Huntsville Council Member, Will Culver, was arrested and charged with Driving Under the Influence (DUI) Sunday morning according to jail records. Culver represents the 5th district which is the furthest west district according to the Huntsville City Council website.
Records show that 57-year-old Culver was booked into the Madison County Jail at 2:26 a.m. and is also charged with Driving on the Wrong Side of the Road, Failure to Signal and Improper Lane Change.
The No. 2 Auburn equestrian team put together a true team effort Saturday afternoon and captured the 2018 NCEA Championship crown, defeating No. 1 Georgia, 10-5, in the Extraco Events Center in Waco, Texas.
The national title was the program’s fifth overall and the 21st in Auburn athletics history. Coach Greg Williams’ equestrian team has won the last four of those in 2011, 2013, 2016 and 2018.
“It’s always wonderful to win a national championship, but it was also very nerve-wracking when you go in with a team that should win it like the one we had,” Williams said. “Georgia is a great team and they weren’t going to give it to us. This Auburn group deserves it and I’m so proud of everyone for their efforts this whole week.”
A Center Point homeowner is fed up with the crime in her neighborhood.
She said that around 6 p.m. on Friday she was stopped at a traffic light on Center Point Parkway when the two cars in front of her started shooting at each other.
As other cars swerved to avoid getting hit, the two cars then sped off.
She said she immediately called police.
For safety reasons, she didn’t want to give her name or show her face on camera.
“Everyone is very frustrated,” she said. “It’s common news now because it happens so often. It’s negative right now because there’s nothing being done. We just need to stick together and eventually something will be done.”
"Frontier Airlines will begin direct flights from Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport on April 11, the airline announced today. Frontier Airlines will start by offering direct service to Denver, Orlando and Philadelphia from Birmingham. Introductory prices will start at $39."
"At 87, Clint Eastwood is not only trying new things, he’s trying daring new things, and his new film 15:17 to Paris represents one of the most audacious gambits of his career. To dramatize the tale of three Americans who tackled and subdued a heavily armed Islamist terrorist on a train out of Amsterdam in 2015, Eastwood cast the young men, none of whom had professional acting experience, as themselves. It’s a decision with little precedent in the entire history of motion pictures."
When the 115th Congress kicked off last January, I immediately introduced a bill that I believe is fundamental to the future of our country: a Balanced Budget Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The premise of a Balanced Budget Amendment is pretty straightforward. The federal government should not be allowed to spend more than we take in, except in extraordinary circumstances like a time of war.
This isn’t some sort of far flung idea. When I served in the Alabama State Legislature, we were required to pass a balanced budget each year. It was not always easy, but it was the law. The vast majority of states have the same requirement.
Balancing a budget is also a common occurrence for families in Alabama and across the United States. Every month, people sit around their kitchen table to figure out how to make ends meet and live within their means. Small businesses must do the same.
The federal government should have to play by the same rules.
To truly enact a Balanced Budget Amendment, we would need to add an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. As a reminder, in order to amend the Constitution, the Balanced Budget Amendment must pass both the House and the Senate by a two-thirds majority and then be ratified by three-fourths of the states, which is 38 out of the 50 states. The only other way to amend the Constitution would be through a constitutional convention called for by two-thirds of the states.
Recently, the House voted on House Joint Resolution 2, proposing a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution. Despite receiving the support of a majority of us in the House, the bill did not receive the two-thirds majority necessary under the Constitution.
I was deeply disappointed that most Democrats in the House opposed the Balanced Budget Amendment. Despite talking a lot about our debt, they rejected one of the best opportunities to actually restore fiscal sanity in Washington.
Throughout the course of the debate, two important topics were raised, and I wanted to briefly address each of them.
First, despite what my colleagues on the other side of the aisle believe, the answer to our debt issues is not to tax the American people more. We do not have a tax problem; we have a spending problem.
To be clear, the recently passed tax cuts are not to blame for our nation’s debt issues. As the Heritage Foundation recently pointed out, “tax revenue is expected to fall by only 0.7 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) this year and spending is expected to climb by 3 percent of GDP.” Again, we have a spending problem, not a taxing problem.
Second, the most serious drivers of the national debt are on autopilot. For example, if you eliminated every penny Congress appropriated for defense spending next year, the federal government would still be projected to operate in a deficit. So-called mandatory spending programs must be reined in, and a balanced budget amendment would finally require Congress to tackle those programs head on.
Now, I know passing a balanced budget would be hard, but I did not run for Congress because I thought the job would be easy. We were elected by our neighbors to make difficult choices and decisions.
So, while our recent effort to pass a Balanced Budget Amendment came up short, I will not let it stop me from continuing to push for a balanced budget that requires the federal government to live within our means, just like the American people.
U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.
Rep. Bradley Byrne: Congratulating our service academy nominees
(U.S. Representative Bradley Byrne/Facebook)
America’s Armed Forces are made up of young men and women who bravely answered the call of service and have accepted the challenge of defending our great nation.
As a Member of Congress, I have the distinct privilege each year of nominating outstanding young individuals from Southwest Alabama to attend our nation’s military service academies. This process of nominating the next generation of servicemen and women is one of the most rewarding parts of being a Congressman.
These nominees are proven leaders in their classrooms and communities who have stood out among the rest of their peers. This is apparent simply from their choice to serve our nation. Joining the United States military is a commitment that requires strong character and valor, and I applaud these impressive young men and women for their decision to serve.
To attend most of the service academies, students must receive a nomination from a Member of Congress, the Vice President, or the President. The admission process is incredibly rigorous with an acceptance rate of less than 20% for each of the academies.
Once students complete their education, they must fulfill a service commitment. Most of these commitments are at least five years active duty, but the service requirement may be longer for certain specialized fields.
I hope you will join me in congratulating these twelve outstanding individuals from Southwest Alabama who received a service academy nomination this year:
–Zyahn Archibald, from St. Paul’s Episcopal School, received a nomination to the United States Naval Academy.
–Thomas Chandler, from Murphy High School, received nominations to the United States Military Academy, United States Naval Academy, and United States Merchant Marine Academy.
–Jack DeTombe, from Foley High School, received nominations to the United States Military Academy, United States Naval Academy, and United States Air Force Academy.
–Wil Dobbins, from Baldwin County High School, received a nomination to the United States Naval Academy.
–Joshua Gardner, from Fairhope High School, received nominations to the United States Military Academy, United States Naval Academy, United States Air Force Academy, and United States Merchant Marine Academy.
–Justin Ingram, from Spanish Fort High School, received a nomination to the United States Military Academy.
–Bailee Jordan, from Baker High School, received nominations to the United States Military Academy, United States Naval Academy, United States Air Force Academy, and United States Merchant Marine Academy.
–Trae’ Lee, from Escambia Academy, received a nomination to the United States Naval Academy.
–Michelle Roca, from Mc-Gill Toolen Catholic High School, received nominations to the United States Naval Academy and United States Air Force Academy.
–Felix Ronderos, from UMS-Wright Preparatory School, received nominations to the United States Military Academy.
–Abby Warner, from Fairhope High School, received a nomination to the United States Air Force Academy.
–John Marshall Williams, from Fairhope High School, received nominations to the United States Naval Academy and United States Merchant Marine Academy.
To maintain the greatest fighting force on the face of the Earth, we must have outstanding men and women who are willing to serve in the military. I have no doubt that if selected, these students will be a fantastic addition to our Armed Forces. As these brave men and women head into the start of their military careers, I wish them all the best in the years ahead.
If you or someone you know would be interested in attending a military service academy, feel free to reach out to my office at 251-989-2664. Eligible applicants must be at least 17 years old, be a citizen of the United States, have good moral character, demonstrate strong leadership skills, and achieve impressive scholastic achievements.
U.S. Representative Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope
There is no more important function of the federal government than to provide for our common defense. Unfortunately, for nearly seven years, Democrats have held funding for our military hostage, and as a result, we are facing a serious readiness crisis in our military.
We have planes unable to fly and ships that cannot sail. A lack of proper resources has resulted in a loss of servicemember lives and has made our country ill-prepared to face aggression from dangerous adversaries like China, Russia, and North Korea. This level of vulnerability is unacceptable.
President Donald Trump signed into law H.R. 1625, the Fiscal Year 2018 government funding bill, which ensures funding for the entire federal government through September 30th. This legislation provides the resources to finally rebuild our military as President Trump and Secretary of Defense Mattis have promised.
