Dr. Boozman's Check-up
During a recent dinner at the White House, we had a chance to discuss issues we were concerned about with President Obama. I took the opportunity to raise a little discussed, but extremely troubling problem that the administration is not doing enough to address—the claims backlog at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
According to some reports, the wait time for initial disability claims is almost a full year, and closer to two years in some parts of the country. In the last four years, the number of claims pending for over a year has grown by over 2000 percent, despite a 40 percent increase in the VA’s budget. This is an alarming stat that was referenced in a letter we sent to President Obama earlier this week that outlined our concerns and urged his “direct and public involvement” in this matter.
While the VA has received everything it has asked for in terms of more funding and more employees, it has only resulted in more delays for veterans. Other departments have been asked to do more with less, while the VA’s budget has continued to grow in recent years. Furthermore, the VA is not subjected to sequestration, like the majority of the federal government.
The sad reality is that the VA has been stuck in the past. While they have been transitioning to an electronic records system that should dramatically reduce wait times, the department, for the most part, continues to operate with a paper record system.
Yesterday, the Veterans Benefits Administration—an organizational element of the VA that processes disability, pension and other claims for the larger agency—announced it has eliminated bonuses, saying money slated to go to executives instead will be reinvested to accelerate elimination of the backlog. This is a step in the right direction. If the claims of veterans are not being processed, the people at the top do not deserve a reward.
Serving our country in uniform is an extremely noble undertaking that all-too-often goes under-appreciated and unnoticed. This is a terrible wrong that needs to be righted. We can start by fixing the last place where our veterans should go ignored, which is at the VA.
Follow the link below to read the letter sixty-six of my colleagues and I sent to President Obama on this issue.
Apr 26 2013
Furloughs, health care and a visit from the Jonesboro Chamber of Commerce were among the highlights of this week in Washington.
- Ending the FAA’s Unnecessary Furloughs: Earlier this week, I signed onto legislation that would force the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to fix the flight delay mess the agency created by failing to adequately plan for sequestration. These unnecessary, politically-motivated furloughs will cause a huge inconvenience for travelers and delays that slow down air travel literally put jobs at risk throughout the aviation and travel industries. By the end of the week, Congress passed legislation that reiterated the FAA has the ability to keep planes safely flying and requires them to take the necessary steps to avoid furloughs.
- Challenging the Administration’s Claims on Health Care: Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who is in charge of implementing President Obama’s health care law, appeared before the Senate Appropriations Committee this week. I took the opportunity to question her on how businesses are expected to stay competitive and maintain their workforce while complying with the burdensome mandates imposed by the law.
- Visiting with Jonesboro Chamber: We had an excellent visit with members of the Jonesboro Chamber of Commerce who came to Washington to discuss infrastructure and other issues affecting the region with members of the Congressional delegation.
- Staying in Touch While in Washington: I held a telephone town hall earlier this week and fielded a number of questions on health care, the Second Amendment, our economy and other issues of importance to Arkansans. You can sign-up for future telephone town halls here.
- Protect Your Loved Ones From Scams: This week's column isn't policy focused, rather intended to raise awareness of an uptick in scam artists preying on Americans, especially older ones. Here are some tips to protect yourself and your loved ones from those trying to take advantage of others.
Apr 19 2013
Week in Review: April 15-19
Here’s a recap of the things we worked on this week in Washington.
- Votes to Protect Second Amendment Rights: Senator Boozman voted to protect the Second Amendment by opposing Majority-led efforts to erode the Constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens.
- Spirit of Enterprise Award: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce awarded its prestigious “Spirit of Enterprise” award to Senator Boozman for his support of pro-jobs, pro-growth policies during the second session of the 112th Congress.
- UAV Military Medals: The Department of Defense (DOD) announced that Secretary Chuck Hagel has canceled the creation of a new military medal for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) pilots and cyber warriors that was set to be ranked higher than the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart. DOD said it would instead develop a special pin or device that would be attached to already existing medals or ribbons.
- Financial Literacy Month: April is designated as Financial Literacy Month. We are all capable of getting on the path to financial security – even Washington. There is no better time than now to start taking control of our personal finances.
IRS Tax Changes
Apr 16 2013
Monday was the IRS tax filing deadline for 2012 taxes and we're already looking to next year. It’s not too early to examine some of the changes that will impact us when we file our 2013 taxes next April. The IRS offers this roundup of some of the differences we’ll see.
There are several changes that affect many taxpayers.
Beginning in tax year 2013 (generally for tax returns filed in 2014), a new tax rate of 39.6 percent has been added for individuals whose income exceeds $400,000 ($450,000 for married taxpayers filing a joint return). The other marginal rates — 10, 15, 25, 28, 33 and 35 percent — remain the same as in prior years.
