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The current budget standoff is threatening the economy in Alaska and the rest of the nation, Sen. Mark Begich told a town hall meeting in Juneau on Wednesday evening.
“It’s killing our economy, It’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen,” he said.
One example: Mapping and surveying contracts needed before the federal government to transfer land to the state are being held up.
The budget deadlock has prevented those contracts from being issued, he said.
“These are Alaskans ready go do the work so that we can get our land that’s owed to us by the federal government,” said Begich at Aldersgate United Methodist Church.
The nation needs to spend less, he said.
“We are the number one recipient of federal money in the country and that means we’ll be hid the hardest, to be frank with you,” he said.
Begich he’s been on the front lines in seeking cuts, but that what was needed was a long-term solution and next year’s budget, not piecemeal extensions to the current year’s budget.
His role in aggressively supporting a solution has resulted in phone calls from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and President Obama, he said.
“You know you’ve pressed pretty hard when the majority leader and president call you,” he said.
He was able to use the call to talk with Obama about Alaska issues, he said.
The budget was just one of the comments from the public, who also asked about health care, nuclear arms and power, and foreign policy issues.
Begich confronted one resident who suggested that “Obamacare” was contributing to the deficit.
First, Begich said, don’t name bills you don’t like after a person unless you want to name tax cuts and everything else positive Obama has done after the president as well.
“It’s health care reform, you can like it or not,” he said.
He also disputed the audience member’s contention that it would cost money, saying that health care reform’s cost containment measures would save money for the federal government, the largest consumer of health care in the nation with federal employees, Veterans Administration, Indian Health Service, Medicare and Medicaid programs.
Begich’s endorsement of health care reform got cheers from the crowd.
He encouraged Alaska to continue to participate in the health care exchanges now being developed.
Gov. Parnell has said he won’t take federal money for an Alaska exchange, and a bill in the Legislature to develop an exchange has not yet passed.
Those exchanges will help Alaskans get better health care coverage, he said.
“I think they’re making a big mistake in not moving it forward,” he said.
There were several energy policy questions. Begich said he sees growing support for an Alaska natural gas pipeline, and is working to renewable energy in Alaska, but also pushing for offshore oil drilling as well.
He also said he was angry about Obama’s statements in Brazil about buying their offshore oil at a time when Alaska’s hopes for offshore oil development are facing environmental hurdles.
“I don’t know about (Brazil’s) environmental policies, but I’m guessing they’re not as strong or will not be as strong as ours,” he said.
• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 586-4816 or Patrick.firstname.lastname@example.org.