The biggest factor in my vote for this bill was the fact that it fully funds our military after years of dangerous budget cuts that crippled our national defense. With this bill, we are finally getting the resources our servicemen and women need to keep our nation safe. I am confident in the Trump Administration’s ability to spend this money in a way that reflects our conservative priorities and rebuilds our national defense.
Importantly, this bill includes many provisions important to Southwest Alabama. Specifically, the bill funds the construction of three Littoral Combat Ships and one Expeditionary Fast Transport, which are constructed right here at Austal USA in Mobile. These ships are critical in our efforts to build a fully capable 355-ship Navy fleet.
The funding bill paves the way for new road projects, like the I-10 Bridge, while also ensuring resources for improvements to the Port of Mobile and necessary expansion of rural broadband initiatives. It includes strong funding levels for vital coastal ecosystem programs and makes critical investments for Alabama’s farmers and foresters.
Fighting illegal immigration remains a top priority, and I am pleased to report that the bill includes $1.57 billion for physical barriers along the Southwest border and provides funding for more than 95 miles of a border wall system. The bill also increases funding for border security and immigration enforcement, putting more “boots on the ground.”
Unfortunately, there are some misconceptions about the funding bill circulating online and in the national news media, and I want to set the record straight.
One such claim is that the bill funds Planned Parenthood. There is not a single penny of funding for Planned Parenthood in this legislation. In fact, the bill includes the Hyde Amendment, which makes clear that no taxpayer money can be used to perform abortions.
Second, the bill does not include a pay raise for Members of Congress. In fact, the bill includes a freeze in pay for Members of Congress, as it should.
Third, the bill does not include any provision to restrict Second Amendment rights. It does include the Fix NICS Act, which is supported by President Trump and the NRA. The provision simply ensures that government officials put required information into the National Instant Criminal Background System (NICS). It does not expand who is ineligible to purchase a firearm or make changes to the current background check process when buying a gun.
To be clear, this was not a perfect bill. I join President Trump in calling on the Senate to change the 60-vote filibuster rule to make it easier to pass funding bills that better meet our national priorities.
In the meantime, I believe supporting this bill was the best option given the circumstances and the critical need to fully fund the United States military.
U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope. bradley
Each year, during Holy Week, Christians gather in the pews to remember the death and crucifixion of Jesus and celebrate his resurrection. As we retell the story of the Passion and celebrate Easter, we count our many blessings and profess our faith as Christians.
For many Americans, Easter marks a time of reflection and celebration spent with family members. It can be easy to take for granted our freedom to practice our beliefs freely. Unfortunately, in other parts of the world, people of minority religious backgrounds are in danger of being persecuted for their beliefs. Alarmingly, many of them live in fear of openly professing their faith.
As we know all too well, Jesus Christ himself was persecuted and unjustly died for his religious beliefs. We should be guided by his teaching that injustice toward any individual, no matter their beliefs, should not be allowed to continue.
Recently, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, an organization promoting religious freedom and raising awareness on the worldwide persecution of Christians and other religious groups, published a startling report revealing the influence that persecution of religious minority children has on obtaining a quality education. No child should ever be turned away from an education simply for following their faith.
Even more troubling, as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and other Islamic extremists hold power in parts of the Middle East, Christian churches and holy sites are being desecrated and Christians themselves are being forced from their homes, attacked, captured, killed, and even beheaded. While much progress has been made in the fight against ISIS, these shocking stories of injustice reiterate a need for action.
In response to this growing threat, the House passed H.R. 390, the Iraq and Syria Genocide Emergency Relief and Accountability Act of 2017, to support entities, including faith-based organizations, that are serving victims of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes committed by ISIS and other terrorist organizations.
Additionally, the bill encourages foreign countries to add information about suspected perpetrators of terror attacks to their security databases. By addressing the source of these attacks, we can better protect Christians and other religious minorities being attacked for their beliefs. The passage of this legislation was a positive step for religious freedom across the globe.
I have always made it a priority to bring attention to the heartbreaking reality of religious persecution that takes place around the world. While things may appear comfortable on our own soil, we must keep in mind that the problem of religious persecution around the globe is sadly getting worse, not better.
We must also remember that the issue of religious freedom is about more than just Christians. The ability for people to exercise their faith without fear of retribution is key to a stable democracy, recognized by our founding fathers nearly 250 years ago. Our national interests are best served when the world is stable and individuals are not deprived of basic freedoms. As Ronald Reagan said, “A government which does not respect the rights of its own people and laws is unlikely to respect those of its neighbors.”
This Easter, in addition to your regular reflections, I urge you to stop and say a special prayer for our brothers and sisters who are under attack across the globe for their faith. I also encourage you to say a prayer for our country and our leaders, that we may realize this worldwide struggle and move forward to bring about true change that preserves the freedom of religion around the globe.
From my family to yours: Happy Easter and may God continue to bless our great nation.
U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.
Bill funds ‘active shooter’ training for local law enforcement, school faculty and staff, and students
For much of the year, the safety of our students rests in the hands of the faculty, staff, and resource officers at our schools. Without a shadow of a doubt, the people who know best how to protect our schools are the teachers, parents, administrators, police officers, and students in their own communities.
In February, the tragic shooting in Parkland, Florida resonated throughout our communities, highlighting a disturbing trend of individuals who clearly show signs of grave mental instability falling through the cracks.
Sadly, this incident likely could have been avoided had there been better oversight at every level of law enforcement. From the top down, we failed these students by not heeding the warning signs and working together as a team to ensure our students’ safety.
In response to this incident, the House recently passed the Student, Teacher’s Officer’s Prevention (STOP) School Violence Act, which Bill to help identify and prevent school violence before these tragic events occur.
First, the STOP School Violence Act provides funding for training to prevent student violence, including training for local law enforcement officers, school personnel, and students in the event of an emergency. This training would be designed to give students and school personnel the ability to recognize and respond quickly to warning signs of violent behavior and would include active shooter training.
Second, the bill provides funding for technology and equipment to improve school security. This includes the development and operation of anonymous reporting systems, as well as the installation of metal detectors, locks, and other preventative technologies to keep schools secure.
The legislation also authorizes funding for school threat assessment and crisis intervention teams for school personnel to respond to threats before they become real-time incidents. Recognizing the warning signs of violent, threatening behavior and having the proper resources to address it on the front end can prevent these tragedies from ever occurring.
Finally, the STOP School Violence Act provides funding to support law enforcement coordination efforts, particularly the officers who already staff schools. From the federal level all the way down to our local law enforcement, we need to ensure there is accountability and communication when handling violent behavior.
Many of our local schools are already reevaluating their security measures and taking additional steps to promote a safe learning environment for our students. Our students’ safety and security should always remain a top priority, and I believe it is imperative that our local schools have the most appropriate resources in place in the event of an emergency.
As we look for ways to prevent these terrible tragedies, I am open to additional solutions to address the underlying issues that cause these events to occur. That said, I remain steadfastly committed to upholding the individual right of all law-abiding Americans to keep and bear arms. Millions of Americans should not have their Second Amendment rights infringed upon due to the bad actions of a few individuals.
Rather, I believe we should focus on addressing mental health issues and combatting the role of violence in our modern culture, such as the prevalence of violent video games that normalize this behavior for our young students, and promoting commonsense solutions that will address the larger issues of mental health so that those with mental illness do not fall through the cracks.
There is still work to be done to ensure each child’s safety and well-being while attending classes. However, I am proud that we have taken this action in the House to promote a safe, secure learning environment for our children.
U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.
Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-AL1) speaks on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Last week, the House took a big step toward long overdue tax reform when we passed our budget for Fiscal Year 2018. The budget is important because it opens up the process by which we can bypass a Democrat filibuster and pass tax reform with 51 votes in the Senate.
If you read last week’s column, you know that the unified Republican tax plan will benefit working families by lowering tax rates, increasing the standard deduction, expanding the child tax credit, and simplifying the entire tax code. Under our plan, most Americans would be able to do their taxes on a single, small postcard.
For me, the top priority of tax reform is to make things easier for working families who deserve to keep more of their hard-earned money in their pockets instead of sending it to the federal government. That will remain my main goal throughout the process.
At the same time, tax reform also allows us to level the playing field for small businesses and promote economic growth. When the American economy is stronger, American families are stronger. Many things have changed since we last had tax reform in 1986. Unfortunately, for the most part, the way we tax businesses has not.
With this in mind, our tax reform plan strives to help small businesses, which are the backbone of the American economy. Most small business owners and job creators say that the current confusing and burdensome tax code is one of the biggest challenges they face.
