Dr. Boozman's Check-up

Today I joined several of my GOP colleagues in sending a letter to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan questioning the Department of Education’s involvement in the implementation of the President’s health care law.

During a recent interview with Politico, Secretary Duncan discussed how the department would be helping with the execution of the President’s health care law. You can watch the interview here. The discussion on health care implementation begins at 9 minutes.

In our letter we say that “While we understand that the effects of the President’s health care law will be felt by parents, teachers, and their families, we are unfamiliar with how the Department of Education’s involvement in implementation will further the mission of educating our nation’s students.”

This is one of many agencies outside of the Departments of Health and Human Services and Treasury that, according to recent news reports, intend to promote Obamacare, an effort outside its missions.

We asked the Secretary to answer some questions that the American people deserve answers to about the department’s participation including the authority, scope and cost. You can read the letter and the questions we’re looking for answers to.

Here’s a recap of what happened this week in Washington in case you missed it.

  • Middle East “Volatile”:  I traveled with a delegation of senators for high level meetings and classified briefings in Afghanistan, Jordan, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).  The situation across the Middle East remains very volatile. The events in Egypt were unfolding in real time while our delegation was in neighboring countries. I also had the opportunity to visit with Arkansas soldiers stationed in Turkey. Read more about the trip.

  • Delay to President’s Health Care Law:  The Obama administration recently announced its plans to delay implementation of a key component of the president’s health care legislation – the employer mandate. If delaying the law is good for American businesses, it should be good for the rest of the American people, too. That’s why I joined my GOP Senate colleagues in sending a letter to President Obama urging him to permanently delay the implementation of Obamacare for all Americans. Read the letter here. 
  • Student Loans: We are continuing to work on a bipartisan solution to reduce student loan interest rates to an adequate level. We need a long-term, balanced solution that provides certainty and stability for all Americans, and I remain optimistic that we can resolve this problem. Read more about the plan I support.

  • Honoring SPC Robert Pierce: Army Specialist Robert Pierce sacrificed his life for his country while serving in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. We honored his life in a speech on the Senate floor.
  • Answering You Questions: We take the time to respond to people who take the time to reach out to me. I shared my thoughts about some of the questions we’re receiving in our latest column.

We are continuing to work on a bipartisan solution to address the hike in student loan interest rates and I remain optimistic that we can resolve this problem. We cannot continue to kick the can down the road, which is what Majority Leader Harry Reid proposed, and the Senate rejected earlier this week. Americans currently trying to pay off student loans and those who will attend college in the future need a permanent solution. The commonsense proposal that we are working on would approach the issue with a market-based rate for all newly issued federal student loans based on the 10-year Treasury rate. These rates are locked in for the lifetime of the loan, but rates on new loans reset each year. This KUAR story details this bipartisan solution that I am working to get through the Senate.

A busy week in Washington wraps up with the Senate passing a flawed immigration reform bill, big Supreme Court decisions and the President’s misguided energy tax initiative.

  • The Senate Passes a Flawed Immigration Bill: There is no disputing that we need to address our nation’s porous borders, backlogged immigration system and lax enforcement of hiring practices. Unfortunately, the Senate’s legalize now, enforce later approach is the wrong way to reform our broken system.  I voted against this flawed measure.
     
  • Supreme Court Strikes Down DOMA: As a firm believer that the traditional definition of marriage as a union between one man and one woman is the correct definition, and the most effective framework for raising a family, I am disappointed by today’s Supreme Court ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act. Read my full statement on the ruling.

  • The President Lays Out a Misguided Climate Initiative: President Obama outlined his proposal to address climate change. Unfortunately, his initiative is nothing more than a backdoor attempt to impose cap-and-trade on the American people. President Obama couldn’t get that through Congress, so now he is turning to his regulators. Read my full statement.

  • Asking the Administration for Answers on Blueways: I joined with members of the Arkansas and Missouri Congressional delegations to send a letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell asking her to answer a series of questions concerning the Administration’s designation of the White River as a National Blueway. Read the full release and the letter.

  • Health Care’s Rocky Ride: One of the President’s health care law’s lead authors, Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), recently described the implementation of the Affordable Care Act as a “huge train wreck.” In mid-June, a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report criticized bureaucratic delays, missed deadlines, and massive confusion across the federal government, acknowledging that “much remains to be accomplished within a relatively short amount of time.” Read about the problems ahead for the President’s health care law.

