Eagle River: Remarks to the Eagle River Chamber of Commerce
*** As Prepared for Delivery ***
So we gather today in Eagle River on this first day of April to talk about Washington, D.C. and how it helps us achieve all of our aspirations as Alaskans.
Rest assured, we in Washington have everything under control. The economy is once again booming. Credit easy. Taxes low. TAPS will be full of oil for generations to come because we've finally opened ANWR. We're building three gas lines simultaneously - one through Canada, another to a new LNG terminal in Valdez, a third from the North Slope to Southcentral. All will be full of gas and all will be profitable. Our State's economy is no longer threatened by federally subsidized lawsuits by environmental groups. We are no longer part of the Ninth Circuit.
Oh, and by the way, my friends on the other side of the aisle have seen the light and agreed to a bipartisan consensus on a health care plan. A plan that increases access, improves quality and reduces cost without changing anyone's existing health care or raising taxes.
Summer's on the way, life is good, get outdoors and enjoy all that Alaska has to offer. Before concluding my remarks let me remind you, once again, you can sleep well. Your friends in Washington, DC are here to help you.
April Fools indeed. These are sobering times for our State and our Nation. Just last week, these two headlines appeared in the Daily News. The first, "Anchorage retail boom trails off after 15 years." The second, "Alaska's unemployment rate hits 8.5 percent in February." And January's edition of Alaska Economic Trends, reported "Alaska's 21-year streak of job growth ended in 2009. It was a good run." There was a time that we thought Alaska was immune to national economic challenges, but it appears those days are gone.
The message from every corner of America to Washington is clear. Fix the economy! That is the number one priority. So what do we do in Washington? Well we ignore the issue that Americans discuss most often around the dinner table. We are Washington, we are here to help, and we know what Chugiak and Eagle River need much better than you do. So when Americans say fix the economy, we spend a quarter of the year on health care reform.
As all of you know, Congress has been occupied, shall I say obsessed, with the question of health care reform since late last year. And I think you also know that we ran this bill down the fast track in spite of the reservations expressed by the American people - reservations both about the substance of the bill and reservations about the process.
But that's now in the rearview mirror. The American people gave one political party control of the White House, the House and the Senate and that party used its muscle to get their health care reform package - a package that was bipartisan only in the fact that a number of Democrats joined all of the Republicans in opposition to it. And sad to say, we really have not achieved health care reform.
Polls say that the American public wants bipartisan health care reform. A lot of good Republican ideas were left on the cutting room floor in the rush to pass "Obamacare". I think we owe it to the American people to pursue the reforms in the health care system that people really want.
In my judgment, reform must start with addressing the exploding costs of health care. In the 28 years since President Reagan was first elected, health care costs rose 900 percent from 253 billion dollars in 1980 to a staggering 2.3 trillion dollars in 2008.
The health care reform measure we've just passed offers no real incentive for health care providers to be reimbursed for the value of their services versus the volume of services.
And we still have not come to grips with how our new law will affect our economy. While Washington was busy debating whether this bill is government-run health care and it is appropriate that we did - there was little focus on the half a trillion dollars' in new taxes we just enacted into law.
I'm talking about tax increases that will hit small businesses especially hard, serving as a disincentive to expand and create new jobs. Medicare payroll taxes that jump nearly a full percentage point in some cases. A brand new tax of 3.8 percent on income from investments. New taxes at a time when our Nation is struggling to recover from a recession that nearly became a depression. That's not the way to drive an economic recovery.
And let me say a word about access to health care. In order to pay for the bill, which is supposed to increase access to health care, Congress has decided to cut Medicare reimbursement to physicians. As Alaskans know, it is hard enough to find a primary care physician who takes Medicare now. These rate cuts are not increasing access for our Elders who paid into Medicare for most of their working lives, only to find out that their Medicare card is a license to go to the back of the line.
I will be joining my colleagues in looking for ways to repeal and reform some of the most egregious parts of the law - the tax hikes, Medicare cuts and increased premiums - and replace them with proposals that will reign in the spiraling costs of health care, such as ending junk lawsuits and allowing the sale of insurance across state lines.
There are, however, reforms in this law that I strongly support, including removal of lifetime caps on insurance policies, a prohibition against denial of coverage based on pre-existing conditions and access to wellness and preventive care services. These are important provisions that should be a part of our health care system.
Now that the Democratic majority in Congress has got their beloved health care reform measure, you may be wondering, "What's next?" I'm wondering that too and I continue to hope that Congress will turn its attention to the state of the economy.
Since Congress passed the economic stimulus bill that wasn't in February 2009, 3.9 million private sector jobs have been lost. Fifty-five percent of Americans say that the economy remains broken, according to a Gallup Poll taken in early March. That breaks down into 31 percent of Americans who say that the number one problem in America is jobs, and another quarter who say it's the economy in general.
