Dr. Boozman's Check-up

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.  

November Reminds Us to Invest in America by Recycling

The Huffington Post: Op-Ed

Nov 25 2013

We joined fellow Senate Recycling Caucus co-chair, Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE), in writing this piece about the importance of recycling. It was published in The Huffington Post on November 25, 2013.

Every year as summer turns to fall, it's hard not to stop, look around, and contemplate the beauty of our country. From the splendor of the forests and farmlands of Arkansas and the Southeast, to the cool, crisp scenes of Delaware and the mid-Atlantic, the U.S. is filled with natural beauty and it's important to keep it that way. That's why every November, folks across the nation take part in an effort to maintain America's natural beauty by participating in America Recycles Day -- a time to think about what each of us can do to be better environmental stewards while simultaneously strengthening our economy for future generations.

As co-chairs of the Senate Recycling Caucus, we are working with our colleagues and stakeholders to raise awareness of the many benefits of recycling. Most Americans are familiar with traditional municipal recycling efforts that encourage individuals to recycle household or office goods such as paper or soda cans and bottles. Every little bit helps when it comes to recycling and we are encouraged that municipal recycling rates are increasing year after year, and we strongly encourage further participation in these programs.

But there's more to recycling than just traditional municipal recycling programs. The United States is home to robust and growing commercial recycling and re-manufacturing industries. For example, the recycling and re-manufacturing industries generated more than $236 billion in annual revenue in past years and created more than one million good-paying American jobs. Also encouraging, the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries notes that scrap recycling generates $4 billion in state and local revenues annually. Increasing recycling rates and collection programs continue to contribute to the economic growth of these industries which in turn helps the larger American economy.

These statistics offer a window into the benefits of recycling nationally, but we have also seen recycling success stories first hand in our home states. In Arkansas, this success story is found in the rebirth of the American steel industry. Today more than 60 percent of the steel in the United States is produced by recycling scrap metal. Innovation in steel recycling technology has enabled the U.S. steel industry to reduce its energy intensity by 28 percent since 1990. One Arkansas company, Nucor, has the capacity to recycle 6 million tons of steel per year in Arkansas, and over 27 million tons nationwide, making it North America's largest recycler. Recycling and re-manufacturing enables American workers to compete in a global market flooded with subsidized foreign steel.

Similarly, Delaware has realized significant economic and environmental benefits since Delaware's Universal Recycling Law was passed in 2010. A recent report showed that in 2012, more than 40 percent of recyclables in the state were diverted from landfills and Delaware's recycling, reuse, and re-manufacturing industry contributed $346 million to the State's economy in 2009. For example, the recycling boost has spawned opportunities in the poultry industry. In 2001 Perdue Farms created -- with the encouragement and support of the State of Delaware -- the Perdue AgriRecycle plant in southern Delaware. It takes raw poultry litter and processes it into an pelletized, organic fertilizer sold to Scotts and Holly Tone for use on lawns, park land and golf courses throughout the First State and beyond. Recycling poultry litter amounts to a "win-win" situation by enabling poultry producers to responsibly manage the disposal of poultry litter - which benefits the surrounding watershed and fishing economy -- while also creating a valuable organic fertilizer.

Additionally, a number of Delaware restaurants are now recycling compostable food waste. This lowers their waste disposal costs and nurtures a growing industry utilizing yard waste to make rich mulch and compost soil.

In short, our country is recycling everything from aluminum cans, cardboard, and glass bottles to electronics, cars, and refrigerators. The recycling and remanufacturing industries give our country access to valuable raw materials -- including rare and expensive materials - while reducing energy use, air and water pollution, and the need for old methods of waste disposal.

In honor of America Recycles Day, we invite you to join us in making a concerted effort to recycle. When you recycle, you literally reinvest in American manufacturing, providing raw materials for America's factories and economic opportunity for your community. You can be a part of the solution, helping to responsibly support and preserve both our environment and economy.

For most Americans, Thanksgiving is a time where we gather with our families to recognize the blessings we have received over the year. For some of us, these blessings include a fruitful harvest, new jobs, and additions to our families. However, for more than 400,000 children in the United States, it is a time that serves as a painful reminder that they have gone another year without knowing how it feels to enjoy a Thanksgiving full of love surrounded by family.

