Dr. Boozman's Check-up

The Senate Appropriations Committee held our first hearing of the 113th Congress today and we focused on an issue of utmost urgency—sequestration. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Education Secretary Arnie Duncan and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan were among the witnesses who testified. The Senate Appropriations Committee has posted each of their prepared statements online if you are interested in reading their testimony.

Since each member is allotted only a short time for questions, I directed mine to Federal Controller Danny Werfel from the Office of Management and Budget and Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter.

First and foremost, I wanted Mr. Werfel to state on the record that veterans’ benefits would not be adversely affected under sequestration. He did confirm that veterans’ programs administered directly by the VA, including VA hospitals, would not be impacted.  I have been hearing a lot from concerned veterans and their families about whether their health care and other benefits will be affected by sequestration, so I felt it was important to clarify that situation.

I also asked Mr. Werfel to explain how sequestration will disproportionately impact air travel in rural America and pressed Undersecretary Carter on the extent to which sequestration will reduce flying time for Air Force pilots, in turn jeopardizing military readiness, and how the Department of Defense is plans to address a $3 billion shortfall in the TRICARE program. 

The reality is soon all our resources will be consumed by serving the debt. We can’t afford that. Sequestration is not the optimal solution, but we must reduce spending. However, the cuts can, and should be done, in a smarter way and we should be working toward that.

Americans rely on Washington to be responsible with their hard-earned tax dollars. It’s clear that our nation is on a fiscally irresponsible path and it’s time to roll up our sleeves and make some difficult decisions so our children can inherit a strong country.

Click the video below to see how administration officials responded to my questions.

Tonight, at 8 pm cst, President Obama will deliver the annual State of the Union speech. I look forward to sitting in the House chamber and listening to the President lay out his plans for the coming year. Peter Urban of Stephens Media caught up with members of the Arkansas Congressional delegation and asked us what we want to hear from the President tonight. The key takeaway is that we all want to hear specific proposals from President Obama, especially when it comes to cutting the budget and creating jobs.

In this edition of “From the Mailbag” Senator Boozman discusses his vision for immigration reform. “We need to look at securing the border and hold employers accountable and I have real concerns about amnesty.” He details what measures he will support on the Senate floor. Watch this edition here

As this week’s work in Washington comes to a close, I wanted to take a moment to wrap-up what you might have missed:

  • USPS Mail Delivery Changes: The United States Postal Service announced it would stop delivering mail on Saturdays in early August. This is an effort by USPS to address its financial challenges. However, I do have concerns about this plan

  • Making the Most of the GI Bill: As public colleges and universities seek ways to recoup decreasing revenues, many have significantly raised the costs of out-of-state tuition. The cap for GI Bill benefits often falls short of that high out-of-state rate. That’s why Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) and I have introduced a bill to require schools eligible for GI Bill education benefits give veterans in-state tuition rates regardless of the veteran’s residency status. In addition, we are taking some important steps forward in putting our veterans to work 
  • Immigration Reform: In this edition of “From the Mailbag”, I discussed my vision for immigration reform that includes securing the border and holding employers accountable. Here’s what measures I would support on the Senate floor. Watch the video here and then read more about my views on immigration in this week’s column.

  • Award Winning Arkansas Youth: Tiffany Easter of Sheridan and Blake Abston of Little Rock were honored as Arkansas’s top two youth volunteers of 2013 by the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program that honors youth for outstanding acts of volunteerism. Senator Mark Pryor and I offered our congratulations

Working on Behalf of Arkansans

Recognizing the Efforts in our Office

Feb 06 2013

Helping Arkansans is one of the most rewarding parts of being a Senator. Fortunately, I have a talented team of people who are all working toward the same goal. My staff in Arkansas and Washington is dedicated to working to resolve the problems that result from the red tape of the government. 

When I receive a compliment about a member of my staff, it shows their level of dedication to helping Arkansans. You know you have a good team in place when organizations outside of the office recognize their commitment to helping others. I am proud to recognize Zach Hartman, my senior legislative assistant who handles veterans’ and military issues for our office, for the honor he received from the Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States (EANGUS). He was awarded the association’s Militia Award for his exceptional service to our enlisted Guardsmen. 