According to a recent Rasmussen study, 79 percent say they know someone who is out of work and looking for a job. And 45 percent say that it is no longer true that anyone who wants a job will surely find one.
Congress has passed bills extending the federal highway program and offering tax breaks to companies that hire worker - but there is more, much more that we should doing.
We need to get government out of the way and make it possible for the private sector to do its thing. Entrepreneurial investment has dropped 327 billion dollars, or 19 percent, since the recession started and it has yet to rebound. And when government borrows money to fund the increasing deficit, it makes it more difficult for businesses to borrow money to expand.
It is time that we get serious about restarting our economy, and I believe we should begin by making it easier for companies to innovate, compete, and employ more Americans. Rather than looking for new ways to insert government into markets, we should focus on fostering innovation and creating a playing field that enhances competition and makes it fair for businesses of all sizes.
And with the administration we currently have in Washington we must be ever vigilant about the creeping size of government. Seventy-eight percent of American voters surveyed in a February FOX News/Opinion Dynamics poll say that government spending is out of control. That figure has risen 16 percentage points in the past year.
We must always remember that government itself does not create wealth. The American people, through their hard work and ingenuity, are the ones responsible for our nation's boom times and who build prosperity. And we need to give them the tools to do it.
One of the areas of government creep over which we need to be especially vigilant is climate change. The way we address climate change will have profound effects on our economy. It is important that our Nation approach the issue with a full appreciation of the potential consequences. Many of you know that I have been getting heat for my recent activities on climate change. I owe it to Alaskans to explain the position I've taken and why.
Some say climate change is settled science. Others say it's hogwash. Whichever view you take, I hope we can all agree that Congress is the body designated by the Constitution to establish national policy in this area. But many in the environmental community do not trust Congress to get things right. Right from their point of view. Congress, perish the thought, might disagree with them. Or we might decide to address climate issues in a different way.
So they have encouraged the EPA to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act without waiting for Congress to act. I neither think it is wise, nor legal, for the EPA to get out in front of Congress on this issue. I think the EPA has missed the mark in thinking that Congress has given them carte blanche to set climate policy in air pollution control legislation that dates back to the 1970s.
So here's what I've done about it. Congress has long been concerned about the tendency of unelected bureaucrats to substitute their own view of what they think the law should be when they sit down to write regulations. In 1996, we passed a law called the "Congressional Review Act" that allows Congress to tell federal agencies that they've missed the mark.
On January 26, I introduced a resolution that expresses Congress' disapproval of their proposed regulations. That resolution has 40 bipartisan cosponsors. It also has the bipartisan support of 20 Governors. Separate and apart from this effort, eight Democratic Senators wrote to the EPA expressing concern about EPA regulation.
The EPA responded by delaying the implementation of the regulations until after November's election. Delay is certainly a step in the right direction but a complete withdrawal of the regulations is the right answer. We need to return this process to the Congress. That's what I'm fighting for. Not only to ensure that we get climate policy right, but also to ensure that unelected bureaucrats do not cripple our economy by imposing their idea of the correct solution on a skeptical America.
Another way we can get America's economy back on track is to reduce the amount of money we spend each year on foreign oil imports, and generate more of our energy here at home.
That means a mix of energy sources, including expanded reliance on natural gas, building new nuclear power plants, developing cleaner coal technology, and fully utilizing all forms of renewable and alternative energy.
It also means acknowledging that our Nation is going to need oil for many decades to come. President Obama's promise in the State of the Union address that energy produced from the Outer Continental Shelf will play a larger role in this mix was welcome.
Welcome because too much of our Nation's outer continental shelf was put off limits to development two decades ago. But time will tell whether President Obama remembers this promise in the face of opposition from environmental activists.
In Alaska, we insist, and rightfully so, that our oil reserves in ANWR and the National Petroleum Reserve Alaska be available to meet our Nation's energy needs. It would be a catastrophic day for our Nation, as well as this state, if the Trans Alaska Pipeline were to shutdown with valuable oil reserves still in the ground on the North Slope. We must avoid this outcome at all costs.
We must also continue our efforts to harvest Alaska's natural gas reserves, not only as a source of future revenue to the state, but also to provide the energy we need to power Southcentral Alaska. I've done a great deal to bring federal support to the gas line initiative and I'm pleased to note that President Obama shares my enthusiasm for the gas line. Now it is up to Alaskans to get things done.And I remain optimistic that we can. Alaskans are no strangers to big challenges. We grow and attract great minds who relish the opportunity to leave their mark on this great land.
Unfortunately we are a long ways away from many of the prognostications I offered up in the beginning of my remarks. But it's no April Fool's joke to believe that the best days of Alaska's economy are yet to come. And I will keep fighting to keep Washington from getting in the way of your hopes and dreams.
Thank you. I look forward to your questions.
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