In many ways, 2021 has been a difficult year in Washington, DC.
It started with a deadly riot on Capitol Hill, which was quickly followed by an impeachment trial. The Biden administration took office and began to reverse many of the policies crucial to responsible resource development in Alaska. Then came the policy and planning failures that contributed to the horribly botched withdrawal from Afghanistan, supply chain disruptions, and inflation to levels not seen in decades. Geopolitical threats from China and Russia have increased and the Covid pandemic has continued to impact our daily lives.
There have been many reasons not to be grateful in 2021. Yet, when Congress put aside its differences and worked together, we have achieved significant accomplishments that will bring benefits for a long time to come.
The best example is the bipartisan infrastructure package, a landmark measure that I helped draft, negotiate and enact legislation. It will bring billions of dollars to Alaska in the years to come, connecting us in new ways and clearly improving our daily lives. If you love good roads, safe bridges, improved ferry service, flush toilets, reliable internet and clean energy, the two-party infrastructure package is cause for optimism as we are looking to the future.
Another victory came in the form of the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act. The Southeast’s economy is largely seasonal and tourism-based, and the impact of Covid’s travel restrictions has hit them particularly hard. With many local businesses hanging on a thread, we couldn’t let one lost season turn into two, and the Alaskan delegation worked together to save this year’s cruise season. The exemption we have obtained is critical and we are now looking to make it permanent.
In the final week of the 2021 Senate session, lawmakers gathered to pass a strong measure to increase defense spending, provide for a significant salary increase for members of our military, and prioritize support for military families. The Defense Bill also devotes critical resources to Arctic security and codifies key aspects of the newly announced Ted Stevens Center for Arctic Security Studies for Anchorage into law.
Just before the Senate adjourned for the year, we passed the ACT for ALS Act, which the President signed off last week. While this bill does not make the evening headlines, it provides a tremendous boost to the ALS community and the advocates who have worked so hard to gain support for it. This measure is about hope – hope for all those affected by Lou Gehrig’s disease – and it will help improve treatments and quality of life as we seek a cure.
These are some of the silver linings 2021 has brought. And the way each of these measures has been enacted – thanks to a firm commitment to bipartisanship on the part of members of both parties – is a timely lesson for all who are privileged to hold public office.
In my experience, just about anyone can launch partisan attacks to slow progress and prevent consensus building. It’s easier to drop someone else’s bill than to see one of your own up to the finish line. And too many members of Congress are taking this to heart right now – either having no interest in bipartisanship or no longer seeing any benefit in it, not least because they will be labeled as sold out if they cross the aisle. .
It is a dangerous state of mind that cannot be allowed to take hold. Alaskans benefit when we work together. Bipartism remains the only way to get things done and to ensure that they last through the elections.
There is also a larger lesson here that I hope we can all take to heart as we head into a New Year.
Showing respect and kindness, even to those with whom we may disagree, is worth it. Today more than ever, we must treat each other as friends and neighbors. The more we do, the better off we will all be.
It’s easy to dwell on the negatives of 2021. It’s been a busy year, but there are also glimmers of hope. As we head into an uncertain New Year, there is a path where civility and common decency can prevail. And he must, for the good of Alaska and our country.
US Senator Lisa Murkowski has been a member of the Senate since December 2002.