Dr. Boozman's Check-up

This story today from CNN Money should not come as a surprise.   A survey shows that the CEOs of major U.S. companies expect to hire fewer people and invest less in the next six months.  Why?  It’s because Washington has failed to address what is known as “the fiscal cliff,” the combination of automatic spending cuts from sequestration and the expiring lower tax rates that will hit together on December 31st.  It is another huge wet blanket on an already struggling economy.  And it didn’t have to be this way.  

The Increasing American Jobs Through Greater Exports to Africa Act of 2012, a bill I am sponsoring with Senators Christopher Coons (D-DE) and Richard Durbin (D-IL), was approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this week. This bill seeks to increase America’s competiveness throughout the continent by forcing better coordination between U.S. government agencies and departments, establishing comprehensive strategic goals, and marshaling private investments to improve U.S.-Africa business activities. This bill is a win-win for us at home and abroad. By increasing trade with African nations, we can create more jobs here at home. Hopefully we can get this bill passed in the inevitable lame duck session of Congress. 

Learn more about how The Increasing American Jobs Through Greater Exports to Africa Act of 2012 will create jobs in the U.S.

The Senate Republicans took the floor this morning to demand leadership and action from the Majority on the economy and other issues. You can watch my remarks on job creation, how the administration and the Senate Majority are taking the wrong approach to economic issues and our solutions to put Americans back to work.

I recently sat down with Arkansas Business to discuss the issues we are dealing with in Washington and the videos of the interview on their website.  In the first segment, we discuss what ideas the Republicans would base our health care reform on once it we repeal the President’s law.  In the second segment, the discussion moves to how disastrous the fiscal cliff is to our national security.  

Stolen Valor

Sep 14 2012

The House of Representatives passed the continuing resolution yesterday.  This is an important step to avoiding a government shutdown which would harm Arkansans and all Americans who count on services provided by government.  The continuing resolution will allow us to carry on with our work without the interruption of vital services for Arkansans.  I predict it will sail through this chamber as well.

The continuing resolution was not the only key action taken by the House yesterday that can easily be replicated by the Senate.  House members also passed a bill that would make it a crime to profit from false claims about military service. 

Back in June, the Supreme Court struck down a 2006 law that made it a crime to lie about receiving the Medal of Honor and other prized military awards.  While the Court called the false claims "contemptible," the Justices said that it was nonetheless protected speech under the First Amendment. 

The bill passed by the House yesterday should stand the Constitutional test because it narrows the scope by focusing on the profiting of these false claims.  

There is clearly overwhelming support in both chambers for this effort to protect our decorated veterans.  I am one of 33 Senators who are cosponsoring a companion bill here in the Senate.  While the President has not publically endorsed the bill, his administration argued in favor of the broader law before the Supreme Court.  Should we pass the bill, I believe President Obama would sign this commonsense solution to the problem.    

Our veterans sacrificed dearly to earn their decorations.  We need to protect the integrity of their service by preventing others from falsely profiting off these honors by fraudulently claiming they too received them.

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.