Senator Murkowski E-Newsletter for the Week of December 23 ,2014
Happy Holidays, everyone! As we head into the last 2 weeks of the year, I hope that you take time to reflect on your blessings; do what you can for those less fortunate; and keep our brave men and women in uniform (and their families) in your thoughts. It’s because of their service to protect us at home and abroad that we can worry less and enjoy more. From my family to yours, Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year!
Here is the last legislative update from 2014 on what’s been going on in Washington, D.C. as we ended the 113th Congress.
Funding the Federal Government
In the final days of the session, the House and the Senate passed a budget to fund federal government operations through September of next year. (With the exception of the Department of Homeland Security, which we funded through March.) This is not the bill that I would have written, but it is a carefully crafted bipartisan compromise.
On the plus side, many Alaskan priorities are contained in the final bill. Click here to learn the benefits to our state including funding for rural infrastructure, military operations, nutrition, Arctic matters, and energy projects.
National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)
The NDAA, which has passed every year for 52 straight years, authorizes and establishes our military’s priorities and operations. This critical legislation not only provides for our national defense spending, it address reforms to combat sexual assault in the military and also has Alaska specific provisions including support for the ground based missile defense at Fort Greely and the F-35s at Eielson Air Force Base.
After months of negotiations and years of effort, I was also able to attach a package of public lands bills to the NDAA—a balanced, revenue-neutral, bicameral, and bipartisan package that will create thousands of American jobs, help streamline permitting for energy production, and boost American mineral production. The package also includes important land transfer provisions for communities throughout Alaska, including the settlement of land claims for Sealaska and conveyances of land for community development in Anchorage, Wainwright, and Nome.
Protecting Alaska's Fishermen from EPA Overreach
Last week I was able to help broker a bipartisan agreement to block a costly and unnecessary EPA rule that would regulate the simple act of washing off your small commercial fishing boat. This onerous regulation is a perfect example of how one-size-fits-all regulation makes no sense. I worked with Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), John Thune (R-SD) and David Vitter (R-LA) to shield fishermen from these regulations for the next three years. I will continue to work for a permanent fix in the 114th congress.
Just before we finalized the three year moratorium, I went down to the Senate floor to explain the problem to my colleagues.
(Click image to watch video.)
White House Overreach on Immigration
Recently President Obama announced that he would use unprecedented unilateral executive action to reform our immigration system.
I support thoughtful and comprehensive bipartisan reform of the current broken immigration system. This is why I voted for an immigration reform bill in June 2013 that had been vetted and debated in the U.S. Senate, and I stand ready to do so again in the next Congress.
However, what I cannot support are immigration changes in the form of a unilateral executive action – something President Obama himself called unlawful twenty-two separate times.
Since the President made this announcement, I have heard from many of you who agree that this type of unilateral action is exactly the sort of executive overreach that Alaskans have consistently rejected. Congress will have the chance to “check and balance” the President when we review the Department of Homeland Security’s budget in early 2015.
As an Arctic Nation, the United States needs to demonstrate leadership in the north. A good way to devise a plan of action is to talk with others in the region about their efforts.
That’s why I was happy to welcome Einar Kristinn Gudfinnsson, the Speaker of the Icelandic Parliament, to discuss the United States’ role in the Arctic, Iceland’s ties with Alaska, U.S.-Iceland relations, and potential areas of cooperation.
When I was in Reykjavik for the Arctic Circle Assembly last month, I was very impressed by the high level of importance that Iceland places on Arctic matters and wanted to discuss some ideas about how to prioritize the Arctic in the United States. As I push to increase the awareness of Arctic issues in the U.S., I look tow a country like Iceland as a great example of a nation that has embraced their Arctic identity.
Fighting for Veterans on the Homefront
Last month on Veterans Day, Alaskans honored our men and women in uniform and those who have served, but it is what we do the other 364 days of the year that demonstrate our commitment, gratitude, and support for their sacrifices.
That’s why I was proud to co-sponsor two pieces of legislation that aim to help our veterans.
The Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention Bill of 2014 is a bipartisan bill that provides several measures to improve mental health care and suicide prevention resources to our military. It is simply unacceptable that an estimated 22 veterans commit suicide every day, and it’s my aim with this legislation to bolster our efforts in the home front war against depression – a difficult enemy to face when returning from military hostilities around the world.
Another unacceptable reality is the number of veterans in our state that are homeless. While some programs exist in the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Veterans Affairs to help our veterans find a place to live, veterans in Alaska are sometimes unaware these programs are available. So, I recently co-sponsored bipartisan legislation to make these federal funds available through tribal housing authorities as well. It’s a small but important fix to make sure that these existing resources are available to our Native veterans to help them get a roof over their heads.
Though these bills did not pass the Senate in the final weeks of the 113th Congress, these issues will remain a priority for me when we get back to work next month.
Howard Rock and Ted Stevens Smokehouse Gala
Recently on a weekend trip back home, I was able to attend the Howard Rock and Ted Stevens Smokehouse Gala in Anchorage, named for these two great champions for Alaska Native rights.
The event celebrates and recognizes the contributions of Alaska Natives and those that continue to advance and build strong relationships for Alaska’s future.
Jewish Cultural Gala
Last month, I attended the annual Jewish Cultural Gala in Anchorage and was humbled to be the Jewish Gala honoree and recipient of the Women of Valor and Tikkun Olam for my work on behalf of the state of Alaska as well as the people of Israel.
I cherish my friendship and bond with the Alaska Jewish community!
Air Force Graduation Ceremony
Three members of my staff were recently recognized at an Air Force Ceremony on Capitol Hill. Major Matthew Altman graduated from the U.S. Air Force Legislative Fellows Program after a year of service in my D.C. office. He heads to the Pentagon next, and he will be greatly missed around the office.
Jason Huffnagle (of Homer) and Mari Freitag (from Ketchikan) also graduated from the Congressional Staff Air Command and Staff College, a challenging program that provides intermediate-level professional military education to Congressional staff members. I congratulate them both, and I can’t wait to see where the future takes them!
(Congratulations to Jason Huffnagle, Major Matthew Altman, and Mari Freitag!)
Earlier this month I made a few Alaskan-style contributions to the U.S. Marine Corps' gift drive, Toys for Tots. What a generous effort is made each holiday season to bring a smile to children all over the country.
Freezing for a Reason
Shortly after I landed in Anchorage to be home for the holidays, I took the plunge into the icy waters of Goose Lake with my family. It was 19 degrees outside and felt even colder in the water, but it was well worth it--- to support Special Olympics Alaska and all that they do for so many around the state.
(My husband Verne and our sons Nic and Matt pre-plunge!)
(My friend Joe is largely responsible for my plunge this year.)
(My husband and I post-plunge.)
Happy Holidays, Alaska!
(Now that Alaska has turned into a winter wonderland, I hope you are able to celebrate the season with your loved ones. Merry Christmas! Click to watch my video.)