Dr. Boozman's Check-up

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.

We had a great time in Pine Bluff visiting with members of the Jefferson County Alliance and the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce and heard the needs of the healthcare community during visits to the Jefferson Comprehensive Care Center and the Jefferson Regional Medical Center. I understand the concerns the regulations imposed by Washington are having on the economy and offered suggestions of what we can do by working together as reported by the Pine Bluff Commercial (subscription required) and outlined the challenges facing our healthcare providers like the Jefferson Regional Medical Center in this story (subscription required).

We also visited the Conway ARCare Clinic. In order to take care of the healthcare needs of Arkansans it requires everyone working together. Clinics like ARCare have an important niche that is important to the overall health of the community. Read about our visit in this Log Cabin Democrat story.

You may have seen movie previews for “The Monuments Men” which opens in theaters nationwide today. I’m excited to see this movie based on the true story about those who served in the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives section of the Western Allied military effort. The movie tells the story of the men and women initially charged with protecting structures, such as churches, museums, and monuments, from destruction during World War II. Their responsibilities later shifted to recovering art and artifacts stolen by Nazis across Europe. Today we are able to enjoy numerous works of art created by the some of the world’s most renowned artists including Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, and Pablo Picasso thanks to the mission of the Monuments Men. 

I’m proud to support legislation that awards the Congressional Gold Medal to this group of approximately 350 men and women from 13 countries who worked to preserve, protect and restore millions of pieces of artwork, sculptures, and other cultural artifacts in Europe during WWII. This is a deserving honor that highlights the remarkable sacrifices they endured to protect pieces of history for future generations. Through this effort and the story being brought to life by Hollywood, we can encourage continued learning about the heroics of the Monuments Men.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is waging a war on affordable energy. The agency is moving forward with plans that require existing power plants to meet expensive and unnecessary regulations. I joined several of my Senate colleagues to warn President Obama that urging these actions will result in higher utility bills for middle and lower-income Americans and called on him to abandon these plans. 

In his State of the Union address last week, the president said he would work with federal agencies to establish new standards regarding carbon pollution created by our power plants. However, these new requirements would negatively impact the bottom line of vulnerable Americans who would be forced to pay more for energy rates. 

“The most vulnerable families are those hit the hardest by bad energy policies and high utility bills,” we wrote in the letter. “Whatever our disagreements might be on how best to approach a changing climate, we think we can all agree that whatever we do should not burden ratepayers and consumers, especially middle and low-income families, with new costs.” 

Click to read the letter.

Along with failing to offer solutions to the Obamacare debacle, the President left a major job-creating project out of his State of the Union speech this week—the Keystone XL Pipeline.

The completed pipeline would transport 700,000 barrels of oil per day from Canada to U.S. refineries along the gulf coast and create thousands of well-paying American jobs in the process.

It should come as no surprise that President Obama ignored the Keystone Pipeline in his speech. Let’s be honest, he has no inclination to move the Keystone Pipeline forward. If he did, he would have approved it by now.

Instead of accelerating the approval process, President Obama has been reviewing the Keystone pipeline permit for almost as long as he has been in office. He is literally trying to study the project to death.

Despite the President’s unwillingness to help, progress is being made.

A long-delayed State Department report released today raised no major environmental objections to the pipeline’s construction. This is an important step forward as approval from the State Department is necessary to authorize a pipeline that crosses our border. If the State Department can’t find any environmental grounds on which to delay the pipeline further, then the President is out of excuses.

The Keystone Pipeline is ready to go. It is ready to put Americans to work. It is ready to help us toward energy independence. We just need a President who is ready to get out of the way so we can get started.

It appears that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will work to clarify its regulations regarding grain storage on small farms in light of language included in the Omnibus Appropriations Act recently passed by Congress.

The reason we had to once again reaffirm a law that dates back thirty-five years is because OSHA had misinterpreted it at the expense of family farmers.

Since 1976, Congress has exempted small, family-run farms from OSHA regulations. However, as the Obama Administration has done time and time again, it ignored Congress to impose its will on the American people by demanding compliance of Administration regulations that run counter to the spirit of the law.

In 2011, OSHA issued a memo that asserted on-farm grain storage and handling was not part of farm operations. The memo essentially expanded OSHA’s regulatory scope to nearly every farm in the country without going through the established rule making process that allows Congressional review and public comment. It is a mandate based on faulty logic written by bureaucrats who do not understand family farming in the slightest.

Late last year, I joined 41 of my colleagues from both sides of the aisle to demand OSHA immediately stop its unlawful targeting of family farms. My colleague, Senator Mike Johanns (R-NE), was the lead author of the letter to OSHA that called on the agency to cease and desist with such tactics. The letter we sent to the agency can be found here on his website.

