The Wire

  • New tunnel, premium RV section at Talladega Superspeedway on schedule despite weather

    Excerpt:

    Construction of a new oversized vehicle tunnel and premium RV infield parking section at Talladega Superspeedway is still on schedule to be completed in time for the April NASCAR race, despite large amounts of rainfall and unusual groundwater conditions underneath the track.

    Track Chairman Grant Lynch, during a news conference Wednesday at the track, said he’s amazed the general contractor, Taylor Corporation of Oxford, has been able to keep the project on schedule.

    “The amount of water they have pumped out of that and the extra engineering they did from the original design, basically to keep that tunnel from floating up out of the earth, was remarkable,” Lynch said.

  • Alabama workers built 1.6M engines in 2018 to add auto horsepower

    Excerpt:

    Alabama’s auto workers built nearly 1.6 million engines last year, as the state industry continues to carve out a place in global markets with innovative, high-performance parts, systems and finished vehicles.

    Last year also saw major new developments in engine manufacturing among the state’s key players, and more advanced infrastructure is on the way in the coming year.

    Hyundai expects to complete a key addition to its engine operations in Montgomery during the first half of 2019, while Honda continues to reap the benefits of a cutting-edge Alabama engine line installed several years ago.

  • Groundbreaking on Alabama’s newest aerospace plant made possible through key partnerships

    Excerpt:

    Political and business leaders gathered for a groundbreaking at Alabama’s newest aerospace plant gave credit to the formation of the many key partnerships that made it possible.

    Governor Kay Ivey and several other federal, state and local officials attended the event which celebrated the construction of rocket engine builder Blue Origin’s facility in Huntsville.

Byrne: Help is on the way after Hurricane Sally

(U.S. Representative Bradley Byrne/Facebook)

The aftermath of Hurricane Sally has left much of Southwest Alabama in bad shape. From the coasts of Mobile and Baldwin Counties to the northern parts of our district, winds and flooding have let many without essentials like power, water and shelter. Fortunately, help is on the way.

As the forecast showed the storm approaching, I began coordinating with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the White House, Coast Guard and our state and local elected officials and emergency management agencies. As the storm approached, it was clear there would be major damage. After the storm, by my request, Administrator Pete Gaynor of FEMA flew from Washington to Alabama. On Sunday, we drove all over Baldwin County surveying damage, and the Administrator was able to see with his own eyes the scope of the problem. I appreciated that Administrator Gaynor wanted to see it firsthand and talk directly to those impacted so he could understand the severity of what we are dealing with. In driving all over Baldwin County, we made constant stops to get out, walk through the devastation, and talk with people.

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During the administrator’s visit, President Trump granted Governor Ivey’s request for additional disaster relief, only 36 hours after an application was submitted. This speaks not only to the quality work done by the governor and her team but also to the commitment of FEMA, President Trump, and his entire team to get to work helping those in need, for which I am grateful.

The storm has been greatly underreported by the national media. It does not help that the unfortunate death of Justice Ginsberg occurred late last week. However, if this storm would have hit California or New York and had the same kind of impact, we would be seeing wall to wall coverage. Local first responders performed over 300 water rescues. Yet we only suffered two deaths. Certainly, even one death is a tragedy, and we mourn for the families who lost loved ones. But it is astonishing that a storm that defied forecasts to strengthen at the last minute and bring such flooding and devastation only caused two deaths. This speaks volumes to the work our emergency responders and volunteers did in preparing for the storm and carrying out their mission during and after landfall.

The media may not be paying attention, but President Trump and his administration have remained engaged in getting us what we need to hit the ground running with the rebuilding process. As a result of the disaster declaration, it is important to know what assistance FEMA will be providing to our counties and individuals. The two major areas covered by the FEMA disaster declaration are Individual Assistance and Public Assistance. Public Assistance is made available to counties and municipalities for debris removal, rebuilding public infrastructure, and working to restore utility services. Currently, FEMA can cover 75 percent of these costs.

Individual assistance is available for things like emergency housing repair and hotel costs. But before you know what assistance you may be eligible to receive, you must register with FEMA. This can be done online at www.disasterassistance.gov or by calling 800-621-3362. I cannot overstress the importance of documenting everything you do. Take pictures before, during, and after, and keep all receipts. FEMA will help our city and county government with debris removal, but you must haul your debris to the side of the road and follow guidance from your local officials. FEMA is also providing items like tarps and bottled water at stations throughout Southwest Alabama. The disaster declaration also triggers help to those who may have lost their jobs because of the disaster, like unemployment insurance benefits. I encourage you to contact the state unemployment office if you have lost your job due to Hurricane Sally.

In addition to FEMA’s response efforts, the Small Business Administration (SBA) is now accepting loan applications to assist with both physical and economic damages. These low-interest loans are available to businesses who have experienced substantial damage and may not be able to reopen their doors for some time. I encourage those businesses who need additional financial assistance to register with FEMA and apply for the loan that best fits their needs. Loan application details can be found at www.sba.gov.

As always, my office is a phone call away and can provide assistance or direct you to where you can find help. Alabama will get through this disaster as we have others in the past.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

Byrne: A new Middle East?

(National Archives/Contributed, Wikicommons, White House/Flickr, YHN)

Last week when I wrote about some good news, I mentioned the recent peace deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates negotiated by the Trump administration. Just days after I wrote those words another Middle Eastern nation, Bahrain, reached a peace agreement with Israel, again negotiated by the Trump administration. What do these and other recent developments say about the Middle East?

First, let’s go back 11 years to the beginning of the Obama administration. President Obama gave a speech in Cairo calling for a “New Beginning” in the Middle East and undertook major efforts to reach out to the Arab world, including Iran, our major adversary in the region. But, the “New Beginning” was ultimately a series of terrible mistakes.

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Over the Obama administration’s tenure, the U.S. relationship with Israel, normally very good, grew sour as Obama pressured the Israelis over settlements in Palestinian claimed areas and issues in Gaza. He angered Saudi Arabia and its allies in the Persian Gulf, which normally lean to the U.S., by naively agreeing to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action allowing Iran to develop nuclear capability limited, for a time, to “peaceful” use only. Obama backed protesters’ demands for the removal of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, a staunch U.S. partner, which facilitated the end of Mubarak’s pro-U.S. government only to be replaced by the Muslim Brotherhood, a terrorist group. When the Egyptian military overthrew the Brotherhood and one of the generals, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, became president, Obama withheld promised military assistance and then insisted they pay cash, which only worsened a strained relationship with a key regional ally.

Obama told Syria that using chemical weapons against its people was a “red line” which would trigger a U.S. military response but then backed off the threat when they did. He prematurely drew down the U.S. military presence in Iraq only to go back in as ISIS arose and took half the country. Afghanistan was at best a stalemate. And, in Libya, he used the U.S. military to attack Muammar Ghaddafi’s regime, which was toppled, and Ghaddafi was killed; Libya plunged into an ongoing brutal civil war that led to the murder of American diplomatic personnel in Benghazi.

I personally witnessed the difficulties Obama’s policies caused when I traveled to the Middle East with other members of the House Armed Services Committee in the summer of 2014. We met with King Abdullah of Jordan, President al-Sisi, and Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel. We talked with other Middle Eastern leaders as well and received in country briefings from our diplomatic staff in each country. We were careful not to undermine U.S. policies in these meetings, but it was clear those policies constituted a terrible blunder.

In the summer of 2016, I participated in an intensive policy conference on the Middle East in London and was convinced the next president needed a better set of policies which would restore good relations with our normal allies, defeat ISIS, and push back on Iran. Most of the experts at the conference assumed that president would be Hilary Clinton. They were wrong.

What President Trump has done is reverse Obama’s failed policies in the Middle East. His first trip abroad was to Saudi Arabia to meet with our Gulf allies and repair those broken relationships. He pulled the U.S. out of the ill-advised Iran deal and took out their point man in sponsoring terrorism around the region this past January. He has healed our relationship with Israel and moved our embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. I was in Jerusalem last summer, met with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and saw the improvement firsthand. Our renewed good relationships with Muslim allies and Trump’s Israel peace initiative paved the way for the agreements with UAE and Bahrain.

And let’s not forget that ISIS as a country dominating caliphate was defeated on Trump’s watch, allowing us to reduce our troop presence in Iran to just 3,000 this fall. And his initiative with the Taliban in Afghanistan is bringing the prospects for real peace closer than they have been in decades. Our troop presence there will drop this fall by half to just 4,500.

In short, the Trump administration’s reversal of Obama’s policies in the Middle East have resulted in much better relations with our allies and friends there, growing peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors, the defeat of ISIS, reduced troop numbers, and a much weakened Iran. The Middle East is no longer Arabs versus Israel as it had been for so long, but is now the U.S., our Arab allies, and Israel versus Iran and its terrorist groups. It’s a big move towards peace and away from terrorism and war. The Trump policies made the way for the beginning of a new Middle East.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

Byrne: Democrat gridlock shouldn’t be our fate

(CNN/YouTube, YHN)

“We will never accept political gridlock as our fate.” — 2020 Democratic Party Platform

Last Saturday, the House of Representatives met to pass a bill blocking the reform of our troubled Postal Service, reform which is desperately needed for a failing agency hemorrhaging billions of dollars each year. It was just a political show as the Democrats knew it was going nowhere, although I don’t know who in America wasted their Saturday afternoon to bother watching another display of blathering hypocrisy.

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Mark Meadows, President Trump’s chief of staff and until recently a member of the House, came over to do something positive. He had conversations with various members in an effort to kickstart the talks on the next coronavirus bill which Speaker Nancy Pelosi stalled three weeks ago before sending the House home for what would be six weeks. A group of House Democrats has circulated a letter to Pelosi and other House leaders calling for the talks to resume, so Mark wasn’t coming for show but to make an honest effort to get back to the bargaining table.

The problem is, Pelosi’s not having it. When Mark tried to see her on Saturday, she wouldn’t meet with him, claiming she was busy with others. Now, let’s consider all this: we’re in the middle of a pandemic, people are hurting, the economy still needs help as it recovers, rank and file Democrats want negotiations on a new bill addressing all this to resume, the president’s chief of staff personally goes to the speaker’s office – and she won’t make room in her Saturday schedule to see him? Instead, she presses on with the vote on a silly, unserious bill and ignores the elephant in the room.

I’ve said this before. Pelosi has cynically calculated that not passing a bill hurts President Trump’s chances in November and she’s willing to put the nation through months of unnecessary pain to get the political result, and the political power, she wants. Gridlock is her strategy, and she’s willing to ignore the president’s chief of staff, and her own Democrat members, to follow it. There we were, all together, and could have spent the otherwise wasted day on something of great importance to the American people. But we didn’t, and then she sent us all home for another three weeks.

That’s why when I read the preamble to the Democrats’ 2020 platform, I had to laugh: “We will never accept political gridlock as our fate.” They use gridlock as a political tool repeatedly. We started this Congress with the government shut down. We spent last year passing political messaging bills which went absolutely nowhere in the Senate and then burned the fall in impeachment proceedings which of course failed in the Senate. She literally tore up her hard copy of the president’s State of the Union Address while still on the podium and on national television. She’s caused the House to abandon Washington and our jobs as legislators. And she won’t talk to the president’s key aides.

