In a wide ranging telephonic town hall meeting on Wednesday evening, U.S. Sen. Mark Begich answered questions from Alaskans across the state about the government shutdown, the Affordable Care Act, the debt ceiling, and the effects all of this has on Alaska.
Begich has clashed in the past with Democrats. However, on the shutdown, he’s sticking with his party and he had harsh words for Republicans on Wednesday. “All the gimmicks are coming from the other side,” he said. “These are the kind of shenanigans that Alaskans and Americans all across the country are fed up with.”
The shutdown is in its third day. Federal employees all across the country are furloughed. Veterans’ benefits are being held up, so are checks for those applying for Social Security and disability. According to J.P. Morgan analysts, furloughs will reduce national income by a total of $1.3 billion per week. As a result, the shutdown could shave 0.12 percent off fourth quarter GDP growth for each week it goes on.
Why? Because House Republicans want to defund or delay the onset of the Affordable Care Act as a condition of allowing a budget bill to pass.
To be more specific, an increasingly shrinking number of House Republicans, including Speaker of the House John Boehner, won’t allow a bill on the House floor that would separate funding for the Affordable Care Act from the rest of the budget.
If allowed, such a bill, or a “clean continuing resolution,” would likely pass with the support of more centrist Republicans and those who are up for reelection in more moderate districts.
Begich urged callers to email and call the rest of the congressional delegation to push to get a bill on the floor, particularly Rep. Don Young. He indicated that Young might vote for such a measure, but hasn’t yet said so publicly.
Young was unavailable for comment late on Wednesday evening. In response to a question about whether or not Young would vote for a budget absent conditions on the health care bill, Young’s spokesperson Mike Anderson said that there hasn’t been such a bill yet offered. However, in response to a question about the shutdown on Wednesday afternoon, Young told reporters that if it were up to the Alaska delegation, the crisis would be averted.
Begich also spent time busting a myth: neither Begich, nor any member of Congress get exemptions from signing up for insurance through the exchanges. In fact , he said, they are the only employees in the country who are actually required to get their insurance through the exchanges.
The federal exchange website has been overwhelmed and glitches have been widely reported. One caller expressed frustration over the glitches. Begich said that he too experienced problems when he tried to sign up.
Unlike many other states, Parnell opted to allow the federal government to create the exchange for the state. Had Alaska chosen to create its own exchange, like Washington state did, there would likely be fewer issues, Begich said.
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