U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., Said he didn’t vote for the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act because Democrats added $300 billion in spending before it hit the floor , while his opponent, Democrat Natalie James, criticized him for having voted against it.
The two along with libertarian Kenneth Cates discussed this question and others during a Friday, Oct. 21 debate sponsored by Arkansas PBS.
The $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act was signed into law by President Biden in 2021. According to a White House fact sheet released last year, the percentages of the Arkansas would include nearly $3.6 billion for federal highway relief programs and $278 million for bridge replacements. and repairs over five years. The state could also receive $246 million over five years for public transportation, $528 million to improve water infrastructure, and at least $100 million for broadband coverage.
Boozman said he voted in committee for a version of part of the infrastructure bill that passed 19-0 by the Senate Environmental Labor Committee. But he voted against it in the full Senate because of what he said was $300 billion in non-infrastructure spending added by Democrats. The bill passed 69-30 in the Senate.
He made the comment after James said Boozman voted against the bill without offering any other solution. Cates said the bill did not focus on infrastructure and said the federal government’s many unused buildings showed it could not be trusted.
On farm policy, Boozman said he’s the top Republican on the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee and hopes to be its chairman next year if Republicans regain the Senate. He said agriculture is the main economic driver in some parts of the state and safety nets will be needed in the next farm bill for farmers to get loans.
James said farm subsidies should be available to everyone and should not be competitive. Cates said he does not support subsidies and that the federal government should deregulate the agricultural industry.
Sparks flew at the end of the debate when a question was asked about higher education. Boozman said President Biden’s executive order canceling student loans for millions of Americans was unfair to people who had repaid their loans, and it was wrong for a family earning $250,000 to receive a $250,000 forgiveness. loan while a family earning much less does not have its debts paid.
James, on the other hand, said she supports student loan forgiveness. She then tried to draw a contrast to what she said was forgiven from the Paycheck Protection Program COVID-19 loans to an eye clinic Boozman started many years ago with his brother.
Boozman replied that he had not been affiliated with the clinic for two decades and had not received any PPP loans.
During the debate and the press conference, James acknowledged that Boozman had not personally received any loans.
Boozman said military spending should not be cut in a dangerous world that includes war in Ukraine, China flexing its muscles against Taiwan and other hot spots like Iran and Israel. James said administrative roles in the military should be reduced and pay should be increased for enlisted personnel. Cates asked how much money was being spent on Ukraine and said defense contractors and lobbyists instead of the legislature were setting the stage for wars.
Asked about marijuana policy, Boozman said those incarcerated in federal prison for simple possession should be released and their records expunged unless they commit another crime. James called for decriminalization at the state and federal levels. Cates said the war on drugs was a failure and that opioids should be treated as a medical condition.
Boozman said he opposes abortions except for rape, incest and to protect the life of the mother. He said he opposes federal funding of abortions, including by the military. James said abortion is an international health care and human right, and federal funding is needed. Cates said he was “100% pro-life”.
Boozman called for a secure border and said the current immigration situation is a humanitarian and national security crisis. James said the United States is a nation of immigrants. She said that today’s immigrants would more accurately be called “refugees” seeking asylum. Cates said the country needed secure borders and immigration reform such as work visas.