Dr. Boozman's Check-up

As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I’m glad that the Committee is exploring ways to do more with less. We must stretch investments further, while reinvesting every dollar collected through federal fuel taxes into safe and reliable transportation infrastructure. Maintaining our roads and bridges is vital to economic development in Arkansas. At a hearing today, our Committee examined these issues. Last year, Congress passed new highway legislation, known as MAP-21, with broad bipartisan support. This legislation will improve our roads and bridges conditions, and it requires the U.S. Department of Transportation to eliminate wasteful bureaucracy that causes costly and harmful delays to projects. You can watch as I question witnesses from the Department of Transportation to make sure that these cost-saving reforms are implemented as required by the law.

The immigration debate starts, the farm bill passes, I host another telephone town hall and more in this edition of the “Week in Review”

  • Recovering from Severe Weather: Arkansas is no stranger to severe weather, including the recent floods that took the lives of Scott County Sheriff Cody Carpenter and Arkansas Game and Fish Officer Joel Campora. My column this week honored their lives and outlines efforts to protect Arkansans from severe weather.
     
  • Continuing our Commitment to our Veterans: As a member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs I have a unique opportunity to help improve the quality and delivery of veterans’ benefits.  This week the committee heard testimony from VA representatives and major Veterans’ Service Organizations regarding some of the legislation recently introduced

The Associated Press is out with a story today confirming what we’ve been saying all along about President Obama’s health care law. It is going to make coverage unaffordable for everyone, including the very people the President seeks to provide coverage to— low-income workers.

Because this law is so poorly written, a worker making $21,000 a year may be offered plans with premiums that are near $2,000. Under the law, this is considered “affordable.” 

And this is just the beginning of the costs low income workers could face. For a basic plan, they could also face an annual deductible upwards of $3,000, before the coverage kicks in.

That’s almost a quarter of the annual salary of a worker making $21,000. And this is supposed to be affordable?

It’s further evidence that this law has to be replaced with reform that drives down the cost of health care and makes it truly affordable for every American.

As a member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs I have a unique opportunity to help improve the quality and delivery of veterans’ benefits.  Today the committee heard testimony from VA representatives and major Veterans’ Service Organizations regarding some of the legislation recently introduced.

Included in those proposals discussed were three legislative proposals that we introduced

  • S. 257, the GI Bill Tuition Fairness Act of 2013 would protect our veterans’ ability to use their GI Benefit at the school of their choice, without facing the liability of having to offset out-of-state tuition fees by paying out of their own pocket.
  • S. 695, the Veterans Paralympic Act of 2013 seeks to reauthorize the Paralympic Integrated Adaptive Sports Program for disabled veterans.
  • S. 889, would mandate that servicemembers be given the choice to take more interactive specialized tracks that fit their transition goals as part of the mandatory portion of TAP 

We also reviewed additional bills of which we are an original cosponsor. These pieces of legislation are critical for expanding veterans’ economic opportunities, protecting veterans’ Constitutional rights, improving the delivery of veterans’ services, and honoring those members of the guard and reserve who have dedicated 20 or more years of their life to serving our nation. 

This legislative hearing is the first step in the right direction to enacting these common sense bipartisan proposals to fulfill all of the promises that have been made to our veterans’ and their families.

On Monday night, we held our third telephone town hall of the year. Over the course of an hour, I visited with callers from Fayetteville, Ozark, West Memphis, Bentonville, Bryant, Cane Hill, Blytheville, Gentry, West Helena, Springdale, and Gravette. 

The issues that were discussed included: 

  • Holding the administration accountable for the IRS scandal;
  • The President’s health care law;
  • The failures that led to the Benghazi tragedy and its aftermath;
  • Illegal immigration & border security;
  • NSA overreach and the Patriot Act;
  • Food stamp abuse;
  • Excessive federal spending;
  • Second Amendment rights;
  • and the need for stricter oversight of the Administration’s actions

Perhaps the best question came right at the end when a caller asked me, “Why should we trust the government?”

Considering Congress’s approval rating is currently around 15 percent, it’s a tough question to answer.

I believe accessibility, transparency and accountability would go a long way to restoring faith in Washington. That’s why I do these telephone town halls. Just because I am in Washington right now does not mean I am not accountable to the people of Arkansas, so I have to remain in touch when I am away.

The onus is on Washington to change our low approval ratings, not the other way around. I try to remind my colleagues that we have to be home every weekend and we need to hold events like telephone and online town halls when we are away. Most importantly, we have to listen to what our constituents tell us at these events and when they contact our offices via phone, email or letter. It is vital that we listen to our constituents, help them with their individual needs, and represent them in Washington the way that they ask of us.

So please stay engaged. Sign-up for our next telephone town hall. Let me know your thoughts on issues of importance to you. Grab me when see me in Arkansas and let me know what is on your mind.  I am committed to making Washington work for Arkansas and I need you to keep us on the right path.

There are reasonable measures that we can take to reform our immigration system, but 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. 

While making drastic policy changes, this legislation fails to address the core problem of border security and providing the resources necessary for enforcement. Instead this gives the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) discretion and waiver authority to make decisions that should be left to Congress. In the opinion of our current DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, the border is “more secure than it has ever been” and there is no need for additional border security. I disagree. We need proof that our borders are secure before legalization begins. 

Unfortunately, this bill takes the opposite approach - legalize now, enforce later. This is an idea Congress approved in the mid-1980s leading to amnesty for millions of people. This method didn’t work then and it won’t work now. We see that same principle in this legislation. I won’t support any law that grants amnesty. The idea that we should reward people who are violating the law with a shortcut to citizenship is not the proper way to fix our broken system. 

