Dr. Boozman's Check-up

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.

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.

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. 

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.

 

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.

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