By Naomi Klouda
Sen. Lisa Murkowski illustrates America’s mounting debt by telling school kids and adults to picture each and every one of them owing $50,000.
“You have that much in your pocket?” she asks.
It’s difficult to bend one’s mind around $14 trillion dollars, she told Homer audiences during her visit 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 April 4.
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 said.
Yet, it is 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.
“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,” she said.
The amendment on contraception funding for women that caused an uproar recently was attached to a Department of Transportation funding bill, Murkowski pointed out. That was the not the place to hinge contraception legislation, she said. “It shows the political agenda” posited where it doesn’t belong, she said.
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, post offices, and 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,” she said.
On the KBBI/KDLL Wednesday morning Coffee Table program, Murkowski spoke passionately about the toll the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have taken 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 theater — away from the European one — where an eye needs to be kept on North Korea, China and other developments.
“The cost reductions in the military need to be focused in moving military some 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 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 entire 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,” she said.
As Murkowski thinks about Alaska while in Washington, D.C., she admires Homer’s movement to grow local agriculture and economic stability through niche markets like peony farmers on the Kenai Peninsula, she said.
“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.”