Under our plan, the top tax rate applied to the business income of small and family-owned businesses conducted as sole proprietorships, partnerships, and S corporations would be 25%. This is significantly lower than the top rate these businesses pay today. Most Americans work for these Main Street businesses, and lowering the small business rate will produce a boom of economic activity and more American jobs.
Our plan also calls for a reduction in the corporate tax rate to 20%. Our current corporate tax rate is the highest in the industrialized world and has resulted in businesses shipping jobs and revenues overseas. This is why lowering the corporate rate is a key part of President Trump’s economic agenda.
As another way to help spur economic growth, our plan would allow businesses to deduct 100% of the money they spend on capital investments for at least the next five years. This will incentivize businesses to buy heavy machinery and equipment that is necessary to really jumpstart our economy.
Importantly, our plan also focuses on leveling the playing field and closing loopholes that only benefit the well-off and well-connected.
Another key piece of our plan centers around bringing jobs and businesses back to America. We want to move from the current “offshoring model” that has been a disaster for American workers toward an “American model” that encourages more companies to do business in our country.
We do this by ending the current tax code’s disincentive for companies that want to bring wealth they have earned overseas back to the United States. Foreign profits already accumulated offshore will be subject to a low, one-time tax. This will bring money flowing back into America.
By creating a more business-friendly tax code, more jobs will be created and greater opportunities will exist for the American people. Again, a stronger economy leads to a stronger America where everyone benefits.
Of course, our tax reform plan must still go through the legislative process and changes will likely occur. I also want your feedback to hear what concerns or ideas you have regarding our tax reform plan. You can find the plan online at FairAndSimple.gop.
Last week was a hectic and monumental week at the U.S. Capitol. As we prepared to mark the 7th anniversary of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, President Trump was pushing the House to pass his plan to repeal and replace Obamacare.
Known as the American Health Care Act, the bill would have repealed Obamacare, ended the government mandates, cut taxes, lowered premiums, reduced the deficit, and transferred control over health care from the federal government to the individual states.
I was ready to vote in favor of the bill and support President Trump’s agenda. Unfortunately, the bill did not have the support needed to pass, and it was pulled before a vote was ever held. I was certainly disappointed by this outcome because I want to repeal and replace Obamacare with something that actually works.
Some Democrats, like former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, used this occasion to celebrate and claim victory. Despite their jubilation, Obamacare is still on a collision course with disaster. So, while they may want to celebrate now, Obamacare still must go.
President Trump has indicated that he wants to move the focus from health care to other issues, like tax reform, and I think it is important we continue moving forward with our conservative, pro-growth agenda. That said, we cannot give up on our efforts to bring relief to the American people when it comes to health care.
In fact, just last week, the House succeeded in passing two separate bills focused on improving our nation’s health care system.
The first bill, the Competitive Health Insurance Reform Act, passed with overwhelming bipartisan support by a vote of 416 to 7. The bill updates the McCarran-Ferguson Act of 1945 to restore competition in the health insurance industry by ensuring application of federal antitrust laws.
I have long believed that increasing competition is key to fixing our health care system and lowering costs. By ending a special-interest exemption in law, we can rein in insurance company practices, increase competition, and lower prices for consumers.
The second bill, the Small Business Health Fairness Act, is all about helping our small businesses lower health care costs for their employees. The bill empowers small businesses to band together through association health plans to purchase health insurance. This will allow them to increase their bargaining power, negotiating for lower health insurance rates on behalf of their employees.
The Small Business Health Fairness Act simply guarantees that our nation’s small businesses are afforded the same opportunities given to large corporations and labor unions. Small businesses are the backbone of our economy, and it is critical they be able to offer affordable insurance options to their workers.
Additionally, Secretary of Health and Human Services, Dr. Tom Price, has indicated he stands ready to use his administrative power to stabilize the insurance market and give states additional flexibility when it comes to health care. The way Obamacare was written, the Secretary has a lot of control and power, and it is important Dr. Price use that authority.
Ultimately, I expect we will be back debating the repeal and replacement of Obamacare sooner rather than later. In the meantime, we should not stop looking for targeted ways to increase competition, lower costs, and help American families.
Last week’s health care setback is disappointing, but we must move on from this moment and continue working to solve the problems facing our nation. We are going to make America great again, and that requires us to work together for the good of everyone in our nation.
“In a death spiral.” Those are the words Mark Bertolini, CEO of Aetna, one of our nation’s largest insurance companies, used to describe the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.
When I first ran for Congress in 2013, repealing and replacing Obamacare was a top priority. I introduced a bill to repeal the law, which passed the House but never reached the President’s desk. Unfortunately, with President Obama in the White House, our efforts never succeeded. Even when we finally got a repeal bill to the President’s desk, he vetoed it.
Thankfully, last year’s elections completely changed the dynamics. President Trump is committed to repealing and replacing Obamacare, and Republicans control both the House and the Senate. The stage is set to finally get rid of this failed law.
Why is this so important? Because Obamacare is a fundamentally flawed law that cannot simply be fixed or patched back together. Obamacare has cost the economy $53 billion and an estimated 176,897,428 paperwork hours. Those are funds and time that employers can’t use to hire people and jumpstart the economy.
More importantly, with its government mandates, higher taxes, and increased regulations, Obamacare is hurting hardworking American families. We have seen canceled plans, higher premiums, fewer choices, and increased deductibles.
Believe it or not, former President Bill Clinton might have put it best when he called Obamacare “the craziest thing in the world.” He also pointed out that it has resulted in “people who are out there busting it, sometimes 60 hours a week, wind up with their premiums doubled and their coverage cut in half.”
I’ve heard story after story from people who live in Southwest Alabama who have been negatively impacted by this law. In fact, I have had people come up to me with tears in their eyes to show me their cancellation notice or premium increase letter.
Despite President Obama’s promise that “if you like your plan, you can keep it,” 4.7 million Americans were kicked off their health care plans by Obamacare. Many of these Americans liked the plan they had, only to have the federal government step in and tell them it was not good enough.
Premiums are also skyrocketing. Seven states have seen premium increases of more than 50% in 2017. In Alabama, this year’s premiums on the exchange increased 58% on average for a benchmark plan and 36% for the individual market as a whole. For those with employer-sponsored coverage, individual premiums are up 27% on average nationwide, more than double the average rise in workers’ wages. Deductibles are up an average of 60% since 2010.
Americans are also facing fewer and fewer health care choices, with five states – including Alabama – only having one insurer to choose from. In fact, next year, some counties in the United States may not have a single option on the Obamacare marketplace. At that point, those Americans relying on Obamacare will have nowhere to turn and the law will have failed.
The bottom line is that Obamacare is on a collision course. If Congress were to sit back and do nothing, Obamacare would implode. This would leave millions of Americans with no insurance and the overall insurance market for the rest of us in a dangerous condition. So, Congress must act and rescue the American people from this broken law.
I have pledged to repeal and replace Obamacare since being elected to Congress, and I remain committed to honoring that pledge. Now, under unified Republican government, we have the best opportunity we have ever had to get rid of this failed law and instead provide Americans with the freedom, choice, and control that they deserve.
Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-AL1) delivers the weekly Republican Address (YouTube)
I’ve held over 75 town hall meetings since being elected to Congress, and these meetings allow me to get a feel for what issues are most important to the people I represent. At every single town hall meeting, I get at least one question about problems at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
We have all read different stories about the VA in the newspapers – stories about secret wait lists, VA employees stealing drugs, veterans dying while waiting for care, and doctors overprescribing pain medication.
During my town hall meetings, veterans stand up and put a real, human face on the horrible problems at the VA. I have seen veterans literally break into tears when talking about the lack of timely care or bureaucratic roadblocks. The stories are heartbreaking.
Our veterans deserve better than this. The culture of complacency and lack of accountability at the VA is simply unacceptable.
Now, I know not everyone who works in the VA system is a bad actor. There are certainly people who work tirelessly day in and day out to serve our veterans. Unfortunately, their stories are overshadowed by the widespread challenges.
Ultimately, I think we need to fundamentally reconsider the way we care for our nation’s veterans. These men and women have put their lives on the line to protect our freedoms, and we should do everything we can to ensure they receive the care they deserve.
I recently introduced H.R. 1032, the Full Choice for Veterans Act. This short, two-page bill would change the law to ensure every veteran eligible for VA care is also able to seek medical care from private doctors, specialists, and hospitals in their local community.