“Zach’s tenacious efforts on behalf of Senator Boozman to support the citizen-soldiers of Arkansas and the rest of the United States should be an inspiration to all public servants. His passion to preserve the mission and jobs associated with the 188th Fighter Wing and his sustained efforts on ensuring that nearly 290,000 retired citizen soldiers are recognized as veterans of the armed forces show that he is truly deserving of the EANGUS Militia Award,” EANGUS President John Helbert said. 

Zach is great crusader for Arkansans and we are very appreciative for his work on behalf of our veterans and enlisted personnel.

Spending and immigration reform dominated this week’s action in the Senate. Here’s a wrap-up of some of the big issues of the week:

  • Immigration Reform: A framework for bipartisan immigration reform was unveiled in the Senate this week. I am pleased that members on both sides of the aisle are involved in serious reform discussions, but I believe we have a long way to go before we have a bill that everyone can agree on. I shared my initial thoughts and concerns about the effort on my blog.

  • E-Verify: When we discuss how to deal with our nation’s illegal immigration problem, one vital component is providing employers the right tools to ensure they are hiring a legal workforce. That is why I am cosponsoring the Accountability Through Electronic Verification Act of 2013. Introduced this week, the bill seeks to require all employers to confirm the legality of their employees through a federally approved system known as E-Verify, which has a proven track record of combating the hiring of illegal immigrants and is currently used by nearly 270,000 employers nationwide.

  • Talking Second Amendment, Aid to Egypt & “No Budget, No Pay” with Mountain Talk Radio:  On Tuesday, I joined the team at Mountain Talk Radio (KJMT-OD - 97.1 FM) in Mountain Home for their morning show. We discussed the debate over Second Amendment rights, aid to Egypt and my support for the No Budget, No Pay Act. If you missed it, you can listen to the entire interview online

  • No Budget, No Pay: Does the Senate need extra incentive to pass a budget? Given that it has been almost 1375 days since the Senate Majority has accomplished this basic task, we have to hold the members of our institution accountable. That is why I am an original cosponsor of the No Budget, No Pay Act, which withholds pay for members of Congress until they pass a budget. A similar bill passed as part of the debt ceiling extension that passed the Senate this week. Learn about the bill here.

  • Non-Emergency Sandy Disaster Aid: I support providing emergency relief to Americans whose lives were devastated by Hurricane Sandy, just as we do when disasters strike in Arkansas. That is why I supported the initial $9.7 billion aid package which was unanimously passed by the Senate without any controversy. However, I could not support the bill passed by the Senate this week. That bill included non-emergency spending that could be debated in the regular FY2013 and FY2014 appropriations process and paid for with offsets, which this bill did not include. Read my full statement here.

Yesterday, I posted my thoughts on the immigration reform proposal unveiled this week in the Senate.  In that post, I noted that Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) would soon be reintroducing his E-verify bill this session of Congress and that I would once again join him in this effort.

Soon came faster than we thought it would.

In fact, before the day was over, Senator Grassley introduced the Accountability Through Electronic Verification Act of 2013. I followed through with my commitment to sign on as a cosponsor once again.

The bill seeks to require all employers to confirm the legality of their employees through a federally approved system known as E-Verify.

Employers need the right tools to ensure they are hiring a legal workforce. E-verify has a proven track record of combating the hiring of illegal immigrants and is currently used by nearly 270,000 employers nationwide.

Among other things, the Accountability Through Electronic Verification Act of 2013 will:

• Permanently reauthorizes the E-Verify program that was created in 1996. 
• Makes the program mandatory for all employers within one year of date of enactment, requires federal contractors and agencies to use the program immediately, and directs “critical employers,” as identified by the Secretary of Homeland Security, to use the system immediately upon designation. 
• Increases penalties for employers who illegally hire undocumented workers.
• Requires employers to terminate the employment of those found unauthorized to work due to a check through E-Verify. 
• Helps ensure that the Social Security Administration catches multiple uses of Social Security numbers by requiring them to develop algorithms to detect anomalies.

You can learn more about E-Verify in this column.

A framework for bipartisan immigration reform was unveiled in the Senate this week.  While no specific bill was introduced as part of this announcement, the proposal as outlined—among other things— aims to increase border security, provide a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, create an effective employment verification system to prevent identity theft and end hiring of unauthorized workers.

