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: Thank you

(B. Byrne/Facebook)

This is my last weekly report as your congressman. Serving you in Washington these last seven years has been a great honor, and I will be forever grateful for the opportunity you have given me. I never once walked out on the floor of the House of Representatives when I wasn’t in awe that I was there to speak and vote for you.

I leave Congress with hope and optimism about our country and our part of the country.

American elites, who control most of our news and entertainment outlets, would have you believe that America is a weakening, evil nation. Nothing could be further from the truth. I’d not traveled abroad much before coming to Congress but, particularly given my work on the Armed Services Committee, I’ve traveled a lot more these last seven years. No matter where I went American power was evident and I heard from allies and adversaries a clear expectation that we are the world’s leader in nearly every way that matters.

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What this has meant for the world is remarkable. The rules-based system we created after World War II, and the example of our democracy and economy, changed things on a truly global scale. Global per capita gross domestic product has more than tripled during the last 75 years and the percentage of people living in extreme poverty has fallen from 66% to less than 10%. Before World War II, there were more autocracies than democracies. Today, 96 nations are true democracies, and less than 80 are autocracies.

What we have achieved at home is equally impressive. We have more rights and freedoms equally enjoyed than any nation in the history of the world. No one can match our standard of living, our health care system, or our ability to face and address the issues which still challenge us.

I know this year has been hard on all of us. We’ve experienced a pandemic, an abruptly sharp recession, riots and down here two hurricanes. Some of us have lost loved ones or had the disease ourselves. But, our resilience as a nation and as a region has allowed us to enter 2021 looking forward to widespread distribution of the vaccine and return to a new normal.

America is a strong nation because of our morals and principles: freedom, equal opportunity, hard work, fair play, patriotism and faith in God. If we ever lose those, we will lose our strength, like Sampson without his hair.

I said earlier that I am hopeful and optimistic. That’s because these last seven years I’ve had the rare opportunity to see our nation as a whole and not just the part where I live. I’ve met and worked with genuinely good and smart people. And I have an appreciation for the important national institutions which have developed over the decades to provide the structures within which the American people work their will.

My ancestor, Gerald Byrne, came over from Ireland to what was then the colony of West Florida. He escaped poverty and a brutally repressive British occupation of his home country. Here he had freedom to be his own man, opportunity to make his own way, and the courage to take advantage of it all. Over 200 years later one of his descendants would end up in the House of Representatives. That’s amazing, but that’s America.

I want our country to continue to provide these opportunities to all of our people. I want us to maintain our morals and principles. And I want us all to be hopeful and optimistic because we have every reason to be so.

Thank you for allowing me to represent you. I will always cherish the fact you trusted me to speak and act for you. I hope I lived up to your expectations.

God bless you and God bless the United States of America.

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

Rep. Bradley Byrne: Christmas miracles

(Bradley Byrne/Facebook, Pixabay, YHN)

It’s Christmas week, so let’s talk about some Christmas miracles. No, I’m not talking about that monster hit John Metchie put on Florida’s Trey Dean in the SEC Championship game Saturday. We’ve come to expect plays like that from the Alabama football team this year.

I’m talking about some truly surprising big deal things.

First, look at the very good news on Alabama’s unemployment rate. At the end of November, it was 4.4%, down from 5.7% in October and from the COVID shutdown high of nearly 14% in April. We’re not fully recovered yet, but the quick turnaround we’ve already experienced is phenomenal. Chalk it up to the stimulus and PPP money Congress approved in the spring and summer, Governor Ivey’s prudent decision making in dealing with the pandemic and heroic acts by business owners large and small around the state to stay open.

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Next, Congress finally, finally, passed a next round COVID bill. It spends approximately $900 billion but only $325 billion is new money as we repurposed nearly $600 billion from earlier COVID bills. Each person (including children) will receive $600 in stimulus money so that a family of four would receive $2400. The unemployment insurance subsidy is maintained through March 14 at $300 a week. Small business owners who availed themselves of the first round of forgivable PPP loans will be able to get a second round and fully deduct all expenses. There’s funding for schools, public health departments and for producing and distributing the vaccines.

