Alaska senators split on federal budget package

  • By Becky Bohrer
  • Saturday, December 19, 2015 9:45pm
  • News

JUNEAU — Alaska’s Republican U.S. senators split on their votes for a sweeping budget package Friday, with Sen. Lisa Murkowski voting in favor and Sen. Dan Sullivan voting against it.

Sullivan said the vote was difficult for him. He said in a news release that the legislation contained provisions that benefit some Alaskans, small business owners and the energy sector.

But he said he could not “in good conscience” vote for it without having had a chance to understand its implications or offer amendments. He said the package was negotiated behind closed doors and presented as a take-it-or-leave-it proposition.

“Alaskans are currently debating — through a transparent, open, and yes, contentious process — how to best address the state’s very significant fiscal challenges,” Sullivan said. “The federal government should be doing the same.”

Murkowski, meanwhile, hailed provisions in the legislation that she helped push or supports. Murkowski serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Provisions detailed in news releases from her office include a labeling provision for genetically modified salmon, increased funding for a Defense Department program through which reservists build infrastructure and provide health care in rural Alaska to fulfill annual training requirements, and a prohibition against consolidating or closing small and rural post offices.

In a teleconference with reporters Thursday, Murkowski said she doesn’t like the process that led to the budget package and said the bill isn’t perfect. But she said it avoids a government shutdown and advances spending priorities set by majority Republicans.

She blamed Democrats for filibustering opportunities to take up spending bills, which she said makes it harder to finish them.

“So you get to the end of the year and you are in a situation where you’re looking at a possible government shutdown,” she said. “That’s not good governance. That’s not a way to legislate.”

The legislative package, which extends more than 50 expiring tax cuts and funds government agencies, passed the House and Senate, and President Barack Obama is expected to sign it.

U.S. Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, voted in favor of the package. In a news release, he said end-of-the-year deal making is no way to legislate, but shutting down the government is worse.

“I supported this bill for the numerous Alaska-focused provisions we fought for and defended during the appropriations process, but I did so reluctantly,” he said. “This massive spending bill is a tough pill to swallow mainly for what it lacks, but ultimately is provides a number of important reforms and provisions for Alaska and the nation that would not have been achieved otherwise.”

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