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Alaska's senior Senator, Lisa Murkowski made a stop in Homer on Wednesday.
Senator Murkowski started her day in the community by spending an hour in the morning on KBBI’s Coffee Table program, then swinging over to the Seldovia Village Tribe’s Health Center to tour the new Wellness Center that recently opened.
After her tour, Senator Murkowski made her way to the Best Western Inn to the Homer Chamber of Commerce luncheon where Murkowski gave the audience assembled there a congressional update, she spoke on Alaskan, as well as national issues.
The Senator spoke and answered questions for about 45 minutes at the luncheon. She touched base on a few local issues as well as state-wide ones such as the halibut regulations that are currently in place.
Murkowski stressed “the necessity of understanding the declining growth rates as well as a refinement of management program that will maintain a sustainable halibut fisheries.” She pointed out that the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council was actively reviewing halibut by-catch levels in the Gulf Groundfish fisheries, while the National Marine Fisheries Service was drafting regulations to implement council recommendations to restructure the groundfish observer program.
With that Senator Murkowski moved on to issues of national consequence. She related to the poeple gathered at the Best Western how that many times she asks students when discussing the deficit in spending in Washington, “Do you have $48,000 in your pocket?” and that her question is met with quizzical looks. But, she explains that that amount is what would need to be paid by each and every individual regardless of age to bring the United States out of its current deficit.
She spoke of how spending on Medicare and other mandatory programs were squeezing out discretionary spending, saying, “Long term sustainability of Medicare and other mandatory spending programs are projected to comsume 58% of all Federal spending by the year 2021” She added, “2021 is not too many years away.”
She spoke of Federal spending and the impact on Alaska, by saying, “The sobering reality is that where we are as a nation, we are going to see the impact of that as a state that is really reliant traditionally on federal spending, and not because we have legislators and Senators that have sharper elbows than most,” She continued,”Alaska has over 60% of our lands that are federally owned. We have, per capita, more veterans in the state of Alaska than anywhere else in the nation. We have our Alaska Native population recieving IHS dollars, and we have our military installations, because of that, we get dollars from DOD. So rightfully, we claim a fair amount of federal dollars. But, I think as a consequence of that, we will also feel perhaps more acutely, the pain that will come when these cuts come to all of us.”
The Senator brought to light the election year atmosphere of Washington to the people of Homer, and how it has gotten in the way of responsible governing of the country. She told of the conversation that she had on KBBI earlier in the morning, she said, “There was discussion this morning on KBBI about the vote on contraception that was an amendment on a transportation highway re-authorization bill, it was not designed to bring out the debate and pros or cons on contraception , but because it was going to force a vote on an issue and put people on one side or another.”
She said that in Washington it was all about winning, “I don’t think most of you care about the winning, what you care about is the governing. What I think you care about are policies that are made whether it’s a national energy policy that is going to work to make sure that we are reducing our emmisions so we are good environmental stewards, while at the same time powering our country in a good and responsible way.”
“I think you want to know that we are making policy decisions that are actually going to reduce your health care costs and increase your access to healthcare. It doesn’t make a bit of difference to you whether or not we have positioned ourselves so that we’re taking a vote so that I can say in my campaign or I can say against my opponent that you oppose healthcare or you support health care.”
“I wish that I could tell you the collective wisdom in your governing bodies right now was that we are in here to govern, but right now, its about elections, and I say that with a lot of frustration.” She went on to say, “Right now I am not convinced we are making headway… it is important for you to understand that on the political scene right now I don’t think that your congress is doing you any favors. I have to include myself in that because I am one of them, and it is my responsibility to try to change this dynamic to try to make sure that we are governing …and not just taking votes on the wedge issue of the day.”
The topic moved to the National Healthcare law being decided in the Supreme Court. “We won’t learn until June if the Court decides that this Individual Mandate is unconstitutional, and if it is thrown out that doesn’t mean that we in the congress are done. That means that we really need to kick it into high gear , that means we really need to be advancing those measures that will work to reduce our healthcare costs,” Senator Murkowski continued, ” I think some of the things we need to do right away is to make sure that the popular things that everybody agreed on in that bill are re-instated. If you have got a pre-existing condition, you should not be shut out by insurance companies. If you have a child under 26 years old they ought to be able to continue on your policy. But, there is so much more that we have to do, I think we need to have meaningful torte reform as part of healthcare reform.”
Conserning healthcare in the state of Alaska, Murkowski said, “I think particularly in a state like Alaska where our population is limited, I think you need to be able to enter into pooling agreements to reduce the costs I think you need to be able to purchase across state lines.”
Senator Murkowski pointed out to the audience that she had introduced legislation to insure that the type of Judicial misconduct that took place in Ted Stevens trial did not take place again. She said of DOJ, “The Department of Justice should have been there for justice and unfortunately, they were not.” She noted the consequences of his trial, “Because of this ill gotten verdict not only did Ted Stevens lose the election, it tipped the balance of power in the United States Senate, and this is not an inconsequential thing.”
In response to a question on the Arctic Council, Lisa commented briefly on the subject, saying, “I have served on the Arctic Parliamentarian Council since I came to the senate and it is a role that I really like because it allows for a level of engagement with the other arctic nations.” She added, We need to make sure that the area is one not of conflict for resource but but an area of cooperation.”
“We have to get the committment to having those assets that will allow us to assume the role as an Arctic Leader. Right now we are down and out when it comes to our Ice Breaking capacity. The Polar Seas is going to be decommissioned, and the polar Star will not be back out in the water until 2014.” Continuing, she stated, “The Healy has done a phenomenal job, we saw her efforts this winter bringing the ‘Renda’ into Nome. But the reality is that we don’t have a Polar Class Icebreaker.We’ve got money in the budget, $8 million, but what does $8 million buy? I told the legislature, ‘That doesn’t even buy you a porthole.”