Build a wall with military funds? Murkowski says no

July 24, 2018 in Washington, DC
Sen. Lisa Murkowski at the U.S. Capitol. (Photo by Al Drago/Getty Images)

Trump has been floating the idea of building a wall using military construction dollars. Sen. Lisa Murkowski isn’t on board with that. With 5,700 Alaskans unsure whether they’ll miss a payday, she wants to see Congress pass the less controversial bills to at least shrink the number of workers affected.

Murkowski sits on the Appropriations Committee. That’s the one that writes the spending bills. More specifically, she sits on the subcommittee that writes the military construction bill. She said the money in that bill was allocated for important defense projects and should not be diverted to build a wall.

“So I have very serious concerns about why we would be seeking to take funding from those accounts that we have already identified as enhancing our national security,” she said.

Murkowski also said she’s “concerned about the legality” of the president’s idea to declare an emergency on the southern border to access funds for the wall

If Congress and the president can’t agree on Homeland Security funding, Murkowski said they should at least pass the other spending bills.

“You don’t need to hold hostage the Interior bill, the financial bill, the transportation, housing, urban development bills,” she said.

Democratic leaders have said that, too. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he’s not bringing any spending bill to the floor unless the president agrees to it. Some Republican senators are breaking ranks, but Murkowski said there’s no point in wasting time on a bill the president will veto.

“And to have people who are hard-working individuals, who are either furloughed or working and not certain when they’re going to see their next paycheck, I don’t want us to go through a series of failed exercises and leaving these people continuing to worry,” Murkowski said.

About 5,700 Alaskans are employed by the federal government in the departments that are unfunded. By the Washington Post’s calculation, that’s more per capita than any other state. (Not including the District of Columbia, which has far more federal employees than Alaska.)

Some of those Alaskans are on social media, trading tips about which lenders are offering leniency and which companies provide payday loans at low rates.

Mike Ottenweller is a meteorologist and the regional chair for the National Weather Service Employees Organization. This isn’t his first shutdown, but Ottenweller said this one could break the record for the longest if it stretches beyond 21 days.

“As we approach that mark we start to move into unprecedented territory, unchartered waters, so there’s a heightened level of anxiety with each day that passes,” Ottenweller said.

The National Weather Service still has to put out the forecasts, so most employees are working and, unless the shutdown ends soon, they’re just about to reach their first missed payday. Ottenweller said Weather Service employees tend to plan ahead, do their math and act prudently, so most of the union members he’s talked to have a household rainy day fund.

“I think for a while everyone’s got something of a buffer in place,” he said.

Ottenweller said they’re focused on the work and trying not to worry about what happens if the shutdown outlasts their savings.

Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Alaska Public Media. She reports from the U.S. Capitol and from Anchorage.

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