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ALASKA

Vet-ting The Issue

Sen. Ted Stevens (R) and Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich (D) "are taking opposing positions on a new GI bill to give more educational benefits to veterans." Begich "chose the issue" 4/28 "for his first news conference since entering the race last week."

Begich: "I urge Sen. Stevens to join me in providing veterans the full cost of college education, like the one he received when he returned from World War II, thanks to the GI Bill." AK "is a state with a large military population, and veterans' issues are always a major focus of congressional races." Begich "called on Stevens to get behind a bill" sponsored by Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) and Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE). It would pay for four years of college for any post-9/11 veterans. The proposal "also includes an allowance for living expenses, based on local housing prices."

 

Stevens spokesperson Aaron Saunders "said the military has concerns the bill doesn't offer incentives for service members to re-enlist after their first hitch. There's a worry people would leave the military as soon as possible to get school benefits." Saunders: "(Stevens) has concerns about what it may do to the retention rate." Saunders said Stevens wants to work with the bill sponsors and John McCain, who opposes the Webb-Hagel bill "and has a proposal for more modest increases in veteran's benefits."

Saunders: "When it comes to the Senate floor there will be an opportunity for compromise." Begich "said no compromises are acceptable. Today's veterans should get the same benefits as veterans of previous wars." The Webb-Hagel bill has 57 Senate supporters," including Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) (Cockerham, Anchorage Daily News, 4/29).

You Have Ra-ceived A Bimp, One Could Get A Concussion From Such A Bimp

Meanwhile, the DOI IG "has opened an investigation into whether federal money was inappropriately used to pay for a celebration of the 20th anniversary" of the AK Volcano Observatory that recognized its chief patron, Stevens.

 

Sources "say the IG is looking into the funding behind the event at the Russell Senate Office Building." Organizers of the event were the U. of AK at Fairbanks, which runs the observatory, university lobbyist Martha Stewart and the U.S. Geological Survey, which manages the observatory's funding.

At issue "is whether federal dollars were used in connection with a lobbying event. Federal law prohibits the use of federal funds for such an activity, either directly through the Geological Survey or indirectly through the observatory, which receives much of its funding from Stevens' earmarks." The investigation "highlights the often close relationship among lawmakers, lobbyists, federal agencies and recipients of earmarks." The observatory "has long been a pet project of Stevens and has received millions in earmarks over the last 20 years as a result of his support" (Stanton, Roll Call, 4/30).

Brothers In Arms

"Putting their friendship above party," Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI) "will headline a fundraiser today" for Stevens. Inouye is the "special guest" at the noon event at 101 Constitution Ave. NW. "According to the invitation, the lunch is organized by a several high-profile lobbyists," including Stevens ex-top aide Lisa Sutherland. "Inouye and Stevens have long been allies and senior appropriators, and have reputations for putting their personal and working relationships ahead of party politics" (Billings, RollCall.com, 4/30).

This article appears in the April 30, 2008 edition of Latest Edition.

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