We could have had this same bill months ago but Speaker Nancy Pelosi held it up so she could help her candidate win the presidential election. That’s not my opinion – that’s what she admitted to recently. She started out wanting over $3 trillion, then it was $2 trillion then it was $1.2 trillion. She insisted throughout that we use taxpayer money to bail out poorly managed blue states and cities. The final bill, as I said, is $900 billion, which is half of what President Trump offered her in the fall and contains not a penny to bail out states or cities. This isn’t leadership on her part – this is incompetence compounded by raw self-seeking political power. You could have had your stimulus check for the holidays but for her. And she’s unapologetic about it. Even Scrooge faced up to and changed his erroneous way of doing business.

The third miracle is the distribution of the new vaccines. First Pfizer and now Moderna have been approved and the vaccines are shipped with much more on the way. Over 500,000 people have already been vaccinated and 8 million doses will be shipped by the end of the week. By the end of March 200 million doses from these two producers will be shipped. These vaccines require two doses given a few weeks apart so the number of people fully vaccinated is half these numbers, but humans have never, ever, produced and distributed a vaccine so fast and never on this scale. We still have a ways to go, but we are clearly on the path to escape this disease. In the meantime, wear your mask, socially distance when you can and use good hygiene.

Of course, the final miracle is the gift of the Christ child over 2,000 years ago. On a dark winter night in a cave with no warmth or comfort, He came into the world for us, the ultimate gift of love.

So, this pandemic Christmas, let’s love and take care of one another and remember what St. John wrote so long ago: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Merry Christmas!

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

Byrne: The Electoral College

(Wikicommons, Pixabay, YHN)

When the members of the Constitutional Convention in 1787 debated how to pick the executive, several options were considered. Some wanted the people to directly elect the president, while others distrusted the people to know enough about the candidates to make that important decision on their own. After all, the election would be held across the entire nation, and with the problems of communication in 18th century America, it would be difficult for individual citizens to know enough to make an informed decision about candidates who lived nowhere near them.

But the Framers wanted the voters to play a role, and they compromised by giving the decision to electors equaling the number of representatives and senators for each state and empowering the legislatures of the states, whose members were and are popularly elected, to select the manner of appointing those electors. So you and I don’t vote for the president directly. Our state’s electors do. While early on several state legislatures opted to pick the electors themselves, in modern times all state legislatures have voted to have their electors chosen by popular vote.

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This week, those electors met in their respective states and cast their votes. The press reports Vice President Joe Biden received 306 votes and President Trump, my candidate, received 232 votes. Press reports also indicate that in several states where the electors chose Biden, separate groups claimed to be the actual electors and voted for President Trump.

There has been a lot of discussion and dozens of audits, recounts, and lawsuits as to who were the legally chosen electors in those states. Despite the hype in the media that these efforts challenging the initial election calls in several states undermine our system, the Electoral Count Act of 1887 actually provides for a time period for such actions. Former Vice President Al Gore took advantage of this time period in 2000, challenging the election until mid-December. Democrats challenged the Ohio electors pledged to President Bush in 2004, and many Democrats fought through the counting of the vote before a joint session of Congress in 2017, when President Trump was elected. They even challenged the votes from Alabama. Democrats have normalized post general election fights over presidential results.

I supported the Trump team’s efforts to get a fair and accurate count of all legal votes. I joined in a “friend of the court” brief, along with 125 members of Congress, supporting the last-ditch effort by Texas and other states, including Alabama, to get the Supreme Court to look into the fact that in several states a person or group other than the state legislature modified election laws ostensibly to accommodate voters in the middle of a pandemic. Whatever the motivation for those modifications, they couldn’t be made by anyone other than the state legislatures; secretaries of state, state supreme courts, election commissions and even governors cannot do that under the Constitution. Rather than rule on the merits, the Court dismissed the case because, it said, the states didn’t have standing to bring the suit. None of President Trump’s Supreme Court appointees dissented.

The last step in the process, as spelled out by the Twelfth Amendment, is for the electors’ votes to be counted formally in a joint session of the new Congress on January 6, presided over by Vice President Pence. The Electoral Count Act allows one or more members of the House or Senate to object to a given state’s electors, but only if at least one member of the other house joins in the objection in writing. Then each house votes on the objection. Democrats tried that in 2000, 2004 and 2016 but failed.

My friend and colleague Mo Brooks from Huntsville has said he intends to object to the electoral votes of five states that voted for Biden, but he will have to convince a senator to join with him. So far, with only three weeks left, no senator or senator-elect has agreed to do so. The other hurdle he faces is a Democrat majority in the House that will not vote to take away Biden votes and at least ten Republican senators who have said Biden is the winner.