These 400,000 children will spend the upcoming holidays in the foster care system, and while the number of adoptions from inside the United States is rising, 40 percent of these children will spend at least three years in the foster care system. 

All children deserve the opportunities to grow and strive that sometimes can only be given to them by the love and affection a family can give. This is why I joined a bipartisan group of my colleagues to designate November as National Adoption Month, and November 23 as National Adoption Day. It is our hope that we can bring awareness to the thousands of children who are waiting to find their forever families. 

I am very encouraged by the work that is being done in Arkansas to raise awareness for the 3,500 children who are in the state’s foster care system at any given time. Honoring the work being done to raise awareness about adoption we recognize Arkansans for their dedication to providing permanent and loving homes for the children who are in the foster care system and are waiting for a family. 

As part of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute which coordinates the Angels in Adoption program, we celebrate outstanding individuals for their dedication and commitment to providing children with the protection, permanency, safety and love of a family. 

Families across the state are committed to sharing their love with children who need parents. Hundreds of children were adopted in Arkansas last year and we can continue to  find loving homes for children in need.

Lost in the hyper partisanship of Senator Reid’s power grab this week was the bipartisan reauthorization of a rare Washington success story: the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). Started under the vision and leadership of President George W. Bush, PEPFAR, the U.S. government initiative to combat HIV/AIDS around the world, has been credited with saving millions of lives over the past ten years.

As Voice of America notes, PEPFAR “supports almost six million people worldwide who are receiving anti-retroviral drugs, and has provided care and support to nearly 15 million people, including more than 4.5 million orphans and vulnerable children.”

Prior to the creation of the program, an estimated 100,000 people were on anti-retroviral drugs in sub-Saharan Africa. Five years later, when President Bush left office, close to two million people were receiving these life-saving drugs. One million babies have now been born HIV-negative thanks to PEPFAR's mother-to-child interventions.

As we continue to build on those incredible results, PEPFAR is increasingly transitioning from an emergency U.S.-led program to one in which recipient countries increasingly sustain the effort themselves. This reauthorization will continue the program on this path while ensuring that strong accountability and oversight mechanisms are followed to continue this success.

As we approach the holiday season, it is important to remember that the U.S. still has a vital role in helping the less fortunate around the globe. In 2003, when signing the legislation we passed to create the program, President Bush called PEPFAR "a medical version of the Marshall Plan." It truly exemplifies the ideals for which our nation stands. I am excited that we will be able to continue the important work of this life-saving program.

We wrapped up a busy week in Washington before adjourning for Thanksgiving recess. Here’s what happened in the Senate:

  • Senate Rules Change: Senator Reid broke the rules to change the rules of the Senate, majorly altering the way in which the chamber operates. I voted against this change that reduces the minority’s ability to filibuster executive branch and most judicial nominees. 
  • PEPFAR Reauthorized: The Senate reauthorized the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). Started under the vision and leadership of President George W. Bush, PEPFAR, the U.S. government initiative to combat HIV/AIDS around the world, has been credited with saving millions of lives during the last decade. 

The Senate Veteran Affairs Committee took an important step in continuing our promise to the men and women who served in the Armed Forces by funding, in advance, all veteran services such as compensation and pensions and vocational rehabilitation loans programs the same way we do veterans’ health accounts by passing The Putting Veterans Funding First Act of 2013

This legislation introduced by my colleague Mark Begich (D-AK) and I, would to allow for better planning and management of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and would prevent veterans' benefits from being jeopardized in the event of future lapses in funding. This is a common sense way to fulfill our commitment to take care of the men and women who sacrificed for our country and provide them with the services on which they rely by funding them one year in advance. 

While the legislation is widely supported by Veteran Service Organizations, VA Secretary Shinseki is not embracing this idea. As Military Times reports “Shinseki made the point that veterans still would be hurt in a shutdown because many VA programs are inextricably intertwined with other federal agencies.” I agree that we should eliminate the threat of interruptions in government services and this legislation would prevent veterans’ benefits from being threatened in the future. 

