If you believed everything in the news about the dysfunctional U.S. Senate, you’d agree it can’t get anything done. I certainly share the frustrations of most Alaskans and Americans that Washington, D.C., is broken and must be fixed.
That’s why I ran for the Senate four years ago – to get things done for our state and nation.
If you look beyond the headlines, the Senate and occasionally even the U.S. House have passed significant legislation to create millions of jobs for Americans and address some of our nation’s serious problems.
Just last week, after months of negotiation, the Senate and House unanimously passed a measure reauthorizing the U.S. Coast Guard. As chairman of the Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and the Coast Guard which wrote the bill, things get done when you’re willing to compromise across political parties while holding true to your core values.
I worked with House Republicans, especially Alaska Congressman Don Young, to pass the Coast Guard bill. It is critical for Alaska, enhancing our fishing industry, giving the Coast Guard a larger Arctic presence and providing coastal communities more tools to deal with marine debris.
Another measure poised for Senate approval as I write this is the Sportsmen’s Act, a package of bills to improve hunting and fishing opportunities on public land. It contains my Duck Stamp bill to enhance waterfowl habitat. Once passed by the Senate, the bill must be approved by the House.
The list of Senate-passed bills awaiting action in the House is significant:
Postal reform – In April, the Senate passed comprehensive reform of the Postal Service, which is losing billions of dollars. I fought off efforts by Sen. John McCain to eliminate Alaska’s Bypass Mail Program and saved 31 Alaska post offices from closing.
Violence Against Women Act — Also in April, the Senate passed landmark legislation that funds efforts by communities and local law enforcement to prevent domestic violence. This is especially important for Alaska, which shamefully leads the nation in domestic violence and child abuse rates.
Agriculture reform — The Senate in June passed the Farm Bill which cuts the federal deficit by $23 billion through farm subsidy reform and includes assistance to Alaska fishermen devastated by natural disasters. Included is language I helped negotiate to protect funding for Alaska’s Village Safe Water Program.
Middle class tax cuts — One of the most significant measures passed by the Senate and awaiting House action would extend tax cuts for middle class Americans. Passed by the Senate in July, the Middle Class Tax Cut Act extends the Bush-era tax structure and continues existing tax breaks for 98 percent of American families and 97 percent of small businesses.
If the House doesn’t act by Jan. 1, 2013, the typical middle class family of four faces a $2,200 tax increase. Under the Senate-passed bill, only the wealthiest Americans — individuals making more than $200,000 and families making more than $250,000 - would be asked to pay more in taxes.
The bill also protects an estimated 28 million taxpayers against a large unexpected tax liability from the Alternative Minimum Tax. The measure continues higher rates of business deductions on equipment purchases and provides tax credits for child care and college tuition.
Extending middle class tax cuts would add 1.1 million jobs to the economy and reduce the national deficit by nearly $1 trillion over 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
All these bills, currently stuck in the House, would go directly to the President for his signature if the House would just pass them.
As you hear the chatter from Washington about the dangers of going off the “fiscal cliff,” keep in mind who is chattering the loudest — members of the House where bills important to our nation are gathering dust.
A growing group of moderates of both political parties want action on middle class tax cuts. We just need the House leadership to put aside their standard partisan talking points and start moving those bills — and our country — forward.
• Begich was elected to the Senate in 2008.