U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski, through her assignment on the Appropriations Committee, is charged with writing a bill that funds the Interior Department and a wide swath of the federal government. It is a major opportunity to direct money to agencies important to Alaska. The committee passed her bill today, but a Democratic leader says it’s unlikely to see the full Senate.
Murkowski, in a phone call with reporters, ticked off the agencies her bill funds: “BLM, Forest Service, EPA, Fish and Wildlife, IHS, BIA, Park Service.”
So it’s important for Alaska. Murkowski says she wrote it to fully fund programs like “payment inlieu of taxes,” which sends money to local governments in Alaska, and contract support costs for Native organizations that perform government services. Her bill also adds money for earthquake monitoring, high-tech mapping and cleaning up old wells the government drilled in the Arctic. Murkowski says she intends for the bill to provide stability to to Alaska during the state’s fiscal crisis.
“What we’re trying to do is direct federal resources where they’re needed,” she said.
But a funding bill is also an opportunity to add policy riders that have little to do with appropriating money. Murkowski included a dozen riders. One directs the Forest Service to keep offering timber sales as it has in the Tongass National Forest. Another orders a land trade to build a road for King Cove. The most sweeping of her riders would block a controversial EPA rule redefining which waters are subject to federal regulation.
Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the Senate’s second-highest ranking Democrat, says Murkowski went too far.
“I think you may have reached a tipping point here with these 12 riders that you put in here,” he told her in the Appropriations Committee. “I believe that it’s quite likely your bill will never be considered on the floor, because of these riders.”
Murkowski says half of the 12 riders Democrats are calling “poison pills” were actually requested by Democrats, and she says she took plenty of heat from Republicans for including them.
The Appropriations Committee passed her bill, but it was 16-14, with all the Democrats voting no. There are enough Democrats in the full Senate to kill just about any important bill. Murkowski told reporters after the vote she’s not giving up
“It’s fully my intention to keep working with individuals, the concerns that were raised,” she said.
Hers is one of a dozen appropriations bills Congress is supposed to pass each year. Usually, though, some or all of them get rolled into a giant spending package called an omnibus that lawmakers have to pass to avoid a government shutdown.