Contributed by Senator Lisa Murkowski
With the senate in a state work period until mid-November, it’s great to be back home. One of my first stops was to check in with folks in the Valley, where I attended the grand opening of the Mat-Su Valley Cancer Center, walked through the new Wasilla Library and met with local officials. I will continue to travel throughout our state for the next month, listening to your concerns and sharing ideas, so that we can continue to build on our already strong record of accomplishments.
I am pleased to report that the Military Construction/Veterans Affairs Appropriations Bill has now been signed into law. It supports crucial defense projects in Alaska and will create thousands of new jobs in our state. As a member of the Appropriations Committee, I have consistently pressed our military leadership to recognize the leading role that Alaska plays in our national security, and I appreciate how Senator Dan Sullivan has reinforced that message from the Armed Services Committee. Our senate colleagues are recognizing this fact, and we see that reflected in the largest share of our annual military construction budget being directed to investments in Alaska.
Of even greater importance, the Milcon/VA Bill will invest in our people by taking care of our veterans. I included language to address a series of challenges, such as staffing shortages within the Alaska VA Healthcare System, including the long-standing physician vacancy at the Wasilla Community-Based Outpatient Clinic. We require the VA to resolve its provider recruitment challenges, which veterans in the Valley have unfortunately seen too often. We also push the VA to return to the system of care that worked in Alaska prior to the Choice Act. We direct eligible veterans to community providers, Community Health Centers, and Native health facilities for care that the VA cannot provide in its facilities, or if the community is not served by the VA. In addition, we authorize the VA to purchase care for rural veterans – including those in the Valley – from Community Health Centers as well as the Alaska Native health system.
As I seek to ensure the health of our veterans, I am also focused on the increasing rise in healthcare costs due to the failures of the Affordable Care Act. We have seen time and time again that the Affordable Care Act – which I have opposed since Day 1 – does not work in Alaska. But knowing that a full repeal will be impossible under the Obama administration, I have been working to address the ACA’s costliest and most harmful provisions. I was proud to join Senator Sullivan in introducing the Ensuring Health Care Opportunities Act, which will allow Alaskans to buy health insurance that doesn’t include certain ACA mandates that might not apply to them. If we can pass this bill, it will help restore Alaskans’ choice in their healthcare coverage, which the Affordable Care Act has taken away.
As Alaskans grapple with rising healthcare costs, many are also bracing for higher heating bills as we head into the winter months. I recognize the burden that high energy costs impose, and that’s why I am continuing to advance policies that will lower these costs for all Alaskans. As chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, I wrote and led the Senate’s passage of the first broad, bipartisan energy bill in nearly a decade. It will help us produce more energy and pay less for energy. This is now in conference where we are developing a final version with the House of Representatives.
My energy bill is filled with provisions that will benefit Alaska – advancing everything from research into renewable energy, to mineral permitting reforms, to reauthorizing programs to help keep our energy costs down. It requires timely decisions for LNG export applications to prevent unnecessary bureaucratic delays and provides routing flexibility for a gas line project, which will help Alaska market our stranded gas. We also spent significant time going through the U.S. Code to repeal old, outdated provisions of law that are simply no longer needed.
I’m proud that my energy bill includes my Sportsmen’s Act, which protects access to our public lands by declaring that them to be “open unless closed.” For too long, access to these lands for hunting, fishing, recreational shooting, and other outdoor activities has been restricted at the whim of the federal government. When it comes to hunting and fishing opportunities, Alaska’s are unmatched, which is why preserving public access to our lands and waters is one of my top priorities. I look forward to the day when I will be able to tell you that this crucial piece of legislation has been signed into law.
Thank you for the opportunity to share this “legislative update”. I thank you for the opportunity I have to represent Alaskans.