As I will no longer be a member of the House on January 6, I won’t be voting on any objection. But I will be a citizen and I believe it’s important for all of us to respect the system we follow in selecting a president, set in our Constitution and the Electoral Count Act. That system has served us well for over 200 years and will continue to do so. I will honor our system and our laws by accepting the election results as counted by Congress. I hope we all will.

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

Byrne: The good, the bad and the ugly in the new jobs report

(Wikicommons, YHN)

Last Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its monthly jobs report covering November. It contained some good news, some bad news and some downright ugly news.

First, let’s look at the good news. The economy added 245,000 jobs last month, and the unemployment rate dropped to 6.7% from a high of 14.7% in April. We have gained back 12.3 million jobs since the shutdowns of last spring, and the unemployment rate is less than half what it had risen to at that time. Over half of all black people who lost their jobs have gone back to work as have two thirds of Hispanics. The greatest gains have come in the leisure and hospitality industry and in retail businesses, the hardest hit by the shutdowns.

To put this into perspective, the unemployment rate is now lower than at any point in President Obama’s first term and the gains made in the last seven months are greater than in the first four years of the recovery from the Great Recession of 2008-2009

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That’s pretty good news, no matter how you look at it. So, what am I referring to when I talk about there being some bad news too? The rate at which we are gaining jobs has fallen significantly. Job growth in September (711,000) and October (610,000) was more than twice as large as November’s. Our bounce back has really slowed.

What’s happened? To some extent we are witnessing the holes left in the American economy. Some places are doing better than others and some industries are still struggling to come back while others are doing well. For example, we know that Blue states have significantly higher unemployment rates than most red states, the result of the differences in state leaders’ responses to the pandemic. New York’s unemployment rate in October was 9.6%, while Alabama’s was 5.8%. Similarly, while the leisure and hospitality sector has made a comeback of sorts, it faces the strong headwinds of travel and dining restrictions ordered by many mayors and governors around the country. So, it lags the rest of the economy and will continue to do so until these restrictions are lifted. There are still 9.8 million fewer jobs than in February and every city, state and industry sector needs to return to normal for us to gain those jobs back.

That’s pretty bad news, but at least it has the prospects of improving next year. The really ugly news was the labor force participation rate. This is an example of statistics needing more in-depth explanation. The labor force is the total of all people who have jobs and all people looking for jobs. It doesn’t include adults 65 and under who aren’t working or looking for work. Now, some people aren’t working or looking for work because they’re in school or are substantially disabled, while others are caring for young children or an aging parent. Then there are the lucky ones who don’t need to work. So, we never expect the labor force participation rate to be 100%.

The peak labor force participation rate was 67% at the beginning of 2000. During the Great Recession, when jobs were scarce, people became discouraged and just quit looking for work. By 2015, the labor force participation rate had fallen to 62%. As a result of the robust recovery of the last four years it rose again to 64.4%. These may seem like small changes, but each percentage point represents millions of people. So, when I tell you the labor force participation rate in November was just 61.5% you can see why I call this ugly. While that is an improvement from April’s 60% rate, we still saw 400,000 people leave the job market in November alone. It’s very difficult to re-enter the job market once you have left so this is a very troubling development.

There are three things we need to do as a nation to turn this around.

First, mayors and governors around the nation need to be more discerning and judicious in their orders responding to the pandemic. Overly broad and heavy-handed orders are hurting people in their cities and states and are a major drag on the U.S. economy. Governor Ivey has been a good example of how to get it right and as a result our Alabama economy is faring better than most Blue states.

Second, we must speed the vaccine distribution and people should have the confidence in the FDA’s approval and get the vaccine when it’s available to them. The quicker we reach a high vaccination rate, the quicker our economy bounces back. In the meantime, we all need to wear masks inside buildings that aren’t our homes, practice good hygiene and socially distance.

And, third, Congress needs to pass another coronavirus stimulus bill. After playing games this summer and fall, Speaker Pelosi has finally come to the bargaining table with what appears to be a sincere willingness to compromise on a new bill. I anticipate passage of such a bill, perhaps as part of our yearly spending bill, by Christmas. She’s perfectly capable of pulling the ball back at the last minute so I can’t guarantee anything. But there’s some hope out there.

And hope is something we all need right now.

