Sen. Mark Begich optimistic committee will reach debt deal, wants to see long-term investments

JUNEAU — U.S. Mark Begich said Monday he’s optimistic a bipartisan congressional committee will meet the deadline for agreeing on a deficit-reduction plan of at least $1.2 trillion over the next decade.

The supercommittee, which has been split on whether to raise taxes and cut benefit programs, faces a Nov. 23 deadline. And whatever deal it may come up with will face an up-or-down vote in Congress.

Begich told reporters in a conference call from Washington, D.C., that any plan will need a “balanced approach,” with spending cuts, additional revenues and long-term investments in areas like energy, education and infrastructure. Begich, D-Alaska, said the nation’s long-term growth potential will be hurt if Congress loses sight of those investment needs.

“You cannot cut your way out of this problem but you cannot tax your way out of this problem,” he said. “And so it’s a combination of things that has to occur here.”

Begich said he would have to take a hard look at whatever plan is put forth before deciding whether to support it. He said his vote will represent what he thinks is best for Alaska.

If agreement isn’t reached, $1.2 trillion will be cut from domestic and defense programs.

In the same call Monday, in which he was asked about a range of topics, Begich lauded legislation passed by the Senate last week aimed at helping unemployed veterans and government contractors. He said Alaska has more veterans per-capita than any other state. Jobless rates among veterans are around 12 percent nationwide, he said, while national unemployment stood at 9 percent in October.

The measure, which is pending a vote in the House, would award tax credits of up to $9,600 to companies that hire disabled veterans who have been out of work for at least six months. It also would improve employment counseling and training programs for veterans and those about to leave the military, among other things.

“We think this is a great first step,” he said, adding that a transportation bill could represent another opportunity to help put more Americans to work. He said the transportation measure calls for rebuilding infrastructure, which he says would have a “huge jobs impact.”

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