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Begich Speaks on Senate Floor, Calls On Congress to “Do Its Job”

“Let’s quit playing games with families and the economy.”

In the midst of the current government shutdown, U.S. Sen. Mark Begich took to the Senate floor to detail the unnecessary and unfortunate effect the shutdown is having on Alaskans.

“Let’s end this childish standoff.  Let’s quit playing games with families and the economy.  Let’s pass a clean continuing resolution. Then let’s get to work on the budget, on our appropriations bills and on making sure the economic recovery continues.  We need to put Americans back to work, including crab fishermen, and the park rangers who are essential to our tourism industry.

“ Let’s make sure our veterans get paid, that nutrition programs for moms and infants don’t run out of money. For goodness sake, let’s quit acting like America is some two-bit banana republic that can’t pay its workers.  Or even worse – won’t pay its bills. Let’s get back to running this country like the proud economic engine that it is. In other words, let’s do the job we were sent here to do.”

About $1.2 billion in federal payroll flows into Alaska every year, and a lengthy disruption could have a substantial impact on the state. In his speech, Begich said the financial hit on Alaska could be as much as five times bigger than other states.

The full text of his remarks, as prepared for delivery, are below:

U.S. Senator Mark Begich - Floor Remarks - Government Shutdown: October 4, 2013

Mr. President, I rise today to discuss the impact of the shutdown on Americans, on my fellow Alaskans and on the economy.

I am fed up with this impasse. Like my colleague and chair of the Appropriations Committee, Senator Mikulski, I want to get to work passing the annual appropriations bills and making the tough decisions necessary to keep America on track.

The American people are sick and tired of lurching from crisis to crisis. With the recovery finally gaining strength, the last thing we need is this Tea Party-manufactured crisis threatening our economy.

Yes, I want to make smart cuts to wasteful programs. And smart investments to create jobs, keep people working and pay for the services that so many Americans rely on. 

Like the Low Income Housing Energy Assistance Program that helps millions of Americans - and thousands of Alaskans - pay their heating bills in the winter.

For them, this program is crucial to survival in an Alaskan winter. It’s already getting cold in my state and I may have constituents who can’t heat their homes.

This is unacceptable. I know there are members in the House and on the other side of the aisle who agree with me. Who may vote in favor of a clean continuing resolution so we can quit playing games get back to work on a normal appropriations process.

But the majority of their colleagues over there are so caught up in defunding the Affordable Care Act they’ve lost sight of what they were sent here to do – govern the nation.

If they’re not up for the task – then they should find another line of work.   There’s nothing honorable about holding the country hostage … holding families hostage … holding our economy hostage. 

A shutdown isn’t a solution. It’s childish. It’s selfish. Every American will be directly or indirectly impacted by this lack of action.

Our economy is already suffering.

Right now, back home in Alaska, thousands of federal employees would be driving to work.  But not today.  Instead, they are checking their savings accounts to see how they will get through this shutdown. 

A columnist in the Anchorage Daily News just wrote about the shutdown’s impact on Alaska’s 13,000 federal workers.

The column details the financial hardship and uncertainty we’ve created for government workers and their families.  It details the trickle-down impact of the shutdown on people, on the economy.  

I know many of these families personally.  One is a single-income couple with two young children in Anchorage.  The father is now furloughed.  They have house projects underway, contractors hired, bills that need to be paid – whether the government is open or not.

They’re doing the math right now – how long will their savings last?  Will they have to dip into their children’s education accounts?

As the dad aptly said, “Life doesn’t stop just because Congress says you can’t come to work anymore.”

It’s that simple. Federal workers are important, and so is the work they do. What they do benefits all of us. 

Here’s another example of the serious consequences of a shutdown on the people of Alaska.

The Bering Sea Crab fishery – showcased on TV’s “Deadliest Catch” – is worth about $80 million a year. It is managed by NOAA Fisheries and the State of Alaska.

Crab season starts October 15th.  Fishermen and processors are getting ready for the catch.

But because of the shutdown, the biologists who handle the paperwork – issue the quota – are furloughed.

I suppose some people would call them non-essential “pencil-pushers.”

These permits take hours to process. The paperwork trail is important so we know it’s not illegal crab caught by fish pirates on the other side of the Bering Sea.

The paperwork trail helps Americans know the crab we’re eating is safe.

This is all contingent upon performing the basic functions of government that House Republicans have delayed.

I know my fellow members are hearing similar stories of impacts to their own states. Whether it’s fisheries, construction, and farms, whatever – this is a self-inflicted wound.

Here are a couple more data points about Alaska.  About $1.2 billion in federal payroll flows into the state every year, and a lengthy disruption would have a huge impact. 

One of our leading economists says the financial hit on Alaska could be as much as five times bigger than other states.

What about our oil and gas industry?  Furloughs are happening in the permitting agencies … so those employees are not working to approve Arctic oil and gas projects. 

They’re getting ready for another lease sale in November for the National Petroleum Reserve, and they’re working on other areas. 

These projects have a long lead time. Delay now means production will come on line later. This makes no sense – the economy can't wait.

I had a telephone town hall two nights ago and heard from lots of federal workers in Alaska.  It was a somber reminder of how this senseless shutdown is impacting everyday hard-working people and their families. 

There was a woman in Fairbanks worried about her Air Force retirement check. And a veteran in Wasilla worried about his pension. 

I even heard from an Alaska Native elder all the way up in Arctic Village on the Arctic Circle who wants Congress to put people back to work.

Speaking of remote communities, my state has some 200 small villages populated largely by Alaska’s first people, Alaska Natives. Many of the services they rely on are provided by tribes, which receive much of their funding from federal grants.

Yet many of these grants are frozen or expire at the end of this month, leaving these Alaskans who live in some of America’s most remote communities in a lurch.

We can fix this.  We can fix this before military members’ paychecks are issued late.  Or veterans’ benefits delayed.  Or Head Start and nutrition programs are completely closed down.

Let’s end this childish standoff.  Let’s quit playing games with families and the economy.  Let’s pass a clean continuing resolution.

Then let’s get to work on the budget, on our appropriations bills and on making sure the economic recovery continues. 

We need to put Americans back to work, including my crab fishermen, and the park rangers who are essential to our tourism industry.  Let’s make sure our veterans get paid, that nutrition programs for moms and infants don’t run out of money.

For goodness sake, let’s quit acting like America is some two-bit banana republic that can’t pay its workers.  Or even worse – won’t pay its bills.

Let’s get back to running this country like the proud economic engine that it is.

In other words, let’s do the job we were sent here to do.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.

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