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

Byrne: A timely victory for the right to freely exercise our faith

(B. Byrne/Facebook, Wikicommons)

On the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling which is a very positive signal for the rights of people of faith to freely exercise that faith. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo had issued a “Cluster Initiative” which used color coded restrictions on large gatherings in certain parts of New York City. These restrictions were challenged in court by the Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn and Jewish synagogues as an invalid restriction on citizens’ rights under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution.

The Supreme Court issued an injunction against applying Governor Cuomo’s order to gatherings at houses of worship. Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote a scathing concurring opinion in which he said “there is no world in which the Constitution tolerates color-coded executive edicts that reopen liquor stores and bike shops but shutters churches, synagogues and mosques.”

Much of the press focused on the fact that this was the first case in which Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s vote was necessary to achieve a majority because Chief Justice Roberts joined with the dissenters as he believed the ruling was premature. His decision was unsurprising as he had voted with the liberals on the Court against acting on earlier COVID restrictions. It was also in keeping with his preference to avoid judicial intervention in matters which he doesn’t consider to be procedurally ripe. I have great respect for Justice Roberts but disagree with his decision in this case and am glad the majority saw fit to issue the injunction.

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When President Trump nominated Justice Kavanaugh and Justice Barrett, liberals and their news media allies howled that these new justices’ presence on the Court would provide the votes to strike down the Affordable Care Act and reverse Roe v. Wade. I never bought that line and it appears from oral arguments in the Affordable Care Act case presently before the Court that there is not a majority to do the former.

I did believe that these two new justices, along with other Republican nominated justices, would take a much broader view of the Free Exercise Clause and a much narrower view of the statutory authorization for government regulation. This new case confirms that the Court has indeed adopted an expanded application of the Free Exercise Clause.

Why is this so timely and so important? America’s cultural elites have adopted a hostility to faith, people of faith and people acting out their faith. They used to be willing to let people do as they pleased in their houses of worship while jumping at the chance to criticize and restrict them if they actually attempted to exercise their beliefs outside of worship. Governor Cuomo’s order, and those of many other Democrat governors and mayors, demonstrate that the elites now want to regulate what happens inside houses of worship.

The First Amendment, like the other nine amendments in the Bill of Rights, was passed by the First Congress in 1789 and the states ratified them in 1791. Passage of these amendments was demanded by several of the states in the ratification conventions on the original Constitution. These amendments comprise fundamental law, conferring primary rights on the people of this nation.

As to religion the First Amendment states “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” It was applied to state and local governments in the 20th century by courts invoking the Fourteenth Amendment.

The first clause, known as the Establishment Clause, was intended as a prohibition on a government established church as the Church of England was at the time of the Revolution and is today. That clause has been expanded judicially to prohibit any government action favoring a particular religious view.

Until recently, the Free Exercise Clause has been rarely invoked. But actions by state and local governments in more recent times to control people of faith in their efforts to live out their faith have made the Free Exercise Clause a new judicial battleground, and this new majority on the Supreme Court has arrived just in time to deliver last week’s important opinion. I predict more decisions in the future applying the clause to inappropriate government action.

Note the use of the word “exercise.” It denotes action and not just belief. That First Congress was acutely aware of the limitations on worship and action by the British government on behalf of the Church of England. Indeed, many of their ancestors fled to America to escape government dictates on religion. They also knew the ugly history of the Puritan Protectorate government in 17th century England which tried to limit all sorts of conduct – even celebrating Christmas. Congress and the ratifying states made it clear in the Free Exercise Clause that government in this country has no such power.

As I have seen in the Congresses I have served in over the last several years, many members have lost that understanding. Indeed, they have attempted to repeal the Religious Freedom Restoration Act which passed with near unanimity in the 1990s. They see religious rights as secondary, not primary. Governor Cuomo and his Democrat colleagues in state houses and mayors’ offices around the U.S. do too.

Now, the new majority on the Supreme Court has stepped up to stop the slide away from religious freedom. It’s about time, and I trust they will continue to do so.

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

Byrne: A national compact

(Wikicommons, Pixabay, YHN)

Four hundred years ago this month, a group of just over 100 people arrived off the shores of Cape Cod after a two-month sail from England. They were dissenters from the Church of England like the Puritans but went further by formally separating from the established church they considered to be corrupt beyond repair. We call them “Pilgrims,” although there is only one instance when any one of them used that word to describe themselves. That person was William Bradford, the longtime governor of the Plymouth Colony, who borrowed the word from the 11th Chapter of the Book of Hebrews.