Gridlock shouldn’t be our fate. As the legislative branch of the government of the most powerful country in the world we can and should be working together for the best interests of the American people. If you want gridlock to stop and for us to get to work, don’t turn power over to the party with the platform which says one thing while its leaders literally do the opposite. It’s called hypocrisy, a poor and bankrupt way to govern.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

Byrne: Democrats’ Postal Service hoax

(Wikicommons, YHN)

Apparently, I and the rest of the House of Representatives are being called back to Washington for a series of votes this Saturday. Has Speaker Pelosi finally reached an agreement with President Trump and Senator McConnell on the next phase of coronavirus legislation? No, her intransigence killed those negotiations and President Trump was left having to take unilateral action in executive orders issued last week. Has she reached an agreement on funding the government for the next fiscal year which starts in six weeks? No, there are no talks happening there either.

The House will meet this Saturday on legislation dealing with the U.S. Postal Service. The “Postal Service?” you may ask, and well you should. We are in the middle of a pandemic, our economy is recovering but still needs help, people are running out of money, and the government will close on October 1 if we don’t have an agreed bill to fund it. So, instead of dealing with these real issues, the Democrats made up a phony one.

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Unlike many things the federal government does, providing a postal service is expressly authorized by the Constitution and we have had one since 1775 when Benjamin Franklin was our first Postmaster General. I remember as a child knowing our postman and the excitement of a box or catalog in the mail. I have known postal employees over my life and appreciate their service to our country. Their mission provides postal services to all Americans no matter where they live, and that’s important.

But the Postal Service has lost $78 billion since 2007, mostly because its volume has been reduced as so many of us use e-mail and private delivery services like UPS, Amazon and FedEx. In response, the Obama Administration removed 14,000 mailboxes and tried to eliminate Saturday service. Unfortunately, it just kept losing money.

President Trump has tried to bring the Postal Service’s business model into line with the reality of modern American postal usage. He recently appointed a businessman with a significant logistics background, Louis DeJoy, to be the new Postmaster General. DeJoy is trying to restructure a massive government agency with over 600,000 employees and contractors and which ran a deficit of nearly $9 billion last year. This year it will lose another $11 billion and the Treasury Department recently loaned it $10 billion to get it through this year and next, so it has the money it needs to operate as it reforms itself.

So, why is there such an urgent need for Postal Service legislation? There isn’t. Indeed, before last week hardly anyone in Congress was paying attention to the Postal Service because of the other huge and unresolved issues before us. I had received no constituent contact about it. The legislation we will take up this Saturday would block any reforms to the Postal Service and provide it with an additional $25 billion. It’s unclear if that’s on top of the loan and/or on top of the $25 billion the Democrats voted to give the Postal Service in legislation passed earlier this year. We do know that the White House has already agreed to an extra $10 billion as part of the coronavirus talks Pelosi stalled.

Pelosi claims Social Security checks may not be delivered, which is ridiculous because beneficiaries get their monthly payments electronically now. Democrats also complain that the Postal Service won’t deliver mail-in ballots on time, which is also ridiculous because it has already told the states what they need to do to assure that won’t happen. They also claim mail sorting machines are being removed from Post Offices, but that turns out not to be true either.

There have been no Congressional hearings on the reforms the bill seeks to block. The bill hasn’t been marked up in committee, either. This matter wasn’t even a topic of Congressional conversations this time last week. Democrats have worked with no Republicans on the bill and have no agreement on it with the Senate or the White House which means it won’t become law, and they know that.

The real reason the Democrats have created this hoax is that they look bad for failing to negotiate in good faith on the coronavirus bill and left Washington for a month. President Trump was getting credit for his executive orders while they did nothing. Nothing. So, in time-honored fashion, they decided to change the subject and their allies in the news media have been happy to play along.

The crisis here is a crisis of leadership at the Postal Service which desperately needs to reform itself, exactly what DeJoy is trying to accomplish. There is also a crisis of leadership in the House, a self-inflicted crisis. I don’t mind going back to Washington to work in a bipartisan fashion to pass another coronavirus bill. But going back this Saturday to work on a bill which will go nowhere and which addresses a hoax the Democrats themselves created is crazy. But crazy is what we have in Washington now. And that’s no hoax.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

Byrne: Celebrating the Nineteenth Amendment

(Wikicommons)

On August 18, the U.S. will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to our Constitution which guaranteed women’s right to vote. The women’s suffrage movement in our country began in the 1840s as women abolitionists saw the parallels between the effort to free enslaved Americans and their own desire to vote. A convention was held in Seneca Falls, New York in 1848 which produced an organized group led by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, among others.

The two movements worked together until women suffragists became angered over the fact the Fifteenth Amendment gave freed slaves the right to vote but didn’t extend that right to women. Over the next 50 years, women suffragists labored to gain the franchise. One bloc worked to pass a constitutional amendment at the national level while another focused on the individual states. The Wyoming Territory was the first to give women the right to vote in 1869, followed by the Utah Territory and Idaho.

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Momentum built in the 1910s when Washington state, California, Oregon, Arizona, Kansas, the Alaska Territory, Montana and Nevada gave women the right to vote. But, states in the East and South were reluctant to do so and the effort to add a constitutional amendment picked up speed. While Republicans were generally supportive, Democrats weren’t. President Woodrow Wilson preferred a state by state approach, but suffragist leaders kept up the heat, even sneaking a banner challenging him into his speech to a joint session of Congress.

When the US entered World War I some wanted the suffragists to back off, but they indignantly fought on with the argument that the fight for freedom and democracy in Europe should be paralleled at home with a constitutional amendment enfranchising the one half of the U.S. population denied the right to vote. By 1918, President Wilson changed his mind. The House passed the amendment, but the Senate couldn’t get the two-thirds required vote even after Wilson took the unprecedented step of addressing them on the Senate floor.

Suffragist pressure finally swayed enough votes to get Senate passage in 1919, and ratification was achieved with Tennessee’s vote on August 18, 1920. It’s hard to imagine that my two grandmothers, both adult women with families of their own, weren’t allowed to vote until that year. The Nineteenth Amendment is too often a forgotten part of our history, but I hope we will use this anniversary to remember how important it continues to be.

When I look around Alabama, I see the fruit of the suffragists’ labor. We have a female governor in Kay Ivey and two female members of Congress, Martha Roby and Terry Sewell. Women serve as federal judges, state appellate and court judges, district attorneys, and in the legislature. I work with women county commissioners, mayors and city council members across the First District. They, each of them, make great contributions to our quality of life and the administration of justice.

My little granddaughter, Ann-Roberts, is a very smart and active girl. I have no idea what she will do when she grows up, but she’ll be darn good at whatever that is. Imagine telling her she can’t vote or hold public office. I can’t. And, I’m glad my grandmothers finally got to vote. It took far too long to give it to them. Let’s remember this important anniversary and the value to all of us of our previous right to vote.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

Byrne: A way forward on coronavirus relief

(Wikicommons, YHN)

Last week was pretty frustrating in Washington. While the House frittered away at useless Democrat messaging bills which have no chance of passage in the Senate, Speaker Pelosi refused negotiations with the Senate on a $1 trillion dollar bill to address the nation’s ongoing needs as a result of COVID-19. At the end of the week, she and Senator Schumer refused offers from the White House to extend for four months the extra $600 a week those on unemployment insurance received as a result of the CARES Act we passed in March.

What’s all this about? We are in the middle of a historic pandemic and there are critical national needs to be addressed and last week in the House we just wasted time while the Democrat leadership played games. What is their game? By now, it’s all too obvious. They believe they have an opportunity to run the table in the November elections, take both houses of Congress and the presidency. Then, with an obviously weakened and limited Joe Biden as president, Pelosi and Schumer hold all the power, and in January they wield that power for their benefit and the benefit of the powerful special interests that fund them.

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If this sounds raw and cynical that’s because it is. They don’t mind putting the entire country through unnecessary pain for months if that means it enhances their power, because that’s all this is about – their power. They can confidently rely on the support of a national news media that is institutionally and culturally leftist to amplify their message to the detriment of the average person in this country. Just last week I e-mailed one of these news reporters to point out things she left out of a story she wrote. Did I get a reply? No, of course I didn’t get a reply, because the information I provided didn’t help her pre-ordained message. Such is the state of modern so-called “journalism.”

So, what is the way forward? First, let’s continue in our legislative work to focus on the disease. More money for testing and rapid turnaround of results. More money for those healthcare providers on the frontline. More money for domestically produced PPE and for effective therapies. And continued support for vaccine development and ultimate distribution. Second, protection for those laid off through no fault of their own and up to 70% of their state’s average pay. Third, more help for struggling small businesses to keep their workers employed and just stay alive, which means extending the Paycheck Protection Program and expanding allowed uses of those funds. Fourth, more help for schools to open. Fifth, liability protection for all – there is simply no excuse for allowing a small group of lawyers to profit off this crisis.

I know I’m hearing from many of you about these priorities, and I’m sure Democrat members are hearing from their constituents as well. But Pelosi’s hold on many of them is very strong, and she is feeling heat from the far-left interest groups that now dictate the policy positions of the Democrat Party. Based on the polls I’ve seen, the average Democrat is not as far left as this regressive group of neo-Marxists, but they have the money that Pelosi needs to win elections and she’s all about that.

Meanwhile, like robots, we are called to the House floor in groups to vote on bills on which we’ve had no input, and then hurried out of the room by the floor staff. This isn’t a republic anymore, and certainly not what the framers had in mind. It’s all controlled by one person and her special interest cronies, smug in their assurance the national media will paint only the most positive picture of the charade.

But, in the end, the people still hold the real power in this country. My hope is this November they won’t continue in supporting the Pelosi regime, or elect a toady for her as president. The way forward is a House of Representatives whose members think for themselves and are allowed to be the real crafters of legislation. Then, we can solve our national problems the way the framers of our Constitution intended and do the people’s business the way they want us to.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

Byrne: Education in the time of the pandemic

(U.S. Representative Bradley Byrne/Facebook, Pixabay, YHN)

Last week, I had a virtual conference with the leaders of the local school systems in our district. Starting a new school year is a difficult task in the best of times. Doing so in the middle of a pandemic with the disease spreading as it is now makes this normally difficult job truly daunting.

I greatly appreciate what these leaders and their staff are going through. Over $500 million of the CARES Act money Congress sent to Alabama will be used to help schools deal with COVID-19, and the purpose of our call was to bring them up to speed on that federal money coming their way and to offer them the support of my office.

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The first and most important decision our local school systems have to make is whether to allow students to return this year in person. Most of our local systems in southwest Alabama have decided to do that starting in August but with an option for parents to decide if they prefer for their children to only participate virtually. The Mobile County system has elected to delay start of the school year until September 1 and provide instruction during the first quarter, which lasts nine weeks, in remote fashion only. Then they will reassess.

