In a relaxed atmosphere before a business-friendly crowd at the State Chamber of Commerce, Sen. John Boozman, R-Arkansas, shared his views Thursday afternoon on a wide-range of topics from the Iranian nuclear deal to free-trade with Cuba.
The senior Arkansas Republican senator was the lone guest of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce in downtown Little Rock where he free-wheeled on several topics, and then took questions from the overflow audience on a variety of political and business issues – many in the news and some not.
After being introduced by Chamber President Randy Zook, Boozman spent his first several minutes criticizing President Obama’s historic nuclear pact with Iran that was negotiated by Secretary of State John Kerry earlier this summer.
Since the agreement was inked on July 14, it has been under a 60-day review. Boozman said he was frustrated that Congress does not have the ability to amend or alter the accord, and admitted that the two-thirds majority needed to overcome a veto means the deal will likely end up being signed by the president.
Still, Boozman said the deal is bad for America’s future and does not meet the criteria of the president’s original goals of dismantling Iran’s nuclear program and keeping the Middle East country from acquiring nuclear weapons.
“The Iranian (deal) is really about our children and grandchildren not facing the threat of nuclear war,” Boozman said. “We shouldn’t be doing business with people that we don’t trust. (Iran) has lied and cheated in every deal they have been involved.”
After making his point, Boozman quickly switched subjects to the over burdensome government regulations that he said thwarts job creation and economic development. In the past, he said, government agencies were set up to help American citizens, but now they “play gotcha” to control businesses and keep them from growing and prospering.
In particular, he targeted the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Air Act as being overly intrusive for U.S. commerce. Although he didn’t mention any specific regulations or program by name, the EPA has proposed or finalized rules in the past year on a number of mandates to lower the levels of ozone, carbon emissions and regional haze.
Boozman said he believes those “dirty air” regulations will have the effect of shifting manufacturing jobs overseas, as companies decide that the price of doing business in Arkansas and other U.S. states because of EPA rules is too punitive to remain on American soil.
“What does that do to the single moms and people on fixed incomes?” Boozman asked. “We will lose jobs as a result of these rules and those manufacturing jobs will go overseas.”
The Arkansas senator also mentioned the Dodd-Frank Act, saying the reform legislation for the financial and investment industry has put community and local banks on the same level as the “too-big-to-fail” banking conglomerates.
“This is not real capitalism. It puts businesses in a situation where they can’t take risk. We need rules, but we also need common sense.”
After touching on several other subjects, including immigration, tax reform and Razorback football, Boozman spent at least a half-hour taking questions from constituents and supporters in the audience.
Grilled on what were the two most pressing issues Congress needs to resolve by the end of 2015, the Arkansas lawmaker said passing the Highway Bill and completing the budgeting process were at the top of his list.
On the Highway Bill, Boozman said a deal could be completed by year’s end if Congress is able to find a way to pay for it. “I really think there is a good prospect of getting this done,” he said. “But the longer you wait on this stuff, the more expensive it gets.”
Later, in an answer to a similar question on how Congress can pay for expense legislation that will cost a half trillion dollars, Boozman mentioned a repatriation plan that would reward U.S. companies for coming back to the U.S., and another strategy to open up new federal lands to allow oil companies access to new drilling opportunities. Both proposals, he said, would create new tax revenue streams to pay for six-year, $478 billion legislation to repair the nation’s highway infrastructure.
Careful not to call either of these new proposals “taxes,” Boozman said there is a desperate need for reforming the nation’s tax code but was resigned to the fact that the two parties may not be able to come to an agreement. “The problem is that we are so far apart on what we need do for tax reform, and that really makes it difficult.”
Boozman later answered a variety of questions on the nation’s immigration policy, criticizing President Obama for not taking the lead on the divisive issue. He told one questioner that any immigration policy must include legislation to secure the nation’s borders, the creation of a strong visa program, and an end to “birthright citizenships” established by the 14th amendment.
The Rogers native also told one questioner that he was strongly in favor of normalized relations with Cuba, joking that he has been to the Guantanamo prison in the Caribbean country but not to the main island. He added that it was time to end decades of a failed policy to isolate the Communist country.
“The way you can change the world is through personal relationships,” the senator said. “It is really moving in the right direction. We trade with a lot of (countries) worse than Cuba.”
Also, during the free-flowing, chamber-sponsored get-together that lasted for well over an hour, Boozman was asked several questions about the presidential race, and in particular the Republican primary. Zook asked the Arkansas lawmaker to handicap the Republican side of the race to the White House, and another questioner asked him what he thought about Donald Trump’s entry into the crowded field.
Choosing his words carefully, Boozman said wryly that Trump has energized the presidential race with his “enthusiasm and rhetoric.”
Although he refused to say who he thought would be the eventual Republican nominee, Boozman said that the party needs someone who could bring together a wide range of voters under the party’s tent. He offered that Republican candidates John McCain and Mitt Romney were not able to effectively reach out to young and new voters to bring new energy into the party.
“We need a candidate that can span the generation gap,” he said. “They (McCain and Romney) were not able to relate to people as good as we would have liked.”