Dr. Boozman's Check-up

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.

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. 

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. 

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.