Actually, all of these systems will have to constantly monitor the situation and potentially reassess based on how things are going. It’s important to know that flu season begins in October and peaks between December and February, which is relevant because public health experts warn that COVID-19 spread could worsen during this same time. We will just have to wait and see because like so much else with regard to this disease, the experts really don’t know.

Why is there such a push to reopen schools? We had a hearing on the Education Committee last month, and testimony indicated that virtual or distance learning may work for some students but for many it doesn’t. That may be because they don’t have access to the internet or because they just need in-person help from a teacher physically present in the classroom. For the many students for whom distance learning doesn’t work, virtual classes are the same as no classes.

In April, the Collaborative for Student Growth, a non-partisan education research organization, released a study on the potential impact of school closures on student academic achievement. It projected that the early closure last spring resulted in a 30% loss in reading gains for the academic year, and a 50% loss in mathematics. And that was for missing only part of a semester. That same month the Brookings Institute, a left-leaning research organization, released preliminary findings on the cost to students’ future earnings caused by the spring closures. It came to a loss of over $1300 in future income per year, per student, and a 12% hit to national GDP.

On the health side, in May the U.S. Center for Disease Control issued a resource for school leaders called “Considerations for Schools” which lays out how schools can open with safe environments and operations. Last week it issued new guidelines for schools and a statement on “The Importance of Reopening American Schools This Fall,” concluding that the health risk of COVID-19 to children is small when compared to the considerable benefits of in person education.

And, just a few weeks ago, the American Academy of Pediatricians, which is “Dedicated to the Health of All Children,” issued a “Guidance for School Re-Entry” in which it emphasized that “all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school.” It noted that “children and adolescents are less likely to be symptomatic and less likely to have severe disease” from COVID-19. It also provided detailed guidance for schools.

There is another important consideration here. The AAP found that “schools play a critical role in addressing racial and social inequity.” At a time when the US is having a major national discussion on inequality, we need to consider the potential long term, serious, and disproportionately negative effect not opening schools will have on poor children and children of color. They are more likely not to have internet at home or a caregiver there during the school day as their parents are more likely to have to work. Not being in school for an extended period is a big issue for any child, but for these children it will likely mean a permanent, lifelong setback.

Finally, we all should include in our considerations the health and safety of our educators. Putting them physically in a classroom exposes them to risks, and some of them have justifiably expressed their concerns. The CDC guidance on healthy school environments and operations will help protect students and teachers. But there will also be extra stress on our educators as they cope with the challenges posed by the disease, and the AAP’s Guidance directly addresses the need to help them with that stress. As with health care providers during this pandemic, educators operating in person are front line heroes and deserve our support.

As we work our way through the experience with this disease, let’s not forget that there will be a vaccine that effectively provides immunity, and an effective treatment so that those who have it won’t face hospitalization or death. As a result, we will return to a new normal in which we won’t be so distanced from one another and schools will operate closer to the old normal. Let’s make decisions for today with an eye to this future new normal. And let’s take care of our children in their health AND their education.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

Byrne: A fiscal reckoning

(Bradley Byrne/Facebook)

When the House returns to business next Monday, we will take up the National Defense Authorization Act I wrote about last week. Then, we will take up appropriations bills for next fiscal year, which begins October 1, and likely another coronavirus bill.

This spring I voted for both of the CARES Acts, which together spent $3 trillion. That was on top of this year’s projected total federal spending of $4.8 trillion, which was already going to add $1 trillion to our national debt. With the CARES Act spending, however, the total deficit for this fiscal year will be $3.7 trillion. The deficit for the month of June alone was $864 billion.

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Following the work of the Democrat-controlled House Appropriations Committee last week, I became very concerned about the bills they will pass out of their committee this week and that the House will vote on later this month. They are exceeding the spending cap deal reached by their leadership, Senate leadership and President Trump last year. Just as bad, they are loading up their spending bills with controversial policy riders they know Republicans won’t vote for. Unless they make a big change, I’m going to vote against the House version of appropriations for next year. I hope the Senate brings some sanity to the process.

I also have big concerns over another coronavirus bill. We’ve spent so much money already, money we don’t have and are borrowing. And I don’t agree with the Modern Monetary Theory which says deficits don’t matter. I won’t bore you with the very solid arguments against it by eminent economists because common sense is all you need to understand individuals and nations can’t borrow unlimited amounts of money over the long term. That’s even true for the richest nation the world has ever known.

Investors buy U.S. government debt in the form of treasury bills (which are government securities due to be paid in a year), treasury notes and bonds (which mature over a longer time frame), and Treasury Inflation Protected Securities (bonds indexed to inflation). They don’t do that out of patriotism or the good of their hearts. This isn’t World Wars I or II where bonds are purchased in a great national effort. No, the investors who buy our debt do it for their own self-interested reasons, and they expect to be paid back in full and on time. If they believe that they may not get paid back because the U.S. won’t be able to make the ever-growing payments, they will stop buying our debt.

And that’s when reality kicks in. It recently happened to Greece and Italy, both of which experienced severe economic turmoil and downturns. It could happen here too because even the U.S. is not immune from the laws of economics. It would be catastrophic for us, but it would be catastrophic for the world as well. If the U.S. falls economically, who gains the most? The answer is China, which already has concrete plans to replace us as the most powerful country in the world. We owe them $1 trillion and counting.

So, we need to start thinking longer term which hasn’t been a U.S. strong point for some time. Yes, we must deal with COVID-19 both as a health crisis and a danger to our economy. But, it’s time to be more focused and avoid the panicky temptation to just shovel out money. The money we have already approved hasn’t even been all spent.

What should be our priorities in the next coronavirus bill? First, it’s the cost of developing and making readily available a vaccine, just as the U.S. did with the polio vaccine during my childhood. Second, it’s the care for those who contract COVID-19, which includes effective therapeutics, and protecting the caregivers themselves. Third, it’s making sure we have the tests and PPE we need. These three all deal directly with the disease because our society and economy cannot return to “normal” until we address the disease more effectively. All of us have an individual duty in this regard, to avoid large gatherings and those most at risk of the disease, to social distance and wear face masks inside buildings.

But, when we turn to the economy, I have great concerns. I know the PPP loans/grants worked to save millions of U.S. jobs and bring many of those laid off back to work. So, maybe we start there. But, as I drive around, I see many “help wanted” and “now hiring” signs, and I hear from many business owners that they can’t get employees back to work. So, we must ask the question, do we need to keep paying the extra $600 a week to those drawing unemployment? Have we created a disincentive to work? Everyone has their hand out: colleges, schools, hospitals, this industry and that industry, the states and local governments. Where will all this money come from?

So, as we approach these two big spending projects, I am very skeptical. I’m not saying I won’t vote for either, but it looks like the FY 21 appropriations bills will just be too much for me to support. On a new coronavirus bill, I’m taking a wait and see position. My mind is open but not empty. It’s time we start reckoning with our fiscal deficits – before we’re painfully forced to by our creditors.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

Byrne: Our common defense

(U.S. Representative Bradley Byrne/Facebook, YHN)

Last week, the House Armed Services Committee, which I’m proud to be a member of, passed and sent to the full House the William M. (Mac) Thornberry National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021. This is the 60th year in a row that we have passed this act out of Committee, and since we passed it unanimously, we are optimistic it will pass the full House later this month. This year’s version is named after a longtime member of the Committee and former Chairman, Mac Thornberry of Texas. Mac led the charge to increase defense funding when President Trump took over. He is also a personal friend of mine and a true friend to the people of Southwest Alabama.

Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution empowers Congress to “provide for the common defense … of the United States,” “declare war,” “raise and support armies,” and “provide and maintain a Navy.” It’s our most important power, and the hard work of exercising that power is carried out by our Committee. We pass only one bill each year, but in my judgment, it, along with the bills appropriating money for operating the government, comprise the biggest legislative job of Congress each year.

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The NDAA authorizes the defense of the country and the operations of the Department of Defense and the respective service branches. It’s one of the few bills that enjoys broad bipartisan support year after year because our Committee’s members are committed to bipartisan support for the men and women who wear the uniform and defend the nation. We hold numerous hearings, classified and unclassified, before the bill is written. Our subcommittees do the same for their respective parts of the bill. And we really legislate, that is we work through differences and address the nitty gritty details with the seriousness they deserve. The bill is hundreds of pages long and takes an enormous amount of work.

This is my seventh and last year to participate in the process and I am proud of the work the Committee has done even though there are some parts I personally would have done differently. For example, I don’t agree with the topline spending we authorized because I think we have shortchanged some important defense endeavors like shipbuilding. But, I understand that the number was negotiated last year by President Trump and Congressional leadership as part of a two-year spending plan. Our Committee had no choice but to honor that agreement, but I know it’s too low.

We also had a protracted debate on military bases named after former Confederate generals. We Republicans backed an amendment to require the service secretaries responsible for those bases to review the use of those names going forward but did not want to dictate to them what their decision should be. The Democrats on the Committee wanted to require them to change the names but didn’t dictate what the new names would be. I couldn’t support the Democrats on this point because I don’t like usurping the service secretaries’ authority on operational details and I also wanted stronger input from the local communities where the bases are located. As they form the majority on the Committee, the Democrats’ version prevailed.

We also had a long discussion regarding the Insurrection Act. Passed in 1807, and amended twice, in 1861 and 1871, the Insurrection Act empowers a president to use active and national guard personnel under very exceptional circumstances, such as an armed uprising. It was last used in 1992 to quell riots in Los Angeles. President Trump talked about using the Insurrection Act when the protests around the country turned violent in late May and June, and that set off the national news media and the Democrats who wanted to limit his authority to do so. As it turned out, President Trump did not invoke the law at all, but that didn’t stop the Democrats from offering an amendment that would have substantially limited a president’s authority. I took the lead for the Republicans on the Committee as we didn’t want to limit that authority any more than it is already limited by the Posse Comitatus Act. Fortunately, we won the debate, and the amendment to limit a president’s authority was defeated.

Most importantly for our area, the Committee added an Expeditionary Fast Transport (EPF) ship at my request and with the blessing of the Navy. The EPF is an aluminum-hulled catamaran capable of transporting 600 short tons of cargo 1200 nautical miles at an average speed of 35 knots in Sea State 3. It has a roll on/roll off capability for things like the Abrams Main Battle Tank, and a helicopter flight deck. Its shallow draft dramatically expands the ports and waterways it can operate in. It’s made at Austal USA in Mobile, and I’m very proud of the work the great shipbuilders there do. I predict you will be hearing more about varied uses for the EPF in the future.

The American people deserve the peace of mind a strong national defense brings. The men and women who wear our uniform and provide that defense deserve the Congressional authority to carry out their important jobs. I have not hesitated to be critical of Congress when we have all too often failed to do our job in the past year and a half. But, this time we did our job and passed a bill out of Committee which, while not perfect, fulfills Congress’s responsibility to provide for the common defense of our country.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

Byrne: Our sacred honor

(Bradley Byrne/Facebook, YHN)

This weekend, America will celebrate its 244th birthday. Unfortunately, we do so in a time of a pandemic, a struggling economy and violent protests. But, it’s still our birthday and we should both commemorate and celebrate it.

