia.

Prior to her stop in Ethiopia, Secretary Pritzker also visited Ghana and Nigeria where she focused on ways that U.S. companies can launch or increase their business in West Africa’s energy sector.

It’s no coincidence that Secretary Pritzker’s first visit to Africa included Ethiopia, Africa’s second-fastest growing economy, and Nigeria, the continent’s largest economy. These are markets ripe for U.S. companies, including many small businesses in Arkansas, that could benefit dramatically if we increased trade with our allies in Africa.

In Arkansas, we already export $5.6 billion in merchandise each year. One of the ways that we are going to climb out of the economic doldrums that we're in and create jobs is by raising that number even higher. The potential for U.S. companies in African markets is enormous, so I am pleased to see the Secretary working with her counterparts in these countries to create opportunities for new partnerships. Trade abroad truly does equal jobs at home.

Despite the United States’ considerable involvement throughout the African continent, our current system of export promotion and finance with these nations is little more than a poorly coordinated patchwork of more than a dozen government agencies that businesses find too difficult to navigate and that fails to provide support to exporters. Bottom line: The United States does not have a harmonized export strategy for Africa while our global competitors do.

This is why I joined my colleagues Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Senator Christopher Coons (D-DE) to introduce a bill to increase America’s competiveness throughout Africa by forcing better coordination between U.S. government agencies and departments, establishing comprehensive strategic goals, and marshaling private investments to improve U.S.-Africa business activities. This bill challenges us to increase exports to Africa by 200 percent and gives us the incentive and a template for how to reach that goal.

A key provision of our legislation—establish a White House-designated senior coordinator to review current export strategies with the ultimate goal of significantly increasing our imports to Africa—was included in the law that authorized defense spending for this year.  

A robust trade strategy with Africa is vital for our economic prosperity. Africa is developing a healthy middle class. This newfound wealth has generated a huge demand for American products throughout Africa. We just need a comprehensive strategy to allow U.S. companies to reach these growing markets.  It is my hope that the first visit to Africa by a U.S. Secretary of Commerce in over a decade is a signal of a newfound intention toward this goal.

Read more about the Durbin-Boozman-Coons bill.

Meriam Yehya Ibrahim Ishag, a 27-year old Christian, was sentenced to death by hanging earlier this month for the “crime” of refusing to renounce her faith. Meriam has also been sentenced to 100 lashes for being married to a Christian man.

This is an outrageous violation of an individual’s most basic human right. We all deserve the right to practice the religion of our choice. This clearly isn’t the case in Sudan where citizens can be sentenced to death for their religious beliefs. It is appalling and has no place in any civilized country.

The international community needs to stand as one on Meriam’s side and pressure the Sudanese government to abide by international standards of freedom of religion or belief.

That is why I am cosponsoring a resolution introduced by my colleagues, Senators Marco Rubio (R- FL) and Chris Coons (D-DE), that condemns the death sentence against Meriam Yehya Ibrahim Ishag and calls for her immediate and unconditional release from prison, where she remains with her twenty month-old son. Our resolution encourages U.S. efforts to ensure that the government of Sudan abides by international standards of freedom of religion or belief before normalizing relations or lifting sanctions.

The U.S. is looked upon as a beacon of hope because of the rights we afford to our citizens, but our Founding Fathers had to fight for those rights. This is all the more reason we must stand strong with those fighting persecution for their religious beliefs. Turning a blind eye to the Sudanese government’s egregious violation of Meriam’s rights would be a failure to uphold our obligation to advocate for religious freedom for all.    

Our veterans have earned the best medical care available. We must continue our commitment to provide our military personnel and retired servicemembers with the quality health services they deserve. 

However, recent news reports detailing failure in the VA health care system can’t be ignored. The Inspector General is investigating 29 VA facilities for poor management practices that failed our veterans’ medical needs.

I have asked Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki for assurance that Arkansas veterans receiving care at VA facilities are not falling victim to these practices. 

VA needs to correct these problems immediately and those responsible for this misconduct must be held accountable. Current law makes it next to impossible to remove employees of the Senior Executive Service who are responsible for these failures. While one official has resigned, just one month before scheduled retirement, no one has been fired. That’s why the VA Secretary must have the authority to fire these managers whose incompetence has negatively impacted the lives of our veterans and their families. 

Last week the House overwhelmingly approved legislation by a vote of 390-33 that does this. I urge the Senate Leader to bring up the Senate companion, S. 2013, the Department of Veterans Affairs Management Accountability Act. I am a proud cosponsor of this legislation because I believe VA management who abuse their power and put our veterans in danger is unacceptable. 

Our veterans deserve a system that proves their care is our top priority. We need to restore faith in the VA health system and that begins with accountability. Providing a mechanism to remove or demote managers who fail our veterans will allow us to better serve the men and women who sacrificed for us.