  • Repeal the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS): While we certainly want to promote renewable fuels that don’t compete with food, the RFS mandate manipulates the corn marketplace, a commodity that can easily stand on its own, and in turn increases food costs. Read about our efforts to repeal the regulation.

  • Arkansas Gets Disaster Declaration: President Obama declared Arkansas a disaster area, allowing the state to receive financial assistance to recover from severe storms. Read the delegation’s response to the announcement.

  • Promoting Trade to Increase to Jobs at Home: The Increasing American Jobs Through Greater Exports to Africa Act of 2013 that I introduced with Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Chris Coons (D-DE) was approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this week and sent to the full Senate for consideration. Learn how this bill will increase our exports and, in turn, jobs at home.

  • Thank You DC Interns: Ten talented college students wrapped up their internships in my Washington D.C. office this week. I am grateful for their help.

As President Obama heads to Africa to talk trade, I’d like to remind him that we’ve got a bill that will help to promote American business and trade on the continent while creating American jobs.

The Increasing American Jobs Through Greater Exports to Africa Act of 2013 that I introduced with Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Chris Coons (D-DE) was approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday and sent to the full Senate for consideration. The bill aims to improve America’s competiveness throughout the continent by forcing better coordination between U.S. government agencies and departments, establishing comprehensive strategic goals, and marshaling private investments to improve U.S. exports to Africa.

Africa’s expanding middle class provides a large and growing market for American products and the continent’s increasing urbanization calls for investments in rapidly expanding infrastructure projects. Sub-Saharan Africa alone is projected to be home to seven of the ten fastest growing economies over the next five years. But other nations have beaten us to the punch, aggressively investing in the continent to ensure their businesses have first access to markets.

When we talk about job creation, free and fair trade is a vital component to a successful plan. An effective trade strategy with African nations will help us significantly add jobs here at home. The eagerness and willingness to be good trade partners on the part of African nations is there. The desire for American products, along with our ideals, is strong. The only thing missing is a cohesive strategy on our end. That is what we are aiming to create with this legislation.

Repeal the RFS

Jun 24 2013

The Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) has run out of gas. 

Created in 2005, and expanded in 2007, the program requires refiners to blend increasing volumes of biofuels—like corn ethanol—into the nation’s fuel.

The use of corn-based ethanol does more harm than good.  Corn-based ethanol reduces access to affordable food and causes large tracts of farm land to be converted to ethanol production.  It makes it more difficult to feed poultry and livestock, and increases the price of other foods.  Although tail-pipe emissions are reduced, the use of corn-based ethanol ultimately increases overall emissions.  Also, increasing ethanol use will cause major damage to small engines.  These engines are common in motorcycles, farm and lawn equipment, and many other common machines.

While we certainly want to promote renewable fuels that don’t compete with food, the RFS mandate manipulates the corn marketplace, a commodity that can easily stand on its own, and in turn increases food costs. This has become particularly apparent after the drought conditions much of the country has faced in recent growing seasons. Not only does it drive up prices of food produced with these grains, but it also raises the prices of feed for poultry and cattle, which is in turn passed on to consumers. 

Agriculture is our state’s top industry. Poultry and cattle—sectors particularly vulnerable to the drought-related spike in grain costs—represent nearly half of Arkansas’s farm marketing receipts. The RFS is makes it harder for our ranchers to operate and more expensive for all of us to put food on the table.

Last year, a number of states, including Arkansas, petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for a waiver in light of the shortage of grain created by recent droughts. The EPA denied every single petition.

Since the EPA is unwilling to work with states to address this crisis, it is incumbent on Congress to take action. That is why I have joined with my colleagues to introduce The Renewable Fuel Standard Fuel Repeal Act (S.1195) which would repeal this harmful program in its entirety. As a cosponsor of this bill, I will be working hard with my colleagues to get it through Congress and put pressure on the White House to act. 

It’s time to leave this program on the side of the road.

The immigration debate continues, legislation to repeal the death tax is introduced and more in this edition of the “Week in Review”

  • Why I Oppose the Current Immigration Bill: The Senate continues to debate an immigration reform bill. As I mentioned at the onset of this debate, it is overdue and there are reasonable measures that we can take to reform our immigration system. However, the bill brought forth in the Senate fails to provide the necessary actions that will keep us from having to revisit this issue in the future. It remains to be seen if it can be improved enough to gain my support.