We usually do a good job in our celebration, although this year will be different since social distancing means we’ll be in smaller groups and public fireworks displays have been canceled. I suspect most of us will find a way to gather with family and close friends to cook out and show the red, white and blue.

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But, a commemoration is more than that. Merriam-Webster defines “commemorate” as “to call to remembrance” or “to serve as a memorial of.” How many of us will stop and remember what it meant for the Second Continental Congress to not only declare our independence from Britain but also to state our reasons for doing so in majestic language positing the highest ideals?

Let me make a suggestion. This Fourth, get a copy of the Declaration and read it. My extended family and friends usually get together and have several of us read the various portions of the Declaration out loud and talk about its meaning. It doesn’t take much time and we always experience a renewed appreciation for the gift that is our country. This year we will do it virtually, in smaller groups.

The Declaration was meant to be read out loud. Indeed, on July 4, Congress not only voted to accept it but also provided for its distribution to the states and the Continental Army. On July 6, John Hancock, as president of Congress, sent letters to the states and to General Washington enclosing broadsides of the Declaration requesting that they have it “proclaimed.” It was read out loud to celebrations in dozens of cities and towns in July and August, and to the Continental Army on July 9 as it prepared for the British Invasion of New York.

To some extent, these events were meant to inform and inspire the people of a newly independent nation. But then, and now, the Declaration is a defining document. It not only said we were an independent nation but also who we aspired to be. Freedom and equality were to be at the heart of the nation’s character. And the rights stated in the Declaration — life liberty and the pursuit of happiness — are clearly labeled gifts from God himself to all of us.

The story of our country is really the unfolding of the efforts to live up to these aspirations. President Lincoln used it as a primary basis for arguing against slavery, as in the Gettysburg Address where he famously said, “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” As a result of the Civil War, these ideals were enshrined in the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution.

Martin Luther King used it in his 1963 “I Have A Dream” speech, referring to the Declaration and the Constitution as a promissory note to all Americans which he and others in the Civil Rights Movement called upon the nation to honor. As a result of the Movement, Congress passed the 1964 Civil Rights Act and in 1965 the Voting Rights Act.

I know it is fashionable now among our nation’s elites to view America as evil from our birth, evil in our institutions and evil in our character. That view is a myth, untethered to the reality of our history. This myth is just a false preamble to lay the groundwork for their efforts to radically reorganize our society and have government run every detail of our lives, all the while piling tax upon tax on us. Isn’t this type of government what caused the founders to declare independence in the first place? These elites call themselves “progressive,” but their plan is actually a regression to a tyrannical central government taxing us against our will.

Despite our faults, some of which have been grievous, we are a nation established upon the highest ideals and which has the strength of its character and institutions to self-correct as we strive toward those ideals. Our history repeatedly demonstrates that is who we are.

David McCullough, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author and historian, several years ago told a gathering of those of us in Congress that Americans would be more hopeful if we only knew our history. How true. Complicated and contradictory, yes, but it is also a history of spectacular success and of a major force for good, here and abroad.

So this week, let’s celebrate and commemorate who we are. Let’s pause in the middle of our present troubles to renew our pride as Americans and draw lessons from our founding and history for the resolution of the issues of the day. And let us, like our founders, “mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

Byrne: America needs building up, not tearing down

(Wikicommons, Pixabay, YHN)

Our brilliant founders built our democracy upon two different but complimentary pillars.

The first and more obvious pillar is our constitutional system itself, what the writers of the Federalist Papers called the “new science of politics.” Our representative democracy would not be possible without our revolutionary constitution and the laws that uphold it, separation and enumeration of powers, and effective checks and balances.

The second pillar is more difficult to define but just as essential – nationally shared values and a common morality. Our founders believed the natural expression of these shared values would be a patriotism and respect for our fellow citizens. In a functioning democracy where the government is a reflection of the people whose popular will directs it, civic virtue is a necessity. Alexis de Tocqueville, the French observer of early America, saw the source of our strength when writing “America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.” Without the second pillar, our democracy would be broken.

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Let’s go back to the first principles that united the people of our young Republic and guided our founders as they began the great American experiment.

In the very first chapter of Genesis, we are told that God made humans in His own image. We are all His children and that makes all of us of equal and inestimable worth. St. Peter in Acts 10, and St. Paul in Galatians 3 and Romans 2, make perfectly clear that we are not to show “partiality,” to ascribe more moral worth to one ethnic or class group over another. And the second of the Great Commandments is that we should love one another as we love ourselves.

The Declaration of Independence echoed these great Biblical principles when it said, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” But, the truth of America is that we excluded black people from these principles at the very moment we appealed to the world to recognize our existence as a new and independent nation based on noble ideals. We didn’t live up to those ideals.

The drafters of the Constitution didn’t fix this failure. It took a civil war 75 years later, and the loss of 600,000 lives, to end slavery. And the end of slavery did not bring equality and justice to black Americans, who endured segregation and violence for decades until the civil rights movement brought an end to legal segregation as well as passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. While we have made much progress since the 1960s, clearly we have more work to do.

Each of the pillars of democracy needs reinforcement, and our response to our current challenge will determine our nation’s course for decades. New laws are needed to strengthen the first pillar by taking steps to restore faith between the overwhelming majority of good and decent law enforcement officers and the communities they serve. Fortunately, there are areas of common ground between Republicans and Democrats. But we cannot forget the second pillar. As a civic-minded people, we have a duty to soberly reexamine and evaluate our values. By doing so, we can restore important foundational values while recognizing where they fell short and course correcting.

The only way to make America better is by building our nation up, not tearing it down. Perhaps we should remember these words of Tocqueville: “The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.”

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

Byrne: Keeping our heads

(U.S. Representative Bradley Byrne, Benjamin L. Crump, Esq./Facebook, YHN)

These last few weeks have riveted the country’s attention on police brutality. The murder of George Floyd was an atrocity, and unfortunately it’s not the first one. As we have so often in our history, it’s time for America to respond with appropriate and reasonable reform. It’s not time to lose our heads, however.

The “defund the police” movement is not the answer. My colleagues Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, and Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton of the District of Columbia, all members of the Congressional Black Caucus, spoke out against it last week. Ms. Norton said that the poorest of the people she represents live in the parts of town that experience the most homicides and crime. “I’m not sure I would hear them saying we ought to reduce the number of police, I may hear them saying just the opposite,” she said.

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Neither does it make sense to paint all of law enforcement with a broad and negative brush. We all need law enforcement and we are blessed that the vast majority of our officers are good professionals, often doing their jobs under dangerous circumstances. Last year, 89 officers died in the line of duty in the U.S. Many more were injured. Most of us don’t work in a job where it is unclear whether we will return home at the end of the day safe and sound. But they do.

It is undeniable, however, that there are rogue officers treating black people unprofessionally, injuring and, yes, even killing them. That’s not acceptable. We need to make reforms to our law enforcement system, and some of those reforms will indeed cost more, not less, money.

This issue is primarily a local one as that is where most law enforcement officers work. Better and stricter standards, better training on those standards, and better discipline of officers who act outside those standards, all must occur locally.

There are some things we can do at the federal level, however, and there are a number of recent proposals. I believe there is a significant level of concern across both parties and enough consensus around some of the proposals that we should be able to pass a bill which is broadly bipartisan. The fact that the Democrats filed their bill with no effort to consult and work with Republicans, indeed against direct appeals to include us, is very disappointing, but we can’t let that stop us from finding common ground, without which there will be no change in the law.

We are presently scheduled to vote on a police reform bill next week, and while the Democrats have filed this purely partisan bill, I hope there will be a real opportunity for dialogue.

I support a federal ban on lynching, and we should condition federal grants to local law enforcement on adherence to higher standards, particularly on the use of force. More federal money should go for training to these higher standards. We need to collect and report more and timely information on the use of force and more Federal money should go to pay for body cameras. We should ban racial profiling but do it in such a manner that the ban wouldn’t preclude the appropriate use of information about specific suspects or specific crimes.

I’m open to discussing some reform to the legal doctrine of “qualified immunity” which shields law enforcement officers from legal action when they are acting in the line of duty. The doctrine needs more clarity which a well-drawn statute could bring. But I oppose outright repeal because that would leave officers who have acted appropriately the subjects of endless lawsuits which would likely result in these officers pulling back from doing their jobs.

For this same reason I am concerned about lowering the standard for criminal actions against law enforcement under the Civil Rights statutes. Presently, prosecutions against law enforcement officers require proof that the officer acted “willfully,” but some of the new proposals would lower that to proof of “reckless disregard.” Go look at the legal definition of the latter and it will leave you scratching your head as to what the courts mean. You don’t want a law enforcement officer in the middle of a violent situation, where he is present to protect innocent lives, to be scratching his head. If we are going to change that standard at all it needs to be very clear and precise.

Go back to what Ms. Norton said. Who is going to be harmed the most if law enforcement pulls back, if they retreat from their duty? It’s the poor, who are all too often the victims of crime and are also likely to be from a racial minority.

Let’s say it plainly. Black people are of equal moral value as white people. It’s Biblical, it’s American. And to treat people differently based on their race is morally and legally repugnant. To injure or kill them for the same reason goes against everything we stand for.

We are Americans, black, white, Asian and Hispanic. We are liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, and everything in between. All of us are the beneficiaries of the American system of justice, however imperfect it may seem, because it’s the ultimate expression of civilization. Due process, the equal application of the law, limits on the power of the state (that includes law enforcement), and the basic principles and of our common humanity underly this system.

We stand with one another. With black people wronged by rogue law enforcement officers. With the vast majority of law enforcement who throw themselves at danger to protect us and conduct themselves with professionalism and with little pay.

And we should do all this using, not losing, our heads.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

Byrne: Good economic news

(U.S. Representative Bradley Byrne/Facebook)

First, it was the public health experts whose projections were wrong about COVID-19. They predicted far more spread of the disease, and death from it, than we have actually experienced.  They also predicted that those states which opened up before others would have a widespread breakout and a spike of hospitalization, and that hasn’t happened either.

Then, on Friday, the unemployment numbers for May were released by the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. Economists predicted that the report would show another 7 million people lost their jobs in May and that the unemployment rate approached 20%. But the actual numbers were that the U.S. saw the creation of 2.5 million new jobs and the unemployment rate, while still high, actually fell. The workforce participation rate also increased significantly.

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Who benefited from the jobs gains? Lower paid workers in general saw the largest uptick, which is a good thing since they were the main victims of the shutdown. By industry, leisure and hospitality, construction, health care, and retail trade led the way. While 21 million Americans are unemployed, an unacceptably high number, we have turned the corner in a big way.

What caused this turnaround? It appears that there are two reasons for these numbers far exceeding the pessimistic projections of the experts.

