Senator Murkowski - eNewsletter 07-17-09

Murkowski Cannot Support Health Care Reform as Currently Drafted

Following a vote in the Senate HELP Committee, Sen. Murkowski spoke at a news conference about her concerns with the proposed Democrat health care bill.

For the past several weeks, the Senate Heath, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee has been debating and amending the proposed Democrat health care reform bill, which the panel approved last week. I believe our health care system must improve, but any reform legislation must meet several objectives -- reduce costs while providing affordable, comprehensive medical coverage that ensures continuous access to nurses, doctors and medical health services, and not interfere with the ability of individuals to continue choosing the health care provider of their choice. Unfortunately, the bill that passed the HELP Committee fails to meet these goals.

There is much to criticize in this bill, but perhaps the biggest flaw is the staggering cost, which has ranged from $600 billion to well over $1 trillion, leaving as many as 34 million people without coverage. Incredibly, advocates of a government-run public plan that would compete with private insurers are proposing cutting Medicare and taxing small businesses to pay for the bill.

The legislation actually creates a disincentive for any business to expand beyond 25 employees. For example, a small business in Alaska with 50 employees would face a minimum of $19,500 per year in new taxes if an owner doesn’t provide health insurance for all employees. As the national unemployment rate nears 10 percent, and with the national debt topping $1 trillion this year for the first time ever, clearly this is the last thing we should be doing to the small business community, which creates seven out of every 10 new jobs in America. In Alaska, 96 percent of the state's employers are small businesses. We need to be helping our small businesses rather than burdening them with additional federal taxes that will prevent new workers from being hired.

As the debate surrounding reform continues, I will keep fighting for legislation that improves health care for all Americans and addresses my concerns about costs and access without burdening small businesses or seniors.

Murkowski Introduces Proposal to Address Alaska Priorities in No Child Left Behind Reauthorization

I recently introduced legislation designed to amend the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) in order to address specific problems that Alaska educators, parents and students have shared with me as their largest challenges in complying with the Act. While I believe that NCLB has brought many beneficial changes to our schools since 2001, the law has presented some special challenges for Alaska schools.

NCLB was passed in 2001 to amend the decades-old Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which provides the bulk of federal funding to our nation’s schools. NCLB requires schools to be accountable for bringing all students to academic proficiency.

Highlights of my legislation include allowing school districts to meet NCLB’s ‘Highly Qualified Teacher’ requirement by providing distance instruction by videoconference, the internet or other means.  Currently, teachers must have a major or a minor or pass a test for each core academic subject they teach.  This presents substantial challenges for rural teachers and districts as many teachers in rural areas must teach multiple subjects.

My legislation also would require the U.S. Department of Education to allow states to determine schools’ success based on individual students’ advancement in proficiency. This would give credit to schools, rather than punish them, if students are improving but have not yet fully reached the state’s proficiency goals.

The legislation would also increase tutoring options for students not meeting proficiency standards, relieve sanctions on schools with students with disabilities who are improving, provide flexibility for Native language immersion programs and encourage parental involvement. I hope to incorporate these changes into the overall reauthorization of the NCLB Act.

The News-Miner recently editorialized on my bill and you can read it here. Additionally, APRN covered my legislation and you can listen to it here.

Murkowski Participates in Hearing on Alaska Native Corporations

Sen. Murkowski defended the work being done by Alaska's Native corporations at a hearing last week.

Last week, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), chairman of the Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight, held a hearing on contracting preferences for Alaska Native Corporations under the Native American 8(a) program. Sen. McCaskill’s subcommittee collected data from the top 19 Native corporations on contract awards, corporate structures and revenues, executive and board compensation, shareholders employment, dividends, and other benefits provided to shareholders.

While neither Sen. Begich nor I are members of the subcommittee, we were invited to participate in the hearing and defend the Native American 8(a) program. Under the program, Alaska Native corporations are able to receive sole source federal contracts and create multiple subsidiaries to participate in the program. I believe that the Indian 8(a) preferences are achieving important economic development objectives and are well worth preserving. Our Native people live in some of the poorest, most geographically and economically isolated places in the country. I reminded the subcommittee that these contracting preferences have helped our Native people maintain their unique cultures and identities and survive in the modern world.

The hearing room was full of Alaskans, as representatives of the Native corporations attended the hearing in force. The subcommittee heard testimony from several Alaskan witnesses, including Ms. Sarah Lukin, Executive Director of the Native American Contractors Association, Ms. Jacqueline Johnson Pata, Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians, and Ms. Julie Kitka, President of the Alaska Federation of Natives.

Native American contracting represents roughly 1 percent of the federal contracting pie. As legislative changes are proposed to this program, I remain committed to preserving the intent and integrity of the Native American contracting program.