Their arrival that November was not the occasion of the first Thanksgiving. That came the next year when they had built their homes and brought in their first harvest. In fact, they spent their first few months in a harsh winter still on their ship, the Mayflower, while their settlement was built.

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Their original destination wasn’t Plymouth but the mouth of the Hudson River where New York City is today, then the northern part of the Virginia Colony, but they were weary after a long journey, running low on provisions and determined to begin the long work of establishing their new home. That meant they weren’t on land covered by Virginia’s royal charter and so there were no colonial government or laws. Some on the ship weren’t separatists like the Pilgrims, remaining true to the Church of England, and talked about “using their own liberty.” These “Strangers,” as the Pilgrims called them, thus threatened the order of the new community.

So, before they landed, all of the adult male settlers on the ships, Pilgrim and stranger, reached an agreement we know as the Mayflower Compact under which they organized themselves as a “Civil Body Politic” by which they could “frame such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions and Offices from time to time, as shall be thought meet and convenient for the general good of the Colony.” They weren’t declaring independence from England but laid out a basis for people to govern themselves in America. Their example was an inspiration for those who 150 years later would indeed seek independence to form a new American nation with a government based on the consent of the people.

The Compact was also firmly based on the settlers’ religious beliefs. It begins with the words “In the Name of God, Amen”, and states frankly that their voyage to America was “undertaken for the Glory of God, and the Advancement of the Christian Faith.” Yet, as they differed on exactly what their faith meant, they established not a theocracy but a civil government based on the laws made by the settlers themselves. Their settlement was risky, and their path filled with hard work, privation and danger, but their faith sustained them. That faith would indeed inspire them to hold a three-day time of thanksgiving a year later after a successful harvest.

Perhaps, in this time of political polarization, we should renew our compact with each other as members of a great nation. Understanding our differences, we can yet agree to work with each other through those differences and achieve a successful consensus based upon shared principles and the value of sacrifice and hard work. As President Lincoln observed, we are the last best hope of earth, a nation founded by and beholden to the people. We should, in the words of the Declaration of Independence, “pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.” In the name of God, Amen.

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

Byrne: Much to do

(Bradley Byrne/Facebook, Pixabay, YHN)

Congress returns to Washington this week after a six-week hiatus for the election. Since the end of July, we have only met for a few weeks, and the work we need to complete has piled up. This Congress ends at noon on Sunday, January 3 when the new Congress will be sworn in and start all over again as any bills pending from the old Congress die. Let’s look at what needs to be done between now and then.

Every year since the Kennedy administration, Congress passes a National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, which authorizes the operations of the U.S. military and our national defense, an obligation of Congress under Article One of the Constitution. This year’s bill passed out of the House Armed Services Committee on which I sit by a unanimous vote and out of the full House by a huge bipartisan vote. A Conference Committee will iron out our differences with the Senate bill, and I hope we will vote on the Committee’s report in the next few weeks. The NDAA is one of the few examples this Congress when we have come together to meet our constitutional duties.

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I also anticipate that we will vote on the Water Resources Development Act, another bill we regularly pass and which authorizes much of what the Corps of Engineers does for navigation, flood protection and the like.

But the big two are the funding of the government and a new COVID bill.

Back in September, Congress passed a bill continuing government spending for the fiscal year that began on October 1 but using the numbers from the previous year. I wasn’t present for the vote on the bill as I was in the district working on our response to Hurricane Sally. Had I been there, I would have voted against it because these continuing resolutions are punts as we fail to meet our constitutional requirement to fund the government. That bill only runs through December 11, however, and there will be substantial pressure to pass something funding the government beyond that date.

This has been a source of failure in the past. You may remember it happened at the end of 2017. Will we produce an actual appropriations bill or will we pass another continuing resolution taking us into 2021 and the new Congress? Or, will we have a shutdown? The appropriations process, like virtually every other legislative endeavor this Congress, is badly broken because Speaker Pelosi refuses to let it work. There is little effort to work across the aisle or the Capitol, despite good people on both sides and both houses being involved, as the speaker insists on calling the shots and bypassing the capable leadership on the Appropriations Committee.

I am pessimistic that we can get a true appropriations bill this Congress and anticipate another continuing resolution will be proposed on or shortly before December 11. The question is whether that will pass and whether President Trump would sign it if it does. It’s likely to go down to the wire that week.