In other words, my bill would give veterans access to private, local medical care instead of forcing them into the broken VA system. Giving veterans the choice of private care will allow them to receive more timely access to better care.
Congress passed a law a few years ago to create a similar program, known as the Veterans Choice Program. Sadly, the VA put up restrictions that created confusion and greatly limited veterans access to private care. My bill would do away with those restrictions and open the program up to all veterans eligible for VA care.
By doing this, I think we will see two major benefits. First, we will get better and timelier care for our veterans in their local communities instead of forcing them to drive out of the way to a VA hospital or clinic. Second, we will save taxpayer money by cutting back on the bloated VA bureaucracy.
Giving veterans greater access to private medical care is something President Trump talked about repeatedly on the campaign trail, and I hope I can work with his Administration to actually give veterans the choices they deserve.
President Trump’s pick to lead the VA, David Shulkin, was recently confirmed by the Senate, and I stand ready to work with him and his team to succeed where his predecessors have failed in changing the culture of complacency at the VA.
Until the system changes, I will also continue working to ensure the current VA system works for our veterans. If you, or someone you know, is having a hard time navigating the bureaucracy at the VA, I hope you will encourage them to contact my office at 251-690-2811. My staff and I stand ready to help.
There is no group more deserving of timely care and treatment than those who have served our country. By giving them greater choices and access to private care, I think we can do right by our veterans.
Alabama Congressman: ‘Now is the time to stand up for Israel, not turn away from them’
The Old City of Jerusalem (Etienne Valois)
The United States has no stronger ally than Israel. Our relationship has always been strong, both economically and militarily. Israel plays an especially important role in helping us combat radical Islamic terrorism in the Middle East.
In other words, Israel serves as a beacon of hope, freedom, and opportunity in a very dangerous part of the world. That is why support for Israel has always been a bipartisan priority shared by Democrats and Republicans.
While serving in Congress, I have had the opportunity to visit Israel on multiple occasions to meet with the leaders and discuss the relationship between our two countries. During these trips, the Israeli people always share their deep appreciation for the partnership between our two countries, but they also make clear the fact they face very significant challenges.
For decades now, Israel has been in a long running dispute regarding its very right to exist. The dispute is complicated and deeply personal as it is based on religious, ethnic, and cultural ties. This struggle has resulted in multiple wars and placed Israel in a constant state of conflict.
Given the importance of the relationship between the United States and Israel and the sensitivities related to the ongoing conflict with the Palestinian Authority, I was deeply disappointed to see the United Nations (UN) recently pass a flawed, anti-Israel resolution that will only make it more difficult to achieve peace.
Since 1972, the United States has used our position as a UN Security Council member to veto 42 anti-Israel amendments. As the vote grew closer on this most recent resolution, the hope was that the United States would once again use our veto power.
Instead, the United States Ambassador “abstained” from the vote altogether. In other words, the United States turned our back and looked the other way as the UN passed a flawed resolution attacking Israel. This represents a dangerous break in a long-standing and bipartisan policy to protect our sole democratic ally in the region from one-sided resolutions at the UN.
This resolution does absolutely nothing to solve the underlying issues. In fact, it muddies the water and only further complicates what is already a very complex issue. The resolution also failed to make mention of the fact that Hamas, an internationally recognized terrorist organization, continues work with the Palestinian Authority and engage in hostile actions against Israel.
To be clear: no solution to the ongoing problems with Israel and the Palestinian Authority is going to come from an international body, like the United Nations, telling them what to do. Any real solution must come from negotiations between the involved parties.
Given the many blunders from the Obama Administration on the world stage, I guess this most recent action should not be all that surprising. But this action is one of the most irresponsible acts ever by an outgoing President. It will be a dark stain on an already disastrous foreign policy legacy.
Last week, as one of the first actions in the new year, the House of Representatives passed a bill opposing the UN’s anti-Israel resolution and condemning the inability of the Obama Administration to stand up for Israel.
This wasn’t a one sided vote. In fact, 109 Democrats joined with 233 Republicans to pass the resolution with over 340 votes. This is a strong message to our friends in Israel that the United States still has their backs.
Now is the time to stand up for Israel, not turn away from them. It is my sincere hope and belief, that under President-elect Trump, the United States will once again stand arm-in-arm with Israel. This bipartisan resolution was an important step in that direction.
Byrne: 5 things Alabamians should expect from Congress in 2017
Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-AL1) delivers the weekly Republican Address (YouTube)
In 2017, Republicans will have control of the White House, the Senate, and the House of Representatives. This is a rare situation that has happened only 16 times the past 100 years.
Under a unified Republican government, there is great potential for important reforms. Here are five areas where I hope to see progress in 2017:
1. Health Care Relief
Far too many American families are suffering under the ill-conceived Affordable Care Act. A top priority must be to repeal this disastrous law and begin moving forward with health care reforms that lower costs, boost competition, and spur innovation.
Our reforms must center on free-market principles that do not put the federal government between a patient and their doctor. Any updates to our nation’s health care law must ensure that people with pre-existing conditions have access to affordable health and strengthen Medicare for our nation’s seniors.
2. A Stronger Military
Under President Obama, our military has taken a hit and that trend must be reversed. Despite these funding cuts, we continue to ask our military men and women to do more and more.
Under President-elect Trump, I am hopeful we will grow our military in a way that helps project peace through strength. This includes building up our Navy’s fleet with an ultimate goal of at least 350 ships. As we grow our military, we must also focus on spurring innovation to ensure we have the most advanced technology and tools available.
3. Regulatory Reform
Unnecessary and costly government regulations are making it harder for businesses to grow, resulting in higher costs for American consumers. These regulations impact everything from energy to agriculture to labor laws.
Some of these regulations can simply be blocked or repealed by the Trump Administration. Others will require action from Congress. President-elect Trump has already suggested that he will remove two regulations for every one regulation introduced. This type of regulatory reform will go a long way toward boosting economic growth.
4. Immigration Enforcement
Over the last eight years, the Obama Administration has consistently turned a blind eye to our nation’s immigration laws. Instead of enforcing the laws on the books, they have looked for ways around the law. Well, that will change come January 20th.
Having a strong immigration enforcement system is critical to our national security, and it must be a top priority. This includes securing our border and halting the flow of illegal immigrants across the border. We must also look at other parts of our immigration system to ensure American workers are being treated fairly.
5. A Simpler Tax Code
The current tax code is far too complicated and confusing, and I have long been an advocate for wholesale tax reform that lowers rates for American families.
Tax reform should make completing your taxes as simple as filling out a postcard sized form. We should also bring down our corporate tax rates, which are among the highest in the world in an effort to spur job creation and keep businesses in the United States. Tax reform is a key part of our efforts to grow the economy.
Certainly, this is not an all-inclusive list and unified Republican government alone will not be enough to achieve these reforms. Under the current Senate rules, most legislation requires 60 votes in order to pass, and Republicans only have 52 Senators. I hope Senate Democrats will agree to work across the aisle to find common ground and advance these reforms.
Our top priority should always be to focus on policies that benefit the American people. By doing that, I believe we can help restore faith in government and make life easier for all Americans.
Byrne: Trump’s early decisions signal Alabamians have a lot to be excited about
Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-AL1) delivers the weekly Republican Address (YouTube)
Over the last few weeks, reporters with television cameras have stood watch in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York City to see who is coming and going from meetings with President-elect Donald Trump.
Most of the visitors are there to talk to the President-elect about opportunities to serve in his administration, and based on the announcements so far, it is safe to say that President-elect Trump is putting together a great team.
I have made clear my strong support for Alabama’s own Jeff Sessions to serve as Attorney General. It was one of the first announcements President-elect Trump made, and it shows that he is going to be serious about enforcing the rule of law and cracking down on illegal immigration.
If you haven’t read about General James Mattis, you definitely should. Donald Trump made a fantastic choice in selecting him to lead the Department of Defense. He has a clear record of serving our nation with steadfast leadership, unwavering integrity, and selfless dedication.
I know General Mattis will help lead the charge toward a stronger, more capable military. As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, I look forward to working with him to rebuild our military and defeat radical Islamic terrorism.
One of the first friends I made upon being elected to Congress was Tom Price, a congressman from Georgia. I was so thrilled to see him selected to lead the Department of Health and Human Services. As an orthopedic surgeon, he understands better than most how Obamacare is ruining our nation’s health care system.
Dr. Price has served as chairman of the House Budget Committee for the last couple of years, so he also understands the need to pursue policies that help reduce federal spending and balance the budget. He will do a fantastic job overseeing the repeal and replacement of Obamacare.
