After a nearly three-week long recess, members of the state’s House delegation returned to the nation’s capital this week to deal with a host of issues. The delegation also paid tribute to a longtime fixture in Arkansas politics.
The following is the recap of the week that was in the nation’s capital:
DELEGATION HONORS SEN. BUMPERS
There was bipartisan praise this past week on the career of former U.S. Sen. Dale Bumpers, D-Ark., who died at the age of 90 after an illness. U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., said Bumpers, who also served as governor, provided inspiration for the state.
“Dale Bumpers was a larger than life figure in Arkansas politics who was highly respected in Washington D.C. and here at home. His sincere dedication to the state of Arkansas was paired with exceptional oratory skills and a relentless commitment to every challenge he took on,” Boozman said. “Senator Bumpers leaves behind a legacy of public service, civic responsibility and accomplishments that has undoubtedly made our state a better place to live. I join with all Arkansans as we mourn his passing and keep his family and loved ones in our thoughts and prayers.”
Other members of the delegation also paid tribute.
“My thoughts and prayers are with the family of Sen. Bumpers. He was a statesman who served Arkansas with distinction. His legacy is one of dedication to this state we all love,” said U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs.
“The passing of a legendary political figure is sad, but I will always remember him as one of our country’s great orators. His ability to communicate his message with passion and conviction was unmatched in our state. We are grateful for his service to Arkansas and our nation,” said U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers.
EXECUTIVE ORDER ON GUNS DRAWS DEBATE
An announcement Tuesday by President Barack Obama on an executive order dealing with guns drew the ire of the state’s congressional delegation, with the President pressing his case on the issue.
During a speech at the White House, Obama said he was taking the action to deal with increases in gun violence. The President also blamed Congress for a lack of action on the issue.
“Too many communities across the country are still suffering from the heartbreaking consequences of a gun in the wrong hands. In the past decade, more than 100,000 people have died as a result of gun violence. Many of these crimes were committed by people who never should have been able to purchase a gun in the first place,” Obama said in a statement. “Sympathy is not enough to stop gun violence. Congress has repeatedly failed to take action, blocking commonsense reforms supported by the vast majority of the American people – including gun owners themselves.”
However, the state’s Congressional delegation placed the blame on the issue at the President’s feet.
“We need to take guns out of the hands of criminals; however, the President’s executive overreach infringing upon our Second Amendment rights would do nothing to prevent violence perpetrated by criminals and only make it more difficult for law-abiding citizens to obtain firearms to protect themselves and their loved ones. It is the lack of access to mental healthcare that has resulted in many of the mass shootings, and while I was encouraged by the President’s acknowledgment of this in today’s speech, his decision to subvert congressional authority in hopes of achieving a political victory against gun rights is unconstitutional,” Rep. French Hill, R-Little Rock, said. “The American people and their Congress will not let this action stand.”
The executive order will seek to overhaul the background check system for gun purchases, hire at least 200 new ATF agents to enforce gun laws and $500 million to help with mental health care in the nation.
OBAMA VETOES REPEAL OF OBAMACARE
The House voted Wednesday to repeal parts of the Affordable Care Act by a 240-181 margin. Under the bill, which also passed the Senate on Dec. 3, health exchange subsidies and the Medicaid expansion would be repealed as well as the individual and employer mandate penalties and taxes on medical devices.
The bill, which would also repeal federal funding for Planned Parenthood, drew support from the state’s delegation.
“For the first time, Congress has placed a repeal of the most onerous parts of Obamacare and an elimination of federal funding for Planned Parenthood on President Obama’s desk, forcing him to make a tough choice: Respect the will of the American people or protect his namesake law and Planned Parenthood. Unfortunately, his decision will be disappointingly predictable,” said U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers.
On Friday, President Obama vetoed the bill.
“Republicans in the Congress have attempted to repeal or undermine the Affordable Care Act over 50 times. Rather than refighting old political battles by once again voting to repeal basic protections that provide security for the middle class, Members of Congress should be working together to grow the economy, strengthen middle-class families, and create new jobs. Because of the harm this bill would cause to the health and financial security of millions of Americans, it has earned my veto,” Obama said in a veto message to Congress.
‘MORE THE MERRIER’ SAYS OUTGOING SENATOR
An attempt to find waste in government often draws the attention of the press and taxpayers alike. A U.S. Senator who is leaving office this year said the work is difficult but has drawn support from his colleagues.
U.S. Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., told Roll Call this week that his “Waste of the Week” has found nearly $130 billion in government spending that he says is being wasted. The programs include a National Institutes of Health study that looked at exercise recovery by allowing rabbits to get massages, to the IRS allowing 3 million taxpayers to claim a wrong education tax credit, Roll Call reported.
Coats is one of several lawmakers, including U.S. Rep. French Hill, R-Little Rock, to work on the issue in recent months.
“The more the merrier,” Coats told Roll Call. “I want as many senators as possible coming down there.”
Coats said the political climate has made work on the issue difficult.
“There’s a lot of frustration here on the part of Republicans in particular because it’s been really, really hard to deal with this president in ways that matter,” Coats said. He later added, “I’m at the point age-wise where I’ve decided it’s time to pass the baton to people who have several terms in front of them, and have the energy and the excitement and the engagement that is necessary to carry it on.”
CLASS ACTION BILL PASSES U.S. HOUSE
A bill that will seek to reform how class action lawsuits are handled in federal court was approved Friday in the House. The House voted 211-188 to approve HR1927, which now heads to the Senate.
According to the Congressional Research Service, the bill would amend the federal judicial code to prohibit federal courts from certifying any proposed class seeking monetary relief for personal injury or economic loss unless the party seeking to maintain such a class action affirmatively demonstrates that each proposed class member suffered an injury of the same type and scope as the injury of the named class representatives.
Also, the court’s certification of such a class “must include a determination, based on a rigorous analysis of the evidence presented, that the requirements of this Act have been satisfied.” U.S. Reps. Crawford, Hill, Womack and Westerman voted yes on the bill.