Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said Wednesday that she is open to discussing how to raise new revenues as part of a “balanced proposal” to head off the so-called “fiscal cliff,” but she said Congress “simply must look at the mandatory side of the budget,” as well as reductions in discretionary spending, for savings as part of any solution.
Speaking on a conference call with reporters, Murkowski stressed that she wants to see a resolution to the issue before the deadline at the end of the month elapses.
Without a deal in Washington, D.C., to avert the “cliff,” across-the-board tax increases and spending cuts are set to take effect in 2013.
The automatic spending cuts, termed “sequestration,” are a cocktail of drastic deficit-reduction measures seeded with elements anathema to both parties in Congress, crafted as part of last summer’s deal to raise the debt ceiling in order to compel both houses of Congress and the White House to continue working together on lowering the deficit.
The tax increases would stem, in large part, from the temporary extension in 2010 of tax cuts originally passed in 2001 and 2003. President Barack Obama and other Democrats have argued that some of these cuts, often called the “Bush tax cuts” in reference to former President George W. Bush, should be allowed to expire, raising tax rates on top income earners.
Murkowski suggested that both spending cuts and tax increases should be under consideration.
“We simply cannot take revenue off the table, as some have suggested,” Murkowski said.
But while Murkowski said she is “not opposed to having us talk about those of means paying more,” she argued that taxation alone will not put the country’s finances in order.
“Simply raising taxes on the wealthy in this country is not going to solve our spending problem,” said Murkowski. “We need immediate action on real mandatory spending reforms if we’re ever going to rein in federal spending. Without a comprehensive approach, we can’t pay down our debt, we can’t avoid the sequestration and address these expiring tax provisions.”
Murkowski repeatedly referred to the United States’ national debt, which now exceeds $16.3 trillion, in her comments.
“In my mind, this is a crisis of our own doing. We’ve got a $16 trillion national debt. We’ve had four straight years of trillion-dollar deficits,” Murkowski said. She added, “You can present the blame to President Bush. You can present the blame to President Obama. But assigning blame doesn’t solve the problem. Whatever the circumstances that got us here, I see this crisis as an opportunity to finally enact meaningful reform. This is a big problem, and it calls for big solutions.”
Because of Alaska’s large number of federal employees and military veterans relative to the size of its population, as well as because federal dollars contribute so heavily to the state’s economy, Murkowski said she is concerned sequestration will have an especially large impact on Alaska.
“I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that failing to address this cliff will result in lost jobs, lower wages, negative growth and a generally weakened Alaskan economy,” said Murkowski, who asserted that Alaskan taxpayers will owe $1,749 more on average, per tax return, next year to the federal government if no deal is reached and tax rates go up across the board.
Murkowski said Congress should look at ways to reduce spending on “safety net programs,” including Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, as part of a deal. She suggested raising the eligibility age of Medicare as one option for reform.
“As much as I want to make sure that our seniors are cared for, I also want to make sure that our young people who also want to have the benefits of the program … that are paying in will have the same opportunity to enjoy benefits,” said Murkowski, adding that “nobody is talking about changing those benefits for those seniors” who are already eligible.
Alaska’s other U.S. senator, Democrat Mark Begich, said in a recent KTUU-TV interview that “the reality is we’re probably going to have a little bit of both” spending cuts and tax increases in order to address the fiscal cliff issue.
“These decisions we’re going to make are going to be tough, and everyone’s going to feel a little bit of it,” Begich told anchor Mike Ross last Friday. “But in order to get this deficit under control, we all have to participate. We can’t afford all the Bush tax cuts, because we don’t have the money. Second, we can’t afford some of these spending packages that folks are talking about. We have to cut the budget.”
• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 523-2279 or at email@example.com.