First, as states started to relax extreme social distancing orders, businesses that had been closed altogether reopened and rehired laid-off workers.  We have all seen the uptick. And states have been reopening gradually, with some not even starting until June, so there is reason to be optimistic about continuing improvement during the course of this summer.

Second, many small businesses didn’t receive their Paycheck Protection Program loan/grants until late April and only started to bring their workers back in May. As we hoped, the PPP provided these businesses with the cash flow “bridge” they needed as we waited for the nation to reopen.  There is reason to believe that a significant number of these small businesses will be hiring more this summer.

The fact that extreme social distancing is easing is a good thing. We will debate later whether we went into the shutdown too hastily and too hard, but it’s clear that the reopening is working to bring our economy back quicker than the economists thought, and without the significant uptick in cases and hospitalization the public health experts feared.

That does not mean we are out of the woods with COVID-19. New cases and deaths continue, and while we are now allowed to do more than previously, we all must be careful as we go about our lives.  If you are in one of the at-risk categories, or if you are sick, you should still stay home. All of us need to continue good hygiene and wear face masks while inside stores, offices, and other indoor areas not our homes. And we should distance ourselves from other people as we move around whether inside or outside.

The data released last week on the incidence of this disease in nursing homes does concern me. There is no more vulnerable group than nursing home residents, and unfortunately we have seen more than our share of nursing home cases and deaths here in southwest Alabama, particularly in Mobile. We will have to do more to protect them, and that includes, unfortunately, staying away from our loved ones who are in those homes.

The violence which accompanied many of the protests around the country also concerns me.  That violence did impact some businesses which experienced property damage and looting. Some business owners and workers were injured as well. That violence would have been bad in normal times but coming at the same time many of these businesses were just starting to reopen made it particularly egregious. People have a First Amendment right to assemble and speak their minds, but they don’t have a right to commit violence or arson, or to loot.

And now some of the protesters want to do away with law enforcement altogether, which would endanger all of us and further impede economic recovery. These radical proposals cloud the debate over potential reforms in law enforcement.

The national news media does not want to talk about the good economic news or the improving numbers from the pandemic.  Just see how quickly they pivoted from incessant news on the disease, and how they nearly ignored the May jobs data release, to breathlessly report every protest in the country. As we approach the election in November, they will play down positive news and emphasize bad news in their effort to defeat President Trump.

The recent improvements in our economy and in our experience with the disease are heartening and there is every reason to believe things will continue to improve. As the good news shows, Americans are far more resilient than the experts thought. Let’s all of us do our part to continue these positive trends and treat with great skepticism the negative predictions of the experts and the doom and gloom from the media. Yes, we have work to do to improve our country, but things are getting better as we Americans move forward with renewed hope and optimism.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

Byrne: A more perfect union

(Wikicommons, YHN)

I was a young teenager in the late 1960s, but I remember the riots and violence that occurred around the country, and especially in the large cities. I was concerned that we were headed down that road again with racial violence around the country in the summer of 2016, President Obama’s last year in office. Over the previous several years we had become an extremely divided country, a clear failure of our national leaders. That seemed ironic inasmuch as President Obama’s election eight years earlier was supposed to have ushered in a new golden era of unity and prosperity.

This past week, as the nation continued to reopen from the extreme social distancing suddenly thrown on us in the early spring, an ugly incident in Minneapolis involving a white law enforcement officer arresting a black man ended with yet another death, and now a criminal case against the officer. The response has been arson, looting, and violence in many cities around the nation. Unfortunately, we had similar incidents in Birmingham and, to a lesser extent, Mobile.

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Despair is a strong human emotion and triggers extreme behavior, which all too often results in the destruction of private property owned by people who had nothing to do with the event at issue, and in personal injury or even death to innocent parties. We saw all that last week as well as reports that some groups helped instigate the violence.

The violence detracted from the message the vast majority of the protesters tried to deliver peacefully. They have rights under the First Amendment to the Constitution to peacefully assemble, speak out publicly, and petition their government. No one has a right to commit arson, loot, or engage in violence, and those that did hurt the efforts of those who were peaceful.

Our country has had a tough year. We began with a failed impeachment trial in the Senate and flawed Democrat presidential caucuses, but also with some of the best economic numbers in over 50 years. Indeed, they were the best ever for black Americans who were enjoying record low unemployment and rising wages. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and our leaders, on advice from public health officials, ordered extreme social distancing, which shut down significant parts of our economy. That cost 40 million Americans their jobs, including 500,000 in Alabama and over 70,000 in my congressional district. The negative effect on our economy has been record breaking and so very sudden. The jobs and incomes of black people have been particularly hard hit. Of course that affected people emotionally.

Many people are fearful of COVID and some of us should be, particularly if we are elderly or have a CDC-listed underlying health condition. Black people in Alabama have suffered disproportionately to their share of the population. While only 27% of the Alabama population is black, 44% of all Alabama COVID deaths have been among black people. We should all understand the fear that causes.

Yes, we need to continue to work with law enforcement so that they can continue doing the dangerous job of protecting us in a way that’s safer for everyone. The vast majority of law enforcement play by the rules and respect people, and I want to compliment Chief Battiste and the Mobile Police Department for their professionalism during the Mobile protests. But there is no room for anyone in law enforcement to overstep appropriate processes and procedures. One atrocity is one too many.

This past weekend, the national news media was almost totally focused on this violence around the country. Lost in all their coverage was the thrilling launch of a pair of astronauts on a U.S. rocket for the first time in nine years, which successfully took them to the International Space Station. I will never forget Apollo 8’s 1968 Christmas Eve telecast, the first from lunar orbit, when the astronauts read from Genesis, and Apollo 11’s July 1969 landing on the moon’s surface. Widely broadcast by the media and watched by record numbers, the space program was a source of great pride and unity at a time when we really needed it.

Back then, the national media actually believed that their mission included telling us the good things about our country, while reporting on the not so good things, like inequality and riots. In our present time, the national media acts as if its main role is to fan discontent and disunity.

Racial issues and violence weren’t the only negative stories from the late 1960s. The world faced a severe pandemic from H3N2 flu, which killed 100,000 Americans in 1968 and 1969. We were a smaller country then, so that would be like losing 140,000 Americans now. We didn’t shut our country down and the news media didn’t obsess over it. We dealt with it even as we struggled with inequality and put humans on the moon.

We’re capable of so much more in this country but only if we remember that one of the stated purposes of our Constitution is “to create a more perfect union.” That’s not a one and done thing, it’s a generation after generation thing. This generation must do its part by unifying to solve our problems while celebrating our many achievements.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

Byrne: Tough times show what makes our country great

(B. Byrne/Facebook)

This year, during the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Memorial Day provided an even more unique opportunity to reflect upon what makes our nation great and the shared values we hold as a people. Though our celebrations may have been scaled down, the greatness of our country is, in many ways, more apparent in challenging times like these.

The struggles we are going through together as a nation are real and impactful. The coronavirus overwhelmingly targets seniors and those with preexisting conditions. As a result, nursing homes and long-term care facilities have been hit hard. More than 36,000 residents and staff have died after coming down with COVID-19, more than a third of all deaths in our country that have been attributed to the virus. Sadly, many of our cherished veterans have been among those lost to the virus. Of all the tributes to those we have lost, the stories of our veterans are especially moving.

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But there are bright spots in coronavirus medical research. Testing quality and access has improved significantly. And as we learn more about the virus, we are better able to prevent and treat Covid-19. The hospitalization rate for those diagnosed with the virus is 3.4%, and the CDC estimates that 35% of all infected people are asymptomatic. Taking this into account, the infection fatality rate is likely around 0.2% or 0.3%. While that is still two to three times higher than the flu, the coronavirus is nothing like the killer some predicted early on.

Without question, the economy has taken a hit. Unemployment levels are higher than any time since the Great Depression. Our small businesses shed more than 11 million jobs in April. That’s more than half of the 20 million private sector jobs lost last month.

However, congressional action to cushion the blow has helped. More than 4.4 million small businesses have been approved for a loan through the Paycheck Protection Program, and over $511 billion has been processed in aid. In Alabama, at least 60,457 loans have been made for a whopping $6,136,772,466. The bulk of this aid to small businesses must go towards employee paychecks, ensuring that more Americans are able to keep their jobs. In addition to the Paycheck Protection Program, nearly 431,000 Economic Injury Disaster Loans have been processed to assist small businesses during this crisis. Alabama businesses have received 4,728 EIDL loans for $376,897,450.

There is no question that small businesses will face new challenges going forward. Evolving ways we interact with one another and patronize businesses, including new occupancy limitations, will make staying in business more difficult. That’s why it is so important for our economy to continue opening sooner rather than later. You and I can do our part by visiting businesses and restaurants in our community. Importantly, the foundation of our economy was strong before coronavirus spread prevention measures were enacted nationwide. So, the country can and will rebound from this. Prosperity will return.

One only needs to look at what is happening on the other side of the globe to be thankful for our nation. The brutal Chinese Communist Party, whose mismanagement and dishonesty during the initial outbreak of the virus cost countless lives across the globe, is using the pandemic as an excuse to ramp up authoritarian measures. The people of Hong Kong are suffering a loss of freedom that dwarfs the sacrifices we have made to stop the spread.

The American people have responded to crisis after crisis with resilience and togetherness, and we will do so again. We may not have participated in all of our Memorial Day traditions, but we can still honor the fallen by treasuring the country and values they sacrificed to preserve. That’s what makes our country great.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

Byrne: The absent Congress

Bradley-Byrne-House

Last Friday, the House of Representatives took a truly unprecedented step. The Democrat majority voted to change our rules and allow members to vote online in committee action on bills, and to vote by proxy on passage of bills and resolutions. That’s right, members of Congress can now vote from the comfort of our homes and not set a foot in Washington. We no longer have to show up for work, like millions of Americans do every day, even during this pandemic.

Article One, Section 5 of the Constitution clearly requires a majority of members to be present for the House to do business. Indeed, if a majority is not in attendance, those present have the power to compel absent members to attend. The framers could have provided for proxy voting but did not. The young nation was brought into being by two Continental Congresses and was governed by one under the old Articles of Confederation. So, our forebears knew the importance of representatives of the people to come together in one place to do the nation’s business, to work together and debate together in passing laws.

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James Madison was perhaps the most informed and influential member of the Constitutional Convention. He kept records of the daily debates. Along with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, he wrote the Federalist Papers. Yet he, like other members of the very first Congress under the new Constitution, met for days in March of 1789 without being able to conduct business because they didn’t have a quorum present for nearly a month. He and his colleagues knew a majority had to be there.

This wasn’t just any Congress either. Once it achieved a quorum, it established the departments of Treasury, State and War, as well as the Attorney General and Federal court system, and passed and sent to the states for ratification the Bill of Rights. Yet no one in March of 1789 thought they could act without a quorum physically present.

For 231 years the Congress has met, in person and in one place, and done its business together. Through the War of 1812, even when the British sacked Washington, and the Civil War with the Confederate Army sometimes just miles away. Through World Wars I and II and in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Through yellow fever epidemics, and the 1918 flu. Through the 1890s and early 1900s when Washington was the nation’s hotspot for typhoid fever.