Itemized deductions in tax years 2013 are limited for individuals with incomes of $250,000 or more ($300,000 for married couples filing jointly).
Personal exemptions in tax year 2013 are subject to a phase-out that begins with adjusted gross incomes of $250,000 ($300,000 for married couples filing jointly).
The Alternative Minimum Tax exemption for tax year 2012 is $50,600 (single) $78,750 (joint), and is adjusted for inflation thereafter.
A snapshot of Individual tax changes for 2013
Net Investment Income Tax
A new Net Investment Income Tax goes into effect starting in 2013. The 3.8 percent Net Investment Income Tax applies to individuals, estates and trusts that have certain investment income above certain threshold amounts. The IRS and the Treasury Department have issued proposed regulations on the Net Investment Income Tax. Comments may be submitted electronically, by mail or hand delivered to the IRS. For additional information on the Net Investment Income Tax, see our questions and answers at www.irs.gov.
Additional Medicare Tax
A new Additional Medicare Tax goes into effect starting in 2013. The 0.9 percent Additional Medicare Tax applies to an individual’s wages, Railroad Retirement Tax Act compensation, and self-employment income that exceeds a threshold amount based on the individual’s filing status. The threshold amounts are $250,000 for married taxpayers who file jointly, $125,000 for married taxpayers who file separately, and $200,000 for all other taxpayers. An employer is responsible for withholding the Additional Medicare Tax from wages or compensation it pays to an employee in excess of $200,000 in a calendar year. The IRS and the Treasury Department have issued proposed regulations on the Additional Medicare Tax. Comments may be submitted electronically, by mail or hand delivered to the IRS. For additional information on the Additional Medicare Tax, see our questions and answers at www.irs.gov.
Yesterday, the Department of Defense (DOD) announced that Secretary Chuck Hagel has canceled the creation of a new military medal for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) pilots and cyber warriors that was set to be ranked higher than the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart. DOD said it would instead develop a special pin or device that would be attached to already existing medals or ribbons
This is a fair way to protect the integrity of medals like the Purple Heart and Bronze Star that are earned while serving directly under enemy fire.
Prior to DOD’s decision, and in response to concerns from the nation’s leading veterans’ organizations earlier this year, I joined Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Dean Heller (R-Nev.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) to introduce a bill to ensure that the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart rank ahead of this proposed new medal. Our problem has never been the creation of a new medal for cyber warriors and pilots of UAVs, rather the fact that initial proposals intended to rank this medal higher than the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart even though it would honor service away from the front lines.
The Bronze Star is earned for acts of heroism in a combat zone and the Purple Heart awarded to those wounded or killed by the enemy while serving in our Armed Forces. A medal’s ranking indicates how it is supposed to be displayed, with the Medal of Honor ranking the highest among the military’s nearly 60 medals and ribbons. While we should acknowledge the important role that our UAV pilots play on the modern-day battlefield and recognize their distinguished service, we must recognize the preeminence of commendations for those commit acts of bravery in combat and are killed or injured in service to our nation.
Therefore, I am glad to see that DOD has backed off its plan to honor extraordinary achievement by UAV pilots and cyber warriors in a manner that equates the nature of their service with the sacrifices of those who serve in combat zones, risking life and limb, under direct enemy fire.
Apr 12 2013
Here’s a recap of some of this week’s posts in case you missed them.
- Senate Opens Debate on Gun Bill: Senate Majority Leader Reid opened debate on the Majority’s gun control bill this week. What we will be debating remains to be seen, but Majority Leader Reid has repeatedly suggested it will contain provisions that will erode the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Americans by creating a national registry of gun owners and limiting the type of firearms and ammunition that they can purchase. For this reason, I voted against allowing the debate to move forward.
- President Obama Releases his Budget: The President released his long-delayed budget proposal this week. Unfortunately, it falls far short of what our nation needs to get back on a path to fiscal solvency.
- Questioning the EPA Nominee: For years the EPA has ignored repeated requests by Congress for data supporting policies and rules established by the agency. Hoping to put an end to this pattern, I asked the administration’s nominee to head the EPA, Gina McCarthy, about her intention to change the agency’s rulemaking policy during her nomination hearing this week.
- Bipartisan Legislation to Continue Program Serving Wounded Warriors Introduced: Senator Begich (D-AK) and I introduced legislation to extend the authorization for the U.S. Paralympic Integrated Adaptive Sports Program which partners with local organizations to develop programs and skills that meet the needs of our wounded warriors.
