“This has been a long-standing disagreement with — with my friend Sen. McCain and the Hawaii delegation, and I have no doubt that he holds these beliefs sincerely, but I think he’s got this one wrong,” Schatz said.
“Many of our most reliable defense contractors depend on these Native Hawaiian companies to — to improve our defense capability at the headquarters of the Pacific Command and throughout the state of Hawaii,” Schatz said. “The Department of Defense has confirmed ... that they find these programs to be valuable, and we’re confident that we’ll be able to overcome these obstacles.”
Begich similarly said that he was prepared to fight against amendments to curtail funding for programs benefitting his home state, many of which Stevens had defended long before him. He pointed to McCain’s long-standing criticism of the Small Business Administration’s 8(a) Business Development program, which helps small businesses including Alaska Native corporations gain access to federal contracting opportunities.
“Sen. McCain ... continues to lack total understanding of the program. I’ve been in many meetings where I’ve had to explain it to him,” Begich said. “8(a)’s been creating incredible economic opportunity, across this country, not just in Alaska but across this country for employment.”
Begich cited scholarships and other education programs that the companies involved finance in rural Alaska.
Begich said “we always feel positive about our opportunities” to prevail over efforts to slash the SBA programs.
Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, who succeeded Inouye as chairman of the Defense Appropriations subcommittee, said the feud over treatment of Hawaiian defense contractors is nothing new.
“This is a long-running debate between Coburn, Inouye, Stevens, which I’m sure is going to continue ... as to whether minority contractors should include Native Hawaiians and Native Alaskans, and you can understand why the two of them wanted it — them to be included,” the Illinois Democrat said. “And you know, McCain has a different point of view.”
The Native Hawaiian provision has been a regular feature of Pentagon spending bills for more than a decade, with each bill since fiscal 2001 containing the language except for fiscal 2004, a Democratic aide explained. During the entirety of that time, either Inouye or Stevens served as the top Defense appropriator, depending on which party controlled the chamber.
“There’s nothing sinister or hidden about this,” Durbin added.