The House has at its disposal the professional help of the Capitol Attending Physician’s office, the Sergeant at Arms and Capitol Police. We have shut down the Capitol building and offices to outside people. An army of House staff continually cleans our buildings under new strict guidelines. We are provided masks, and plenty of sanitizer. We distance when voting and are called to vote in small groups. We’ve met three times in the last two months and achieved a quorum every time. Nearly 400 members were in attendance last week.

So, we know how to do it, even during a pandemic like this one. The President has been in the White House working every day. The Senate has come back, in person. Federal workers all over the country are physically present doing their jobs which are frequently essential.

The Constitution makes the House and its work truly essential. And it requires us to be there. Not only that, in this time of political polarization, it’s even more important that we work together to get the people’s business done, and it just doesn’t work as well on the phone or in virtual meetings. We miss the opportunity to really hear one another, and it’s certainly easier to dismiss or demonize representatives from the opposite party or other places when we’re not together.

This change is historic and very damaging to the House as an institution and to the work of the nation. It sets a very bad precedent and a very bad example to the people of this country. For those in the House who are vulnerable, I understand that they can’t come, and they shouldn’t. We have members who miss votes all the time due to illness or injury. But, that doesn’t mean we should disregard the Constitution or good practice. Remember, we only need a majority for a quorum.

Now, however, 22 Democrats with proxies in hand can control the House. Indeed, the real winner here is the speaker who easily controls everything, drafting bills in her office with the influence of unelected interests and with no hearings or committee work, just like she did with her $3 trillion far left giveaway last week. This rule change is the culmination of Speaker Pelosi’s calculated effort to disempower individual members which has debased the institution. And don’t buy her arguments that this rule change is temporary. Should the Democrats return next January as a majority in the House, they will do it again.

I’m greatly saddened by this development. America is reopening and getting back to work. The House of Representatives should, too.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

Byrne: Opening economy now, not later, best for Americans

(Rep. Byrne/YouTube)

Last week, Governor Ivey issued orders allowing Alabama’s restaurants, hair salons, barbers and other personal service businesses to reopen Monday under social distancing guidelines. This is an important step towards safely reopening our state’s economy and ending extreme measures put in place to flatten the curve and limit the spread of the virus. While Alabama – and our district – continue to see cases and sadly some deaths, we have been successful in preventing our hospitals and ICU units from being overwhelmed by Covid-19 cases—the original goal of social distancing and business shutdowns.

With our Alabama economy taking steps to open in line with the White House coronavirus task force recommendations, we still must use common sense, practice social distancing and good hygiene, and limit certain types of gatherings. There are capacity limitations for open facilities such as restaurants, childcare centers and public spaces like our beaches. And most entertainment venues, including movie theaters and bowling alleys, remain closed.

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On Monday, I spent the morning in Orange Beach with our local law enforcement and first responders. I was pleased to see that those taking advantage of the beautiful day on the beach were observing guidelines to limit gatherings and social distance. While law enforcement was on hand to ensure compliance, it was encouraging that our citizens were taking steps on their own to remain safe and in compliance with the governor’s orders. I believe most Alabamians want to do the right thing and will take steps to be safe. At the end of the day, there is really little law enforcement can do to stop the spread. All of us must do our part.

Here in the district, we continue to see federal aid distributed to individuals and small businesses. The Treasury Department continues to work down the unprecedented backlog to make economic impact payments to individuals. And while all payments have not been made as quickly as Congress hoped, the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program and the Paycheck Protection Program are continuing to issue loans and grants to help small businesses in our district remain open and keep employees on the payroll. In addition, the Coronavirus Relief Fund, created through the CARES Act, will distribute around $1.9 billion directly to Alabama to alleviate damage from the coronavirus.

While it has been good to see Congress act quickly in a substantive and bipartisan manner to aid Americans, we must be increasingly vigilant of efforts by those on the far left to use this crisis as an excuse to enact their radical agenda. Behind closed doors, Speaker Pelosi has been working on another coronavirus aid package that, even according to Democrats, is more of a “wish list” than a serious legislative proposal. By many accounts, she is negotiating a messaging bill with the most liberal and “progressive” wing of her party, certainly not with Republicans. In short, she is not making an effort to produce a coronavirus aid bill that will become law but is instead working to lay down an extreme liberal negotiating point. This is no way to run a railroad. In fact, just last week, I wrote in the Wall Street Journal about the need for Pelosi to stop negotiating alone and allow Congress to return to Washington and get back to work for the American people. While I continue working hard from the district to help constituents, talking daily with leaders throughout our community, representatives from both sides of the aisle should reject Speaker Pelosi’s power grab and demand we return to Washington to ensure all our constituents have a voice at the negotiating table.

However, government can never replace the American economy. The best thing we can do for the American people is to begin safely reopening the economy now, not later. I am glad we have started doing that in our state, and I am hopeful we will soon be able to do more to safely return Alabamians to work, school and church, and for more of our businesses to open their doors.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

Byrne: In coronavirus fight, Alabama has benefited from federal action

(Bradley Byrne/Facebook)

Closing down the American economy has a real and enormous effect on the lives of countless Americans. Layoffs and job losses are devastating for individuals, families, and communities. In good times, it generally takes three to six months for someone to find a job after a layoff. Of course, these are not good times. Moreover, closures and layoffs go deeper than this. Large unemployment numbers can also make it much harder for areas to move into economic recovery when a crisis is over.

Certainly, the government’s coronavirus response has not been perfect, but President Trump, Senator Rubio, Secretary Mnuchin, and others deserve a lot of credit for thinking about how to stop layoffs and for their innovative solution, the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), to help everyday Americans. The idea behind PPP is simple, keep Americans from being laid off or furloughed through this difficult time. Through PPP, the President offered small businesses a good deal, low-interest loans to cover payroll, rent, and utilities. These loans carried an important carrot. If the business retains its payroll or rehires previously laid-off workers, the loan is forgiven by the federal government.

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This deal for small businesses was more popular than the president’s team could ever have imagined. In late March, we passed the CARES Act which allocated $349 billion for PPP. This funding was exhausted in just a couple of weeks, but those payments kept countless businesses open and their employees on the payroll. To keep the program going, Congress passed the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act, or “CARES 2,” to replenish PPP funding. With the injection of $320 billion provided by this bill, the SBA has begun Round 2 of accepting PPP loan applications through banks and credit unions.

The data shows just how effective the PPP has been. In the week since Round 2 of PPP loan processing began on April 27, 2.2 million loans were made to American small businesses, more than during Round 1. Those 2.2 million loans have a total value of over $175 billion. And the average loan size is $79,000, an indicator that the program is going towards assisting the smallest of small businesses.

There are other indicators that PPP loans are going towards small businesses in small communities, those that most often fell through the cracks and did not receive aid before Round 1 funding went dry. Nearly 500,000 of Round 2 loans were made by lenders with less than $1 billion in assets. And about a third of the 2.2 million loans – over 850,000 – were made by lenders with $10 billion in assets or less. Here in Alabama, in Round 2 alone, the SBA has approved 26,724 loans for $338,700,245.

All told, since PPP launched on April 3, the federal government has processed over 3.8 million loans for more than $500 billion. Astonishingly, that’s over half a trillion dollars in economic support to small businesses and their employees in only a month. It is estimated PPP has saved 30 million jobs, just accounting for the first round of funding.

This is on top of the vast amount of other support the federal government has provided, including $30 billion for a Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund to aid our hospitals and health care providers. This fund has paid $449,481,945 in distribution payments to 4,652 providers and systems in Alabama. In our district alone, 581 payments have been made totaling $66,833,755.62. While I know that many continue to wait on unemployment benefits, the amount of help already provided to those in need-based upon money Congress provided is staggering. The Alabama Department of Labor has paid out $503 million in unemployment benefits to 206,694 claimants since March 16.

There is no doubt that the PPP and other federal programs have been an important cushion to the economy, saving jobs and businesses. But, we must remember they are temporary measures and designed to cushion the damage caused by COVID-19. The federal government cannot write enough checks to come anywhere close to completely mitigating the collateral damage caused by coronavirus. Washington cannot be the American economy. We must reopen or our efforts thus far to cushion the blow will fall flat.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

Byrne: Passing the peak of coronavirus and next steps

(U.S. Representative Bradley Byrne/Facebook, Pixabay, YHN)

Alabama reached and passed the peak of COVID-19 new cases during the week of April 12. As I have written previously, this doesn’t mean we haven’t seen new cases since then because we have. Nor does it mean we won’t see new cases in the future because we will. It does mean that the number of new cases per day is beginning to gradually come down. This is the flattening of the curve you have heard so much about. We have been successful in achieving what we set out to do with state-ordered extreme social distancing.

Indeed, we have avoided the worst experiences of other places in the country, especially the New York metro area which has had the worst. Nearby New Orleans has also had it very badly. While over 200 Alabamians have died from the disease so far, and every one of those deaths is a tragedy, our “case fatality rate,” or the percentage of those testing positive who die, is 3.5%, better than the national rate of 5%, and much better than the international rate of 7%. Indeed, it is projected that deaths from the disease in Alabama will be less than a third of those from the flu.

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Just as important, here in Alabama we didn’t come anywhere near exhausting our available hospital beds or ICU units. Our health care system, while stressed for personal protective equipment, or PPE, has been able to treat people without entering crisis mode. In part, this is true because we suspended so-called “elective” procedures so that there would be beds and PPE if we had a feared breakout here.

We also escaped the worst because only around 9% of the 75,000 people tested so far in Alabama have been positive for the disease, half the national average of 18%. Moreover, only 13% of Alabamians testing positive required hospitalization, most of them not in ICU beds.

We still have much to learn about COVID-19. Because we have concentrated our tests on those most at risk, we have yet to test the broader population. We know many more have it, or had it, than we have tested. We also know a large percentage had mild or no symptoms. Some experts believe the percentage who have the disease without significant symptoms to be as high as 85%. Until we broaden testing, as we will continue to do in the weeks to come, we won’t know for sure. But, it’s a good sign that our COVID-19 deaths in Alabama this year are predicted to be less than those from the flu.

As we begin to reopen parts of the state shut down due to state-required extreme social distancing, we will have to test more and make sure our health providers have what they need when, not if, cases rise again, likely in the fall.

They will need more PPE. FEMA is helping with that by flying in more from overseas, and the President is using the Defense Production Act to produce PPE here in the United States. They will need more financial help. In the CARES Act extension Congress passed last week, we provided an additional $75 billion for our health care system, especially our hospitals. We will also need to increase testing even more, so Congress added $25 billion for that.

The CARES Act extension increased funding for the small business PPP and EIDL programs by $310 billion and $50 billion respectively, in an effort to keep these businesses and their payrolls afloat until we slowly regain our economic footing. Unfortunately, both of those programs have hit roadblocks in providing the needed funding on a timely basis.

