Dr. Boozman's Check-up

Today, our Washington, D.C. office received the following correspondence from the White House Visitors Center:

“Due to staffing reductions resulting from sequestration, we regret to inform you that White House Tours will be canceled effective Saturday, March 9, 2013 until further notice. Unfortunately, we will not be able to reschedule affected tours.

We very much regret having to take this action, particularly during the popular Spring touring season. For updates regarding this situation, please contact the White House Visitors Office 24 Hour Hotline at (202) 456-7041.

Sincerely,
White House Visitors Office”

Unfortunately, the White House’s clearly political announcement even extends to previously confirmed tours. If you intend to visit Washington DC in the immediate future, and wanted to tour the White House, I would like to offer our most sincere apologies for the inconvenience the White House has caused to your plans. While we completely understand and share in your frustrations, please know that our office will welcome you and can gladly arrange a U.S. Capitol tour.

At the end of last week, the State Department released its latest draft report on the environmental impact of the Keystone XL Pipeline. To the surprise of no one, it finds there would be no significant environmental impact along the proposed route to refineries in Texas. It also noted that other options to get oil from the Canadian tar sands to refineries on the Gulf Coast would be far more damaging for the environment.

The State Department was required to conduct a new environmental analysis after the project's route though Nebraska was modified in order to assuage Governor Dave Heineman’s concerns over the previously proposed route. The Governor supports the new route which checks off one more box on President Obama’s list of requirements.

The release of the draft report started a 45-day comment period, after which the State Department will issue a final environmental report. This is the final step before Secretary of State John Kerry will have to make a recommendation about whether the pipeline is in the national interest. The final report is merely a formality since study after study has shown that the project can be constructed and operated in an environmentally safe manner. I would be surprised to see the final report say anything to the contrary of that.

The Arkansas Congressional delegation is 100 percent behind the project. Keystone means jobs in the Natural State, so we have been working aggressively to speed the approval process. Most recently, Senator Pryor and I joined a bipartisan group of our colleagues to urge Secretary Kerry not to drag the decision out longer than it needs to be. It has already gone on too long. Let’s give our economy a boost by building the Keystone pipeline.

In case you missed it this is what we were working on in Washington this week: 

  • 1,400 days:  The out-of-control spending is partially to blame on the failure of the Senate to produce a budget in more than 3 ½ years.  This week we reached 1,400 days since a budget was last passed in the Senate. To pressure the Majority to do this basic governing responsibility, we launched a website highlighting the importance of a budget. Learn more here. 
  • Reinvest Recreation Fees: We joined efforts with Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) to introduce the Corps of Engineers Recreation Improvement Act.This legislation would reinvest recreation fees to improve facilities where the funds were collected. This would allow millions of dollars to be reinvested in Arkansas. 
  • Let us help you: Helping Arkansans is an important part of my job. In 2012 alone, my staff and I helped 2,775 Arkansas families with matters involving the federal government.  I encourage you to contact one of my offices if you need to discuss a problem you’re having with a federal agency so we can help to resolve your issue or cut through the red tape to get your question answered. 
  • “Arkansas Week” Interview:  Last week I sat down with Steve Barnes and talked about the issues we’re facing and the debates in Congress. If you missed it you can watch it here.

 

Recognizing the 52nd Anniversary of the Peace Corps

Making A Difference Worldwide

Feb 28 2013

We live in a world that grows smaller every day. We know that what happens in a different part of the world does affect us here in the U.S. and we have a moral obligation to help those in need with the resources and skills we have. 

We embraced the vision of President Kennedy who challenged students to serve their country by volunteering in developing countries with the creation of the Peace Corps. Today we continue this mission around the globe as 8,000 Americans selflessly serve their nation in 76 countries, contributing their time, energy and skills to encourage and teach people in developing countries. 

This week marks the 52nd anniversary of the Peace Corps. I want to offer my thanks and appreciation for all the men and women who are making a difference around the world through the Peace Corps. I am honored to represent numerous Peace Corps alumni and 22 current volunteers from Arkansas:  Erin Cox, Whitney Dean, Luiz Gustavo Dos Santos, James Forte, Luke Fries, Lydia Grate, Daniel Griffin, John Hart, Gigi Holder, Amber Kaufman, Erik King, Blake Matheny, Megan Mills, Nicolas Odekirk, Alicia Phillips, Allison Renfro, Jennifer Spradley, Terrance Stevenson, Benjamin Thomas, Zachary Wingate, and Kaitlyn Woods. 

These volunteers are our friends, family and neighbors. They are true humanitarians who are impacting the lives of people around the globe. We are proud of their commitment and their devotion to empowering people in developing countries through their efforts. I offer my sincere appreciation to all of the men and women who have served and are serving to make a difference in our world.

1,400 Days

Feb 27 2013

Across-the-board cuts, known as sequestration, are set to go into effect Friday. There are a number of reasons for how we got here, but one in particular defies logic: the Senate Majority hasn’t passed a budget in 1,400 days.

You know what happens when you go more than three and half years without a budget? You wake up to find you have added over $5 trillion to your already staggering amount of debt.