The approval by the Senate committee is a major hurdle and I encourage the House to support H.R. 813, similar legislation that has been introduced in that chamber.

Pastor Saeed Abedini, an American held captive in Iran for practicing his Christian faith, has been behind bars in Iran for more than a year. Recent reports indicate that he was transferred from a prion in Teharn to Rajai Shahr in Karaj, a notoriously brutal prison.

This abrupt transfer is cause for concern. The American Center for Law and Justice calls this transfer a grave danger to Pastor Saeed and urged President Obama’s attention.

I joined several of my colleagues urging the President to act to save Pastor Saeed and call for his release. Read our letter here

“If you like your health care plan, you’ll be able to keep your health care plan” is a phrase President Obama often repeated while campaigning for his signature health care law.

It was meant to alleviate the concerns that millions of Americans had about being forced off their insurance and/or losing their doctors. Turns out those concerns were valid.

This oft-repeated, “promise” was a “whopper” of a lie, according to the Fact Checker blog at The Washington Post.  

The Post writes:

The president’s statements were sweeping and unequivocal — and made both before and after the bill became law. The White House now cites technicalities to avoid admitting that he went too far in his repeated pledge, which, after all, is one of the most famous statements of his presidency.

The president’s promise apparently came with a very large caveat: “If you like your health care plan, you’ll be able to keep your health care plan — if we deem it to be adequate.” 

What President Obama really meant was if he likes your health care plan you can keep it. If not, you’re out of luck.

One month in and at least 3.5 million Americans have received insurance cancellation notices. That number is only expected to continue to climb in the final weeks of 2013 and beyond.

The President’s response to the mess he created is telling the millions of Americans who have received cancellation notices they can “just shop around” for new policies that often come with more expensive premiums and higher deductibles.

There’s a better way forward, Mr. President. Short of repealing and replacing this disaster of a program, we need to add flexibility to the standards for policies under Obamacare and give Americans the freedom to keep their plans if they so choose. We can easily accomplish that by passing a bill introduced by Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI), which has the support of a majority of Senate Republicans, including myself, and will give Americans who like their individual policies the ability to keep them.

Decreased coverage, increased premiums and expanded government is not what the American people want, need or deserve. This is not what they want in a healthcare system. The real solution is repealing this law and replacing it with healthcare reform that will work. Until we can achieve that goal, we must offer some relief to the millions of Americans who are now receiving cancellation notices thanks to Obamacare.

The Arkansas Democrat Gazette (subscription required) reported today that fewer than 200 people have signed up for health care coverage through the exchanges. Insurance company executives blamed problems with Healthcare.gov, the federal website we have to use to sign residents up for the exchanges.

The Administration wants to brush these troubles off as a small bump in the road to implementation. In reality, what the Administration calls “glitches” may have a detrimental impact on the pocketbook of everyday Americans.  

The clock is ticking. Every American who is not enrolled in Administration-approved medical insurance by the end of March will be taxed. Yet, the Administration’s failures make compliance impossible for millions of Americans. Instead of acknowledging this error, the President and his team plan to subject Americans to this unjust tax if they do not comply by March 31, 2014, despite the fact that the administration has failed to make the website work.

This is all the more reason why every American should be granted a reprieve from Obamacare. This week, I joined Senator Marco Rubio and seven of our colleagues to introduce the Delay Until Fully Functional Act. This bill would delay the individual mandate until six months after the Government Accountability Office (GAO) certifies that the exchange website is fully functional.

Certainly the rollout of the Obamacare website has been nothing short of a disaster. However, Healthcare.gov is a microcosm of the serious problems created by putting a government bureaucracy in charge of our health care. Setting up and thoroughly testing a fully-operational website prior to launching it should be the easy part. The fact that the Administration can’t deliver on the easiest of its healthcare promises doesn’t bode well for Americans forced into this bureaucratic monstrosity. It is safe to say that there will be more problems if we continue to move forward, even for those “lucky” few who can sign-up before the deadline.

Until we can achieve the real solution of repealing this law and replacing it with market-based reforms, delaying the individual mandate is the only fair course of action.