As I have said for some time now, the government cannot substitute for our private sector economy. The government just doesn’t have the means to do that, nor was it designed to do so. That is why bringing the economy back is the key to recovery and to bring it back we must gradually return to normal life. Some in the national news media try to pit our public health against our economic health. That’s a false choice because we can do both.

As I write this, we don’t know exactly when or how Governor Ivey will reopen our economy. But, when we start that process, we need to all remember that each of us have a role to play, by continuing good hygiene, avoiding groups of 10 or more, keeping six feet social distancing, and staying away from the most vulnerable to the disease so we don’t endanger them.

We’ve turned a page in the book of COVID-19 here in Alabama. I don’t know about you but I’m ready for the next chapter.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

Byrne: At the peak of the coronavirus

(Rep. Byrne/YouTube)

National and state officials agree that we have reached the peak of new cases and deaths here in Alabama from the coronavirus called COVID-19. What does that mean? It means that the number of new daily cases and daily deaths have reached their highest projected point and should plateau for a while before coming down. It doesn’t mean we won’t have any new cases or deaths after the peak passes, we will. But the number of new cases and deaths per day will decrease. That will be a blessing.

Does it mean we can totally reopen our society and economy by totally ending social distancing? No, it doesn’t. Until we have a vaccine so that the vast majority of us have immunity, we will still have to deal with the disease. So, we all should be practicing appropriate hygiene, and if we are vulnerable due to age or underlying health condition, we should stay home. Those of us who aren’t vulnerable should avoid being in groups larger than ten people and maintain six feet distance from others while shopping or working. If we can telework, we should. If we must be at work in person, we should work with our employers on how to be safe and protect ourselves.

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But, we are at the point where we can discuss how to gradually reopen our closed society and economy. The White House and the Centers for Disease Control last week issued guidelines for states to follow in doing so. Governor Ivey has asked the seven of us who represent Alabama in Congress to give her recommendations on how and when to open our districts. My recommendations, which are informed by input from business and community leaders from around the district, will follow the federal guidelines for a phased reopening of our region.

I am honored to be asked my opinion but it’s Governor Ivey’s decision ultimately how and when we begin to reopen down here.

My recommendations start from the federal guidelines’ metrics for how to gauge when you have truly passed the peak and then have a 14-day period of reduction in the number of new daily cases. The guidelines also call for our hospitals to be able to operate on a non-crisis basis and for a robust testing program for our frontline health care workers.

The initial daily case numbers running up to the actual peak here in Alabama are promising, but we will have to see if we can get that two-week sustained experience of reducing case numbers. It’s pretty clear we will get there well before Memorial Day, unless the case numbers make a significant change for the worse this week or next. Even the University of Washington’s IHME projections, which two weeks ago said Alabama would have the most COVID-19 deaths in the nation, now says we are at the peak and will be ready to begin opening the state by mid-May.

Indeed, IHME now says Alabama will see 290 deaths by August 4, far lower than their original projection and less than half the number of influenza deaths we see on average.

Mercifully, our hospitals have not been overstretched in dealing with COVID-19. Indeed, they have many empty beds and ICU units.

The frustration has been testing. There are two pieces of good news now. The first is that we are already at the point where we meet the federal guidelines for testing our health care workers. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Director of the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases, has verified we have enough testing capacity to take care of the need to robustly test them. Second, the US Department of Health and Human Services says that we will be able to test four million people a week by the end of May, four times what we can do now, and the figure needed to robustly test the general population.

So, I anticipate the governor will begin reopening Alabama next month. It won’t be like flicking on a light switch, however. It will be more like gradually turning up a light using a dimmer. That’s good because a rapid return to normal risks an outbreak, which will cause us to return to where we are now.

One final note is that whatever her order provides, we all have a role to play in ensuring we all adhere to it. Self-enforcement is what will be truly needed. Then, we can all move together, safely, to get to a new livable normal, rebuilding our economy and enjoying the insatiable human impulse to be with one another.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

Byrne: Approaching the peak of the coronavirus

(Bradley Byrne/Facebook, Pixabay, YHN)

Passover and Easter came and went with all of us still in extreme social distancing. There were online Seders. Many of us missed being in church on Easter Day for the first time in our lives. Easter egg hunts and parties were canceled, and parents conducted their own hunts with just their children. The big Easter brunches and dinners which have been the tradition for so many were forgone, postponed or just very small. And too many of us were literally alone, all alone.

The experts tell us our peak for the disease in Alabama is about a week away. At that point, the number of new cases and deaths will hit their highest point, plateau, and then, mercifully, begin to come down. How long it takes for the rate of new cases and deaths to come down on a sustained basis is still unclear, but that time is getting nearer.

So, it is appropriate for President Trump to convene a group of experts to ask the question, when and how do we begin to relax the extreme social distancing we have been under? Public health is the main consideration, but the long-term health of our society and economy is also important. I am grateful the president has started the conversation, even in the face of never-ending criticism from the news media.

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The biggest problem we face in this discussion is the lack of solid data. We haven’t had enough testing to really understand the course of the disease and our national numbers have been largely driven by the virus’ tragic toll in the New York metro area where we have experienced over half of all of the nation’s deaths, and where most of our national news media companies are headquartered. There’s no measure they have had to take there that could be characterized as going too far. Other places like New Orleans and Detroit have experienced similar outbreaks, but the New York experience has been the nation’s most extreme.

The lack of transparency in China, where the virus began, has been a hindrance. The CIA has warned us that Chinese government information on the virus is not to be trusted. So, the U.S., and the rest of the world, will have to use our own data to tell us what we can do and when we can do it.

Here in Alabama, we have been blessed to escape the worst of the disease. While one infected Alabamian, and certainly one death, is one too many, as I write this, around 3,300 Alabamans have been confirmed as having the disease, 400 have been or are hospitalized, 180 have been sent to the ICU, and around 90 have tragically died. The light in this dark news is that our case fatality rate is 2.9%, which is lower than the national average of 3.9%, and far lower than the world average of 6%. Alabama’s cases represent only about one half of one percent of all cases in the U.S. Moreover, of the over 21,000 Alabamians who have been tested, only 15% are coming back positive, which means 85% have tested negative for the disease. And remember, we are only testing the most at-risk people.

In our congressional district, we have seen just under 500 cases and 13 deaths. Our case fatality rate here is a little less than the rest of the state.

Still, the peak hasn’t arrived here in Alabama, and even after it does, we will have more cases and deaths, just at a falling rate.

What to do?

First, we all need to stay safe and protect ourselves by practicing recommended social distancing and good hygiene. We need to wash our hands thoroughly and frequently, clean and disinfect hard surfaces, and avoid touching our faces.

Second, our public health professionals will have to guide our understanding of where we are with the disease and where we need to go. Testing has ramped up, and will continue to do so, thus yielding a lot more data. I am grateful to Dr. Tony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, for his good counsel to the president and Congress, and for his willingness to spend so much time in seemingly endless briefings where he patiently answers individual Congress members’ questions. I am also grateful to Dr. Scott Harris, our state health officer, for his good work and willingness to spend time with me and others as we work through our Alabama response.

Third, it’s time to start the conversation about when and how we begin to relax extreme social distancing at the national, state, and local levels. America is the third most populous nation in the world with a continental footprint, including Alaska, and various islands like the state of Hawaii, and territories like Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in the Caribbean, and Guam and American Samoa in the Pacific. We are a very diverse nation and that diversity is reflected in the diversity of experience with this disease. The decisions that must be made will by necessity differ from state to state, and from county to county in many states. One size fits all makes no sense.

Fourth, it is not just appropriate but essential that we take into account the effects of extreme social distancing on our society and economy. As I said in this column two weeks ago, Genesis tells us that God said it’s not good for humans to be alone. It hurts us sociologically and psychologically. And it has taken the U.S. economy from being the strongest in 50 years with record-breaking unemployment, to losing 29% of our daily economic output in just one month, costing over 17 million people their jobs. That has never, ever happened before in America. And we did it, abruptly, to ourselves. Extreme social distancing is impoverishing millions in this country and we know their economic recovery won’t be easy or quick. The mental health and social pathology effects will be staggering. The longer extreme social distancing lasts, the worse all of this will be.

There is a balance to be struck here. President Trump has said this is the most difficult decision he has ever made. Short of going to war, that would be true for all our presidents. I know he will rely on Dr. Fauci and other national public health experts as he does so. Governor Ivey has very difficult decisions to make, which I know she will make with the close advice of Dr. Harris.

And we all have decisions to make. Will we let some of the inaccurate and overblown projections, and the blaring sensationalist national news media, panic us into irrationality? Or will we follow the public health experts’ guidance as we gradually reopen our society and our economy for the good of all?

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

Byrne: Love in the time of the coronavirus

(Representative Bradley Byrne/Facebook, Pixabay, YHN)

Like many of you I “attended” Palm Sunday worship online. It was strange not to be there at St. James Fairhope physically for the Liturgy of the Palms to gather outside for prayers and walk into the church together with our palms singing “All Glory, Laud and Honor.”

I heard the words of the Passion according to St. Matthew but wasn’t there to see the faces and expressions of the readers. We said prayers for those afflicted by the disease and those caring for them. We also said the right words for the offering, the Eucharist and the peace, but there was no offering or Eucharist, and we couldn’t physically greet one another with the words, “The Peace of the Lord be always with you; And also with you.”

Worship is more than just words. It’s the act of coming together as God’s people to worship Him, sing hymns, pray, hear God’s Word and be one body. We did it apart last Sunday and will do it this Sunday for Easter. It’s strange but necessary.

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When I was a teenager, there was a novel and movie called “Love Story.” It had one of the dumbest lines I’ve ever heard: “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” Love means frequently having to say you’re sorry, whether or not you caused another’s trouble or hurt.

Over a million people worldwide are confirmed to have COVID-19. Tens of thousands have died from it. I’m very sorry for them, their family members and loved ones. I’m sorry so many on the front lines are working long hours, exposing themselves to danger, and that so many have lost their jobs as we practice social distancing.

All that could drive many to depression, anti-social behavior, and self-destructive acts. To avoid that we all must help one another, just as we do down here during hurricanes, except at a physical distance. And it doesn’t do any good – in fact it’s harmful – to play the blame game. While there will be a time to assess the culpability of the Chinese government, rhetoric or discrimination against Asian Americans is irrational, harmful and just plain wrong.

Congress and President Trump put aside our differences, however temporarily, to overwhelmingly pass the CARES Act, pumping over $2 trillion into our economy in a bold move to cushion the economic effects of social distancing and pay for the health care and research to defeat this disease. I and my staff are working around the clock to get information to our constituents about the disease itself and these new government programs. And, as we hear needs, we take them directly to those in charge of providing help. We aren’t on the front lines caring for the sick, but we have a supportive role to play and are determined to do our part.

During Sunday’s online service, I remembered that love isn’t a sugary, sentimental thing. It often involves sacrifice. It’s not that sacrificial for me to miss being physically in church, though I felt I was missing something. That something is a small thing compared with risking the spread of this disease.

