By Ramsey Cox - 05/07/12 09:00 AM EDT
In a time when most would say compassionate conservatism is dead, Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.) isn’t waving the white flag just yet.
Although he opposed President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, he has found areas to work on a bipartisan basis with Senate Democratic colleagues and thinks there are some aspects of government worth investing in.
Boozman teamed up with Sens. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) on the TAP Modernization Act, which will help veterans and their spouses take advantage of benefits to get them back into the workforce after service.
“My dad did 20 years in the Air Force, so I’m very sensitive to veterans’ needs,” Boozman said. “I understand that the benefits that they have are earned benefits and so the Transition Assistance Program is just an effort to really give them the information that they need as they transition from the military back into the private world and make it so they have all the tools they need for a successful transition.
“We’re all working here on both sides of the aisle, Republicans and Democrats, to make sure that the people who need to get taken care of in the VA system really are being taken care of.”
Boozman’s prior experience as an optometrist has come in handy in the Senate. He has cosigned a letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan with Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) on braille literacy for the blind
The letter was sent last week with 23 other cosigners.
Many students with disabilities set up an individualized education program, but case managers in schools don’t always encourage braille despite the fact that it may be the best option for some students.
“I understand this very well because I helped a school for the blind in Little Rock and helped them set up their program,” Boozman said. “Right now you have a situation where school districts are really taking care of everybody. Occasionally they have a population that is visually impaired.
“You might be legally blind and that means you couldn’t see a letter at 20 feet — you may not need a cane but you’re still considered legally blind,” said Boozman. “You might hold things a little closer and be able to see fine. But it might be that your vision is so bad that you have to magnify things so much to read that you’re not proficient in reading.
“If you just see a letter at a time, well in order to read a book, that doesn’t really work, so you can be very proficient in braille and this is an effort for us to really help the schools establish some guidelines as to the direction kids need to go.”
Another area of bipartisanship in the Senate was the Agriculture Committee’s approval of the farm bill before the latest recess. Although Boozman didn’t support the measure in the end, he expects Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to allow a floor vote quickly and looks forward to proposing amendments to help southern farmers.
“Agriculture really is one of the few bright spots that we have in the economy,” Boozman said. “We’re in a situation now where we’ve gotten ourselves dependent on foreign oil, foreign energy supplies and the last thing we want to do is get ourselves in a situation where we’re dependent on foreign agriculture. We’re probably the cheapest nation in the world as far as percentage of paycheck going to our food.
“We talk a lot about protecting the middle class — the people that we want to give opportunities to, those that are struggling — but if you mess around and put in place some policy where food prices increase dramatically, what does that do to single moms, what does that do for people on fixed incomes? Those are the people who really get hurt,” he said.
Boozman also thinks the U.S. Postal Service is something worthy of federal investment. He was one of 13 Senate Republicans to vote for the 21st Century Postal Service Act in a rare show of Senate bipartisanship last month.
“I recognize the fact that I have a lot of rural post offices that don’t necessarily pay for themselves but as a nation we offer some services that don’t pay for themselves,” Boozman said. “I have seniors that are dependent on their medicines and the outside world through the post office.”
After first serving 10 years in the House, Boozman said he’s “enjoying himself” in the Senate but one of his frustrations with the transition has been the slow pace and gridlock there. He prefers to “roll up [his] sleeves and get things done.”
“I think that this is a huge election year and so there is a tendency to want to protect people from tough votes and these are difficult votes,” Boozman said. “You have to do what you think is best for your constituents and what’s best for America but that’s what you’re paid to be up here to do — to take those votes.”