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Stimulus stimulating for Alaska Republicans

Amanda Coyne

Both Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Rep. Don Young are taking the Republican line on President Barack Obama's $787 billion economic stimulus package poised to go into law this weekend. Young voted against it Friday in the House, and Murkowski plans to vote against it in the Senate Friday evening.

The stimulus package has come under fire from Republicans, including Murkowski and Young, for being wastefully and non-stimulatory. But for as loudly as they are sounding the trumpet on government waste, both seem awfully eager to tell the public that they're making sure that Alaska squeezes every dime out of it.

Murkowski was quoted in the Anchorage Daily News today as telling Alaska Native groups to "get your grant writers ready," even while criticizing the bill.

Mike Brumas a Murkowski spokesman said that her stance on this just makes sense. "The pie is going to be cut, so of course she is encouraging Alaska to get its fair share," he said.

In other words: thumb up towards Alaska, thumb down in D.C.

This disconnect might be more forgivable if she had been more of a Republican fiscal hawk all along. However, she was a member of the Senate when President Bush and her party were running up trillions of dollars worth of debt. And, too, she voted for Bush's $700 billion bank bailout in October. The bill had few details and very little oversight. Half of that money has already been spent, and nobody really knows where it went.

As he did with Bush's bill in October, Young voted with all Republicans in the House against it Friday afternoon. "This bill was not a stimulus bill, it was a vehicle for pet projects, and that's wrong," he said.

He has a particular problem with the $1 billion in the bill that will go for a prevention and wellness fund, which can be used for sexually transmitted disease education and prevention programs.

At the same time, Young took credit for ensuring that minority-owned businesses, including Native corporations, were still able to apply for no-bid federal contracts that would arise out of the stimulus bill. Murkowski also wrote a letter in support of the program.

The program has been under fire the past several years because it seems wrong to some that NANA, for instance, could get preference for a contract to rebuild Iraq, which it then subcontracts out to Halliburton, say. So far, Alaska Native corporations--some of the state's largest businesses--have won more than $1 billion in such contracts. Some of that money might have actually gone to the small, minority businesses the program was intended to help.

Of all the state's Republican leaders, Gov. Sarah Palin seemed to be the one who most followed her values on this--initially, at least. In a press release, she indicated that her administration would only request projects intending to build infrastructure and the national defense. She got pretty well hammered on that, however, and in a news conference this week she assured Alaskans that "Nothing's off the table."