From Julia O'Malley in Anchorage -
Sen. Mark Begich, who was recently named to the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, met with a small group of veterans this morning to hear their concerns as part of a trip back to Alaska after a month in Washington, D.C.
Around 40 people gathered at Carpenters Hall on Denali Street for muffins and coffee. Most of those who showed up were veterans of conflicts before the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their concerns were mainly focussed on health care and job creation for vets.
Toward the end of the question-and-answer session, the subject turned to the $789 billion economic stimulus package, which Begich supported last week. A member of the audience, who introduced himself as "not a Democrat," asked, "Where is there a place where an average citizen like myself can go online and read these 1,400 pages' worth of law that you good people did?"
Begich then took several minutes to defend the package, which he said wasn't actually 1,400 pages, and to dig at Republicans who put in amendments to the bill but didn't vote for it. Begich was the only member of the state's three members of Congress to support the package.
"The spin on this is the most amazing thing," he said.
"Everyone makes it sound like no Republicans participated. False. Matter of fact, $110 billion of this was by two amendments by Republicans who then voted against the bill."
They got the stimulus package changed in committee, he said.
"When it gets to the floor, which really is what you watch, what the news watches, then you hear these guys spout off, 'The most expensive bill I've ever seen! It's outrageous!' Well, they put amendments in."
The economic recovery package is expected to bring about $1 billion in federal spending and tax breaks to the state, according to Begich.
Here's a video.