Elaine Chao, who served as Secretary of Labor under President George W. Bush, has been selected for Secretary of Transportation. We have numerous important transportation projects here in Southwest Alabama, and I look forward to working with Elaine Chao to improve all of our nation’s transportation infrastructure.
Dr. Ben Carson is a good choice for the Department of Housing and Urban Development. As someone who grew up in poverty, he has seen firsthand the challenges facing some of our communities. I specifically look forward to working with Dr. Carson to change the way our nation tackles poverty by putting a real emphasis on work and helping connect people with the skills they need to find a job.
As a member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, I am also excited about Trump’s picks for Secretary of Education and Secretary of Labor. Betsy DeVos has dedicated her career to improving educational opportunities for students, and I expect that goal to continue.
Andy Puzder, the pick to lead the Labor Department, is a businessman who has seen firsthand how the policies of the last eight years have thwarted economic growth and hurt working families. I am confident that under his leadership, we can swing the pendulum of power away from Big Labor bosses and back in favor of American workers.
The selection of Wilbur Ross and Steven Mnuchin to lead the Departments of Commerce and Treasury show that President-elect Trump is serious about always putting American workers first and growing the economy here at home.
Each of these cabinet nominees will have to go through the Senate confirmation process, but I am confident the Republican-controlled Senate will expeditiously confirm the nominees so they can get to work.
If these picks are an indication of how Donald Trump plans to govern, I think we have much to be excited about in the coming years.
Byrne: No more ransom payments to Iran, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism
Sayyed Ali Hosseini Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran.
On June 24, 2015, President Obama stood in the Roosevelt Room of the White House and said “I am reaffirming that the United States government will not make concessions, such as paying ransom, to terrorist groups holding American hostages.”
This position shouldn’t have been too surprising because it has long been the position of the U.S. government to not pay ransoms to terrorist organizations or groups. The reasoning behind this is that paying ransoms just further encourages kidnappings and puts more Americans at risk.
Despite this reassurance, on January 17, 2016, an unmarked cargo plane landed at a European airport. On this plane were wooden pallets stacked with unmarked, foreign currency– $400 million worth to be exact. Who was waiting at the airport to accept this money? The Islamic Republic of Iran.
On the same day this payment occurred, several Americans who had been held prisoner in Iran were released. This was clearly a ransom payment and broke the decades old policy of the United States not paying ransom.
Making matters worse, the payments did not stop there. All told, the United States paid Iran $1.7 billion. The money was related to a decades old dispute about an Iranian arms sale, but the payment was clearly related tied to the release of U.S. prisoners.
I have a slew of concerns with this ransom payment.
First, by giving money to Iran, the United States is supporting the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. Iran has a clear track record of supporting terrorist groups like Hezbollah and Hamas. Iran is clearly no friend of the United States or our allies.
Second, the United States should never pay a ransom – and this payment was clearly ransom. Some in the Obama Administration claimed the payment was just a “settlement.” If that was the case, then why was the payment made the same day the prisoners were released?
Iranian officials have said the payment was a ransom. In fact, an Iranian general is quoted as saying that “the money was returned for the freedom of the U.S. spy and it was not related to the [nuclear] negotiations.”
On top of that, an official with President Obama’s Justice Department raised concerns that the cash payment to Iran would send a signal that the United States had changed our policy on paying ransom. This isn’t some conspiracy theory. The fact that this was a ransom payment has been confirmed by Obama Administration officials.
The third major concern I have with the ransom payment is that it was made in cash. The payment could have been done by a wire transfer, which would have made it easier to track what Iran does with the money.
Given Iran’s history of money laundering, the cash payment is especially concerning. According to an international body responsible for combating money laundering known as the Financial Action Task Force, the “physical transportation of currency” is “one of the main methods used to move criminal assets, launder money and finance terrorism.”
Given all of these concerns, I am pleased to report that last week the House of Representatives passed a bill with bipartisan support that would prohibit any future ransom payments to Iran.
Our bill would also require a 30-day Congressional notification and review of any future settlements related to the U.S. Iran Claims Tribunal. This way Congress will have an opportunity to review any future payments.
Ultimately, we need to stop empowering Iran and instead start weakening them. By putting our foot down, the American people and our allies in the Middle East will be safer and stronger.
Bradley Byrne represents Alabama’s 1st Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives
Byrne: Quit putting terrorists back on the battlefield, keep Gitmo open
A detainee being moved at Guantanamo Bay Prison. (Photo: Screenshot)
Obaidullah is an al Qaeda terrorist operative. He specializes in the creation of improvised explosive devices (IED), which are manmade bombs that have wreaked havoc on U.S. service members and our allies during conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Obaidullah was captured by U.S. Special Forces during a raid on his compound. During the raid, 23 anti-tank landmines and a number of detonator schematics were found.
After his capture in 2002, Obaidullah was locked up in a prison at U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The exact place a terrorist belongs.
Unfortunately, on August 15, 2016, Obaidullah was transferred out of Guantanamo Bay and released to the United Arab Emirates – a move that potentially puts a terrorist back on the battlefield.
The story of Obaidullah has become all too common in recent years as President Barack Obama continues his efforts to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay. The President’s pledge to close Guantanamo started as a campaign promise in 2007. After his election, he signed an executive order declaring that the prison would be closed in one year.
The President planned to bring the prisoners to a new facility here in the United States. Not surprisingly, no state wanted to be the one selected to house terrorists. Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle were up in arms.
So, thanks to bipartisan opposition from Congress and resistance by intelligence agencies, efforts to close the prison have so far proved unsuccessful, but that has not stopped the President from continuing to release prisoners to other countries.
As we enter the remaining days of the Obama presidency, I fear the President may try a new trick to close the prison, which would diminish our national security and put American citizens at risk.
While information on the status of released detainees is hard to come by, it is clear that some of those detainees released from Guantanamo have returned to terrorist activity.
In fact, an official from the Obama Administration testified before Congress that at least 12 individuals released from Guantanamo have gone on to launch attacks and kill Americans.
During testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the official testified that “what I can tell you is unfortunately, there have been Americans that have died because of Gitmo prisoners.”
For example, it was a former Guantanamo detainee who helped organize and plan the attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya. Four Americans lost their lives during that attack.
It is also important to point out that 41 of the 61 detainees remaining at Guantanamo are considered especially dangerous. They have been labeled “high risk” for returning to terrorist activity and “untrasferable” because of their past records. These are the worst of the worst.
Ultimately, I fear this President may once again put politics above national security. I fear he is more interested in keeping a campaign promise than he is in keeping the American people safe.
I was pleased to see our bill to block the closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison pass with bipartisan support, and I am hopeful the Senate will also act on our legislation.
We must keep these terrorists locked up where they can do no more harm. Anything less than that would be a grave mistake.
Bradley Byrne represents Alabama’s 1st Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives.
You have all heard the quote before: “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Just this week, many Americans are scrambling as we hit the filing deadline for 2016 individual tax returns.
Studies have shown that American families spend over 6 billion hours a year filing their taxes. That adds up to almost 700,000 years. Those numbers are astonishing.
The numbers also demonstrate the very serious challenges caused by our complex tax code. It is too long, too complicated, and too hard to understand. Americans are forced to spend precious time researching, studying, or paying for services just to figure out how much money they owe the government. There is something wrong with that picture.
Individuals aren’t the only ones who are hit hard by our complicated and outdated tax code. At 39.1%, the United States has the third highest top marginal corporate tax rate in the world. Only Chad and the United Arab Emirates have a higher rate. With a tax code that is thousands of pages long, businesses large and small spend billions of dollars on fees paid to accountants and tax lawyers to file their taxes.
There is a better way. Congress can eliminate hundreds of deductions and credits, many of which benefit only one or a handful of special interests, and use those savings to substantially lower tax rates for individuals and businesses.
This would create a fairer, simpler, and cleaner tax code. If done correctly, most Americans would only have to fill out a one page return and at the same time pay less in taxes. With lower rates, American corporations could better compete in the world economy, businesses of all sizes would have a level playing field, and more jobs would be created.
This type of reform is long overdue. In fact, it has been almost 30 years since Congress last made significant reforms to the tax code.
If you are wondering whether or not tax reform can grow the economy, just look at what happened in the 1980s under President Reagan. In 1981, President Reagan helped push a 25 percent across-the-board tax cut through Congress. He followed that up in 1986 with the largest simplification of the tax code ever achieved.
