Dr. Boozman's Check-up

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

You may remember last year’s rather contentious debate over the Keystone XL pipeline, a project that when complete would transport 700,000 barrels of oil per day from Canada to U.S. refineries in the Gulf of Mexico and create thousands of American jobs.

We’ve been trying aggressively to move this project forward for well over a year.  It was around this time last year that President Obama slammed the brakes on the project, despite the fact that his administration had been reviewing the Keystone pipeline permit for three years and already had conducted two comprehensive environmental evaluations of the project.  At the time, President Obama cited the objection of Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman to the route of the pipeline as his reason for denying the permit. While Gov. Heineman’s concerns about the route gave the president an easy out on a tough decision, it is generally agreed upon that President Obama really punted because he did not want to offend environmentalists who oppose the project, an important constituency for him during an election year.

Fast forward to 2013. Gov. Heineman approved the revised Keystone XL pipeline route this week.  This puts the Obama administration back on the clock. The president is running out of excuses for delaying the project and even his reliable ally, The Washington Post’s editorial board, is saying it is time to build the pipeline.

The time is now. Every day we wait, we put both our economy and national security at risk. The Keystone pipeline project will create thousands of well-paying jobs and helps reduce our dependence on foreign sources of oil, which are two of our top national priorities. There is absolutely no reason to continue to stall it.

Attached below is the letter fifty-two of my colleagues and I sent to President Obama this week asking him to move forward with the approval process for the Keystone XL pipeline.  It concludes in part: “After four and half years of study, we urge you to stick to your deadlines.” We intend to continue the effort to see that happen.

Last year, President Obama made a series of unprecedented recess appointments during a time when the Senate was in regular proceedings. This extraordinary power-grab required the president to alter the definition of recess. Not only did it violate hundreds of years of Senate precedent, but it violated the law. Despite this fact, President Obama went ahead and did it anyway.  

Today, the court ruled that President Obama had indeed overstepped his authority and invalidated three appointments to the National Labor Relations Board that had been made without Senate confirmation. My colleagues and I signed an Amicus Brief submitted in the case that challenged the President’s actions as unconstitutional as the Senate was in pro forma session at the time the appointments were made.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit today said the president could only use his recess appointment authority to fill vacancies that arise when the Senate is in official recess, which only occurs when the Senate is in between sessions.  Clearly then, a pro forma session would not be an official recess.  As Chief Judge David Sentelle wrote in the ruling, if that were the case, “the president could make appointments any time the Senate so much as broke for lunch.”

Our Founding Founders established a series of checks-and-balances to protect our democracy and ensure government accountability. We should not turn our backs on these values. Whether Republican or Democrat, we must watch out for executive actions that legislate outside the Constitution, particularly when they threaten jobs, businesses, or individual rights. 

In case you missed it, here is a sampling of what we worked on this week:

  • No Budget, No Pay: It’s been 1,365 days since the Senate passed a binding federal budget resolution and while we are required to adopt a budget, there is no penalty for failing to do so. Our No Budget, No Pay Act introduced this week would change that. 
Much has been written about the congressional pay raise President Obama authorized, but it didn’t take much in the way of written words to rescind it.  In fact, it only took one line within the fiscal cliff agreement to fix this bad idea.

Section 902 of the fiscal cliff agreement reads: 

SEC. 902. NO COST OF LIVING ADJUSTMENT IN PAY OF MEMBERS OF CONGRESS.
Notwithstanding any other provision of law, no adjustment shall be made under section 601(a) of the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946 (2 U.S.C. 31) (relating to cost of living adjustments for Members of Congress) during fiscal year 2013.

This language was inserted to override President Obama’s directive to raise congressional salaries when he lifted the federal employee pay freeze.  I don’t believe Congress has earned a pay raise, especially in light of the public’s low approval rating of Washington.  I often joke that it is better to be introduced as a former eye doctor and small business owner than as a U.S. Senator.  There’s some truth in that.  The reality is we have a long way to go before we restore the public’s faith in Congress.  That’s why I have voted against an automatic Congressional pay raise every year since I was elected to Congress.   

It’s the same reason that I signed on as a cosponsor of the No Budget, No Pay Act last Congress.  This bill would prohibit members of Congress from being paid if we don’t pass a long-term budget each fiscal year.  It’s been over 1,300 days since a binding federal budget resolution has been passed in the Senate.  While we’re required to adopt a budget resolution, there’s no penalty for failing to do so and that needs to change.  I intend to cosponsor this bill again when it is reintroduced in the new session of Congress.

Washington needs to remember that times are tough across the country.  Our economy isn’t getting better, despite what the administration says, and many working families haven’t seen a raise in years.  President Obama’s focus needs to be on making the lives of constituents better, not on congressional paychecks.  

American families, small businesses and employers face a crippling tax increase at the first of the year unless Congress acts to preserve current tax rates. According to The Heritage Foundation, the average tax increase in 2013 is estimated to be $2,292 per tax return for Arkansans. Tax rates are one of the issues at the center of fiscal cliff discussions. In this segment of From the Mailbag, Senator Boozman discusses his desire to preserve current tax rates for all Americans.