The bill also repeals the proven E-Verify workplace enforcement system. E-verify has a successful track record of combating the hiring of illegal immigrants and is currently used by nearly 270,000 employers nationwide. Instead this legislation implements an untested system that won’t be fully operational for five years. 

I appreciate the efforts of my colleagues to fix our immigration system, but the American people deserve a solution that upholds the rule of law. This bill fails to address what Americans want most, improved border security, enforcement of laws and functioning legal immigrant system that prevents a continued influx of people from abusing the system. 

We are committed to working to make the bill better. My colleagues have good ideas that can improve the legislation and we will be working with members on both sides of the aisle as we amend the bill on the Senate floor and provide real reforms that we so desperately need.

Here’s what’s on tap this week:

On the Calendar:

  • The Senate will vote on final passage of the farm bill at 5:30 pm today.
     
  • The remainder of the week, we will turn our attention to the comprehensive immigration reform bill that has been proposed by the Senate’s “Gang of Eight.” While I am glad we are having this discussion as this is an issue that must be addressed, I have serious concerns with this massive bill, especially that the border security component of the bill is not strong enough and that the language in this bill will lead to amnesty, which I oppose on principle. To read more about where I stand on the issue, visit In Depth: Immigration & Border Security.
     
  • On the other side of the Capitol, the House of Representatives is expected to take up the 2014 defense authorization bill.
     
  • In an effort to keep in touch while working in Washington, I am hosting a telephone town hall with Arkansans tonight. Please sign-up to participate.

 Worth Reading: 

  • The scandals plaguing the Obama administration are all about one thing: trust.   
  • E-Verify, the federal government’s online system to screen potential employers, has worked well as a pilot program and should be included in any comprehensive immigration reform package. This Arkansas Democrat Gazette [subscription required] story details how some employers have used the tool in the state.  

The farm bill, honoring fallen heroes, reducing prescription drug abuse among veterans and more in this edition of the “Week in Review”

  • Commonsense Improvements to our Agriculture Policy: I offered four amendments to enhance the farm bill currently under consideration by the Senate. While the agreement reached for the final passage of the bill does not include these amendments, I do think these commonsense improvements to our agriculture policy merit consideration and I will continue to try to get them enacted through other avenues.
     
  • Honoring Fallen Heroes: Scott County Sherriff Cody Carpenter and Wildlife Officer Joel Campora gave their lives trying to save residents trapped by flood waters. Senator Pryor and I honored their lives on the Senate floor.

  • Reducing Prescription Drug Abuse Among Veterans: I helped introduce a bipartisan bill to address the issue of prescription drug abuse among our nation's servicemembers and veterans this week. The Servicemembers and Veterans Prescription Drug Safety Act would direct the Attorney General to establish drug take-back programs in coordination with the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). 

  • Put Arkansans Back to Work: A recent Gallup poll shows 86 percent of Americans want Washington to address jobs and the economy and with good reason. Read this week’s column on job creation in Arkansas

Member of Congress returned to Washington to resume legislative work yesterday. Here’s what’s on tap this week:

On the Calendar: 

  • The Senate resumes consideration of S. 954, the Farm bill, which is expected to take the remainder of the week. As we continue to take up amendments to the bill, I will be pushing for consideration of the ones I have offered to enhance the bill.

  • Multiple subcommittee hearings this week in the Senate Appropriations Committee where we will hear from officials about the budget requests of the Department of Justice, Department of Labor, the Federal Housing Administration and the legislative branch.

  • Over on the other side of the building, the House of Representatives is expected to take up legislation covering military construction projects and the Department of Veterans Affairs and legislation providing funding for the Department of Homeland Security. There will also be additional hearings aimed at the IRS scandal in the House this week.

  • Yesterday, President Obama signs the Stolen Valor of 2013 making it a crime to profit off fraudulent claims related to military honors. Learn more about this bill here. 

Worth Reading: 

  • President Obama “punts” on signing UN Arms Treaty right away, but indicates he is committed to doing so. If the President does sign the U.S. as a party to the treaty, it would have to be ratified by 2/3 of the Senate. I don’t believe that this amount of support exists amongst my colleagues and I am committed to voting against ratification. 
  • Stephens Media writes that suicide in Arkansas has risen significantly in the past decade and looks at efforts the state is taking to combat the growing problem. This is important in Washington as we look at how to address the shortfalls in our mental health system in wake of the mass shootings our nation has seen in recent months.  

In this edition of the “Week in Review”: More revelations of IRS abuses, important veterans’ legislation and much more.

  • Talking with Jonesboro’s KASU: I visited with KASU about the farm bill that is on the Senate floor right now, as well as the IRS scandal and the upcoming immigration legislation that is expected to be on the floor in June. You can listen to the interview here.
     
  • Promoting Water Research and Training Scientists: As Ranking Member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Water and Wildlife Subcommittee, I joined with Chairman Ben Cardin (D-MD) to introduce a bill this week to reauthorize federal grant funding for water resources research institutes. Each federal dollar spent must be matched with two non-federal dollars. This is the highest match requirement of any federal research program. This program allows the Arkansas Water Resources Center and its sister institutions across the country to solve real-world problems related to our water quality and quantity needs.

  • Helsinki Commission Appointment: I am honored to be appointed to serve as a member of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, commonly referred to as the Helsinki Commission, which aims to strengthen the relationship between the U.S. and Europe and works to address and assess democratic, economic, and human rights developments firsthand.