Dr. Boozman's Check-up

Today the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs marked up several bills to improve veterans mental health and suicide prevention programs, protect veterans’ rights while deployed, improve access to VA programs for women veterans, increase veterans’ service connected disability compensation, and protect the Second Amendment Rights of our veterans.

Included in the Omnibus Healthcare package (S.3340) were two bipartisan provision I have been working on with my Senate Colleagues.  The text of S. 3049, of which I am the lead Republican Cosponsor with Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK), was included as Sec. 307, and will ensure that women veterans fleeing domestic violence or abusive relationships, including those that threaten the safety of their children, will have access to VA Homeless assistance programs before their situation worsens.  The text of S. 1849, the “Rural Veterans Health Care Improvement Act,” of which I am the lead Republican Cosponsor with Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) was included in Sec. 407, and will improve the access and quality of care for our veterans living in rural areas. 

Also passed by the committee was S. 1707, the “Veterans’ Second Amendment Protection Act,” legislation introduced by Sen Richard Burr (R-NC), of which I am an original cosponsor. 

The following are my opening remarks. 

Madame Chair - Ranking Member Burr, 

Thank you for holding this mark-up today so that we may discuss ways in which this body can further improve many of the benefits that serve our veterans, particularly regarding mental health care and homeless veterans. 

I very much appreciate you including several provisions that I have been working on with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle. 

Included in the Chair’s omnibus bill, or the “ACCESS Act,” are a couple of important proposals we have been working on, and I appreciate the committee leadership for including them in that package.  Sec. 307 of this bill includes an important provision that reflects the work of Senator Begich and me.  This provision would ensure that women veterans who are fleeing domestic violence, and find themselves with no place to go, do not have to wait for an even greater crisis before they and their families have access to VA homeless services.  This is a common sense provision and I thank the Chair and Ranking member for including it. 

Sec. 407 includes a provision that Senator Franken and I have been working on to ensure that we are getting a good return on the investments we have been making in the VA’s Office of Rural Health.  With so many of our veterans living in rural areas, our nation has seen fit to invest a significant amount of money to improve the accessibility and quality of the health care they receive.  I think it is so important for us to have a clear path forward to improve health care for our rural veterans.  This provision will ensure that this occurs and I appreciate Senator Franken’s work and leadership on this issue and am pleased that it is included in the bill. 

I would also like to express my strong support for Senator Burr’s legislation, S. 1707, of which I am an original cosponsor. I have been strongly advocating for this legislation for the past few Congresses and it is high time we got this thing done.  This bill would protect the 2nd Amendment rights of our veterans who have served in uniform.  I would also express my support for the additional amendments that Senator Burr has offered in response to recent developments that would further protect our veterans’ second amendment rights. 

Finally, I would like to express my concerns about some of the provisions included in “GI Bill Consumer Awareness Act” that will be discussed here today. We all want to see veterans use their benefits wisely, and all consumers should be protected from fraud.  However, I believe there are better ways to accomplish this with tools already at our disposal and do not require the creation of myriads of bureaucratic reports and hoops to jump through that could place an undue burden on the VA and educational institutions.  We want to protect veterans and we can do so by empowering them, but we should be careful not to burden them with bureaucracy and limit their choices.  We must remember that this benefit belongs to the veteran, or their beneficiary, because they have earned it through their service and sacrifice and we should be careful not to limit their ability to use it as they wish or further limit their educational options. 

Again, Madame Chair and Ranking Member, thank you for holding this Mark-up today and for your continued commitment to our servicemembers and their families.

 

How to help agriculture producers in this record drought

Shares thoughts on CNBC blog

Aug 15 2012

The drought is taking a tremendous toll on Arkansas agriculture producers. As KARK reported it will take several years for the agriculture industry to rebound from this record breaking drought which economists predict could have a billion dollar impact on our state’s economy.  

Today Governor Beebe announced he would make available $2 million to help Arkansas ranchers. The bottom line is that Congress also needs to step up to assist our agriculture producers during this difficult time. That begins with passing a five-year Farm Bill that offers protections to agriculture producers against potential disasters like the drought we’re currently facing. In the meantime, we need to provide immediate drought relief to our farmers and ranchers. The House passed an extension of the livestock disaster provisions prior to leaving for August recess so that our livestock producers would know help is on the way. Unfortunately, instead of bringing this non-controversial bill up for a vote in the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid opted to use this opportunity to try and force the House to act on a five-year extension of the Farm Bill. 

I contributed to the CNBC blog, explaining how the federal government can help this important industry.

Today is Social Security’s 77th birthday.  Since 1935, the program has helped millions of Americans during their golden years.  However, as this Associated Press story shows, without reform, the program is unsustainable.

Social Security has been paying out more in benefits than it collects in taxes the past two years and with the large number of baby boomers retiring, that trend will only get worse.  The program’s trustees say that the surpluses will disappear in the next twenty years.  As the AP notes, “unless Congress acts, Social Security would only collect enough tax revenue each year to pay about 75 percent of benefits, triggering an automatic reduction.”

