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Begich speaks on veterans’ benefits, minimum wage hike

By KTVA CBS 11 News 12:37 PM February 26, 2014

Alaska's Democrat Sen. Mark Begich appeared on KTVA 11's Daybreak Wednesday to address pending legislation involving veterans' benefits and increasing the minimum wage.

KTVA 11′s Daybreak: “Senator, let’s get right to it. New this morning out of D.C., an announcement that the minimum wage vote is again being postponed. Can you briefly explain why, and what you want to see happen with this?”

Sen. Mark Begich: “Well I think part of it is we have a veteran’s bill that’s on the floor right now that’s getting delayed, and we thought we could get to the minimum wage in short order, but it looks like we’ll have to take it after mid-March, approximately, but it’s on it’s way, coming to the floor of the Senate.

The minimum wage is an important part of really building this economy and making sure that people get paid a decent wage for the work they’re performing. You know, Alaska’s always about 50 cents above the minimum wage, a national minimum wage, but from a national perspective, I support the bill that’s coming to the floor that would raise the minimum wage to $10.10.

I just finished a meeting this morning with corporate leaders, business leaders from around the country that not only represent companies in Alaska, but all throughout the country, that talk about how important it was to raise the minimum wage, these companies pay above minimum wage, and why it helps build the middle class and disposable income and, which of course means for a business person, means more people are spending money, means they’re buying more products which means profits go up.

So, I know some people don’t support the minimum wage – it’s a huge mistake, that’s always been bipartisan, and so I think it’s a bill that’s gonna come up toward the end of March and I’m anxious to support it and I believe it’s gonna have a huge impact – long term – to our economy, in a positive way.”

KTVA: “Meanwhile, last night, a vote regarding the comprehensive vet’s package and some good news for Alaska veterans, if you can tell us a little bit more about that?”

Begich: “Well, the package was, the first vote last night was — you know, these crazy rules we have here — it’s the vote to get onto the bill, and that was what they call a cloture vote, made sure we could get onto the veterans’ bill, lot of good stuff in there for Alaskans, but it’s really about making sure that veterans who serve their country get the benefits they deserve and making sure that we expand the benefits and ensuring that, again, veterans receive what they have earned.

But here’s our challenge right now: There are some members who want to add some amendments, which is ok, I’m all for whatever amendments, but now one of the amendments is on the issue of Iran, and sanctions on Iran, which has nothing to do with veterans. But this is what happens here. We have a good bill. Democrats, Republicans support elements of the bill, we’re gonna have a good debate on it, but now it’s stalled — as of last night, after we just got a cloture vote — stalled because we have members who, on the other side, who want to just put stuff down that has no relevance at all to ensuring benefits for veterans.

So we have to kind of struggle through this and negotiate through it, but it’s important because it talks about cleaning up the backlog, as you know, disability claims for veterans, in my office it’s one of the big issues that comes through. This will help clear up some of the backlog. It deals with additional benefits around education, health care and other things that I think are very important for our veterans. So, we got a little struggle right now but we’re going to push double time. Matter of fact, when I’m in Alaska I’m going to have a veterans’ — I think it’s on Monday, if I’m not mistaken — I think it’s Monday I’m going to have a veterans’ meeting and talk to veterans about some of these issues.

KTVA: “On a much lighter note, we’re told you’ll be back in Alaska later this week for a little bit of fun. Fur Rondy, the start of the Iditarod: What’s on your agenda?”

Begich: “Well, it’s a lot of things. I’m actually bringing up Sen. Joe Manchin from West Virginia, he’s a pro-development senator in our caucus and I want to bring him up there so he understands oil and gas issues from Alaska’s perspective. But, we’re gonna bring him into a little cold weather, we’re gonna take him out to the Iditarod start. I might even take him over to the Fur Rondy poker tournament, I always try to play in that for a little bit. There’s a lot of other activities.

Then, on Monday I’ll be speaking to the joint session of the Legislature in Juneau, laying out what I think some of the challenges are, some of the great successes we’ve had and how we move forward as a state in this country. So, full agenda.”

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