And the outlook for another COVID response bill this Congress looks even worse. You would think that with the elections out of the way, and having suffered significant election losses among her membership, the speaker would settle into serious negotiations. Not so. In fact, after pushing a $2 trillion bill this summer and fall even as the Senate told her that figure was far too high, she has now come back post-election with a bill for spending over $3 trillion. She is effectively expecting Senator McConnell and the Republican Senate, which seems to be retaining their majority, to bid against themselves. I don’t know what about Senator McConnell’s leadership of the Senate these last six years would give anyone the thought he would cave into that.

Indeed, the speaker’s COVID proposal is really just her way of postponing the discussion until after Inauguration Day when she expects to have a President Biden to help her instead of President Trump. Once again, her goal is less about helping the American people and more about her own power. Here we are at the beginning of the worst part of the year for viral diseases and she is punting the passage of a much-needed bill for at least two more months.

I hope I’m wrong about the speaker’s posture on these bills, but her performance as speaker so far has been depressingly consistent. When the choice is between the needs of the country and her own power, she always chooses the latter.

We have much to do this Congress and not much time to do it. I wish we’d break the mold of this Congress, learn from the election results and actually do the jobs we are required to do under the Constitution. It just doesn’t look like the speaker wants us to fulfill our responsibilities under the Constitution.

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

Byrne: What America said

(Bradley Byrne/Facebook, YHN)

Election Day has come and gone. Despite the fact that multiple national news sites have “called” the presidential election, court cases and recounts are going forward in several states where the margin is less than 1%, and we don’t yet “know” who was elected president. By federal law, all election disputes must be resolved by December 8 and presidential electors must meet and cast their votes for president on December 14. The ballots will be counted in Congress on January 6. These are the key dates when we will “know” who will become president on Inauguration Day, January 20. So, let’s not jump to a conclusion about who won this very close presidential election just yet.

But, we already know some important things about America from the votes last week.

Perhaps the most important thing we witnessed was a free and open democracy working. We take for granted our system for choosing our leaders, but if you look around the world, we shouldn’t. Even in a very politically divided nation, we held peaceful elections, and even where there are election disputes, we have legal processes for resolving them. For the most part, things have been handled peacefully, except in a few places like Oregon where they apparently don’t need an excuse to riot.

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And, while we are divided for sure, there are some things we have agreement on. Despite the now predictable assurances from media “analysts” and other so-called “experts,” there was no blue wave, no generational realignment of our body politic. The media discovered what the rest of us knew: America is not a left-leaning nation. And demographics aren’t destiny. That’s why an increasing proportion of blacks and Hispanics are voting their relatively conservative beliefs. As a nation, we don’t want a Green New Deal, Medicare for All or defunded law enforcement agencies. We aren’t socialists or even socialist leaning.

The elections for the two houses of Congress showed a narrowing majority in each. With two special elections for Senate pending in Georgia on January 5, it looks likely that Republicans will hold a very narrow majority in the upper body. That alone guarantees that tax increases, court packing, climate change, government ordered health care, and other far left proposals of a potential Biden-Harris administration would go nowhere, an accurate reflection of the national mood.

In the House, the Democrats apparently held their majority, but it will be much reduced as Republicans flipped as many as 15 seats and have net gains of 8 to 12. During a post-election conference call last week with her members, Speaker Nancy Pelosi proclaimed that the shrunken Democrat conference had a “mandate” even as Democrats on the call excoriated their party’s policies and messages of the last two years. Don’t let the national media fool you. This isn’t a struggle between moderate Democrats and liberals because there aren’t any moderate Democrats left in Congress after this year’s primaries. This is a fight between liberals and socialists, the two groups that now make up congressional Democrats.

The Republican side is a very different story. Though disappointed that we didn’t retake the majority, we are heartened by our gains and believe we will succeed in the 2022 midterms. Many governorships and state houses were also elected last week, and they will reapportion their states next year with the census numbers from this year, thus determining the makeup of House districts for a decade. Even though President Obama’s attorney general, Eric Holder, spent enormous amounts of money to get Democrat control of these state houses nationally, his effort failed and Republicans will be in control of states with far more House seats than the Democrats will. By Election Day 2022, the map for House elections will be more favorable to Republican candidates than was the case last week. That blue wave is actually a firmly rising red sea in the House.

I woke up the day after the election both pleased and disappointed. I wish Republicans had taken the House and had a larger majority in the Senate. And I truly wish we had a clear victory for President Trump, who may still win in the states with recounts and lawsuits. But, America once again proved the experts wrong by saying loudly who we are and who we aren’t.