And, listening to the Passion narrative, I remembered what real sacrifice, the ultimate sacrifice, really is. And why did Jesus do it? Because He loved us that much. It wasn’t just the physical agony, but more painful to him, taking on all our sins to himself, all our collective denial of and disobedience to God. He said “I and the Father are one” and then allowed Himself to be separated from God as He took on all our sins. No wonder he cried out at that moment, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

But God did not leave Jesus to death, for the Resurrection was three days away.

God has not forsaken us. To care for us, he requires each of us to love and take care of one another. Right now, in part, that means we must be apart from one another, and for many to suffer economically and perhaps even emotionally. Let’s all be more attuned and sensitive, and helpful, to one another.

Good Friday isn’t good because Jesus was killed but because He rose again. It may seem dark now, but the light of Easter morning is just around the corner.

The last verse of an old French Easter carol called Now The Green Blade Riseth says, “When our hearts are wintry, grieving, or in pain, thy touch can call us back to life again, fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been: Love is come again like wheat that springeth green”.

Spring is here. So is love. Pass it on.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

Byrne: Hope in the time of the coronavirus

(Bradley Byrne/Facebook, Pixabay, YHN)

In Genesis 2, God says, “It is not good that the man should be alone.” He made us for Himself, but he also made us for one another. We are intimately connected to one another, and separation, even though for our own physical health, and even though on a temporary basis, is painful for us all.

John Donne, the dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London during the 17th century, said, “No man is an island, entire unto itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” He went on to say, “any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.”

We are not “islands,” we are part of the “main” of all humans and “involved” in the life of the world here and now. Disease and death diminish us all. But, they don’t have to defeat us. We can and will defeat this disease.

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This fight against the coronavirus called COVID-19 is hard. We are forced to separate from one another, a necessary infringement on our humanity, and however necessary, an infringement on basic liberties. Our economy is sorely wounded. Worse, our neighbors are infected with this disease, some fighting for their lives, some tragically losing that fight.

We are better, stronger than this disease. Brave men and women on the frontline, doctors and nurses, first responders and health paraprofessionals, pharmacists and those working to provide us food and necessities, are showing the indomitable American will, the will to win. And, yet, all of us have a role to play, to responsibly social distance from one another, to practice proper hygiene and to know when its time to be tested and/or to quarantine ourselves.

We have weathered diseases before in our history. The 1918 Flu Pandemic. The Polio Epidemic of the 1950s. Yellow Fever ravaged early Mobile and all of Alabama off and on during the 19th century. But, in all of those we didn’t have the public health resources in near the abundance we do now.

The public health professionals tell us that we must slow down the spread of the disease so it doesn’t overwhelm our hospitals and health care providers. That’s why we have social distancing.

We know the disease is spread person to person or when one of us touches a surface where the virus is still alive. By stopping our natural human contact, in our jobs, our schools, our restaurants and bars, our non-essential retailers, our group meetings, our social meetings and even in our worship services, we stop the spread and give our health care professionals the time and resources to help us, to heal us and, for some, to save us.

This obviously hurts us economically and socially. And we don’t need to continue it one minute longer than is needed. We will know when we can start to relax the mandates against social mingling. It will be when the number of new cases starts to come down on a sustained basis; not when we have no new cases, but when the number of new cases, or the rate of new cases, comes down day after day. As we get more tests out there, and new tests are increasing at a fast pace now, we will have a lot more cases. That doesn’t mean it’s spreading at that rate. In part, it just means that we are seeing the natural result of all this new testing.

A couple of data points are important to keep in mind. Only between 10 and 15 percent of all people tested in the US at present are testing positive. The vast majority tested here don’t have the disease. And remember, we are in many places only testing those at risk. As testing gets far wider, that rate may come down. Of those who do test positive, 80 percent have no or only mild symptoms. But, 20 percent need some form of significant care. They are of all ages, by the way, so the fact that you are young doesn’t protect you. And, tragically around 1 percent to 1.5 percent die. That may not sound like much but it’s 10 to 15 times higher than the flu.

Meanwhile, all levels of government play an important role. Our governors and mayors, as well as public health officers, must issue the appropriate orders to protect us all. Closing restaurants and bars, beaches and parks, small retailers and large group meetings, are each hard decisions. The economic and social ramifications are far-reaching. They must start, and they must end, at the right times, based upon sound medical and professional advice, and plain common sense.

We at the federal government must work with state and local leaders to inform their difficult decisions and help them, where appropriate, carry out these tough decisions.

The fathers of two of my House colleagues have served at the highest level of our government. I asked them both if their dads had seen anything like it. Jimmy Panetta, whose dad, Leon Panetta has been White House chief of staff, secretary of Defense and CIA director, said his father had never seen anything like it. Liz Cheney, whose dad, Dick Cheney has been vice president, White House chief of staff and secretary of Defense, said the closest experience in her father’s career was 9/11. Jimmy and Liz, Leon and Dick, Democrats and Republicans. We’ve rarely, if ever, seen anything like this.

When last week’s unemployment insurance filings were reported at over 3 million, the highest ever by far in our history, and when the number of cases and deaths dramatically expanded, it was clear we had entered truly extraordinary times, calling for extraordinary government action.

So, with broad and deep bipartisan support, we passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Security Act (CARES Act), providing over $2 trillion in support for individual citizens, workers who have lost their jobs, small businesses so that they will not close or lay off their workers, larger businesses in the way of loans and not bailouts, healthcare, education, transit, and more. Unprecedented resources have been quickly directed for more tests, more personal protective equipment, research and development for treatments and even a cure, and ultimately a vaccine.

I don’t like everything in the bill. In fact, there were parts that I strongly disagreed with. The time to talk about those, and how they came to be stuffed into an otherwise crucial bill, will come later, and those responsible will be named. But, our people are hurting, our way of life threatened, and this is no time to let these issues slow down the effort to get the job done. Indeed, I had hoped that the vast majority of us in the House could have avoided having to take the risk to actually travel to Washington and be in a room with hundreds of others as we have ordered the rest of the country not to do, but one member threatened to further delay the bill and so I and another 200-plus members made the trip and got the bill passed.

Like most of you, I am working from home and maintaining social distance. My staff is also working and our offices open for you but we ask that you call and not try to come in. We have helped repatriate a number of citizens from our district who have found themselves stuck in a foreign country closing its borders. We are answering many phone calls on the laws we have passed to respond to this disease and with questions about the disease itself.

I must confess, I don’t like to be kept at arm’s length from the people I serve. It runs against everything in me, but I recognize the wisdom of it. We in positions of public authority have the heavy responsibility of gauging how long this must continue and I pray that it is a matter of weeks, not months. But, unfortunately, the virus dictates that; I just want us all, at every level of government, to exercise good common sense. In the meantime, I feel like the words of the old song by one of Alabama’s sons, Hank Williams: “I’m so lonesome I could cry.”

Last week, I was on a number of conference calls with groups in the district and a teletownhall with nearly 4,000 constituents. In one, a person asked me to give them hope. I was struck by that simple request, that we provide hope.

So, here goes.

We are a great and powerful nation. We were born in an uncertain and dangerous revolution, invaded even in our Capitol by the greatest power in the world just 40 years after our founding, suffered a civil war costing 600,000 of our lives, fought two desperate world wars, watched our economy nearly disappear in a Great Depression, tore ourselves apart in the social upheavals of the 60s, and endured an attack by terrorists on our largest city and the center of our national defense. And yet, after each one we Americans not only survived, we learned how to make our country greater, how to perfect our union.

The prophet Isaiah, writing during the Babylonian captivity, put it in beautiful language:

But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

And, as we approach Passover and Easter, let us remember the hope expressed in the miraculous delivery of the Jewish people from slavery and the resurrection of Christ who defeated death itself. Indeed, Solomon said in his Eighth Song, “Love is as strong as death.”

That’s the ultimate reason for hope: God’s love for us all overcomes death.

As we mourn those we have lost to this disease, as we continue to miss the physical presence of one another, as we struggle with the testing and spread of the disease, and as we fight to preserve our economy and our way of life, let us be confident in the ultimate result, using our own strength and leaning on God’s.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

Byrne: Slowing the spread requires all hands on deck

(Wikicommons, YHN)

As the COVID-19 coronavirus continues to change the way we live our daily lives, it’s important to take note of the ways this challenging time has brought our communities together. It has been reassuring to see stories of neighbors helping neighbors in communities in Southwest Alabama and beyond. As we continue to treat this unprecedented challenge with the seriousness it deserves, let’s not forget to help our neighbors as best we can.

Whether dropping off supplies to senior citizens or supporting local businesses, we all can do something for others in our community.

As expected with increased testing, the number of confirmed cases in Alabama has risen. The first coronavirus aid bill passed by Congress included more than $4 billion to make diagnostic tests more broadly available, and more test kits are on the way to Alabama. It is important to remember that approximately 90 percent of tests are coming back negative, and most who contract the coronavirus show no or mild symptoms. To slow the spread, it is critically important we all continue practicing social distancing, keeping our hands washed, and using common sense.

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Your federal government is continuing to work aggressively. Vice President Pence and the coronavirus task force have exhibited outstanding leadership. On March 16, with the consultation of medical professionals on the task force, President Trump instituted a “15 days to slow the spread” initiative to encourage Americans to stay home, avoid gatherings greater than 10 people, choose takeout rather than dine-in, and avoid travel and social visits whenever possible. The more we encourage others to follow these guidelines, the sooner we can “flatten the curve.”

This problem truly requires an “all hands on deck” solution. President Trump has called for the private sector to help, and the response has been encouraging. Some automobile manufacturers are working to transition from cars to ventilators. Just this week, Governor Ivey announced an anonymous donation of 100,000 masks to the state. Even my colleague in Congress, Denver Riggleman from Virginia, has transitioned his family’s distillery from making bourbon to hand sanitizer to supply to those in need. This is the kind of response Americans have always had during a crisis.

Our governor has shown strong leadership. She declared a state of emergency to mobilize all the state’s resources necessary to address the coronavirus. With this declaration, small businesses across Alabama negatively impacted by the coronavirus pandemic are eligible for assistance under the Small Business Administration’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan program. She authorized the Alabama National Guard to activate up to 100 guardsmen if needed. Following the federal government’s actions moving the filing deadline for federal taxes from April 15 to July 15, Governor Ivey did the same for state taxes. And she has continued to follow the best guidance from medical professionals to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

There are important state resources available to Alabamians that you should know about. The Alabama Department of Public Health established a toll-free hotline at 1-888-264-2256 to answer questions regarding testing locations and options. Their website is a great location for information, updates, and guidance specific to the state. Additionally, the Alabama Department of Labor announced that workers who are unable to work due to the coronavirus are eligible to apply for unemployment benefits. If you are eligible, you can file online at the department’s website or call 1-866-234-5382. As always, the Centers for Disease Control maintains an excellent resource for information at www.coronavirus.gov.

We are far from out of the woods, but we are making great progress. Thank others for their sacrifices and work for others, especially our medical professionals and first responders. I’ll continue keeping you updated on new developments from Washington. Americans are resilient and strong, and we will get through this!

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.