Our number one priority must be to ensure no benefits are cut to current and future enrollees.   However, the current system is unsustainable and in need of reform to make sure that future generations also receive benefits. 

While I believe it is extremely important that we evaluate the system to ensure its viability for the next generation, I am committed to maintaining a system that will continue to provide benefits to those who are currently receiving them,  and will also provide benefits to our children and grandchildren.  I will not support any change in Social Security for current recipients and near-retirees.  We can all agree that it is unfair to change this system that our aging Americans have come to depend upon.

In addition, Congress has taken steps that will eventually lead to a stronger, more reliable Medicare program.  These modernizations include a prescription drug benefit, increased reimbursement for doctors who treat our seniors and financial support to programs currently providing health care benefits to retirees.  Though this is just a first step, Congress has more work to do to ensure that Medicare is around for generations to come.  Unfortunately, we have also seen new laws, like the President's health care law, that make drastic cuts to Medicare. I opposed those laws when they came before me in the U.S. House of Representatives and I remain opposed to any legislation that cuts funding for such an important program.

Both the House of Representatives and the Senate continue to work together to address the coming insolvency of the Social Security and Medicare programs, as well as the need to expand the systems to encompass the growing number of seniors who will be collecting benefits in the next several years.  I understand the urgency of this situation and remain committed to working with my colleagues to find a solution.  Nothing will be done, however, unless there is an agreement between the President, Congress and, most importantly, the people of Arkansas.

Extreme drought conditions across the state and the country have a big impact on Arkansas agriculture production. Take a look at this recent U.S. Drought Monitor map. Almost half of Arkansas is suffering from exceptional drought conditions, the worst of four categories.

As we kicked off our annual agriculture tour we visited with ranchers in Conway. We heard stories much like agriculture producers are experiencing all over our country; they are struggling with serious problems due to the lack of rain. “Livestock producers are facing unprecedented troubles with water problems, not having feed” I told the Log Cabin Democrat. As Fox16 reported on our visit to the Livestock Auction, the drought is making it difficult ranchers to maintain their herd.

We have taken steps to reduce the challenges Arkansas agriculture producers are facing. The Arkansas Congressional Delegation supported Governor Beebe’s request for federal disaster assistance which made Arkansas eligible for emergency funding. I also joined many of my colleagues on the Senate Agriculture Committee in sending a letter to the Secretary of Agriculture requesting that he use all of his existing authority to provide relief, and pointed out the vulnerability of the livestock industry.

Not only is the widespread drought affecting the availability of hay and grazing pasture, but the drought will also have an impact on the availability and price of our grains for both livestock feed and the production of food, the effects of which will be felt by every American. Because of this, I and many of my Senate colleagues sent Lisa Jackson, the administrator of the EPA, a letter requesting that she use her existing authority to adjust the corn-ethanol mandate of the Renewable Fuel Standard in order to prevent a potentially catastrophic shortage in our nation’s corn supply.

I am pleased to see the administration today has taken steps to provide money and flexibility in providing our ranchers with funding to help maintain their herds. Arkansas will receive nearly $3.5 million through the Natural Resources Conservation Service, a division of the United States Department of Agriculture, to help crop and livestock producers cope with the impacts of these drought conditions. At the same time, there is more we can do to protect our livestock producers as well as middle class families at the check out line.

It was great to catch-up with our former Governor Mike Huckabee on his radio show this afternoon. We talked about the agreement to avoid a government shutdown and The End Government Shutdown Act which would allow us to automatically continue funding for discretionary programs whose budget has not been approved by October 1 for 90 days. This would allow for government operations to continue running without any interruption in service. It is a commonsense solution to the chronic budgeting problems. Click on the file linked below to listen to the segment.

Third District Congressman Steve Womack, Senator Mark Pryor and I are pleased to announce that Congressman Randy Forbes, chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness, is bringing his “Defending our Defenders” cross-country listening session tour to Fort Smith on August 21.

This listening session will highlight the importance of the 188th Fighter Wing to the Fort Smith region. Chairman Forbes’s stop in Fort Smith is part of his nationwide tour to seek citizen input about the danger defense budget cuts present to national security, our men and women in uniform, and local economies.

Chairman Forbes is a strong advocate for our servicemen and women and a key ally in our effort to maintain the mission of the 188th Fighter Wing.  He has heard our message of how the 188th excels in efficiency and cost effectiveness for A-10 units.  Now he will get to see that firsthand. We are grateful that Chairman Forbes has offered his time to hear the concerns of the region regarding the future of the 188th. We look forward to welcoming him to Arkansas.

 

Our manufacturing and energy sectors are not the only industries that are feeling crushed under the weight of regulations proposed by the Obama Administration.  You may be surprised to learn that our farmers are getting hit hard as well.

