Dr. Boozman's Check-up

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: 

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.

Arkansas farmers, ranchers and agribusinesses deserve the certainty a Farm Bill provides. Unfortunately, the farm bill expired earlier this year and Congress has failed to find common ground that protects all of our nation’s agriculture producers. In this edition of “From the Mailbag” Senator Boozman discusses the need for a Farm Bill before the end of the year. Click here to watch the segment.

Is there someone in your community that is deserving of a unique honor for their selfless service to others?

Maybe someone you know displayed immense bravery and committed a courageous act that saved the lives of others.  Or, maybe it is someone who has spent their lives serving others to no fanfare.   Here is your opportunity to recognize their selfless contributions.  You can celebrate the heroism that symbolizes the American spirit by nominating an unsung American hero that you know for a Citizen Service Before Self Honors.

Citizen Service Before Self Honors are unique, because they are presented to unsung heroes by our nation’s most honored heroes—our Medal of Honor recipients.  There are fewer than 100 living recipients of our nation’s highest award for valor and that small community unfortunately got smaller yesterday with the passing of our Senate colleague and Medal of Honor recipient, Daniel Inouye.  Every year they select three extraordinary Americans from the nominees to receive the Citizen Service Before Self Honors.

When you have a moment, please take the time to read some of the incredible stories of recent recipients of Citizen Service Before Self Honors.  If you know anyone with a similar inspirational story in your community, there is still time to nominate them for the 2013 honors.  Nominations can be submitted online at www.citizenservicebeforeselfhonors.org until December 28th

You’ve most likely heard about the fiscal cliff, a spending agreement that must be reached by the end of the 2012. This encompasses many issues including tax rates and government spending. Congress is working to come to an agreement to cut spending and put our country on the path to fiscal responsibility. In this edition of “From the Mailbag” Senator Boozman discusses the need to avoid the fiscal cliff and areas of common ground. Click here to watch the segment.

One of the number one questions I hear from Arkansans is “Why can’t Washington work together?” We can and should work together. Yet time after time, bills are caught up in the gridlock of a hyper-partisan Washington.

One of the biggest obstacles here in the Senate is the partisan maneuvering by the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.  From blocking our ability to offer amendments to bypassing the committee process, the tactics employed by the Majority Leader are all designed to thwart the minority’s ability to change legislation. 

It has left us with one option to stop bills we are not allowed to have input on: the cloture vote.  Now, Majority Leader Harry Reid wants to take that right away from us.

The Majority Leader is proposing a rule change in the upper chamber that erases years of Senate precedence and the rights of the minority party. This power grab—the so-called “nuclear option”—would allow Majority Leader Reid to stop debate or compromise surrounding controversial legislation.

One of the great things about the Senate is that it is an ongoing, living body.  Unlike House members who are up for reelection every two years, Senate rules carry over into the new session of Congress.  That is, of course, unless the Majority Leader has his way.

Everybody in the Senate, including the non-partisan Parliamentarian, agrees that it takes 67 votes to change the rules. The Senate Majority is in a situation where members are going to have to break the rules to change the rules.  Any way you look at that, the ends doesn’t justify the means.

To let the public know why this is such a bad idea, the Senate Republican Caucus has rolled out a new website site, Stop the Nuclear Option, which features videos, news stories, social media tools, and other resources regarding Reid’s proposed rules change – including sections highlighting longstanding and continued opposition from members of Reid’s own party and his own past objections to this type of procedural maneuvering when the Democrats were in the minority.

You can watch the video I contributed to the website below.

While both sides discuss the best direction to avoid going over the fiscal cliff, Congress isn’t just sitting idly by waiting.  We are tackling important issues both at home and abroad.

Today in the Senate we passed a historic trade bill to help America’s companies, manufacturers, farmers and ranchers compete in the Russian market.  Arkansas’s economy stands to really benefit from tearing down these artificial trade barriers. Last year, we exported $56 million worth of goods to Russia. The more we can increase trade abroad, the more opportunities we have to add jobs here at home.

Across on the other side of the Capitol, the House sent a loud message to the rest of the world to keep their hands off the Internet by unanimously passing a Senate resolution that calls on the U.S. government to oppose United Nations control of the Internet yesterday. We passed the resolution a few months ago by unanimous consent in the Senate.

As a cosponsor of the resolution, I am pleased to see overwhelming bipartisan, bicameral support for keeping control of the Internet free and open.  