These reforms clearly worked and the economic statistics prove it. From 1982 through 1990, our country experienced the longest period of sustained economic growth during peacetime in American history. The economy grew by about one-third in real, inflation-adjusted dollars. Tax reform is without a doubt a boon for the economy.
That’s why I have co-sponsored a bill that would help force Congress to take up the very serious issue of tax reform. H.R. 27, the Tax Code Termination Act, would sunset the current tax code on December 31, 2019. By putting an end date on the tax code, Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle would have no choice but to get serious about rewriting the entire tax code.
People will say that tax reform is too hard and that it can’t be done in today’s political climate. But I don’t believe I was elected to make easy choices. Instead, I was elected to work toward commonsense solutions that help the American people. A simplified tax code is exactly the type of the reform the American people are looking for.
So as this Tax Day comes and passes, I vow to continue fighting for a simplified tax code that makes life easier for American families while also promoting economic growth.
Rep. Bradley Byrne represents Alabama’s First Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives.
Byrne: ISIS spreads terror while Obama refuses to put forth a clear strategy to defeat them
ISIS fighters (photo captured from video)
For over a year now, I have been pointing out that the Obama Administration lacks a clear strategy to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). This is the brutal terrorist organization that holds significant territory in the Middle East and claims responsibility for attacks in Brussels, Paris, and San Bernardino, California.
When I visited the Middle East a few years ago, ISIS was gaining power and influence. In each country, I heard from American allies who were worried about ISIS and the lack of leadership from the United States. No one expected the United States to lead the fight alone, but they looked to us for guidance.
Instead of leading, the President called ISIS a “JV team” and refused to acknowledge that our actions in Syria and Iraq were contributing to ISIS’s growth. At the same time, Syria was engaged in a violent civil war and Iraq’s military was falling apart.
The United States has since started air strikes intended to disrupt ISIS operations and kill ISIS leadership. A few other countries have joined those efforts, but we still lack the large-scale support from U.S. allies that is needed to defeat ISIS.
Don’t get me wrong: a number of American service members are doing a valiant job to defeat the enemy, but the Administration has not given them a winning strategy. In other words, it doesn’t matter how great the athletes are on a football team if the coach does not have a game plan on how to win the game. That’s the challenge facing our military today.
With this in mind, Congress included a provision in the annual National Defense Authorization Act last year that required the Obama Administration to submit a plan outlining their strategy for the Middle East and to defeat ISIS.
The law couldn’t have been clearer. It said the report should be submitted to Congress “not later than February 15, 2016.” Well, February 15th came and passed without a plan being submitted to Congress.
A few weeks ago, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, who was responsible for submitting the report, testified before the Armed Services Committee about his annual budget request. I used the hearing to ask Secretary Carter why he had failed to submit the report on time as required by law.
When an average American violates the law, there are consequences. The same should apply to leaders in the federal government. No one, regardless of their political position, should ever be above the law. I asked the Secretary where the report was and if he agreed the law was broken.
Secretary Carter failed to answer my questions and simply said the report’s release was “imminent.”
Well, two days later and over a month late, the report was submitted to Congress. It was only seven pages long and lacked a clear strategy. It reminded me of a kid who forgot to do their homework, so they recklessly threw something together at the last minute.
Either the Obama Administration didn’t take the request from Congress seriously or they actually don’t have a strategy to defeat ISIS and combat Islamic extremism in the Middle East. I fear that both of those are true.
Only the President, as the Commander-in-Chief of the military, can put forward a strategy for our military. So far, President Obama has failed to do that and ISIS continues to grow.
In Congress, it is our job to continue holding the President and his advisors to the fire until they follow the law. As a member of the Armed Services Committee, I will continue doing just that. The safety and security of the American people require it.
Rep. Bradley Byrne represents Alabama’s First Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives.
Byrne: Pray this Easter for Christians facing extreme persecution at the hands of radical Islam
Islamists in the Middle East tag the homes of Christians with the Arabic letter ن, which sounds like “noon,” and is the first letter of the word “Nasrani” in Arabic, which means one who believes in Jesus of Nazareth. (Photo: Michael Swan)
We are in the midst of Holy Week, a time filled with both highs and lows as we follow Jesus’s path from crucifixion to resurrection. In the Christian faith, this is our most sacred occasion. It also serves as an opportunity to spend time with family and loved ones.
Sadly, for too many people around the world, Holy Week is a dangerous time. This is especially true for Christians in the Middle East who suffer extreme persecution. In fact, groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) search for and kill Christians simply because of their religious beliefs.
This is especially heartbreaking because the Middle East was the birthplace of Christianity. In the very place where Jesus once walked, Christians are being attacked, raped, and murdered while religious buildings and artifacts are being destroyed.
The numbers in Iraq paint a clear and disheartening picture of the plight of Christians in the Middle East. In 2003, there were 1.5 million Christians in Iraq; that number is now down to 275,000. Mosul, a city in northern Iraq, used to be home to a thriving Christian community, but the city is now under the control of ISIS and their radical Islamic rule.
A debate recently broke out in Washington over whether ISIS is committing genocide by killing Christians and other religious minorities. Genocide is defined as the deliberate killing of a large group of people, especially those of a particular ethnic group or nation.
To me, it is obvious that ISIS is committing genocide by systematically killing Christians. Last year, Congress passed legislation that set a deadline of March 17, 2016 for the U.S. State Department to officially declare that ISIS is committing genocide.
Months went by without any action by the State Department. Many of my colleagues and I grew restless watching the State Department and Secretary of State John Kerry drag their feet. Groups across the country, like the Knights of Columbus and In Defense of Christians, called on the State Department to act.
The House of Representatives got tired of waiting, and last Monday we passed a resolution expressing the sense of Congress that ISIS is committing genocide against Christians. This resolution passed by an overwhelming, bipartisan vote of 393 to 0. The vote sent a strong message to the State Department that they needed to act.
Finally, on Thursday, Secretary of State John Kerry declared that ISIS is committing genocide against Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East. Our pressure paid off!
This declaration is about more than just a word. In fact, the declaration of genocide is incredibly rare and it has serious implications. The designation will help build international support for combatting ISIS and their brutal tactics. It will also help bring more resources to help Christians in the region, as well as those who are fleeing violence.
Of course, the declaration alone will not be enough. We must continue working to defeat ISIS and stand up for human rights of Christians and other religious minorities in the region.
Most importantly, we should not and cannot become discouraged or angry. Instead, as Christians, we should stand strong in our faith and continue promoting religious freedom and tolerance.
Let’s not forget the Christian faith is based on love and tolerance, even of those with whom you may not agree. As is written in John 13:34, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”
So, this Easter, may we all say a prayer for Christians and religious minorities in the Middle East and pray that love and tolerance take hold in the region.
Byrne: We’re at war with radical Islam, whether Obama wants to acknowledge it or not
Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-AL1)
On November 13, humanity paused as we learned of a string of terror attacks in Paris, France. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks, which killed over 125 innocent people. These men and women were simply heading to a sporting event, enjoying dinner at an outdoor café, or watching a concert. Common activities we all take part in.
One of the most alarming facts from the Paris terror attacks was the fact that one of the attackers entered Europe through the refugee process. This follows up on the Islamic State’s stated goal of embedding terrorists in the refugee process. This is especially concerning because President Barack Obama recently announced that the United States would be taking in over 10,000 Syrian refugees.
As soon as I heard the President’s announcement earlier this year, I immediately sought more information about the screening process Syrian refugees must undergo before entering the United States. I sent a letter to the Department of State requesting additional information. I also took part in a classified briefing to learn more about the vetting process and what sources our intelligence agencies use to make determinations about allowing refugees into the United States.
After receiving this information, it became clear that we lack the ability to properly screen Syrian refugees. The issue is not that the screening process is not thorough enough, but instead we simply lack the information needed to screen these individuals. The screening system depends on the United States having certain information that we can only get from people and assets on the ground in the home country. We do not have those resources in Syria.
FBI Director James Comey testified last month about the difficulty with screening Syrian refugees. He noted that “if we don’t know much about somebody, there won’t be anything in our data.” He ultimately concluded that he could not give “an absolute assurance that there’s no risk associated” with allowing Syrian refugees into the United States.
I want to be very clear: I support the decades-old refugee program and believe it has always been an important part of our nation. The reality is that this particular population has such a heightened threat associated with it that we must block Syrian refugees at this point in time.
This bill is just the first of many actions by the House of Representatives to respond to the Syrian refugee crisis. I am committed to doing everything in my power to stop Syrian refugees from entering the United States.