The Senate Republican Policy Committee has done an excellent job compiling the most egregious regulations aimed at our farmers

As far as President Obama is concerned, nothing on the farm is off limits for the government.  Everything from dust to animal feed to farm equipment has been in the Obama Administration’s regulatory sights.

At every turn, the Obama Administration has sought to expand the federal government’s reach into the family farm.  For instance, the President has pushed for unprecedented expansion of the Clean Water Act that would make it nearly impossible for farmers to make a living.  The proposal to delete just one word—'navigable'—from the original law would make nearly every puddle of water subject to federal regulation.   It is an unprecedented overreach that must not be forced upon our farming communities.

So intrusive are these proposed regulations, that up until a few months ago, the Obama Administration even wanted to oversee work performed by youths on their families’ farm.  The outcry from rural America led the Administration to ditch this onerous proposed rule.  There was no commonsense, science or reason behind this proposal and it was seemingly written by bureaucrats who lack a full understanding of farm operations.  This proposed rule was merely another attempt by the federal government to control every aspect of our lives.

Taken individually, each of these proposed regulations would seriously harm the ability of Arkansas’ family farmers to compete in a global market.   As a whole, they will have devastating effect on our state’s top industry, our agriculture sector.

Read Regulation Nation: How Big Government is Stalling the Recovery to see how President’s Obama’s overregulation is hurting our economy and how we are working to put a stop to it. 

We're Here to Help You

Announcing Two Mobile Office Events

Jul 23 2012

We have seven offices across the state to help make it easier for Arkansans to travel to get help they need. We understand how difficult it can be to come to the local office with the constraints of everyday life so we are making it easier and bringing our office on the road. Next week my staff is hosting two mobile office events to provide assistance and visit with representatives of my office. These are great opportunities to get questions involving the federal government answered or we can help cut through the red tape of the bureaucracy. No matter what the issue, we appreciate visiting with friendly Arkansans. Come and get help next Tuesday, July 31 in Morrilton and Ozark.

 

Morrilton Mobile Office
Tuesday, July 31, 2012
11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Morrilton Chamber of Commerce
120 North Division Street
Morrilton, Arkansas  


Ozark Mobile Office
Tuesday, July 31, 2012
11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Franklin County Senior Center
324 North 5th Street
Ozark, Arkansas

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke was on Capitol Hill today to warn lawmakers about the alarming signs that the “recovery has lost momentum in recent months, sapping consumer confidence and crimping job creation.”

In testimony to the Senate Banking Committee, Chairman Bernanke urged policymakers to take action now to avoid the dramatic impact of sequestration cuts and tax hikes that, without action, will take place at the end of the year.  He also noted that job growth has been “frustratingly slow.”

Here’s the key section from the Washington Post’s story:

Meanwhile, the prospect of a government-induced recession is already taking a toll on the economy. 

The most effective way that the Congress could help to support the economy right now would be to work to address the nation’s fiscal challenges in a way that takes into account both the need for long-run sustainability and the fragility of the recovery,” Bernanke said. “Doing so earlier rather than later would help reduce uncertainty and boost household and business confidence.”

Instead of heeding that advice, Majority Leader Reid brought the DISCLOSE Act to the floor of the Senate for a cloture vote for the second time in 24-hours.  

How many jobs does the DISCLOSE Act create? Absolutely zero.

How does the DISCLOSE Act help us prevent tax hikes on every individual and small business in America? It doesn’t.

How much of $15.8 trillion dollar national debt does the DISCLOSE Act pay down? Not a penny.

The DISCLOSE Act failed again today and rightfully so.  It is poorly written legislation designed to strip free speech rights from those with whom the Senate Majority disagrees and favors its allies like the labor unions.  To highlight just how bad the bill is, consider that it is opposed by a broad spectrum of groups including the National Right to Life Committee, the Chamber of Commerce and the American Civil Liberties Union.  These groups are rarely ever on the same page at the same time.

Don’t get me wrong.  Disclosure is a good thing.  We should strive to break the influence of money in our politics.  But reform has to be accomplished in a manner that is fair and holds everyone accountable and ensures everyone plays by the same rules. Unfortunately, it is clear that the DISCLOSE Act does not meet those requirements and is being brought up for repeated votes solely for political reasons. 

Let’s say two attempts at political gamesmanship is enough.  The Majority needs to put this bill on the shelf where it belongs and turn the Senate’s attention to that “fiscal cliff” Chairman Bernanke was up here to warn us about today.  The consequences of continuing to ignore this looming crisis are too big for election year games.   

In Case You Missed It

Morning Drive Discussions

Jul 17 2012

We had great discussions this morning with KASU in Jonesboro and KBJT in Fordyce about the issues being debated in Congress. We talked about a variety of topics from the Farm Bill, health care, extending current tax rates, budgeting and the appropriations process. If you missed the interviews you can still listen to the conversations.