Year after year, we run trillion dollar deficits. Our national debt now sits at a jaw dropping 16.6 trillion dollars. Despite this, the Senate Majority still hasn’t put its spending plans on paper.

The average American family doesn’t have the luxury to spend in this type freewheeling manner. If you or I tried to run our household this way, the bank would cut us off.  However, there is no penalty when the Senate does it—until now.

Now, members of Congress will face consequences for failing to pass a budget. Included in the recent debt ceiling extension is a provision that withholds pay for members of Congress if a budget is not agreed upon. It’s a simple idea. If you don’t do your job, you don’t get paid.

With that law now on the books, the Senate Majority has a newfound appreciation for the budget process and promises to pass one this year. Given the way they have rejected the need for a budget over the past 1,400 days, we must remain committed to pushing them to follow through on that pledge. 

To keep the pressure on the Senate Majority, we have unveiled a new website that documents the importance of a budget and the costs to the country for failing to govern by one. Take a moment to visit the site’s “Action Center” in the bottom left hand corner to help spread the word. 

Agriculture is our state’s number one industry and as a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee I’m committed to preserving the safety and security of our nation’s food supply. That’s why I’m concerned about recent comments made by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack about meat and poultry inspections due to sequestration. 

I joined some of my Senate colleagues from rural states in sending a letter to Sec. Vilsack about the fear his comments are sparking among consumers, American workers, and producers about the food inspectors and the safety of meat because of spending cuts. 

“The comments you have made in the press, to farm groups and at the recent USDA Outlook Forum suggest you view there is a rigid legal duty to furlough all employees at USDA without concern for USDA’s statutory duties or for the health and safety of consumers,” the letter states. 

Instead of going through the federal budget with a scalpel, the President and his administration are in denial about the threat that our out of control spending poses to our nation's financial security. Now the President threatens us with a worse-case scenario if we refuse to raise taxes and move forward to reduce our rate of government growth by two percent. The United Stated Department of Agriculture (USDA) can continue to meet the demands of food inspection while working under these budgetary guidelines and the President should provide less fear mongering and more leadership on how to implement the sequester he proposed.

Click here to read the letter.

If you missed my interview with Steve Barnes on Arkansas Week last Friday, AETN has the entire episode on its website available to stream. You can watch our discussion on sequestration, the federal budget, tax policy, entitlement reform, Second Amendment rights, Senator Hagel's nomination for Defense Secretary and immigration reform here

With Congress out of session in observance for the President’s Day district work period, I was excited to get to travel around Arkansas this week. My travels included stops at the Little Rock Air Force Base, AETN, Verizon’s regional headquarters in Little Rock and the University of Arkansas.  

  • AETN “Arkansas Week” airs tonight:  Earlier this week, I sat down with Steve Barnes to tape an episode of "Arkansas Week." That episode airs tonight on AETN at 6:30 pm central. Please tune in to watch our discussion, much of which focuses on sequestration. 
  • Sequestration: The automatic across-the-board cuts known as sequestration are set to begin on March 1st if Washington does not act to stop them. While I believe cutting spending is essential to putting our country on the path to fiscal responsibility, indiscriminately cutting everything is not the best policy. We don’t need to take a meat cleaver to our entire budget. I am committed to holding the line on reducing government spending, but there is a more practical way to eliminate expenses that better utilize taxpayer dollars.

    The House has passed two bills to avoid sequestration, but the Senate Majority refused to bring them up for a vote. Majority Leader Reid recently put forward his caucus’s proposal to avoid the across-the-board cuts, but it is deeply flawed
  • Some tips to make your Spring Break travel easier: If you are planning an international trip in March or April, U.S. Passport officials strongly recommend paying the extra fee to expedite your passport. A standard application is taking six weeks or longer to process. An expedited application is usually two weeks. Learn how we can help here.

The cold weather often makes us long for warmer places. With spring break around the corner, you may already have a trip to the beach in the works. If your travel will take you overseas or across the border (trips to Canada and Mexico require a passport), then check to make sure your paperwork is in order.

If you are planning an international trip in March or April, U.S. Passport officials strongly recommend paying the extra fee to expedite your passport. A standard application is taking six weeks or longer to process.  An expedited application is usually two weeks. 

Passport information and forms

Answers to common questions about passport issues

If you have additional questions, feel free to call my staff member who helps with passport issues, Priscilla Gober, at (479) 573-0189.

As this week’s work in Washington comes to a close, I wanted to take a moment to give you the highlights of this week:

  • State of the Union: This week’s big news event was President Obama’s State of the Union address. Unfortunately, the end product did not live up to expectations. Read my response here
  • Keystone XL Pipeline: I joined a bipartisan group of my colleagues in a colloquy on the Senator floor calling on President Obama to approve the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline to provide well-paying jobs for Arkansans. Watch my speech here
  • Sequestration: The Senate Appropriations Committee held its first hearing of the 113th Congress yesterday and we focused on an issue of utmost urgency—sequestration.  Read about the hearing and watch my questions to administration officials here
  • Black History Month: February is dedicated to celebrating the contributions and efforts of African Americans to our nation’s heritage and culture. We commemorate the heroes of the African American community who fought injustice and triumphed in the face of adversity in this week’s column.