Ultimately, the United States is at war, whether President Obama wants to acknowledge it or not. We are at war with the Islamic State and their radical Islamic ideology. In times of war, difficult decisions have to be made and serious precautions must be taken. That is the case when it comes to allowing Syrian refugees to enter the United States.
Bradley Byrne represents Alabama’s 1st Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives.
Byrne: Long-Term Highway Bill passed by Congress is good news for Southwest Alabama
An artist's rendering of the proposed I-10 Mobile River Bridge (Alabama Department of Transportation)
I’ve written many times about the need for Congress to pass a reliable, long-term bill to fund our nation’s highway system. I’ve considered this one of my top priorities in Congress because of how important a new highway bill would be for our area.
I have repeatedly voted against short-term highway bills that simply put the problem off a few weeks or months. I believe it is critically important that Congress stop passing the buck on major issues and instead make the difficult decisions that our constituents elected us to make. We have to stop the cycle of governing from crisis to crisis.
In Southwest Alabama, we have numerous highway projects in need of attention. Whether it is four laning Highway 84 in Monroe and Clarke counties, finishing the Baldwin Beach Express out to I-65, or widening Highway 45 in north Mobile and Washington counties, there are projects all across the First Congressional District.
No local transportation project has gotten as much attention as the need for a new I-10 Bridge over the Mobile River. No matter where you live in Southwest Alabama, you have probably been affected by the backups on I-10. This project has been decades in the making, and the need gets greater every day.
Last week the House made some real progress when we passed a new, six-year highway bill. I was proud to support this legislation, which would provide the certainty needed to move forward with new projects and make much needed improvements to our nation’s ailing infrastructure.
Many Democrats wanted to pay for the highway bill by raising the gas tax, but this bill rejects that flawed idea and does not raise taxes at all. Additionally, the bill would reform our nation’s surface transportation system, promote innovation to make the highway system more efficient, and maintain a strong commitment to safety. The bill also helps streamline the federal bureaucracy and cut down on unnecessary paperwork.
Having a safe and reliable highway system is vitally important to a strong economy, and this bill will allow us to strengthen our highway system so we can remain competitive on the world stage. Prospective businesses always look at the local transportation system when deciding where to locate, so the highway bill most certainly can be considered a “jobs bill.”
I was especially pleased to see the highway bill include a new grant program for “Nationally Significant Freight and Highway Projects.” These are projects that generate national or regional economic benefits and reduce highway congestion and bottlenecks. Under this new program, it will be at the discretion of the Secretary of Transportation to pick which highway projects would qualify for the special funding.
The good news is that current Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx visited Mobile earlier this year at my invitation to learn more about the I-10 Bridge project. During his visit, he promised to make the project a priority, and I feel confident he would designate our project a “National Significant Freight and Highway Project.” This would go a long way toward securing the funding needed to build the bridge.
The House and Senate have each now passed a six-year highway bill. Since the bills are slightly different, a conference committee made up of House and Senate members has been formed to work out the differences. The current highway bill expires on November 20, so I am optimistic we can have a new, long-term bill finalized by that point.
If we are able to get the bill to the President’s desk for his signature, it would be the first highway bill authorizing more than two years of funding that the President has signed since 2005. That would be a major accomplishment and a big step toward improving our nation’s highway system.
Byrne: Washington needs to get out of the way and allow teachers to do their job (Opinion)
(Flickr user cybrarian77)
It has been said that one of the hardest jobs around is being a teacher. Even though it may be hard, teaching is one of the most important professions. Teachers have the great responsibility of training the next generation in our society.
Recently, I’ve spent time reflecting on some of the important teachers from my past. Without a doubt, the first one that comes to mind is Kay Ladd.
Miss Kay is one of the most remarkable women I know. She was my first grade teacher and had the difficult job of teaching a class full of all boys. She is the person who taught me how to read, and I don’t think you ever forget the person who teaches you to read.
As you may know, I have spent much of my life working in education. From my time on the Alabama State School Board to serving as chancellor of Alabama’s two-year college system, I have had the opportunity to spend a lot of time in our local classrooms. I’m always struck by the hard work these men and women do on a daily basis, and they rarely get the attention they deserve.
Great teachers really care about their students and work very hard to get the most out of them. This is a quality that can’t be taught. You can’t set accountability standards or testing requirements to prove that someone cares.
Good teachers also need to be smart, well-trained, and prepared. From talking with teachers, it is clear that being a great teacher requires a lot of planning and organizing before students are even in the classroom. From putting lesson plans together to preparing your classroom, teaching requires a lot of work and preparation.
Teachers have the ability to take a student who may not have much of a family or may not be very well-prepared and turn him into a successful and committed individual with a bright future. Very few professions have the ability to totally alter the course of someone’s life like a teacher does.
In Washington, I am a member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, which has jurisdiction over K-12 education. One of my top priorities on the Committee is rolling back the red tape and paperwork that our teachers must go through. While only 10% of education funding comes from the federal level, the Government Accountability Office found that the federal government is responsible for 41% of the paperwork.
Washington needs to get out of the way and allow teachers to do their job. Too much money gets lost between Washington, D.C. and the classroom. The money is getting stuck in the hands of bureaucrats and people who have absolutely nothing to do with educating our students.
Another important teacher in my family’s life was Colonel Tim Reddy, who taught my four children at Fairhope High School. Tim Reddy was an Army Colonel who taught math and coached the soccer and swim teams. He was incredibly tough, but he cared about his students and helped them master upper level math skills that prepared them for college.
Sadly, Col. Reddy recently passed away after a battle with cancer. I went to the floor of the House of Representatives to deliver a speech in his memory. We need to hold up people like Col. Reddy and Kay Ladd who work so hard in the classroom to educate the next generation.
So whether you are a parent, student, or just a community member, we should all be doing everything we can to highlight great teachers and support them every chance we get.
Congressman Bradley Byrne represents Alabama’s 1st District
Byrne: The U.S. House should use every tool it has to dismantle ObamaCare (Opinion)
When Republicans took control of the Senate last year, we looked forward to sending commonsense, conservative bills to the President’s desk. This process would put pressure on the President to decide whether he would sign or veto the bills.
In the House, we have held up our end of the deal, sending countless conservative-reform bills to the Senate. Unfortunately, those bills have died in the Senate due to their arcane rules.
The Senate requires 60 votes to begin debate on most legislation, and there are currently only 54 Republican Senators. Senate Democrats have time and time again stood in the way of even allowing debate to begin on things like defunding Planned Parenthood, cutting funding to “sanctuary cities,” and even passing basic government funding bills.
Unless the Senate changes their rules, this stalemate is likely to continue. That’s why my colleagues and I went to work to find other legislative tools to get around the Senate’s rules. That’s where something know as budget reconciliation comes in, which only requires 51 votes in the Senate to pass a bill.
Here’s how it works. The 1974 Congressional Budget Act created a special process for the consideration of reconciliation legislation. Reconciliation is a process reserved exclusively for matters relating to federal spending and cannot be used simply to change federal policy.
Reconciliation does have some constraints however. In order to be used, the items included in the bill must be directly related to the federal budget and federal spending. In other words, you cannot use the reconciliation process simply change any federal statute.
As we started to work on our reconciliation bill, we decided to focus on two primary areas: dismantling Obamacare and defunding Planned Parenthood. The number one issue I hear from constituents about is still Obamacare. The law is fundamentally broken and has caused health insurance to be unaffordable for too many Americans.
The reconciliation legislation would dismantle Obamacare by repealing some of its most important features like the individual mandate, which requires every American to have health insurance, and the employer mandate, which hurts small businesses and costs jobs. Our reconciliation bill also repeals burdensome taxes like the medical device tax and the “Cadillac” tax on high-quality insurance plans.
The bill would also eliminate all federal funding from Planned Parenthood and instead divert that money into community health centers, which don’t provide abortion services. Like many Americans, I am outraged by the videos showing Planned Parenthood officials discussing the sale of fetal body parts, and I have pledged to do everything I can to eliminate Planned Parenthood’s funding. This legislation would accomplish just that.
Just as important, these commonsense reforms will also help lower spending and reduce the federal deficit. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office found that passing these changes through reconciliation would reduce the deficit by about $130 billion.
So last Friday, the House passed the reconciliation bill by a vote of 240 to 189, and now it is the Senate’s turn to act. They only need 51 votes, so I am hopeful they can pass the bill and send it to the President’s desk. This is probably our best opportunity to dismantle Obamacare and defund Planned Parenthood.