I am glad that members on both sides of the aisle are involved in serious reform discussions. In terms of the content, I was pleased to see it included employment verification and resources for border control. However, the way we deal with illegal immigrants and their economic impact is a big question that needs to be addressed. I commend my colleagues for seeking to address this important question, but I believe we are going to need numerous in-depth conversations about the proper course of action before we see this framework turned into legislation.

In the meantime, some of these outlined proposals can be accomplished now with current legislation. For instance, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) will likely be reintroducing his E-verify bill, a bill that have I have co-sponsored in the past and will again, which would take care of the employment verification system aspect of this larger comprehensive proposal.

The reality is this problem exists because we have immigration laws on the books that are not being enforced. After years of extreme neglect by the federal government, our nation is facing an immigration crisis. Federal laws go unenforced, leaving cash-strapped local and state governments to fend for themselves and use resources they do not have to absorb millions of illegal immigrants. Adding more rules to the books without enforcing the ones we have will do little good in the long run.

One thing is certain: if the President insists on amnesty we aren’t going to get very far. Amnesty is a non-starter. We must not reward people for breaking the law. I will continue to oppose amnesty proposals and I remain committed to working towards a real solution that addresses the crisis at our borders.

I look forward to participating in a bipartisan Senate discussion and we have already begun discussing ideas about how to move forward.

Read more about my views on how to solve our problem with illegal immigration here.

If you are a small business owner in the Fort Smith area, you may want to check out this free workshop offered by the Arkansas Small Business & Technology Development Center, a cooperative program of the Small Business Administration and the University of Arkansas, Little Rock. The two workshops will focus on online marketing and start Thursday at 10 am at the Fort Smith Public Library Main Branch. 

Here's the details:

Workshops will help small businesses with online marketing

(Jan. 10, 2013) – Small businesses interested in learning new marketing techniques for the new year can take advantage of free training Jan. 31 in Fort Smith.

The Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center will present two programs that day at the Fort Smith Public Library Main Branch –  “Get the Real Deal on Daily Deals” from 10 a.m. to noon and “Boost Your Business with Great Customer Reviews” from 1-3 p.m.

ASBTDC is offering the workshops at no charge, thanks to special funding from the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Daily deals – email, print or mobile offers for discounted local services and products – can build awareness of a business and get new and existing customers in the door. However, small businesses can easily create more demand than they can fulfill or wind up with an unprofitable promotion.

“Get the Real Deal on Daily Deals” will cover the good, the bad and the ugly of daily offers and help business owners decide if a daily deal is right for them. The seminar will also share best practices for daily-deal offers.

Small businesses of all types, particularly restaurants and other hospitality businesses, can benefit or suffer due to online customer reviews on TripAdvisor, Yelp, Google Places and other sites. According to a Nielsen report, 70 percent of consumers trust strangers’ opinions posted online, second only to recommendations from friends and family.

“Boost Your Business with Great Customer Reviews” will offer tips for getting positive reviews from customers and discuss important information businesses should include in their listings on the most popular review sites.

Each interactive session will utilize iPads.

Space is limited, and advance registration is required to participate. To reserve your seat for either or both sessions, please call the Arkansas Tech University ASBTDC office at (479) 356-2067 or email Ronda Hawkins at rhawkins2@atu.edu.

The seminars are among 16 free small business training programs ASBTDC is hosting in Sebastian County. Contact the ASBTDC office at Arkansas Tech for more information.

Reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities will be made if requested in advance. Contact Hawkins at (479) 356-2067 or 106 West O St., Russellville, AR 72801.

The Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center is a university-based economic development program serving start-ups, existing businesses, expanding businesses and technology businesses. ASBTDC is a partnership of the SBA and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock College of Business and other institutions of higher education. The center at ATU serves nine counties in the River Valley region. Call (479) 356-2067 or visit asbtdc.org to learn more.

This morning I joined the team at Mountain Talk Radio (KJMT-OD - 97.1 FM) in Mountain Home for their morning show. We discussed the debate over Second Amendment rights, aid to Egypt and my support for the No Budget, No Pay Act.  If you missed it, you can listen to the entire interview here