Murkowski Secures Funding for Several Key Alaska Projects

The Senate is well into the Appropriations process for Fiscal Year 2010, which begins October 1. So far, two of the 12 annual appropriations bills have passed the full Senate while three bills have cleared subcommittees. As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I wanted to share with you some of the highlights of projects for Alaska:

Homeland Security Subcommittee – At my suggestion, the panel included $32.5 million to enhance United States’ polar icebreaker capability. The icebreaker funding would go to finish the reactivation of the Polar Star, which is coming out of caretaker status, and directs the Coast Guard to begin survey and design and conduct a business case analysis for either a new heavy polar icebreaker class vessel or major service life extension for existing heavy icebreakers. This bill has been passed by the full Senate and now goes to a Senate-House conference committee to resolve differences between the two bills.  I have been appointed as a member to that conference and look forward to fighting for the unique needs of our state.

Interior and Environment Subcommittee – The panel included $15 million for the Village Safe Water infrastructure program and $15.2 million to continue work on the replacement of the Samuel Simmonds Memorial Hospital in Barrow. This bill now awaits consideration by the full Senate.

Commerce, Justice and Science Subcommittee – There was $80 million included for the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund to initiate thousands of salmon restoration and conservation projects. Also included was $900,000 to continue the Department of Public Safety's efforts to provide law enforcement officers, including Village Public Safety Officers and Village Police Officers, with basic and advanced training and emergency response and search and rescue equipment. This bill now awaits consideration by the full Senate.

Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee – This bill includes $13.3 million for Eielson Air Force Base -- $9.9 million for the completion of Arctic Utilidors and $3.4 million to light a critical taxiway. Currently, this taxiway must close after dark and during low visibility conditions. This bill is awaiting action by the full Senate Appropriations Committee.

Energy and Water Development Subcommittee – The panel included $11.96 million for the Denali Commission’s energy program. Also included is a $2 million request for structural and non-structural coastal erosion prevention programs in Alaska. This bill awaits consideration by the full Senate.

For more information on Appropriations for Fiscal Year 2010, you can visit my website here. 

New Social Security Office to Open in Anchorage

Along with Sen. Begich and Congressman Young, I welcome the news that the Social Security Administration (SSA) is expected to open a full Hearings and Appeals office in Anchorage in 2010. With this new office, Alaskans will see in-person expedited claims adjudication in Anchorage as well as in Fairbanks, Ketchikan and Juneau. This means our Alaskan cases will no longer be held up in the Seattle backlog, which will considerably shorten the time it takes for a hearing. Currently, the SSA sends judges to Alaska several times a year to hold hearings in various communities but due to transportation challenges and inclement weather, many hearings are delayed or rescheduled resulting in further costs and delays for Alaskans. These delays are especially costly and burdensome to all Alaskans who live in outlying rural areas that are inaccessible by road. Opening this office will reduce the expense and inefficiencies of flying judges from the Lower 48, and will be a vital asset to all Alaskans. In the meantime, should you or someone you know need assistance with the SSA, please feel free to contact my office.

Around Alaska

Sen. Murkowski visits with North Slope Borough Mayor Edward Itta while attending the Naluqatak festival.

On my recent trips back home, I was able to participate in a number of events around the state and I thought I would share some of my photos with you.

I recently attended a Naluqatak festival in Barrow. Naluqatak is a community celebration hosted by successful whaling crews. It is a time for both celebration and thanksgiving for the successful hunt.   Throughout the day, whaling crews distributed traditional subsistence foods to the community and the festival ended with a blanket toss and native dancing.  This was a wonderful day and I was grateful to the community for making me so welcome. I hope to make it back to a future celebration when my knee is fully healed -- then I'll be ready to try the blanket toss.


Sen. Murkowski listens as master skin-sewer Priscilla Sage shows a skin boat. The boat is a traditional umiaq made from bearded seal skins.

I visited with Ned Arey Sr., Whaling Captain of Arey Crew and Gordon Brower, Whaling Captain of Arnold Brower Crew.  Each crew was successful in landing a bowhead whale during the recent Spring hunt and together they were the hosts of the Naluqatak festival.

I was excited to meet and visit with Ned Arey Sr., Whaling Captain of Arey Crew and Gordon Brower, Whaling Captain of Arnold Brower Crew.  Each crew was successful in landing a bowhead whale during the recent Spring hunt and together they were the hosts of the Naluqatak festival.

In addition to visiting Barrow, I met with Members of the Alaska Health Assurance Advocacy Team (AHAAT) in Anchorage to update them on health care reform legislation making its way through the Senate. AHAAT is made up of various groups including the Mat-Su Health Foundation, the Alaska Center for Public Policy, the Alaska Lung Association and the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. The discussion with AHAAT members was very helpful as I returned to Washington to debate the health care reform legislation in committee.

While meeting with AHAAT, Sen. Murkowski shared ideas with (left) Shelley Hughes and Regan Mattingly of the Alaska Primary Care Association.

Sen. Murkowski also met with Evangelyn Dotomain of the Alaska Native Health Board while visiting with AHAAT.