Sen. Murkowski eNewsletter 09/26/2008

Murkowski Comments on Financial Stabilization Efforts

As I write this enewsletter, Congress and the Bush administration are in negotiations over a financial stabilization plan aimed at restoring confidence in our nation’s economy. In recent days, I have heard from many Alaskans, and share their concern, regarding the Treasury’s proposal to stabilize financial markets by allowing banks and other financial institutions to ask the federal government to purchase distressed mortgages and mortgage-related securities. In general, I do not believe taxpayers should be called upon to rescue financial institutions that made risky business decisions that resulted in financial loss. The financial crisis that we face today, however, is unprecedented and has profound implications for the broader economy.

With confidence in our financial system shaken, the ability for people to get credit for larger purchases such as student loans, small business expansion or buying a car may be significantly constrained. This inability to get credit puts an almost unbearable strain on the economy. Uncertainty and the understandable fear of how we will resolve this issue is undermining confidence in our markets and choking off the credit needed to jumpstart our economy.

Congress recognizes the substantial need to instill confidence in the market place and to do so quickly. But quick action cannot preclude thoughtful legislative consideration. Congress has a fiduciary responsibility to the American taxpayer – we must rebuild the credibility of our financial institutions through strong oversight and accountability.

As Congress considers the Treasury’s proposal, I am particularly focused on provisions that would include additional congressional oversight, potential changes to bankruptcy laws as they apply to mortgages and very importantly, requiring program participants to curb executive compensation packages. I wholeheartedly believe that failure should not be rewarded, particularly with taxpayer dollars. At the end, I believe the greatest protection we can provide the American taxpayer is stabilization of our financial systems.

Tax Relief for Exxon Valdez Victims and Secure Rural Schools Funding

The Senate earlier this week approved my legislation that would give plaintiffs in the Exxon Valdez oil spill case the ability to increase retirement contributions and provide tax relief through income averaging. My proposal was part of a major tax package that also includes a provision that would extend the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act, which provides federal assistance to communities and schools adjacent to national forests. Although the tax breaks for the Exxon Valdez plaintiffs are well deserved, and the Secure Rural Schools funding would be a shot in the arm for communities and schools adjacent to the Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska, the legislation has run into opposition in the House of Representatives. My office is in contact with Senate and House tax writers who are meeting to try to work out an agreement. I will keep you posted on the outcome of these two very important initiatives for Alaska.

Anchorage Rated Great Community for Young People

Anchorage has been recognized by America’s Promise Alliance, a children’s advocacy group formed by Gen. Colin Powell, as one of the 100 best communities nationwide for young people for the third year in a row.

This award is in recognition of the work done by Anchorage’s Promise to uphold the Five Promises for Anchorage’s children (Caring Adults, Safe Places, A Healthy Start, Effective Education and Opportunities to Help Others).  Earlier this week, I was pleased to be able to greet Debbie Bogart, the Executive Director of Anchorage’s Promise, her daughter Makenzi, Dick Wells, the Volunteer Chairman of Anchorage’s Promise, and his son, Richard, the Vice President of America’s Promise Alliance.

Congress clears expansion of Americans With Disabilities Act

I am very pleased that Congress has passed legislation to clarify and expand the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  I am proud to have worked in a bipartisan manner with Senators Hatch, Harkin, Kennedy, Enzi and others to develop this legislation and to be an original co-sponsor of it.  The ADA Amendments Act will restore the ADA to Congress’s original intent.  In 1999, a series of U.S. Supreme Court cases limited who could be considered disabled under the ADA.  As a result, people with conditions such as epilepsy, artificial limbs, and others were no longer afforded protection from discrimination.  The legislation will clarify for the courts that any condition that limits a major life activity—regardless of whether or not it is treatable—is a disability covered by the ADA.  The legislation also clarifies that a disability includes conditions that limit bodily functions such as that of the immune system, circulatory system, or brain.  The business community, disability advocates, and civil rights organizations support this legislation.  The Senate voted unanimously to pass this legislation on September 11th.  The House of Representatives subsequently passed the bill on September 17th.  The President is expected to sign the bill into law.

August travel in Alaska

I realize that we are now officially into Fall, but I spent a large part of August traveling throughout state and wanted to share a few photos and thoughts on my activities during the summer.

The Alaska Sudan Medical Project

I attended an event at Governor Wally and Ermalee Hickel’s house that highlighted the efforts of the Alaska Sudan Medical Project (hyperlink to alaskasudan.org).  The project is a grassroots effort made up of a small group of Alaskan volunteers who are committed to helping Dr. Jill Seaman of Bethel provide care to the people of Sudan.

For the last 19 years Jill has given medical help to the Nuer people in the southern Sudan. They are mainly semi-nomadic cattle herders and are plagued with disease and famine. With financial help and logistical support from Crosscurrents International Institute and from her friends from Alaska and around the world, Jill set up shop in Old Fangak three years ago where she provides the only medical help for a population of thousands. Jill splits her time between Sudan and Bethel where for six months out of the year she can be found providing health care to the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta Yup'ik residents.

A Visit to Providence Cancer Center

I visited the Providence Cancer Center and Susan Butcher Family Center.  Alaskans are blessed to have this state-of-the art facility available to them in times of great need.  Families can benefit from the services available at the Susan Butcher Family Center.  The center offers children, teens and families support for coping and healing from a cancer diagnosis.  The center is named in honor of legendary musher and great Alaskan, Susan Butcher.

Kenai River Jr. Classic

My favorite part of the Kenai River Jr. Classic is hearing all the wonderful fish stories!  Over 150 young people from the Boys and Girls Clubs, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Young Marines, and children of deployed service members came together in August for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fish with a guide on the Kenai River.  It’s one of my favorite events and I look forward to it every year!

Ketchikan General Hospital

I toured Ketchikan General Hospital and was photographed with members of the environmental staff,  who are the  unsung heroes of KGH. (L to R) Prima Kintana, Zeny Machado, Marissa Zabala, Aida Cabillo and Rose Rangel.  A U.S. Department of Health and Human Services survey recently rated KGH the top performer in the state in the patient satisfaction catetory, and the hospital was in the top 10 percent in that same category among 2,500 hospitals nationwide.

Arctic Conference of Parliamentarians

I hosted the eighth Conference of Arctic Parliamentarians at the University of Alaska Fairbanks in early August, bringing together elected representatives from the eight Arctic nations as well as members of the European Parliament, indigenous peoples’s and international organizations. Topics of discussion included human health in the Arctic, adaptation to climate change and development of rural energy resources. While the Arctic is coming to the forefront more and more with increasing news coverage of climate change, it’s not something that most Americans know much about.  I consider it one of my duties as your representative in the United States Senate to educate other Senators and the public about the Arctic and to push our government for a comprehensive Arctic policy.

Morris Thompson Blessing and Dedication

I was honored to address those gathered for the Dedication and Blessing of the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center in Fairbanks. With the beautiful blue skies above, it felt like Morris was looking down on us and smiling.

Military Appreciation Day

I visited with the staff of Ft. Wainwright’s Army Community Service at the Military Appreciation Day and was impressed with the many quality services available to assist our soldiers and their families.