Let’s make President Obama decide: will he stand with the American people or will he continue his “my way or the highway” style of governing?
Byrne: It’s time to lift the oil export ban (Opinion)
Last year, Russian President Vladimir Putin orchestrated a major power play in an effort to exert control over Ukraine, a sovereign nation to Russia’s west. After the citizens of Ukraine ousted their Russian-backed president, Putin sent Russian troops into Ukraine and eventually annexed a portion of Ukraine, known as Crimea.
Throughout this conflict, Vladimir Putin threatened to shut off Ukraine’s energy supply unless they complied with Russian demands. This was a perfect opportunity for the United States to step in, provide Ukraine with energy resources, and assist a country who was trying to stand up against communism.
Unfortunately, a 40 year old ban prevented the United States from exporting our crude oil. The ban is a relic of the past that was instituted in 1975 by President Gerald Ford in response to the Arab oil embargo. Times have clearly changed and the ban is no longer needed.
This debate over lifting the oil export ban comes as the United States is producing more oil than ever before. Over the last decade, the United States has become the leading producer of oil and natural gas in the world.
Unfortunately, President Barack Obama is opposed to Congress lifting the crude oil export ban because he believes the decision should be left up to the federal Department of Commerce. In other words, the Obama Administration would rather an unelected federal agency make the decision instead of the democratically-elected Congress. By standing in the way, President Obama is tying our hands both domestically and around the globe.
A key national security tool is being able to ensure our allies have dependable access to affordable energy. Former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal that repealing the oil export ban is a “powerful, nonlethal tool” to help spread democracy abroad.
Russia is a clear example of why the United States should repeal the ban. A number of countries like Finland and Bulgaria depend on Russia for more than 50% of their oil. In the Middle East, Iran uses its energy supply to raise revenue that can then be funneled to terrorist organizations. The United States should offer an energy alternative to these bad actors.
The benefits of lifting the ban are not limited to foreign policy. In fact, there are clear economic benefits. Studies show that lifting the ban would create an additional 630,000 U.S. jobs by 2019. This economic growth would also allow manufacturers to expand and boost our gross domestic product.
The Government Accountability Office also found that lifting the ban would lower gas prices right here in the United States by 1.5 cents to 13 cents per gallon. Even President Obama’s own Department of Energy found that increased oil exports would help lower gas prices at home.
A recent survey found that 69% of Americans support lifting the ban, and numerous editorial boards from both conservative and liberal papers like the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Detroit News, and the Washington Times have called for the ban to be lifted.
With this mind, I was proud to vote recently in favor of a bill to repeal the outdated oil export ban. The bill passed the House by a vote of 261 to 159, with 26 Democrats joining with the Republican majority to pass this commonsense legislation. This is clearly an issue on which Republicans and Democrats can find common ground.
So, I call on President Obama to reconsider his veto threat and to look at the clear economic and national security benefits of repealing the oil export ban. It is critically important that America once again lead on the world stage.
Byrne: National security should be top priority when considering Syrian refugees (Opinion)
Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-AL1)
When considering whether to vote in favor of legislation, I often ask myself a simple question: Is this in the best interest of the American people? I believe that should be a guiding principle for all our elected officials when they are faced with a major decision.
Recently, President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry announced a plan to increase the number of refugees allowed into the United States. Under their plan, the Obama Administration plans to accept at least 10,000 refugees from Syria.
As soon as I heard this news, I had major concerns about the impact this decision would have on the American people and the national security of our country. Let me explain why.
Currently, Syria is home to a major conflict between the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, fighters with the Islamic State, and many different factions of rebels who wish to overrun the government. This brutal fighting has resulted in a mass exodus of Syrian people looking to escape their war torn country.
That’s where President Obama’s decision comes into play. As defined by the Immigration and Nationality Act, a refugee is someone who is unable or unwilling to return to his or her home country because of a “well-founded fear of persecution.” The federal government has a process for screening and accepting these individuals before allowing their admission into the US, and the Syrian people can certainly make a strong case to be admitted.
However, I have serious concerns about the threat of terrorists infiltrating the refugee system and entering the United States. Groups like the Islamic State have made clear that they would attempt to disguise terrorist operatives as refugees.
I am not the only one who has these concerns. In fact, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper recently called the migrant issue a “huge concern” and said that “we don’t put it past the likes of [the Islamic State] to infiltrate operatives among these refugees.”
At a recent House Homeland Security Committee hearing, officials from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) implied that bringing in a large number of Syrian refugees would represent a threat to our national security. DHS officials have even admitted that Syria does not have a computer database to check the criminal and terrorist records of these refugees.
That is why I sent a letter to the Department of State asking for information about the screening process the refugees would be required to go through. In response to my letter, I was invited to attend a classified briefing to learn more about the screening process. Unfortunately, I left the briefing with many of the same concerns.
So after listening to the concerns of my constituents and getting more information from the State Department, I decided to support H.R. 3573, the Refugee Resettlement Oversight and Security Act. This bill would require approval from both the House and the Senate before refugees could be admitted to the United States. The bill would also give Congress the authority to block any inadequate refugee resettlement plan.
There is simply no way to know for sure that terrorist groups, like the Islamic State, are not going to infiltrate the refugee process, and the Refugee Resettlement Oversight and Security Act will ensure that Congress, and in turn the American people, have the final say when it comes to increasing the number of refugees.
On this issue, like many others, I can’t help but ask myself: Is this in the best interest of the American people? At this point, it seems clear the answer is no.
Byrne: Manufacturing is on the rise in Alabama, but challenges remain (Opinion)
As I was touring the manufacturing operation at Quality Filters in Robertsdale, I was struck by just how much manufacturing has grown in Southwest Alabama over the last decade. I paid a visit to Quality Filters to help celebrate National Manufacturing Day, which took place on October 2nd.
We have seen a large increase in manufacturing all over Alabama, driven by our growth in the motor vehicle, chemical, and aerospace industries. In 2014, over 250,000 Alabamians worked in manufacturing. These manufacturing jobs paid an average of $60,945 while the average pay for other nonfarm businesses was $41,089. All told, manufacturing had a $34.4 billion impact on Alabama’s economy.
Despite these impressive gains, manufacturers in Southwest Alabama and across the country are facing a wide range of challenges brought on by the federal government. Whether it is the EPA, IRS, NLRB, or OSHA, manufacturers must deal with regulations from an alphabet soup of federal regulators.
Even if you don’t work for a manufacturer, that does not mean these regulations won’t impact you. The regulatory costs are often passed on to the consumer in the form of higher prices or fewer options.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is likely the biggest foe of manufacturing. Given the nature of the industry, manufacturers use a third of our nation’s energy, so they depend on affordable energy prices. Unfortunately, it seems like every day the EPA is putting out a new regulation that will drive up energy costs.
Take the EPA’s new ozone standard for example. The new standard is misguided and will be incredibly costly for our nation’s manufacturers. In fact, the new standard is so low that even some national parks could be out of compliance. At a time when ozone levels have already been reduced, it makes no sense to place additional burdens on our job creators.
In Congress, I have been a strong supporter of the REINS Act. This commonsense legislation would require Congressional approval of any regulation with an annual economic impact of $100 million or more. Many of the EPA’s proposed rules would fall under this category, and I am certain the Republican-controlled Congress would stop these costly regulations from moving forward.
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has also attempted to increase the number of labor regulations impacting manufacturers. The NLRB’s “ambush elections” rule will shorten the time it takes to hold a union election and make the personal contact information of employees publicly available to union representatives.
Earlier this year, the House and the Senate passed legislation to block the ambush election rule from going into effect. Unfortunately, President Obama vetoed the bill, and the Senate did not have the votes to override the veto. Despite that setback, we are continuing to push back against frivolous NLRB regulations on manufacturers.
Another challenge to manufacturers comes in the form of a growing skills gap. Our nation is currently experiencing a shortage of skilled workers to fill certain manufacturing jobs. Without access to enough skilled workers, it’s becoming harder and harder for manufacturers to grow and expand their operations.
As a member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, I have made it a top priority to improve our nation’s job training programs. We need to encourage collaboration between the private sector and institutions of higher learning, specifically community colleges and trade schools. This will help close the skills gap and give more Americans access to high paying jobs.
So while manufacturers are facing some significant challenges, there are also those of us in Congress who are committed to supporting manufacturing. So whether it is Quality Filters or other businesses in our area, I will do everything I can to support manufacturing and the thousands of jobs associated with the industry.