We aren’t socialists or even liberals. We don’t want massive change to our Republic. We won’t let gender, race, religion or any other demographic category define us, because we are a people free to decide for ourselves what we believe and who we will vote for. We have spoken as a people and we don’t need the news media and entertainment industry to act as if they speak for us.

And it’s the job of those who are elected to listen to the people of this country and not the out of touch elites on TV and the internet. Once again, they were wrong. By their votes the people of America said so.

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

Byrne: After the election — One nation under God

(Wikicommons, Pixabay, YHN)

I’ll never forget sitting in the U.S. House Chamber in January of 2017 watching the counting of the Electoral College votes from the 2016 presidential election. Under the 12th Amendment to the Constitution, the sitting vice president opens and counts the votes as submitted and certified by the electors chosen from each state, and the vice president must do so “in the presence of the Senate and the House of Representatives.” Because Inauguration Day was still several days away, the sitting vice president was Joe Biden, and as a member of the House, I was entitled to be there.

Procedurally, any representative or senator can object to any state’s electoral college votes but at least one member from the other house must agree with the objection before it can be considered. Alabama was the first state up, and Jim McGovern, a very liberal Democrat member from Massachusetts who served on the Rules Committee with me, stood up and objected because the Russians supposedly interfered with our vote for Donald Trump. He also made a blatantly false allegation that our state violated the Voting Rights Act and suppressed thousands of votes. No senator agreed with him and Vice President Biden ruled the objections out of order, which kept me from having to argue against McGovern’s silly and frankly slanderous objections.

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The count went on and as every Trump state’s votes came up, a Democrat House member would stand up and object but because no senator agreed with the objections, Biden would rule them out of order. Finally, after several of these, Biden leaned into the microphone and said firmly to his fellow Democrats, “it’s over.” Though they hated the result, he was saying, the Constitution calls for the person with the most electoral votes to be president. And that person was Donald Trump, not Hillary Clinton.

This has been an extraordinary year, with the pandemic, a record economic downturn and recovery, riots and violence, and an unprecedented number of hurricanes. It will be an extraordinary election too, as record numbers of people have already voted in many states, but their votes can’t be counted until election day and many of those states’ election processes require days to count all those votes. There will also be challenges to the counting of some, perhaps many, ballots because they weren’t filled in or submitted properly. So, we aren’t likely to know the result on Election Day.

We didn’t know the result of the 2000 election until December, weeks after the election, and that took an extraordinary decision by the Supreme Court to resolve it in favor of George W. Bush. The 12th Amendment was passed and ratified because the 1800 presidential election resulted in an electoral college tie between Thomas Jefferson and his supposed running mate Aaron Burr. That threw the election into the House of Representatives which took 36 ballots to finally make Jefferson the president, three months after the election. In both cases, the nation moved on and accomplished great things.

Though this year’s election isn’t likely to be over as quickly as we are used to, all of us should be patient and trust in our Constitution and the institutions which have served us so well for over 230 years. There will be plenty of eyes on the process and nothing inappropriate is going to go unnoticed. Our intelligence and law enforcement communities have been closely monitoring foreign actors and will continue to do so after the election. Be careful of the information you receive during and after the election because we know there’s a lot of truly fake “news” out there, designed to divide us as a nation.

And when we have a result, if your candidate doesn’t win, let’s not have a replay of 2016 when Democrats refused to accept the result, who wouldn’t let it be “over” and shamefully called themselves the “resistance,” a slap in the face of the Constitution and our tradition of peaceful transfer of power. We’ve wasted too much time in Washington over the Mueller report and a failed impeachment effort, attempting to reverse the 2016 election. And we’ve had too much violence this year – we don’t need more due to the election.

If your candidate loses, the appropriate response is to be the loyal opposition – loyal to our nation and its Constitution but opposed to the policies of the victorious party. Remember, in American politics, today’s loser is often tomorrow’s winner.

Our greatest enemy isn’t a foreign nation but our internal division, driven by a hyper-partisan news media and entertainment industry ready to exploit every fault line in our country and craven before the far worse fault lines of countries where that industry makes a lot of money. Let’s ignore the media and entertainment industry and return to what we learned in school about the traditional values which make us great.

As a unified nation, there is nothing we can’t do, no problem or issue we can’t solve. We are one nation under God. Let’s keep it that way.

