Dr. Boozman's Check-up
Mar 14 2014
We had a busy week in Washington that included fairness and relief for all Americans suffering under Obamacare, fighting for military families, recognition for supporting free market efforts to improve our economy and much more in this edition of the “Week in Review.”
- Obamacare Delay: I remain committed to repealing and replacing Obamacare but until then Americans deserve to be treated fairly under this law. That means delaying the individual mandate penalty as long as the employer mandate is waived.
- The ENFORCE Act: The House of Representatives took a step toward reining in Presidential abuses of power by passing the ENFORCE the Law Act of 2014, which makes it easier for Congress, as part of its oversight powers, to sue the executive branch for failing to enforce the law. We have a companion bill in the Senate and I am working to help get it passed.
- Uphold the Religious Freedom Restoration Act: Congressman Randy Forbes (R-VA) and I authored a piece for National Review on the opportunity the Supreme Court has later this month to reconsider the Obamacare mandate that forces employers to offer contraceptive and sterilization services that violate their religious beliefs. Read it here.
- Fighting for Military Families: The defense budget proposes to slash even more benefits our military families need. On Thursday I delivered a speech on the Senate floor saying "cuts on our military families are unacceptable and I will fight to preserve the benefits our military families were promised."
- U.S. Chamber of Commerce Recognition: I was honored to receive the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s prestigious “Spirit of Enterprise” award for supporting free market efforts to improve our economy during the first session of the 113th Congress.
- ICD-10: The healthcare community is forced to comply with a government mandate to update a new generation of diagnosis codes. This includes codes for such strange injuries like spending too much time in a deep-freeze refrigerator or a large toe that has gone unexpectedly missing. This sounds crazy, but it’s true. Read more about our efforts to stop the adoption of these codes.
- Supporting Small Aircraft Pilots: We are leading efforts to exempt pilots flying a broader range of aircraft eligible for third class medical exemption which expands sport pilot medical standards with the introduction of the General Aviation Pilot Protection, Act.
- Arkansas U.S. Senate Youth Program Delegates: We were pleased to welcome Abhilasha Gokulan of Little Rock and Adam Williams of Jonesboro to Washington. The students are Arkansas’s delegates to the United States Senate Youth Program and participating in the program’s 52nd annual Washington Week.
Mar 11 2014
Before serving in Congress I worked as an optometrist in an eye clinic that my brother and I started in Rogers, Arkansas which helps me understand the challenges small business and health care providers face when having to comply with a new regulation. It’s about to get a lot worse. The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) recently announced that hospitals and physicians have to adopt a new generation of diagnosis codes.
The Weekly Standard recently published “Code Chaos” that discusses the new process called ICD-10 and the problems that health experts are expecting.
“Virtually everyone agrees that the transition will mean decreased productivity and lost revenue, at least for a time. Some experts, dismissed as alarmists by ICD-10 enthusiasts, are predicting widespread chaos in a sector of the economy that can little afford it,” the article reads.
ICD-10 is a very convoluted process that increases the number of codes by more than 120,000. This includes codes for some bizarre and rare injuries like this Washington Post story points to which includes spending too much time in a deep-freeze refrigerator or a large toe that has gone unexpectedly missing. This sounds made-up. Unfortunately, it’s all too true. This is why I joined with senate doctors to introduce the Cutting Costly Codes Act, S. 972, which would stop the adoption of ICD-10 codes.
The sponsors of the legislation recently sent the letter attached below to Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Marilyn Tavenner questioning CMS’ plan to perform front-end testing of the ICD-10 billing code system during the first week of March.
“Given the size and scope of the potential transition to ICD-10, the brevity and limited scope of this test is worrisome. This change will impact millions of physicians and patients, and hundreds of billions of dollars in payments that flow through Medicare and Medicaid. Other major federal IT projects--such as the implementation of Healthcare.gov--have demonstrated the importance of thorough pre-testing every aspect of new systems, both the front-end and back-end components. System-wide errors and delay could adversely impact both patients’ own pocketbooks and provider cash flows,” we wrote in the letter.
Mar 07 2014
We’re bringing our office to you, the President submits his budget to Congress, the Senate confirms a new federal judge for Arkansas and much more in this edition of the “Week in Review.”
- Mobile Offices: We’re making it easier to reach our office by bringing it to you. We hosted two Mobile Office events this week and there are many other opportunities to meet with my staff. Find out where we’ll be during March.
- Budget: President Obama submitted his fiscal year 2015 budget to Congress. Unfortunately, it’s more of the same. This reckless plan would increase total spending by 63 percent from today’s levels and add $8.3 trillion to the debt over the next 10 years.
- Crisis in Ukraine: Thursday was the five-year anniversary of the Obama administration’s declaration of a “reset” with Russia. Unfortunately, that fresh start doesn’t look very good today. I joined a bipartisan group of Senators to introduce a resolution that condemns the Russian military siege of Crimea, calling for a withdrawal of those troops, and a negotiated settlement to any concerns regarding the Crimea. It also urges the administration and European Union to use a range of economic and diplomatic leverage against Russia should it fail to abide by these basic international norms. Watch this for more on my thoughts on the Ukraine crisis.
