Wednesday May 5, 2010
A Visit of Olympic Proportion
Sen. Murkowski and Sen. Begich with Alaska's Olympic and Paralympic Athletes. Back row, from left: Holly Brooks, James Southam, Sen. Murkowski, Sen. Begich, Callan Chythlook-Sifsof and Kikkan Randall. Front row, from left: Joseph Tompkins and Kerry Weiland.
Recently, Sen. Begich and I welcomed Alaska's Olympic and Paralympic athletes to Washington. Alaska's Olympians were in town as part of a Team USA visit to the White House where they were welcomed by the President and First Lady. I immensely enjoyed my visit with all the athletes and hearing their stories from the Vancouver games as they represented both Alaska and the nation. Kerry Weiland brought along her silver medal that she earned as part of the U.S. Women's Hockey Team - truly ‘heavy metal.'
If you'd like to see more photos of the Olympians' visit, please visit my photo album.
Murkowski Comments on Gulf Oil Disaster
Watch Senator Murkowski's comments on the Gulf Oil Disaster.
Coming from a state that has experienced its own environmental catastrophe - the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill - I understand the urgency of responding quickly to the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, of which I am the ranking Republican member, will be holding a hearing next week on the Deepwater Horizon disaster. There will be plenty of time in the days and weeks ahead to assign blame, but right now the major focus should be on how we contain the devastation from this spill. I spoke on this issue this week at a Senate Leadership news conference. If you'd like to see what I had to say, the image above will take you to a clip of my comments.
Elmendorf Wins Commander-in-Chief's Award for Installation Excellence
I send my congratulations to the men and women at Elmendorf Air Force Base who have earned the Commander-in-Chief's award for installation excellence. Established by the President in 1984, the Commander-in-Chief's award recognizes the efforts made to enhance base services, facilities, operations and quality of life.
This year has truly been a banner year for the men and women at Elmendorf because in addition to the Commander-in-Chief's award, the installation has also won the Collier Trophy, Raytheon Trophy and the Maintenance Excellence Award. Earning awards of this caliber is a great accomplishment that demonstrates the unmatched dedication and professionalism of the men and women at Elmendorf who proudly serve our nation.
Murkowski Talks Coal-to-Liquid and Outside Labor with Defense Department Officials
At a recent hearing of the Senate Appropriations Military Construction Subcommittee, I questioned Assistant Secretary of the Air Force Terry Yonkers about the potential for a coal-to-liquids plant at Eielson Air Force Base. Placing a coal-to-liquid plant at Eielson would utilize the vast amount of coal reserves in interior Alaska and provide the Air Force an alternative source of jet fuel. Secretary Yonkers responded that the Air Force is conducting studies on the potential of a coal-to-liquid plant.
Watch Sen. Murkowski question Air Force official Terry Yonkers on a possible coal-to-liquid plant at Eielson.
During the hearing, I also reiterated my continued concern about the use of out-of-state construction contractors and construction workers imported from the Lower 48 to work on building privatized housing at Fort Wainwright under the Army's Residential Communities Initiatives program. I was told in the hearing that currently, between 75 and 85 percent of the privatized housing construction projects in Alaska have gone to small, local businesses. However, the problem is that some of the businesses claiming to be local only hold an Alaska contractor's license. They may be headquartered in the Lower 48 and hire workers from outside Alaska.
I plan to keep pressing this issue because I find it hard to believe that importing a construction contractor and workforce to construct houses on Fort Wainwright is an efficient use of resources. The people of Interior Alaska support our military like no other, and I believe that the military is obligated to return the favor by ensuring that construction work on Alaska's military bases goes to Alaskans.
Watch video of Sen. Murkowski asking about the use of out-of-state contractors on Alaska's military bases.
The State Takes Action on Health Care Reform
Recently, the State of Alaska announced it would join 19 other states in a lawsuit against the federal government over the new health care law. The lawsuit challenges the legal requirement for everyone to purchase health insurance and the Medicaid mandate on states.
I remain opposed to the individual mandate that will require Alaskans to purchase health insurance or otherwise face a stiff penalty - ultimately 2.5 percent of one's taxable income. I continue to seek ways to repeal the most egregious parts of the health care law - the tax hikes, Medicare cuts and increased premiums - and replace them with proposals that will rein in the spiraling costs of health care, such as junk lawsuit reforms and allowing insurers to sell across state lines. However, because the President is likely to veto any Congressional efforts to repeal the health care plan, I am highly encouraged that Alaska has chosen to join the other states in challenging the constitutionality of this law.
Working to Care for Alaska's Veterans in Alaska - Not in the Lower 48
Secretary for Veterans Affairs (VA) Eric Shinseki recently appeared before the Senate Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Subcommittee. At that hearing, I took the opportunity to ask him why the VA sends so many of Alaska's veterans to the Lower 48 for medical care when many of the services our veterans need could be purchased from providers in Alaska.
Click to watch Sen. Murkowski ask Secretary Shinseki about keeping Alaska's veterans in Alaska for treatment.
I explained to the Secretary that on top of the costs, sending patients down to the Lower 48 for care also add to the stress of being separated from family during an already difficult time. This is not the kind of care that our veterans deserve.
Also at that hearing, Robert Petzel, VA Undersecretary for the Veterans Health Administration, said that he knew of 685 Alaska veterans who were forced to travel to the Lower 48, usually Seattle, for medical treatments.
