Sen. Mark Begich defended the federal stimulus bill, a controversial vote he cast 30 days into his term of office, but one he said is helping Alaska.
"Alaska is reaping the benefits more than any other state," he said.
Begich, who took office in 2008, told Juneau Rotary members Tuesday that how to deal with the economic crisis was the first big decision he faced as a senator.
The economy, he said, was on the edge, he said, risking "literally going off a cliff" if the government didn't act. It did, with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, popularly known as the stimulus bill.
"We knew the financial system was collapsing," he said.
Begich never mentioned the hot race for Alaska's other U.S. Senate seat, where incumbent Lisa Murkowski is trying to hang onto job with a write-in campaign after losing to fellow Republican Joe Miller in her party's primary, while also trying to fend off Democratic challenger Scott McAdams.
But he did note he was the only member of the Alaska delegation to vote for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which he said has brought $1.9 billion to Alaska, more than any other state on a per-capita basis, and linked that to Alaska's relatively strong economy.
Begich said Alaska's unemployment rate has dropped over the last three months and its one of only six states to have added construction jobs last year and is continuing to do so this year as well.
The nation, he said, is "crawling out" of he recession.
The recovery act in Alaska brought projects such as new trails at the Mendenhall Glacier, new hospitals in Nome and Wrangell, new funding for Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium, improvements to Juneau International Airport and many others in the state.
The federal health care reform will also have opportunities to benefit Alaska, especially considering that 60 percent of Alaskans have their health care provided by the federal government through either Medicaid, the Veterans' Administration, military, Indian Health Service, or other programs.
The problem, he said, was they didn't work together.
"What's the right way to deliver health care in Alaska?" he said. "The reform bill will set up ways for the various delivery systems to work together, and possibly succeed in reducing the high cost of health care in Alaska."
"If we can fix the problem here in Alaska we think it will be a model for the rest of the nation," he said.
Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or firstname.lastname@example.org.