  • Calling for a Repeal of the Death Tax: The federal government should eliminate the death tax to create jobs. That is why I helped to introduce the Death Tax Repeal Permanency Act of 2013 (S. 1183) this week. This bill will permanently end the federal estate tax that punishes our small business owners and agriculture producers.

  • Supporting Disaster Relief: The entire Congressional delegation sent a letter to the President and FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate supporting Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe’s request for a major disaster declaration for the state of Arkansas. Read the letter here
  • Recognizing Small Businesses: Small businesses play an integral role in securing the success of our economy. They represent core values that are at the heart of America. That is why this week we are celebrating National Small Business Week. 
  • Nevada County Mobile Office Set: Members of my staff will be in Prescott to help Arkansans with problems involving the federal government and to hear their thoughts about legislative issues on June 25th.

  • Visiting with KASU: I visited with KASU in Jonesboro about the NSA controversy, the Syrian conflict, the Farm Bill, immigration reform and more. You can listen to the interview in its entirety here.

  • PEPFAR: A 10-Year (and Counting) Success: This week, the State Department marked the ten-year anniversary of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). Learn why this program, started under the vision and leadership of President George W. Bush, is a success story worth celebrating.

  • Addressing Hunger at Home: Despite Arkansas’ role in the agriculture industry we are unfortunately all too familiar with hunger and malnourishment. Read about how we can address the issue of hunger in Arkansas.

  • Celebrating Juneteenth: This week we celebrated “Juneteenth,” the day General Gordon Granger arrived in Texas with word that President Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing the last slaves in the United States were. Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States.
     
  • AR Electric Cooperative Sends Young Arkansans to DC: We were happy to have this great group of students from across the state in Washington as part of the Arkansas Electric Cooperative Youth Group.

This week, the State Department marked the ten-year anniversary of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).  Started under the vision and leadership of President George W. Bush, this program is a success story worth celebrating.

In 2003, when signing the legislation we passed to create the program, President Bush called PEPFAR "a medical version of the Marshall Plan." And it truly is. Prior to 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.

Along with tackling HIV in Africa, President Bush was instrumental in fighting malaria on the continent. By the time President Bush's left office, his initiative had halved the cases of malaria in fifteen African countries.

A common thread in these success stories is that neither program relies solely on the government. While the government has a role to play in these battles, faith-based organizations are doing exceptional work in tandem. As a former member of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, we examined how federal funds can help public-private partnerships and reach populations of rural Africans to improve the health and education of this epidemic. Government can’t solve the problem on its own. These organizations are vital to this fight.

As we mark the ten years of lives that PEPFAR has saved, it is not enough to celebrate the successes. We must continue to the good work of this program.

The American people have always risen to the challenge to help our global neighbors. We recognize that we have moral responsibility to respect the dignity of all human beings no matter what country they call home, and that is why I am an advocate of global health initiatives. 

Happy Juneteenth

Jun 19 2013

On June 19th, 1865 a troop of Union soldiers came riding in to Galveston, Texas. The news they brought with them would not only change the state of Texas, but it would change the United States.

Major General Gordon Granger, USA
Commanding General, Department of Texas
To the people of Galveston and the State of Texas

 General Order No. 3

"The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere."

These words were the first taste of freedom that slaves had in Confederate Texas. Although President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had gone into effect two years before, there were not enough Union troops in Texas to enforce the executive order. When General Granger arrived in Galveston with his men two months after the end of the Civil War, the last slaves in the United States were set free. Slaves in Texas began moving north towards freedom, or east to find family in other Southern states.

The day General Granger arrived in Texas was eventually celebrated as “Juneteenth.” For the past 148 years Americans across the nation have come together to celebrate Freedom. Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States.

With the ushering in of the 20th century, interest in Juneteenth began to decline. However, it resurged with the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950’s and 60’s. The holiday was officially recognized on June 19, 1980 thanks to the efforts of African-American Texas State Legislator Al Edwards.

Although not all states participate in Juneteenth celebrations, I am proud to say that Arkansas is one of the many that does. With celebrations across the state, Arkansans come together to honor the struggles of those who came before us. We come together to commemorate Arkansas’ diverse history. We come together to celebrate how far we have come as a state and as a nation; to challenge ourselves to keep moving forward. We come together united under one common theme: freedom. I hope you gather with others and celebrate and reflect on what this holiday means to all Arkansans and Americans. Happy Juneteenth!