WASHINGTON — With the 112th Congress about to conclude, the Arkansas delegation is looking forward to 2013 and a new start at tackling the major issues facing the nation.
Here is what Arkansas lawmakers say they plan to tackle in the coming year.
Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., said there is a lot of work left over from the 112th Congress that will be taken up again including the farm bill, energy policy and postal reform.
He plans to focus his attention on “jobs and the economy” with an emphasis on providing help for small businesses. He will serve again on the Senate Appropriations and Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation committees.
“We have a ton of small businesses in Arkansas that are the bread and butter of our economy,” he said.
Pryor would like to see a tax credit established for investors in small businesses that are looking to expand.
The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee — which Pryor also will serve on — plans to have more oversight of government bureaucracy.
“We want to make sure government is run smoother and does better at stretching dollars,” Pryor said.
Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., said the farm bill would be a top priority for him.
“That will consume a lot of what we do to make sure that appropriate safety nets are in place for everyone,” he said.
The Senate approved a farm bill in 2012 but the House did not. Arkansas rice growers were unhappy with commodity protections in the Senate version.
Boozman expects to serve again on the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee as well as the commerce committee.
Aside from the farm bill, Boozman said he hopes to help Arkansas farmers expand their exports. Several recently approved trade agreements offer new markets for them.
“Arkansas has tremendous potential that is largely unused at this point,” he said.
Rep.-Elect Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle, will serve on the House Financial Services Committee where he plans to focus on Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.
Reforms to the government-sponsored enterprises are needed to help re-energize the nation’s housing market, he said.
“The housing collapse is partly the reason why the timber and forestry industry in Arkansas has been hit so hard,” Cotton said.
He also expects the committee will keep a sharp eye on regulations stemming from the Dodd-Frank bill that may be particularly onerous to small community banks.
“Compliance costs are significant but the ones that feel it the most are the small banks like the ones we have in Arkansas,” Cotton said.
Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, sees comprehensive tax reform and entitlement reform as the top issue facing Congress in the next year.
“Those are the two big issues that have to happen on a national basis if we are going to save this country,” he said.
Womack, a member of the Appropriations Committee, said that balancing the budget requires more than cuts in discretionary spending. Entitlement programs have to be modified and the tax code simplified to expand the economy.
Aside from those sweeping issues, Womack will continue to push his “e-fairness” legislation requiring online retailers to collect sales tax.
“It is just a matter of time before something has to be done or else Main Street retailers will be dinosaurs,” he said.
Most people do not pay the state user tax owed on purchases they make over the Internet — giving online retailers a competitive advantage over brick-and-mortar retailers required to collect sales tax on similar purchases.
“It’s patently wrong to have a system like that,” Womack said.
Womack also plans to continue seeking funds for construction of I-49 and for the cleanup of a shuttered nuclear power plant at the University of Arkansas.
Rep. Tim Griffin, R-Little Rock, is shifting to the House Ways and Means Committee where he plans to dive into tax reform as well as Medicare reform.
“We need a tax code with less complexity. Something that is simpler and easier to complete, and one that is less burdensome on job creators and families,” he said.
Griffin said that changes are needed within the Medicare program to ensure its future survival. It is now on an unsustainable path, he said.
Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, will also focus on farm and rural policies as a member of the House Agriculture Committee.
The committee, he said, has resolved most of the issues that have kept a farm bill from reaching the House floor — although there is still concern about spending on food stamps.
Crawford is hopeful that the Senate will soften its position on price supports and allow for more flexibility in protecting particular crops like rice.
“We want to try and get a farm bill done as soon as we can,” he said.
Crawford also said he will continue his push for permanent spending controls — through either a balanced budget amendment or other mechanism — to prevent future Congresses from running up the national debt.
“We have to change the way Washington is doing business,” Crawford said.