• Congress needs to be pursuing answers to the toughest questions but instead focuses on election year
By Naomi Klouda
Sen. Lisa Murkowski illustrates America’s mounting debt by telling school agers and adults to picture each and everyone of them owing $50,000.
“You have that much in your pockets?” she asks.
It’s difficult to bend one’s mind around $14 trillion dollars, what that looks like, she told Homer audiences during her visit here last week.
“When you break a debt down, it’s pretty amazing. What’s happening in Congress – we’re talking some tough stuff,” Murkowski told those gathered for the Homer Chamber of Commerce meeting Wednesday during her Homer visit.
Energy costs feed into the cycle, as do the high cost of medical services. By 2021, 58 percent of all federal spending is mandated for covering Medicare and Medicaid, she said.
“Think about what that does to the discretionary side of the budget. I wish I could say don’t worry, we’re going to solve all the problems,” Murkowski told the standing room only audience.
Yet, it is also an election year. Members of Congress are grandstanding for political posture without pressing for real solutions, she said. “They are proposing legislation that has no chance of passage, but they are putting it out there for political purposes, with no intention for its passage,” Murkowski said. An amendment on contraception was put on a Department of Transportation bill. Murkowski voted against it, though she favors family planning. She pointed to this as an example.
“I think you want to know we’re lowering the costs and increasing the access to health care. But right now it is about elections. And I say that with a lot of frustrations. Right now I am not convinced we are making headway. I don’t think Congress is doing you any favors right now.”
Murkowski was leading up to a warning she brings to Alaska communities about inevitable cuts to come in federal spending. About one-third of all jobs in Alaska are tied to federal spending, with programs through the Indian Health Service, the military, the post offices, ocean, wildlife and parks agencies.
“We claim a fair amount of federal dollars and because of that, we will perhaps feel more acutely the results.”
On KBBI’s Wednesday morning Coffee Table, Murkowski spoke passionately about the toll the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are taking on everyone. Particularly revealing is that troops are being pushed to unbearable extents in multiple tours of duty. A sergeant who snapped, and killed innocent women and children in an Afghan compound a few weeks ago was one such indicator, she said.
While advocating for scaling back in military spending and decrying the “war worn” weariness of Americans and the troops, Murkowski has advocated against cuts at Fort Eielson in Fairbanks.
She reconciles this by saying the strategic defenses necessary for America are switching to the northern theatre, away from the European one, where eye needs to be kept on North Korea and China.
“The cost reductions in the military need to be focused in moving military money from individual installations but not from strategic positions,” Murkowski said. “Alaska and Hawaii hold the strategic position to allow us to be focused on all the hot spots.”
Given to the new mission, it makes no sense to weaken Alaska’s position to respond, she said.
The cuts that need to occur in health care costs should come from a menu of adjustments in an entirely new system’s model for costs. Murkowski said there’s no way to pay down the debt without true reform in this expensive portion of government spending. Even if the U.S. Supreme Court throws out part or all of the Affordable Health Care Act, “we in Congress are not done. We need to lower costs.”
As Murkowski thinks about Alaska places while in Washington DC, she admires Homer’s movement.
“There are towns that I visit that make me feel good because the communities are healthy, energetic, enterprising communities. You should be proud that Homer falls into that category.”she said. “The food sustainability with resources and basic technology with high tunnels and opportunities that have to do with feeding yourselves and your families. That is really good strong fundamental stuff.”
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