- Veterans’ Affairs Committee Hearings: We were pleased to welcome Arkansas veterans who were in Washington representing Veterans Service Organizations (VSO). These leading veteran’s advocates share their priorities with the Senate and House Veterans’ Affairs Committees. We talked with the VFW commander and served as the Ranking Member during a hearing on Thursday with other VSOs where we discussed the best ways we can help veterans receive the benefits they earned.
- Judicial Confirmation: The Senate confirmed Timothy Brooks to serve as United States District Court Judge for the Western District of Arkansas. His nomination was unanimously approved. I spoke in support of his nomination on the Senate floor.
- Merchant Marine Academy: During the 112th Congress, Vice President Joe Biden appointed me to serve on the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy Board of Visitors, the academy’s official oversight board. Current law creates a Board for the USMMA, but the law does adequately structure the Board to carry out its oversight duties so I introduced the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy Board of Visitors Enhancement. This bill would improve the ability of the Board to perform critical oversight responsibilities and continue to train merchant mariners/military officers to meet critical national sealift needs.
Mar 06 2014
This week KFFB has been airing our discussion with station General Manager and owner Bob Connell. We were happy to meet with Bob in our Washington office last week as a representative of the Arkansas Broadcasters Association. We talked about issues important to the industry and later we talked about some other issues important to Arkansans. If you missed it you can listen to our interview on the following topics: Obamacare, proposed cuts to the military, the Farm Bill and energy including the propane shortage.
Mar 06 2014
Today is the five-year anniversary of the Obama Administration’s declaration of a “reset” with Russia. The occasion was marked by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s ceremonial gift of a reset button to her Russian counterpart, with the Obama Administration pledging a “new start” with U.S.-Russian relations.
That fresh start doesn’t look very good today.
Last month, then-President Viktor Yanukovich fled Ukraine as a result of escalating conflicts between anti-government protestors and Ukrainian security forces in which up to 100 people were killed. Upon Yanukovich’s departure, ethnic Russian nationalists seized control of the Crimean parliament building and Russian military forces illegally entered the Crimea peninsula.
The crisis continues to escalate daily. Today, Crimea's parliament voted to join Russia formally under Moscow's rule, a decision that the new Ukrainian government said was in violation of the country’s constitution.
Russia’s aggressive actions against a sovereign state are completely unacceptable. The State Department has rightly condemned Vladimir Putin’s government for its actions and President Obama has signed an executive order that authorizes limited sanctions against those responsible for violating the sovereignty of Ukraine. The sanctions could also apply to some Ukrainians if they are found to have been involved in efforts to destabilize the country.
Congress is also moving forward with a swift and stern response. Today, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill that provides for the costs of loan guarantees for Ukraine. Here in the Senate, I joined a bipartisan group of Senators, led by Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Roger Wicker (R-MS), to introduce a resolution that condemns the Russian military siege of Crimea, calling for a withdrawal of those troops, and a negotiated settlement to any concerns regarding the Crimea. It also urges the administration and European Union to use a range of economic and diplomatic leverage against Russia should it fail to abide by these basic international norms. Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Bob Corker (R-TN), Chair and Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, are crafting additional legislation that would provide assistance to Ukraine, which has yet to be introduced.
We must provide strong leadership through this crisis. If there is no recourse for this aggression, the sovereignty of the rest of the former Soviet-bloc countries will be at risk, not to mention the precedent this sets for the world’s bad actors like Iran and Syria. The international community needs to stand together and ensure the Russians understand that this behavior will not be tolerated.
For more on my thoughts on the Ukraine crisis, please watch this interview below.
Feb 28 2014
Supporting veterans’ funding, preventing IRS targeting, Senate confirms a new federal judge for Arkansas and much more from a busy week in the senate in this edition of the “Week in Review.”
- Advanced Funding for Veterans: I was happy to visit with Arkansas veterans representing Disabled American Veterans who joined representatives from leading veterans’ organizations at a press conference with us in front of the Capitol to highlight veterans’ funding and support a bill we introduced called Putting Veterans Funding First Act. This legislation keeps our promise to veterans and would expand one-year advanced funding for all veterans programs, services and benefits—like we currently do for veterans health care—to ensure that all the services which our veterans have earned, and depend on, will continue should there be future funding issues.
- Urging for improving efficiency and accountability at VA: I spoke on the Senate floor about the need to provide our veterans with the care they deserve. We’re facing a backlog of veterans claims, long waits in the appeals process and programs not fully implemented at the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. We need to fix these existing programs we are committed to before expanding programs and increasing the responsibility of VA.
- Preventing Internal Revenue Service Targeting: We joined efforts to preserve the First Amendment rights of all groups and prevent the IRS from targeting social welfare organizations. The House passed similar legislation this week.