OSHA’s announcement that it will revisit current policy is a good first step, but the agency must follow through and end these practices and it needs to rescind the fines it has levied based on a false interpretation of the law.

The Obama Administration has consistently gone around Congress to impose regulations that it knows it cannot pass legislatively. This regulatory overreach has to end. The President needs to listen to Congress and respect the will of the American people. Stopping this abuse of family farmers is a good place to start. 

We joined El Dorado's KELD FM for a discussion about some of the pressing issues in Washington and the debates underway in our nation’s capital as we kick off 2014. If you missed the interview you can listen to it here.

ICYMI: Arkansas Week

Jan 13 2014

We recently talked with Arkansas Week’s Steve Barnes about the latest issues impacting our nation. We talked about a wide range of topics from the Farm Bill, the budget, Obamacare and recent rule changes to senate procedure. Our interview aired the first weekend in January.  If you missed our conversation on your local AETN station, you can watch the full interview broken into three segments here. Arkansas Week Segment I, Segment II, Segment III.

The new job numbers were released today and they show that the final four weeks of 2013 comprised the weakest month of hiring in three years.

Only 74,000 jobs were added in December after averaging 214,000 in the previous four months.

This counters recent claims that the economy is on the rise. The Administration has been touting the drop in the unemployment rate, but as the Associated Press (AP) notes, that is largely because many jobless Americans have stopped looking for work.

From the AP:

The Labor Department said Friday that the unemployment rate fell from 7 percent in November to 6.7 percent, its lowest level since October 2008. But the drop occurred mostly because many Americans stopped looking for jobs. Once people without jobs stop looking for one, the government no longer counts them as unemployed.

As my colleague, and Ranking Member of the Senate Budget Committee, Jeff Sessions (R-AL) has noted, for every one job created, five people leave the workforce.

It is an unsustainable pace. It highlights the failure of the economic policies the Senate Majority and the Obama Administration have pursued.

When will the Senate Majority turn its attention to correcting the economic turmoil the Obama Administration has created?

Senate Republicans have tried to add job-creating provisions to legislation the Senate Majority has offered, including its recent effort to extend unemployment insurance to out-of-work Americans. But every time, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has prevented our efforts from receiving consideration from the Senate. The Majority Leader is so intent on ensuring that his caucus does not have to take tough votes that since last summer, all but four Republican amendments have been denied a roll call vote.  

After several harsh news articles, perhaps Majority Leader Reid will have a change of heart. It remains to be seen if he is truly willing to work with us, but it is far beyond time. Instead of working against us, the Senate Majority needs to work with us to get the economy running again. Americans cannot afford more of the same. 

Over the weekend, the Obama Administration and five other countries struck what is being hailed as a historic nuclear agreement with Iran.

While the President praised the agreement as an “first step,” Iran’s neighbors and important allies of the U.S. had an entirely different take as Israel and the Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia, voiced their discontent with the deal. 

After a careful review of the agreement, I find the deal hard to support.

Iran gets a promise of no new sanctions, and a reprieve from current sanctions, providing access to an estimated $7 billion in sanctions relief.

It was hard enough to get the international community to commit to sanctions in the first place. With a reprieve of this nature, we will never be able to reestablish them should Iran not live up to their end of this agreement.

The agreement does not require dismantling of current centrifuges, and allows those in place and running to continue to operate.  Furthermore, not requiring an explicit statement that Iran does not have a "right" to enrich uranium implicitly accepts that right and puts the U.S. on record as saying that Iran’s nuclear ambitions are peaceful, which, given the country’s rhetoric and behavior, is far from the truth.  

Unfortunately, the implementation of this interim agreement has already begun.  Therefore, we should immediately move forward with bipartisan legislation that reinstates current sanctions and imposes new ones should the Iranian regime fail to comply with the promises to roll back its nuclear program and significantly dismantle its nuclear infrastructure during the next six months.  We must also ensure that this deal does not become permanent.

For that reason, I am supportive of legislation introduced by Senator Bob Corker, ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called the Iran Nuclear Compliance Act of 2013.  This legislation ensures that Iran is in full compliance with the interim agreement and sets further specific requirements that must be met by the regime before any final agreement is reached and additional sanctions waived.  It also reinstates all current sanctions if the interim agreement is violated. 

We are all hopeful for a diplomatic solution, and I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues in the House and the Senate, as well as the administration, in order to reach a final agreement that ensures Iran never obtains the capability to develop a nuclear weapon.