Alaska Congressional Delegation Not Included in Budget Talks

In less than a month, the nation will hit its legal limit on borrowing money. The U.S. risks defaulting on its debt, and might not be able to pay its bills on August 2. So Congress and the President are in talks about striking a deal to raise the debt limit but also cut spending. The next big summit is Sunday at the White House. But Alaska’s delegation is not at the table.

Congressman Don Young says he’s got an idea to fill the nation’s piggy bank: development. He says more oil drilling, coal, and natural gas will bring in tax dollars.  But of all the things being discussed in the debt talks, Young’s plan is not on the table. Not even among his fellow House Republicans.

“They’re not even doing it. That’s why I’m a little frustrated.  I told them, I’m only hearing cut, cut, cut, I don’t hear produce, produce, produce. Cause if you produce you employ and have more taxes under the present system. You have a better way to balance the budget. You cannot cut your way into prosperity. That’s impossible.”

Young may be the second-longest serving Republican in the House, but he’s nowhere near the bargaining table, and doesn’t have the ear of House Speaker John Boehner.

“Unfortunately what’s being talked about is not information the average member is privy to. And it’s really the leadership between the President. The Senate gets all the interest.”

But over in the Senate, the conventional wisdom is that there are two big players, and neither are in that body: Boehner representing the Republicans, and President Obama for the Democrats. Senator Mark Begich may belong to the “other party,” but he and Representative Young often agree on development issues, and Begich says the Congressman is right.

“They’re all caught in this moment of we’ve got to cut our way out of this. You can’t do that. Take Congressman Young, he’s been around a long time so he’s seen the big picture.”

Begich is part of a group trying to hammer out a respectable budget plan: Senate Democrats on the Budget Committee have been toiling for months. But their work – and all other plans – are taking a back seat to the talks at the White House. And as Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski points out, that’s an exclusive group.

“It’s difficult because the table is such a small one right now. And that is the reality of these negotiations.

So Alaskans might wonder how they’re represented as the nation’s political leaders hammer out a hugely influential fiscal deal. And where are the centrists?

“Your question is a good one, about where the voice is. And I think in fairness it is from each one of us who engages one on one with other colleagues, with other members, and you try to build that critical mass of concern about the direction that we are going.”

One of the non-government groups working to come up with a compromise on the budget is the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington. Steve Bell is senior director of its Economic Policy Project, and spent his career working in banking and in Congress, including on the Senate Budget Committee.

“Sadly bipartisanship doesn’t have enough votes right now in the House nor in the Senate. Let’s take Lisa Murkowski who I know well, she has a lot to contribute. But the nature of the Republican caucus, the very narrow group of people who are allowed to speak for the caucus
has in fact made it very difficult.”

Bell blames partisanship as the reason talks among a group called the Gang of Six stalled out.  It was comprised of a trio of Senate Republicans and three Democrats, but with vastly divergent views.

“I think in large part they collapsed because they didn’t expand enough to include the Begiches, or the Murkowskis, or moderate people from Louisiana from both sides of the aisle. Arkansas’ on both sides of the aisle.”

Bell worries that the process of only bringing in a few key players is affecting the way negotiations are brokered in Washington.

“So what has happened is not an exclusion not of the far left and right as was happened when I was in the Senate, it’s an exclusion of the moderate, common sense centrists.”

Senator Murkowski says she and the rest of the Alaska delegation may not be invited to the high profile White House meetings, but she believes there are still ways to forge alliances. Because in the end, every member still has a vote.

“But in fairness there has not been an invitation to have one Republican, one Democrat and those folks who might be identified in the middle to come and broker the deal. We’re making our voices heard in other venues.”

So this weekend while the White House talks are underway, Murkowski will be in Alaska. Senator Begich will be returning from a work-trip to Croatia.  Congressman Young will be in the Washington area, but he’ll have to wait til afterward like the rest of us to find out what

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