Dr. Boozman's Check-up

Crisis in Ukraine

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. 

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.” 

  • 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

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.

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.