- Judicial Confirmation: The Senate confirmed Judge James “Jay” Maxwell Moody, Jr. to serve as United States District Court Judge for the Eastern District of Arkansas. His nomination was confirmed by a vote of 95-4.
- Corps of Engineers Bill Reinvests in our State: We introduced legislation that restores previous practices of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and uses the fees for operation, maintenance, and management at the recreation site where collected. We're proud that the Arkansas delegation is leading the charge to reinvest in these recreational facilities in our state.
- Conway Airport: We’re working with members of the Arkansas Congressional Delegation to continue moving the Conway Municipal Airport forward and help the city improve its infrastructure and economic potential.
- Saline County FEMA Funds: Funds to help clean up Saline County after the Christmas Day storm in 2012 were delayed. We worked with county officials to move the process forward and secure the $1.1 million for reimbursement to the county.
- Propane Shortage: We’ve heard from a lot of Arkansans who are paying higher prices for propane as a result of the shortage and last week I visited one Arkansan farmer who, like so many others, is impacted by the cost. Arkansas is one of more than twenty states that has issued a disaster declarations related to the propane shortage. We led a bipartisan coalition of senators pushing the Obama administration to provide relief for families, farmers, and businesses suffering from a significant spike in propane prices this winter. I believe that we need to continue and expand flexibility and assistance across agencies. For example, the Department of Transportation can temporarily suspend regulations that drive up the cost of shipping propane.
- Pastor Abedini: I have heard from many Arkansans about Pastor Abedini, a dual Iranian-American citizen who has been imprisoned in Iran for over a year in challenging conditions, simply because of his Christian faith. The Iranian foreign minister recently signaled some potential flexibility in this case, and I joined bipartisan, bicameral efforts to keep this case in public eye to take advantage of these comments with the ultimate goal to bring Pastor Abedini back home.
- Helping Wounded Warriors: We’ve been leading efforts in Congress to improve the care for our injured servicemembers and veterans. In 2012, our initiative to improve rehabilitative services for our nation’s veterans with Traumatic Brain Injury was included in a larger bill and signed into law by President Obama. There is still a lot of work to do. We talked with the filmmakers for a documentary produced by the Wounded Warriors Project about our work in Congress to make sure our veterans are getting the care they need.
- Friend of U.S. Rice Award: I was proud to receive the first ever Friend of the U.S. Rice Industry Award. As the number one producer of rice in our country, Arkansas has a unique role in the industry. We are proud to promote policies and help craft a Farm Bill that enables our farmers to manage risk and ensures that high quality U.S. rice remains a staple on dining room tables across the globe.
- Geography Legislator of the Year: Geography education is a critical component to learning, working and competing in our global economy. National Geographic honored our commitment of to improve geography education and recognized me as us a Geography Legislator of the Year.
Feb 25 2014
Traumatic brain injury (TBI) represents one of the most complex and potentially severe injuries incurred by service members deployed in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. Providing the best services to our troops who sustained TBI is part of our commitment to ensure our military personnel get the care they deserve. We’ve been leading efforts in Congress to improve the care of our servicemembers and veterans impacted with these injuries. In 2012, our initiative to improve rehabilitative services for our nation’s veterans with TBI was included in a larger bill and signed into law by President Obama. There is still a lot of work to do. The Wounded Warrior Project produced Wounded: the Battle Back Home, a documentary series that brings to life the wounds of war and the difficulties our nation faces in addressing these injuries. We talked with the filmmakers about our work in Congress to make sure our veterans are getting the care they need.
At the National Prayer Breakfast earlier this month President Obama called for the release of prisoners held around the world because of their religious beliefs, including Pastor Saeed Abedini.
I have heard from many Arkansans about Pastor Abedini, a dual Iranian-American citizen who has been imprisoned in Iran for over a year in challenging conditions, simply because of his Christian faith.
The Iranian foreign minister recently signaled some potential flexibility in this case, and I’m joining bipartisan, bicameral efforts to keep this case in public eye to take advantage of these comments with the ultimate goal to bring Pastor Abedini back home.
We joined efforts to prevent the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) from targeting social welfare organizations by cosponsoring the Stop Targeting of Political Beliefs by the IRS Act of 2014.
The legislation would protect free speech rights of 501(c)(4) organizations by preventing the IRS and Department of Treasury from finalizing proposed regulations that would significantly limit the advocacy and educational activities of these groups, for one year. The bill would also return to IRS standards and definitions that were in place on January 1, 2010, before the agency’s targeting.
The IRS abused its power and we must make the agency more accountable and transparent to prevent future overreach and attacks on our First Amendment rights. It is premature to implement new proposals that challenge the Constitution and political speech before a thorough investigation into the targeting is complete.
The legislation is supported by 39 senators. Similar legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives by Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, Dave Camp (R-MI).
Background: Under proposed Department of Treasury regulations published on November 29, 2013, 501(c)(4) organizations cannot engage in voter registration, convene candidate forums, or even conduct non-partisan activities without jeopardizing their exempt status, even though those activities are expressly allowed for 501(c)(3) organizations.