Passage of this resolution is much more than just a symbolic vote.  United Nations member countries are currently meeting to consider taking more control over how the Internet operates and imposing limitations on user’s freedoms.   Essentially, supporters of this effort want to put the Internet under control of the United Nations.

One only needs to look at the online restrictions imposed by oppressive regimes in China and Cuba to see what types of regulations they would like the UN to impose.  This isn’t about making a clear set of international standards for the Internet, it is about protecting dictators. The importance of the Internet in the Arab Spring uprising gives these regimes a legitimate reason to fear citizen’s ability to organize and protest online, so they want to continue to repress and restrict Internet usage in their countries and use an international agreement as cover.

Economic growth brings jobs to communities here at home. Free expression brings democracy abroad. Innovation brings life-saving advancements to the world.  An unfettered, open Internet brings us all of that.  That’s why we need to keep control of the Internet out of the hands of foreign governments.  

This morning we joined Mark Smith on Jonesboro’s KASU radio to discuss some of the important issues under debate in Washington.  You’ve probably heard about the ‘fiscal cliff’ and proposed military cuts. We talk about the common ground that we need to be fiscally responsible and protect national security. You can listen to the interview here.

The clock is ticking.  November is about to be in the rear view mirror, which puts us closer to the fiscal cliff everyone in Washington is frantically trying to avoid. 

So where do we go from here?

We’ve got to breathe some certainty into the economy.  Right now, people don’t know what their taxes are going to be in the future.  Nobody knows what their health care costs are going to be.  The same can be said about their energy costs.   This has an extremely negative impact on our economy.  And if you are looking at it through the lens of a small business owner, this uncertainty means it is unlikely that you will be hiring any new employees and expanding your operation.

In order to get the economy going again, we need to address this crisis.  However, the idea of increasing tax rates that is being floated by President Obama and the Senate Majority is the wrong way to go about it.  Raising taxes is never wise policy, especially at a time when our economy is still struggling to recover from the last recession.  These proposed tax rate increases will hit our small businesses hard.  Approximately 60 percent of those impacted by this proposal are small businesses that file as individuals.  This proposal is the wrong road to go down, particularly when that road could dead end in another recession.

I am open to pro-growth tax reforms that generate revenue by making our tax code fairer and simpler.  There certainly are loopholes that need to be closed.  We need to overhaul the tax code, instead of merely raising the top rates.

At its core, the idea that we can tax our way out of this mess does not reflect the reality in Washington.  There isn’t a revenue problem here.  There is a spending problem.  We have got to start by acknowledging that much.  If we want to steer clear of the fiscal cliff, it is going to require significant spending cuts.  I don’t mean across the board sequestration cuts, but rather smart reforms that target wasteful spending, duplicative programs and ballooning entitlements.  The focus needs to be on promoting efficient and effective programs.

I want to stress, however, that there is reason to remain positive about these negotiations.  I truly do believe that both parties are working in good faith to ensure that we do not fall off the impending fiscal cliff.  We are just starting from completely different points.  I am confident that there is common ground to be found.    

November is National Hospice Month, a perfect time to recognize dozens of hospice organizations and the exceptional end-of-life care they provide to Arkansans. 

Every year, more than 1.58 million Americans living with life-limiting illnesses, and their families, receive care from the nation’s hospice programs in communities throughout the United States. 

My family understands the value of hospice care.  Thanks to hospice, we were at my mom’s side as she spent her final weeks in comfort, home in Fort Smith, with caring professionals managing her pain.

It was a blessing to support my mom in those final weeks, and we are forever thankful for the caring professionals that make hospice their calling.

Hospice care has grown increasingly in recent years because it improves quality of life at a reduced cost, but that growth may soon come to a halt.  Hospice providers face unforeseen challenges created by Obamacare, which cuts Medicare reimbursements for hospice care and creates a new, inflexible face-to-face requirement for Medicare hospice patients.

That is why I am cosponsoring the HELP Hospice Act (S.722), which would require the government to create a two-year, 15-site demonstration program for payment reform to ensure that providers are not shortchanged by Medicare payment restructuring.  The bill would also amend the new face-to-face encounter requirement to reflect operational realities for hospice programs and the needs of the patients and families they serve.  These reforms would ensure Arkansas’s small and rural hospices are not forced to turn down patients who are most in need because of operational constraints that larger hospice organizations in higher populated areas may not face.

As National Hospice Month comes to a close this week, it is important to recognize the vital care that hospice groups provide.  We must do more to ensure that this invaluable service remains available to families and caretakers of Americans in the final stage of their lives.