U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski was in Ketchikan earlier this month. She spoke at a special Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce luncheon last Friday, discussing issues such as healthcare, energy, and natural resource development.
Murkowski was born in Ketchikan and was in the First City attending a family funeral. She said the morning of the chamber lunch, she informally asked people what issues were being talked about locally. She says most concerns were about the state budget, a topic she said she was not going to address.
“Because they’ve got enough on their plate and they don’t need me weighing in and putting the finger on the scale and saying, ‘I think that you should do this, it’s a great idea.’ They’ve got a lot to work through as a state. We’ve got a lot to work through (in Congress).”
Murkowski says the Alaska delegation works to provide an element of certainty at the federal level. She says one area of unpredictability is the federal budget.
“And if you don’t have an appropriations process, it makes it kind of tough to know what is going to come forward with your funding for everything from transportation projects to whether or not your Forest Service is going to receive a decent budget or whether they’re basically on auto pilot with a continuing resolution.
She says the appropriations process didn’t get started until about two weeks ago, and committees are working to get budgets set before the current fiscal year ends on September 30th. Murkowski says she does not want to see a government shutdown. She says constituents have suggested lawmakers not get paid if there is a shutdown, but she says many have already made their money and aren’t worried about a paycheck. She offered her own solution.
“If there’s a government shutdown, nobody goes home. Have you ever been told, ‘You’re going to your room and you’re going to stay there until you work something out.’? This is what I call the ‘Go to Your Room’ bill. Because if you can’t go home – and a lot of these people go home every, single Thursday night – if you can’t go home, maybe we’re going to get the job done more quickly.”
Murkowski says Congress has been fighting over health care insurance requirements, but says the focus on the Health, Education and Labor Pensions Committee has changed, this year, from insurance to lowering the cost of health care.
“Because if you lower the cost of the product, just quite possibly, maybe, the cost to cover it will go down. Seems sensible.”
She says the proposed legislation won’t correct all problems, but provides some fixes, including pricing of prescription drugs and transparency in billing.
Murkowski has been chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee for the past five years. She says the lands package that passed last month is the most significant piece of legislation to come out of the current Congress. It contains 124 bills focusing on land, water and conservation.
“That really helps to address issues of access and truly opportunity to lands, water and power as well.”
Murkowski says work needs to be done on an energy bill. Focus areas are energy storage, and mineral security. She says the United States in vulnerable to mineral security because rare earth elements are imported from other countries, and are needed for cell phones, computers and other devices. Murkowski says these minerals are also needed for alternative energy production.
“Right now you don’t have a solar panel if you don’t have the critical minerals. You can’t coat the blades of those turbines unless you’ve got these critical minerals.”
Murkowski says Alaska is rich with minerals, but lacks access. She says the state should not have been part of the Roadless Rule legislation, and timber and mineral resources should be accessible and part of the economy. Murkowski says the Alaska delegation, governor and other Alaskan policy makers are pushing for a state-specific plan or a full-exemption from the Roadless Rule as one of the preferred alternatives.
The Clinton-era Roadless Rule prohibits road building and other activity on certain areas of the National Forest.
Murkowski spoke about the impacts of U.S. and Chinese tariffs on the timber and fisheries industries. She says there’s an understanding of the effects on ground agriculture, such as soy bean farming, but not an understanding of the impact to fisheries.
“They’ve forgotten that here, in a coastal state like Alaska, that our fisheries – we’re like the ‘farmers of the sea. But we’re not included in that category. So when our markets are hurt, as they are right now, there are subsidies for the guys that grow things on the ground, but it’s a harder fight on the water.”
Murkowski says she does not think government subsidies are the answer. She says opportunities to harvest fish and trees, and engage in a full and fair market should be supported.
At the beginning of the luncheon, Murkowski was given an award by Anna Powell of the United States Chamber of Commerce. The Spirit of Enterprise Award is given to the member of Congress who best understands the important role that businesses play in creating jobs and growing community. Powell says Murkowski was given an 89 percent pro-business rating, citing legislation addressing the opioid crisis, providing regulatory relief for small banks, protecting First Amendment rights, and assisting Native American communities.