Secretary Shinseki told me that the VA would look very closely at why veterans are sent on a 2,000-mile journey when there is quality, safe health care available locally. I look forward to working with the Secretary on this issue.
Taking Action to Reform Wall Street
The Democrats' financial regulatory reform bill is now before the Senate for debate. While I strongly support bipartisan financial regulatory reform legislation, last week, I joined all Republicans and Sen. Ben Nelson in voting against moving to the bill to keep Senate negotiators working on a bipartisan solution to reform our financial sector. This is complex and complicated and it is critical to get this right, and not ram through a bad bill simply for the sake of passing something.
Over the last recess I spent a good deal of time meeting with and listening to stakeholders in Alaska's financial services community. What I heard time and again - from Alaska's credit unions, community bankers, housing finance agency, and even our car dealers - is that this bill, in its current form, has far reaching impacts that go way beyond Wall Street. This bill affects the extension of credit in the United States, meaning it will affect every American who takes out a home or car loan and every small business looking for financing or start-up capital.
All Alaskans agree that we must rein in Wall Street. We must end the bailouts and eliminate the "too big to fail" strategy that helped to bring the financial chaos. But there is deep concern among our small financial institutions that this legislation overreaches. I want to ensure that we do not pass legislation that will make it harder for Alaskans to access credit and capital needed to create jobs.
We will be working hard over these next couple of weeks to craft amendments that address the root of the financial problems while limiting the unintended consequences that could harm our community banks and credit unions.
Alaska's WASPs Featured on the May Edition of The Alaska Report
Watch Sen. Murkowski discuss the Congressional Gold Medal with Juneau WASP veteran Ellen Campbell on the May edition of the Alaska Report.
On the May edition of the Alaska Report, I am joined by Ellen Campbell of Juneau. Ellen served as a member of the Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASPs, in World War II. The WASP were instrumental in leading the way for future generations of female pilots in the military. For their service as pilots in World War II, the WASPs have been awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor Congress can bestow upon an individual. Along with Ellen, Alaska also is home to two other WASP veterans - Nancy Baker and Virginia Wood, both of Fairbanks. Ellen was in Washington to receive her medal and joined me on the Alaska Report following that event.
Congratulations to all our WASP veterans for their much-deserved recognition.
Murkowski Wins Award for Best Web site in Senate
Recently, I was happy to accept the ‘Platinum Mouse Award' from the Congressional Management Foundation (CMF) for having the best Senate Member Web site in Congress.
While winning awards is nice, I keep in mind a very important fact about this award: My website exists to serve you. I know how long and how expensive a trip to Washington can be, and since many Alaskans cannot make that journey, my website is the best resource to communicate with me. This is why I place such a high priority on maintaining a comprehensive and updated website for you. My aim is to make it easy for all Alaskans to get the information they need with the simple click of a mouse.
So if you have any suggestions or comments, I'd love to hear them. Just shoot me an email, and I'm happy to consider any great ideas you may have for keeping my website number one in the Senate.
Click here to visit the CMF website to read more about their work and what went into evaluating all 620 congressional websites.
Award Winning Alaskans
Sen. Murkowski meets, from left, with Vienna Schmitter-Schrier and Esther Smith Alaska's 2010 Spirit of Community Award Winners
And while I am talking about winning awards, I want to recognize two outstanding Alaskan students who have been recognized with the Prudential Spirit of Community Award for their volunteer work -- Esther Smith of Eagle River and Vienna Schmitter-Schrier of Soldotna. The Prudential Spirit of Community Award was created to encourage youth volunteerism and to reward young role models for their hard work. In recognition of their work, both Esther and Vienna received $1,000 and were treated to a visit to Washington, D.C., to receive their recognition awards from Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Esther, a senior at Chugiak High, has spent her summers for the past four years working in impoverished foreign countries teaching children English while assisting with food programs, caring for orphans and helping with development projects. One summer, Esther traveled to Zambia where she worked with AIDS orphans, distributed food, helped construct water cisterns and gave away more than 500 pairs of shoes that she had collected from generous Alaskans.
Vienna is an eighth-grader at Kenai Middle School. She has helped raise more than $5,000 to start a scholarship fund so that poor children in El Salvador can continue going to school beyond the sixth grade. While on a family trip to El Salvador, Vienna met many children who could not afford the bus fare, school supplies and uniforms that are required for students to enter the seventh grade. When she returned from her trip, Vienna decided to help those students continue their schooling.
I also want to congratulate Miranda Rizzo of Kenai and Kyle Horne of Anchorage who were both named Distinguished Finalists for this award as well. Congratulations to all of these Alaskans for answering the call of service to those around the world. To learn more about these Alaskans and their projects, visit the Prudential Spirit of Community Award Website.
Alaskans Visiting Washington
Sen. Murkowski recently met with Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan who was visiting Washington.
Sen. Murkowski met with Craig Walker, Assistant Principal of West Anchorage High School. Craig has been recognized as the Alaska Assistant Principal of the Year by the Alaska Association of Secondary School Principals for his professionalism, innovation, integrity and leadership. It was a pleasure to meet and congratulate Craig for this recognition.
Sen. Murkowski and the 8th grade students from the Anvil City Science Academy in Nome.
Sen. Murkowski visits with students from the Star of the North School in North Pole who were in Washington, D.C., recently.
See more photos of Sen. Murkowski's travel and work in Washington on her new Flickr photostream.