By Sen. Lisa Murkowski
Despite the seriousness of our nation’s challenges in what we’re facing, I think it’s fair to say that Americans have witnessed an atmosphere of perhaps unprecedented dysfunction and partisanship in Congress that has compromised our ability to govern.
The list of accomplishments out of the Senate this past year is a relatively short one. It seems we went from impasse to crisis, to kicking the can down the road — and then we would just start that cycle all over again. We have simply been unable to muster the comprehensive solutions that this country demands.
And this is a brutally honest assessment, I think you would agree. We’ve had some partial victories at the federal level but really given the enormous challenges we face, this process and progress is inadequate. And that’s why I would like to use this occasion today to renew our partnership. The discussions that need to take place in overcoming what I consider the biggest obstacles to growing Alaska’s economy.
Now, we all know that federal spending and resource development drive the lion’s share of our state’s economy – they employ a huge share of our workforce. And our reality is that both are threatened as perhaps never before. We’ve seen years of deficit spending that have generated unprecedented debt that jeopardizes the ability of our federal government to meet even its basic obligations.
And meanwhile, years of denial, basically saying no, overreach by the very same government have limited access to many of our best opportunities whether it be for oil, for mineral, for timber production – the very things, my friends, that can help reduce our dependency on federal funds.
So let’s talk about the budget situation first; fact of the matter is, it is likely to get worse before it gets better.
We are just one week shy of sequestration, so folks all over the state are asking me the question: what is this going to mean for us here in Alaska? And, unfortunately, there is very little certainty about a very chaotic process that is facing us.
But, I think at least in the short-term, sequestration is likely to be our new reality because what we’re seeing, the plans that were put forward by the House Republicans, the plan that Senate Democrats have presented, these are supported by those majorities but not necessarily by the other chamber.
Now it is important to note that sequestration will shield some of the programs that are important to our State – like medicaid, social security, our veterans’ benefits, and a few others, but things like decisions within the Department of Interior, the Coast Guard which we’ve been talking about, these are perhaps not going to fare as well.
And, because of lack of information from the Administration about sequestration, we really don’t know what it may mean for so many of the programs. Whether it be Head Start, whether it is Indian Health Service, the BLM offices. So there is so much uncertainty at this point and time.
I asked for – and the Appropriations Committee held – a hearing last week on the impacts of sequestration. We had three cabinet members and someone from OMB, there to hopefully detail to us what is it we might expect. And during that hearing, the Administration’s witnesses, the Secretaries, couldn’t even agree that these across-the-board cuts should be replaced with more targeted and certainly less painful cuts.
And, I worry. I worry that the administration has perhaps come to view this as an opportunity to make perhaps the most visible cuts and not the least painful. We should not be messing with people’s lives for political gain. It’s as simple as that.
What is certain about what we’re facing now is that spending reductions are unavoidable. And the choice for us really now, is how we make them. Can we do better than the “meat cleaver” approach that sequestrator represents? And the answer to that is absolutely, we can do better.
But there is not enough discretionary spending that can be cut, there are not enough revenues that can be raised that can affect a $16.4 trillion debt without real economic damage being incurred.
And we cannot permanently increase taxes to secure a temporary 10-month delay to achieve sequestration targets that are intended over a 10-year timeframe. That’s one of the proposals that’s in front of us. So, I’m continuing, we’re going to work on this to push for a balanced plan. There has to be some balance to this, and that comes through targeted spending reductions.
We must have an overhaul of our tax code, we must do that, as well as changes in mandatory spending – and these are not just concepts floating out there, the revised Simpson-Bowles plan came out earlier this week kind of updating and refreshing a proposal. It’s tough medicine, but is it necessary for what we are facing? I absolutely believe so.
Now, I’m going to work to help Alaska to the greatest extent that we possibly can. We can make a case, a solid case for federal funding – all you need to do is look at our state’s demographics, look at the people you represent, that we work for.
We have the highest veteran population per capita in the country, our significant Native population that looks to federal dollars through IHS, obviously the strong presence of our active military throughout the state. We have the third highest federal employee population per capita, again in the entire nation here in Alaska – the third highest federal employee population.
And, this is due so much in part to the fact that federal ownership of over 60 percent of our state’s land. So again, when you look to the case, the reason why we receive so much in federal funds, it’s not because we have sharper elbows, it’s because of our demographics, because of our constituency.
But whether through sequestration or through the regular budget process, we need to be prepared for a reduction in federal dollars. We need to prioritize our requests for funding. And, we need to look carefully at what the State can handle on its own. And, we must jointly oppose the cuts that would have the most severe impact on Alaskans.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, has served in the U.S. Senate nine years. Printed here is an excerpt of her State of the State Address Feb. 21 before the Alaska Legislature.
Comments are closed