Dr. Boozman's Check-up

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.  

Why fight traffic at the malls or wait in long crowded lines at the big box stores for deals that don’t always turn out to be as good as promised when you can return your dollars to your local economy by shopping at local small businesses? 

Today is Small Business Saturday, a national initiative to encourage support of our local businesses during the holiday season. Small businesses, including smaller retailers, are the heart of our economy.  Money spent in our local communities gets reinvested, draws attention to local merchants and could ultimately create more new jobs.  Over the past two decades, small business owners have created more than 65 percent of the new jobs in the United States and they employ about half of all private sector employees.  At a time when our economy is struggling to create jobs, Small Business Saturday is an excellent campaign to help push economic development in our own communities.

This is the third year small retailers across America will be participating in “Small Business Saturday.”  The previous two years have been a big success, thanks in large part to Arkansans recognizing the importance of our local, independently-owned merchants. So let’s pump up our local economies by participating in Small Business Saturday once again.  

When we carve the turkey and celebrate Thanksgiving with our loved ones today, let us remember that there is much for which to be grateful. We live in the greatest country in the world. While we face challenges, we have always met them head-on in the past and I am confident that we can come together as a nation to overcome the ones we currently face. I am grateful for the military servicemen and women, who are serving far from home and family on this holiday to protect America and I am thankful for my family, friends and the confidence you have placed in me to serve Arkansas in the U.S. Senate. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

Our wounded warriors, service members, veterans, family members and their caregivers face unique challenges.  Whether it is transitioning to the life after service or coping with significant lifelong injuries, our veterans endure an enormous amount of stress. This is often compounded by a bureaucracy that delays and prevents them from getting the help they need.

To help cut through all this clutter, Congress directed the departments of Defense, Labor and Veterans Affairs to create the National Resource Directory (NRD). This website provides access to thousands of programs and services at the national, state
and local levels on topics such as benefits and compensation, health care access, education, employment, and much more. It is a simple, comprehensive and official resource for the wounded warrior, veteran and military communities. 

I encourage veterans in search of benefits or services to check out the NRD. It is a very useful resource.

Additionally, if you are need of assistance on a personal matter with the Department of Veterans Affairs, such as trouble with disability pay or access to health care, my office stands ready to help. Please contact my assistant, Diane Holm, who works with veterans to resolve these types of problems. Diane works in my Jonesboro office and can be reached at (870) 268-6925.

In this edition of “From the Mailbag” Senator Boozman discusses sequestration and the concerns of extreme cuts to our military. “We can’t have arbitrary across the board cuts. We’ve got to quit spending as much but we have to target the waste,” Boozman says. The senator discusses efforts underway in Congress to cut spending.  This is a major topic that lawmakers will be working to resolve during the lame duck session. Watch this edition here.

Now that the election is behind us, and Congress remains divided, the need for bipartisanship on veterans’ issues is vital. The core functions of government, including providing for our veterans and their families, should not be subjected to political gamesmanship.

This is the message of an opinion piece I authored for The Hill that ran this weekend as part of a package of lawmaker’s tributes to veterans.  You can read the piece in its entirety here.  

It is important that lawmakers recognize that Americans are sick and tired of procedural tricks and legislative slight-of-hand to cast one party in opposition to principles that we all support.  We’ve seen this too often lately from the Majority and unfortunately that trend has even found its way into veterans’ issues, which is an area where we have traditionally come together.  It is my hope that we can move beyond the divisive tactics and work to help our veterans in constructive bipartisan manner.

**UPDATED on 12/12/12: Arkansans interested in attending the 2013 Inauguration can can get information on how to obtain tickets for the Presidential ball and parade by visiting the Presidential Inaugural Committee’s website at 2013pic.org. At this time, our requests have exceeded our ticket availability.** 

The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies (JCCIC) has launched the official website and the first ever Facebook page for the upcoming presidential inauguration ceremony.

These two sites provide a vast amount of historical information and as we get closer to the Inauguration will include information specific to the 2013 Inauguration and logistical information for those that will be attending the event.  

Arkansans interested in attending the 2013 Inauguration can contact my office to request tickets.  Please include the following information: first and last name, address, email, phone number, passes requested, and any additional information.  Due to the highly anticipated volume of requests, this email does not guarantee you tickets, but will place your name on the list.  Due to limited quantities, we can only accept requests from residents of Arkansas. 

Please email my assistant, Teah Franklin (teah_franklin@boozman.senate.gov), to place your request or for more information.

If you are interested in tours while in Washington, DC, please visit this page for information and to make a tour request.