Begich says deficit won’t be an easy fix

U.S. Senator gives super committee “50-50” chance of making headway


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U.S. Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) speaks to the Chugiak-Eagle River Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, Aug. 31 at the Bear Mountain Grill in Eagle River. Begich spoke about several topics, including the need for officials in Washington, D.C. to better understand Alaska issues and his take on how to balance the budget.(Below)Begich hugs Chugiak-Eagle River Chamber of Commerce executive director Susie Gorski after arriving for his speech at the chamber’s luncheon.

STAR PHOTOS BY MATT TUNSETH

According to figures available from the U.S. government, the nation’s bank accounts will run at a significant loss in 2011. How significant? $1,645,000,000,000.

With that much money, you could pave the Glenn Highway from Anchorage to Eagle River — both the inbound and outbound lanes — with $100 bills. And you could do it 320 times over.

U.S. Sen. Mark Begich told the Chugiak-Eagle River Chamber of Commerce last Wednesday, Aug. 31 that he doesn’t think there are any simple solutions to balancing the checkbook.

“You do have to cut the budget, there’s no question about it,” Begich told a packed house at the Bear Mountain Grill in Eagle River. “But you cannot cut your way out of this.” Instead, Begich said he favors a “three-pronged” approach that includes budget reductions, tax law reform and investment in the nation’s infrastructure, education and energy sectors. “Our infrastructure in this country is falling apart,” he said. On taxes, Begich said he wants to simplify the tax code so that “loopholes” exploited by large corporations are closed and taxes are easier to understand for everyday Americans.

“There has to be some reform,” he said. The Senate has appointed a bipartisan “super committee” to explore ways to address the government’s massive annual shortfall between spending and revenue. Begich — who does not sit on the committee — said he thinks the bipartisan group has a “50-50” chance of making real progress between now and a Dec. 23 deadline for coming up with a plan.

“In the U.S. Senate, if you’ve got 50-50 odds of anything, that’s good,” he said.

As for where he thinks budget cuts should come from, Begich was nonspecific, though he did hint that cuts to defense and security (which make up about 70 percent of the nation’s $1.3 trillion in discretionary spending) won’t be off limits. “There will be cuts, but there’s a way to do it,” he said.

However, Begich assured the chamber that he’s a strong supporter of the military, and would fight against any cuts that would affect the well-being of U.S. troops or veterans.

“I’m not interested in reducing their pay or cutting their benefits,” Begich said.

Begich was visiting Eagle River as part of a statewide tour, during which he said he spent much of his time acting as a guide for Cabinet members and other government officials. He said it’s important for people who make decisions for Alaska to get a real-world education in what the Last Frontier is like.

“The goal is to get these folks to understand what Alaska’s all about,” he said. Begich said he believes increased energy development — a key issue for all Alaskans — will be big part of solving the debt problems that have threatened the nation’s fiscal well-being.

“If you want to build the economy, you have to have reliable energy,” he said.

Contact Matt Tunseth at 694-2727 or matt.tunseth@alaskastar.com

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