- Bill to Increase US Exports to Africa Introduced: 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.
- Fighting the FAA’s Misguided Plans to Close Contract Towers: Congress has given the FAA flexibility to meet its post-sequestration budget without closing any contract towers. Yet the administration continues to insist that the closures are necessary. Senator Pryor and I are trying to prevent that.
- Tax Day is Coming: Monday is April 15th, a date we all know too well since taxes are due then. This week’s column is on why we need comprehensive tax reform.
- USPS Backs off Threat to End Saturday Delivery: The U.S. Postal Service backed away from its plans to eliminate Saturday mail delivery. This is good news for rural Arkansans, senior citizens and businesses who rely on the postal service to deliver the goods they need to succeed.
- Talking Guns, Budget, North Korea & more with KASU: We talked with Mark Smith on Jonesboro’s KASU about a variety of topics facing our country including threats to our Second Amendment rights and the upcoming debate on gun control in the Senate. If you missed our interview you can listen to it here.
Apr 11 2013
The U.S. Postal Service backed away from its plans to eliminate Saturday mail delivery. This is good news for rural Arkansans, senior citizens and businesses who rely on the postal service to deliver the goods they need to succeed.
Legislation approved in March included a mandate to continue six-day delivery, something that Congress has annually approved since the 1980s. The USPS Board of Governors announced Wednesday it was left with no choice but to follow the rule.
We must continue to help find a workable solution that helps the postal service continue its business while balancing its books. Last year the postal service lost nearly $16 billion. This is not an efficient way to run a business, but Congress has taken steps to help address these issues.
In an effort to provide flexibility to the postal service, last year the Senate approved the 21st Century Postal Act. This bill also provided some safeguards for consumers. For instance, we prevented USPS from establishing a general, nationwide delivery schedule of five or fewer days for at least 24 months after the enactment of the legislation and requirement the postal service to ensure that any change it its delivery schedule will not result in more than two consecutive days without mail delivery.
This legislation wasn’t approved by the House of Representatives. The postal service, forced to find ways to cut costs, chose to do so at the expense of customers by ending Saturday delivery. However, the Government Accountability Office recently indicated that USPS does not have the authority to end six-day delivery without Congressional approval. The postal service, understanding that approval for that misguided idea wouldn’t be coming any time soon, has now backed off its threat to end Saturday delivery.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has indicated that he intends to begin debate on the Majority’s gun control bill this week.
What we will be debating remains to be seen, but Majority Leader Reid has repeatedly suggested it will contain provisions that will erode the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Americans by creating a national registry of gun owners and limiting the type of firearms and ammunition that they can purchase.
As a result of these and other outstanding questions surrounding the bill, Senators Rand Paul (R-KY), Mike Lee (R-UT) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) spearheaded an effort to oppose a motion to proceed to any legislation that will serve as a vehicle for any additional gun restrictions.
I am committed to protecting the Second Amendment rights of every law-abiding American. I share my colleagues concerns and will support their efforts to stop gun control measures by opposing the motion to proceed and cloture when it is filed.
Apr 09 2013
We talked with Mark Smith on Jonesboro’s KASU about a variety of topics facing our country including threats to our Second Amendment rights and the upcoming debate on gun control in the Senate. If you missed our interview you can listen to it here.
Apr 04 2013
Earlier this week, the United Nations agreed to the Arms Trade Treaty. Disappointingly, but not surprisingly, the Obama Administration voted in support of the misguided treaty.
Fortunately, in order for any treaty to take effect, it must be ratified by two-thirds of the U.S. Senate. Based on previous statements and the fact that 53 Senators went on record a few weeks ago supporting an amendment to stop the State Department from negotiating this treaty, I do not believe the votes are there for ratification.
The administration is well aware of where the Senate stands on the issue. Last year, I joined 57 other Senators in sending a letter to President Obama and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reminding them that the Senate has final say on treaties, and stated our unequivocal opposition to any treaty that would affect civilian ownership of firearms, challenge the authority of Congress to regulate firearms within the United States, or call for an international gun registry.
Now that the Obama Administration helped pass the treaty, it is important to reiterate that we will fight ratification. It is the reason why I support a concurrent resolution that was introduced in the Senate stating the treaty should not be ratified. This treaty puts us on the same level as global bad actors, those countries that abuse human rights and arm terrorists, and a backdoor way to chip away at every law abiding citizen’s right to keep and bear arms. The Obama Administration should have recognized that to begin with, but clearly protecting the Second Amendment rights of every law abiding American is not on its priority list. It remains on mine. I will work to ensure that this treaty never gets ratified.