Alaska's junior senator visited the central Kenai Peninsula yesterday to meet with various groups of constituents.
At a joint Kenai-Soldotna chamber of commerce luncheon, U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, a Democrat, sounded off on the economy and energy issues.
Like Begich, most members of Congress are in their home states this week for spring recess. He suspected that some of his colleagues would return to Washington, D.C., taken aback after hearing from constituents about high energy issues.
"They're getting their teeth kicked in over the issue of energy," he said.
Begich said he looked forward to seeing them come back with a perspective closer to what Alaskans already face.
Begich said he wants to see the federal government authorize pre-tax fuel savings accounts to help people save money on gas in the near future, and also continue investing in energy conservation programs.
He's also interested in energy production for the long-term that includes Alaska, he said.
"You cannot have a national energy plan without Alaska being part of it," he said.
Begich said he is trying to work with the president on the federal side of oil and gas development, and also fix some of the "whack-a-mole regulation" currently in place. He has introduced a bill to create an offshore drilling coordinator's office that he argues will streamline the energy industry regulatory process so that decisions can be made and projects move forward without long-term stalling.
Energy wasn't the only topic of the day.
He also talked about the recent near-shut down of the federal government and various budget efforts.
Overall, Begich said that economy is on the upswing, with rising retail sales figures that suggest consumer confidence is returning.
Begich said that the latest budget discussion was really over just 13 percent of the 2011 budget, not the whole thing. Now the entire 2012 budget is up for discussion, which leaves more room for making a dent in the federal debt.
He called the upcoming discussions "the great budget battle."
He said that he'll look at various efficiencies and cuts in the budget, such as cutting corporate farm subsidies and selling unused federal property.
Begich is also working on reducing the federal deficit, he said.
He had worked with a group of Republicans to ensure that repayment from last year's federal bail-out for businesses would go towards reducing the deficit, not to fund new programs. Right now, repayments on that program are on track to generate revenue -- likely about $20 billion -- for the government, he said.
And he teamed up with Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma, on legislation to reclaim an estimated $500 million by rescinding "Orphaned Earmarks." The legislation would rescind funds earmarked for projects that never started or will not be finished and send the money back to the federal coffers if the funds haven't been spent in nine years.
Begich said he also visited with elders from the Kenaitze Indian Tribe, and planned to meet with students at Kenai Peninsula College and local veterans while on the Peninsula.
Molly Dischner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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