A $1.5 trillion spending package does more than avert a government shutdown, said U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican, although that is an important piece of the recently passed bill.
The bill, which on Thursday passed in the Senate by a 68-31 vote, funds the government through September. It also provides for increased spending on defense and non-defense alike, aid to Ukraine, reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act and funding for congressionally directed spending requests.
“This is Alaskan taxpayer dollars that are being returned to the state in ways that communities have prioritized,” Murkowski said of congressionally directed spending, during a briefing with reporters.
The dozens of allocations, formerly known as “earmarks,” touted by Murkowski include several projects in Juneau.
United Human Services of Southeast Alaska is poised to receive $2.5 million for the construction of a facility on Teal Street in Juneau that will host multiple organizations that provide health and social services as part of the new earmark system. Southeast Conference will receive $2 million for an electric ferry pilot program. The City and Borough of Juneau will receive $800,000 to reroute influent piping around obsolete solids separation equipment. Sealaska Heritage Institute will receive $500,000 to support the Kootéeya Deiyi project, which aims to create a trail of totem poles along the downtown waterfront. Alaska Heat Smart will receive $420,000 to support installation of heat pumps in lower-income households.
“These all come to me through the communities and nonprofit organizations that have put them up for review and for scrutiny,” Murkowski said. “It has been a very open, very transparent process.”
Murkowski said an interactive map on her website can provide further information on what was funded, where it was funded and why it was funded.
“I’m stressing this a little bit because there’s still some for who earmarks is a four-letter word, and I think it’s important to recognize that there is a level of transparency now in this process that simply didn’t exist when we last had earmarks around as an opportunity.”
Earmarks, which allow individual members of Congress to request funding for certain projects, were brought back after a decade-long ban. Critics of earmarks contended they were easy to misuse, led to irresponsible spending and were a possible avenue for corruption. Proponents say earmarks can help build bipartisanship and maintain it’s important to give lawmakers more control over where money goes.
Congress voted for the return of earmarks with some changes last March.
“I have demanded in my office — this is my process that I have put in place, not every office does this —that I think people deserve to know what’s been requested and what will be going out to these communities and why. This is about putting value back in our communities, and I’m proud of what we were able to return to Alaska in this process. ”
Murkowski also praised other aspects of the bill, including reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which is often called “VAWA.”
The 1990s-era law extends protections to victims of domestic and sexual violence. It lapsed about three years ago amid partisan disagreements. Reauthorization of the act has long been a goal for Murkowski. The bill that passed as part of the omnibus includes a tribal public safety empowerment program among other provisions.
It’s passage was applauded by the Alaska Federation of Natives, the largest statewide Native organization in Alaska.
“AFN commends Congress for responding to the pleas of Native American women, families, and children living in difficult and heartbreaking circumstances,” said AFN President Julie Kitka in a statement. “Too many futures are cut short by violence and threats. If this legislation can stop the cycle of violence in our communities AFN commends all who support this legislation.”
Murkowski said between allocations targeting shelters and reauthorization of VAWA, a “pretty impressive effort” had been made to address concerns in the state.
The spending package also includes $13.6 billion in military and humanitarian aid for Ukraine and it’s European allies, the Associated Press reported.
“I was pleased that we were able to get this number up,” Murkowski said. “Initially, when the Ukraine aid package was pulled together, it was about $10 billion in emergency funding. As we looked to the growing crisis every day, I think that the U.S. aid and assistance, the humanitarian assistance that will be required, the economic assistance that will be required for not only Ukraine, but the European partners is just going to increase.”
Murkowski expressed disappointment with the Biden administration’s resistance to supplying aircraft to Ukraine.
“If they can’t get a no-fly zone, what they need is the ability to protect themselves,” Murkowski said. “I really cannot understand why the administration feels this would be a bridge too far for (Russian President Vladimir) Putin and that would cause further escalation. The reality is Putin hasn’t hesitated with his escalation.”
The bill passed with bipartisan support in both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, but not all of Alaska’s congressional delegation voted in favor of the bill.
Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, voted against the bill. In a statement, Sullivan said “there’s a lot in this bill that I support and have been strongly advocating for,” but he added that senators were given just over a day to review the 2,700-page bill, and he could not support it without more time for analysis.
Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, was. among the yea votes that helped the bill handily pass the house. In a statement, Young touted the bill’s reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.
“Every year, women and girls around the country survive rape, domestic abuse, and other forms of heinous violence,” said Congressman Don Young. “Alaska often ranks first as the state with the highest rates of women killed by men, and Alaska Native women are ten times more likely to experience domestic violence than other women in the United States. VAWA has proven successful in saving lives and supporting survivors. Very frankly, its reauthorization is long overdue. I am proud to have voted in support of VAWA reauthorization as part of the FY 2022 omnibus.”
• Contact Ben Hohenstatt at (907)308-4895 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt