By Libby Casey
Alaska’s Democratic Senator and Republican Congressman sat together at last night’s State of the Union address, and found they had much in common in their reaction as Alaskans, despite their party differences.
Senator Mark Begich and Congressman Don Young agreed on several points, including dismay at the president’s call to boost taxes on oil companies, and approval at proposed clean energy standards and trimming of bureaucracy.
Senator Lisa Murkowski had to leave the Capitol before the speech started because her younger son was rushed to the hospital with appendicitis. (Her office says his surgery last night was successful).
In his State of the Union address, President Obama called for dramatically boosting clean energy in America. He said this is a generational “Sputnik moment,” a chance to burst ahead in new research and development in fields including energy technology. Obama set the goal of having 80 percent of America’s electricity
Some folks want wind and solar. Others want nuclear, clean coal, and natural gas. To meet this goal, we will need them all – and I urge Democrats and Republicans to work together to make it happen.
The President said he wants to see 1 million electric vehicles on the road in 4 years, funded by reducing tax breaks for oil companies.
And to help pay for it, I’m asking Congress to eliminate the billions in taxpayer dollars we currently give to oil companies. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but they’re doing just fine on their own. So instead of subsidizing yesterday’s energy, let’s invest in tomorrow’s.
After the speech, Senator Begich and Congressman Young said they were not among those cheering for that line.
BEGICH: We didn’t stand up applauding that.
YOUNG: First of all that’s a misnomer. Most of the big oil companies we buy oil from are internationals. What happens here is they discourage our domestic production. And our domestic production off our shores by the big companies. You think Shell would want to go to Alaska, probably not.
Begich said they did appreciate the call for clean energy – especially natural gas, but they wanted to hear more of a push for fossil fuel development.
I gotta say, when he did say gas, there was jump in excitement on our end. Because with 1 third of gas supply from country in Alaska, recognizing as is also an important asset is a positive thing from our point. We’ll see how he delivers on that now.
The President talked about clean energy goals, not renewable energy, which Begich says is an important distinction because it includes natural gas and clean coal.
Yesterday, before the President’s speech, Senator Murkowski responded to a preview of it and said that clean energy has more of a chance in this Congress than a renewable plan.
I have been kind of cautious in my encouragement in moving toward a clean energy standard as opposed to renewable energy. I think we saw the debate and really things stall out in energy committee with Senator Bingaman’s renewable energy standard. So I think you move it to clean energy, you’ve got room for more discussion.
President Obama called for a five year freeze in domestic spending, and even cutting defense spending. Congressman Young says that’s too simplistic, and that resource development will help the nation raise revenue.
The President said even as spending has to be curbed, he wants to fund education, and technology for projects like connecting rural areas of America to high speed internet.
He also said government needs to cut redundancies.
Then there’s my favorite example: the Interior Department is in charge of salmon while they’re in fresh water, but the Commerce Department handles them in when they’re in saltwater. And I hear it gets even more complicated once they’re smoked.
Young said that was one of his favorite parts of the speech, even though he took issue with the President’s explanation of how salmon is regulated.
He’s wrong about the salmon by the way. Commerce Dept does control the oceans salmon, in our waters controlled by state not the Interior Dept. Now that’s the biggest problem about producing in this country, constant over burden, 10 agencies doing the same thing, nobody can get anything done. That’s a good idea.
The speech started with a sober tone, with prayers for Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who was shot in an assassination attempt earlier this month. Members wore black and white ribbons in her honor.
Many Senate and House members sat with no regard to Party. Both Young and Begich noticed a subdued mood in the Chamber, but had different reactions to it:
YOUNG – speech was a little flat. Did you notice that?
BEGICH – Yeah I mean a lot of policy rather than a lot of pomp and circumstance.
And people didn’t know when to stand and not to stand. For the most part, people stood up, but interesting, less of the up down up down. So I thought in a lot of ways people listened.
This was Congressman Young’s first State of the Union in decades. He saved Begich a seat, since the Senator came into the chamber as part of the Democratic leadership team escort of President Obama.
YOUNG- Oh it was fun, I had three good friends with me. I had to save him a seat, nearly got killed.
BEGICH– He did a great job. Because of all those years of doing acquisition of resources for Alaska, he kept that seat open for me. So when I got there it was preserved.
Y – They kept saying who in the hell is Begich.
B – He said oh yeah it’s that other guy (laughs).
Young typically skips the State of the Union, but says he went since so many Democratic friends encouraged him to attend.