The twin issues of foreign policy and national security were on the agenda this past week as Arkansas’ Congressional lawmakers were in the middle of the debate on several issues.
Also, the House approved a defense spending bill that drew a bipartisan vote and discussed the impending deadline for a highway funding bill.
COTTON: PATRIOT ACT, FISA KEEPS US SAFE
In a column Friday on FoxNews.com, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said Congress should work to reauthorize the Patriot Act before a May 31 deadline. Cotton, who joined with Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-KS in writing the column, said the United States faces a dangerous world.
“The system was blinking red … it could not get any worse.” That’s how then-CIA Director George Tenet described the threats against the United States during the summer of 2001. But it did get worse: Al Qaeda struck on 9/11, killing almost 3,000 Americans. Today, the terrorist threats are more dangerous than ever, as Director of National Intelligence James Clapper recently testified to Congress,” Cotton and Pompeo wrote.
“Across Africa and the Middle East, Al Qaeda affiliates have metastasized following America’s retreat. Iran continues its unrelenting support for terrorism. And of course there’s the Islamic State. Far from “the JV team” as President Obama called them, the Islamic State is rampaging across Iraq and Syria, while inspiring attacks and plots in the U.S. and Western Europe. These groups are now larger and more sophisticated—for example, developing new non-metallic bombs to evade detection, recruiting westerners to conduct homegrown attacks, and attracting adherents through social media. Just last week, the Islamic State inspired the attack in Garland, Texas, and our military bases had to go on heightened alert.”
The column also noted that strong surveillance has helped capture suspected terrorists.
“As members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, we have carefully studied this program and are convinced that it’s an integral tool in our fight against terrorism.”
The House voted 338-88 Thursday to approve the bill, which now goes to the Senate.
All four members of the House delegation – Reps. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, French Hill, R-Little Rock, Steve Womack, R-Rogers, and Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs – voted yes on the bill.
Hill said the reauthorization was needed.
“The safety and well-being of the American people are paramount, and so are the constitutional rights of private citizens. This bill ensures the effective tracking of terrorists while ending bulk data collection by our intelligence agencies. It also increases transparency of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to create a healthy balance between our critical national security interests and an essential confidence in individual privacy rights. I am proud to support the bill and will continue to work to promote our national security interests while ensuring constitutional protections,” Hill said.
DEFENSE BILL APPROVED BY HOUSE
The House voted Friday by a 269-151 margin to approve the National Defense Authorization Act of 2015.
Womack and Westerman said the bill will meet needs and provide a strong defense.
“Regardless of the gridlock in Washington and our countless disagreements, there is one commitment that both sides of the aisle must come together to uphold – our commitment to our men and women in uniform,” Womack said. “That is why, on the passage of the fifty-fourth consecutive National Defense Authorization Act, I applaud Chairman Thornberry for his leadership and join my colleagues in sending the Senate a bill that provides for our military in a way that is both fiscally responsible and mindful of the growing threats across the globe. From ISIL to Boko Haram, our enemies are becoming bolder and more numerous, but defending our nation and defeating terrorist threats is one place where politics should not – and cannot – interfere.”
“My vote today for the National Defense Authorization Act was a vote to protect America from those who may seek to harm this great nation. It was also a vote in support of our veterans, streamlining medical treatment from their time in service to our nation to their life outside of the military. For far too long, veterans have had to pay out of pocket for prescriptions subscribed during their time in the military since the V.A. did not always cover the same medications. Passage of this bill eliminates the discrepancies in care for those in the military and veterans of the service while continuing to secure the nation,” Westerman said.
The House also approved an amendment from Hill involving a plan to do a business case analysis of an Air Force decision to keep 10 C-130J aircraft at Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi.
“The Little Rock Air Force Base is one of the most technologically advanced and well-run military installations in the entire country and, in my view, is clearly a center of excellence for our global airlift operations. Prior to their decision to maintain the aircraft at Keesler, Air Force officials highlighted the importance of LRAFB and the cost savings and efficiencies that would be realized by relocating the ten C-130J aircraft to Little Rock. Our military is facing severe budget limitations, and Congress must ensure that we are effectively utilizing hardworking taxpayer dollars for our national defense priorities. In conducting this business case analysis, the Department of Defense will be assuring the American people that it is committed to its national defense goals of having the most efficient and effective military in the world,” Hill said.
HIGHWAY FUNDING DEADLINE APPROACHES
With about two weeks before a deadline to approve a highway funding bill, officials are working to provide a short-term fix for funding issues. Westerman and Crawford spoke this week about the bill, which funds highway transportation projects around the country.
“Mr. Speaker, with this being National Infrastructure Week, I want to call attention to the crisis facing the Federal Highway Trust Fund. In my home state of Arkansas, the Highway and Transportation Department canceled several projects due to the depletion of the trust fund. It is vital that we find a solution to this crisis that finances the Trust Fund for the long term and keeps our roads and highways safe for travel and commerce,” Westerman said. “That is why next week, I plan to file legislation to plug the $15 billion deficit in the trust fund without raising taxes. It will be common sense legislation that Members on both sides of the aisle should get behind in order to fund our critical infrastructure construction and maintenance and to avoid these crisis deadlines in the future.”
Crawford, who serves on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said Thursday that lawmakers are working on the issue.
“As of now, a long term reauthorization before the deadline is not likely, so the most probable option is a short term patch that’s going to allow (House) Ways and Means additional time to secure funding for a full authorization later this year,” Crawford said.
BROADBAND DEBATE CONTINUES
The discussion over affordable broadband in rural America will likely be decided by “football season”, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission told a Senate subcommittee this week.
U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., who chairs the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee, questioned Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler about the status of the agency’s year-end timeline to provide affordable broadband to rural America.
“Connectivity such as broadband is the vital infrastructure for the modern age. Citizens living in rural Arkansas deserve access to reasonably priced broadband. This is an important economic tool and that’s why the FCC needs to update its rules that fail to keep this service at an affordable cost,” Boozman said.
Boozman said this week that the data on broadband, especially in Arkansas, shows the need for work.
“High speed Internet is a luxury for most Arkansans. According to the FCC, 84 percent of rural Arkansas lacks access to broadband, which is more than 30 percentage points higher than the national average. TechNet’s 2012 State Broadband Index ranked Arkansas 50th for broadband utilization.”
Wheeler told Boozman that reforms would be implemented to the Universal Service Fund “by football season.”