Arkansas' U.S. Senate candidates debate infrastructure, PPP loans
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 reached the floor, while his opponent, Democrat Natalie James, faulted him for voting against it.
The two along with Libertarian Kenneth Cates discussed that issue and others in a debate Friday (Oct. 21) 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, Arkansas’ percentages would include nearly $3.6 billion for federal-aid highway apportioned programs and $278 million for bridge replacement 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 in the Senate Committee on Environment Works. 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 that comment after James said Boozman had voted against the bill without providing another solution. Cates said the bill didn’t focus on infrastructure and said the federal government’s many unused buildings show it can’t be trusted.
Regarding agriculture policy, Boozman said he is the ranking Republican on the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry and hopes to be the chair next year if Republicans retake the Senate. He said agriculture is the primary economic driver in parts of the state and that safety nets will be needed in the next farm bill for farmers to get loans.
James said farm subsidies should be available for everyone and that they shouldn’t be competitive. Cates said he doesn’t support subsidies and the federal government should deregulate the agriculture industry.
Sparks flew at the end of the debate when a question was asked about higher education. Boozman said President Biden’s executive order forgiving student loans for millions of Americans was unfair to people who had paid off their loans, and that it was wrong for a family earning $250,000 to receive loan forgiveness when a family making much less isn’t having its debts paid off.
James, on the other hand, said she supports forgiving student loans. She then tried to draw a contrast with what she said were forgiven Paycheck Protection Program COVID-19 loans made to an eye clinic Boozman opened many years ago with his brother.
Boozman replied that he had not been affiliated with the clinic for two decades and hasn’t received any PPP loans.
In the debate and in the press conference, James acknowledged Boozman personally hadn’t received any loans.
Boozman said military spending should not be cut in a dangerous world that includes the war in Ukraine, China’s flexing its muscles against Taiwan, and other hotspots like Iran and Israel. James said administrative roles in the military should be cut, and pay should be increased to enlisted personnel. Cates asked how much money being spent on Ukraine is being wasted and said defense contractors and lobbyists instead of the legislative branch are setting the stage for wars.
Asked about marijuana policy, Boozman said those in federal prison for simple possession should be released and their records expunged unless they committed another crime. James called for decriminalization at the state and federal levels. Cates said the war on drugs is a failure, and that opioids should be treated as a medical condition.
Boozman said he opposes abortions except in cases of 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 health care and an international human right, and that federal funding is needed. Cates said he is “pro-life 100%.”
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 today’s immigrants more accurately would be called “refugees” who are seeking asylum. Cates said the country needs secure borders and immigration reform such as work visas.