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

Byrne: Let’s talk about tolls — Why we should support Local Amendment 2

(Bradley Byrne, James Gordon NBC 15/Facebook, Pixabay, YHN)

Baldwin County voters will soon head to the polls to cast their vote for president, Congress, some statewide offices and a few proposed amendments. As your congressman and a Baldwin County resident, there is one local amendment I encourage my fellow Baldwin County voters to support: Local Amendment 2.

On the backside of this year’s ballot, Baldwin County’s Local Amendment 2 proposes the extension of the existing Baldwin Beach Express (The Baldwin Beach Express II) that would construct a new stretch of road to extend the Beach Express from Interstate 10 all the way up to Interstate 65, an infrastructure project I have long supported. This amendment is not asking for additional state or local funding, nor is it asking taxpayers to foot the bill for this much needed roadway. The legislation also states multiple times that the toll will only be established on this new road extension and cannot toll any existing roads.

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If passed, Local Amendment 2 would establish a toll authority to oversee the construction and maintenance of the Baldwin Beach Express II. Coastal Alabama is no stranger to tolls. During last year’s Mobile Bay Bridge debate, I worked hard to ensure my constituents would not have to pay excessive tolls that would create a financial burden impacting many of their daily lives. After a tumultuous debate, the proposal was ultimately scrapped.

The proposal that Baldwin County is being asked to vote on next month, however, is completely different. After listening to my constituents, carefully reviewing project details, and having numerous conversations with other elected officials, community leaders, strong conservatives and local business owners, I am confident this amendment has Baldwin County’s best interest in mind.

First, Local Amendment 2 would place a toll on a new roadway, while leaving existing roads untolled. If drivers do not wish to take the toll route, there are multiple existing toll-free alternatives. Last year’s Mobile Bay Bridge proposal did not offer a feasible toll-free alternative, which I believe is a fundamental difference with the Baldwin Beach Express II.

Second, preliminary research and traffic patterns show us the primary users of this new road will be tourists visiting our beaches. Unlike the Mobile Bay Bridge, this will not have a considerable impact on daily commuters, but instead mostly be used and paid for by visitors. Baldwin County residents may still take the many existing, toll-free roads they use daily – just as they’ve been doing for years.

Third, the proposed Baldwin Beach Express II will be funded entirely by the toll. One hundred percent of the toll fee will go toward the construction and upkeep of this roadway, leaving taxpayer dollars untouched. I have been and remain generally skeptical of tolls, but the only way to make this project happen and to alleviate our serious traffic congestion issues is through a toll. Baldwin County and the state of Alabama simply do not have the funding or resources to make this project happen otherwise.

Lastly, Local Amendment 2 will improve our public safety for the future. Coming on the heels of Hurricane Sally and Hurricane Delta, we know the importance of getting to safety quickly when a hurricane threatens to hit Alabama’s Gulf Coast. This new roadway will provide an additional northbound evacuation route to move traffic flow efficiently during evacuations. Importantly, the toll fee would be lifted in the event of a countywide emergency.

The preliminary planning and preparation for this project has been completed – all that’s left to do is build the road. Now it’s up to Baldwin County voters to choose the best decision for our county.

In my time representing Baldwin County at both the state and federal level, I have always promised to look out for my fellow neighbors, and that is exactly what I am doing by supporting Amendment 2. This project has the potential to greatly improve the quality of life for Baldwin County residents in a fiscally responsible way that does not cost Baldwin County taxpayers. I firmly believe the Baldwin Beach Express II is crucial for our county’s future, the safety of our families and loved ones, and our growing infrastructure and economy.

I ask that you join me in flipping over your ballot and voting YES on Local Amendment 2.

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

Byrne: Taking a vaccine seriously

(Hal Yeager/Governor's Office, Pixabay, YHN)

Since COVID-19 started to bare down on the U.S. in March we have been told that the ultimate solution would be an effective vaccine providing immunity to the vast majority who receive it. But, in almost the same breath we were told anti-viral vaccines take years to be developed and tested to show their safety and effectiveness. Indeed, the fastest a vaccine has ever been developed for widespread use has been four years. Four years!

Knowing we couldn’t wait that long, the Trump administration launched Project Warp Speed, a federally funded and led public-private effort to develop an effective vaccine ready to be administered on a widespread basis in just one year – or even a little less than a year. Six manufacturers are currently working on their own individually developed vaccines and are in various stages of trials to assure their products are safe and effective.

The fact that six manufacturers using billions of federal dollars are all pushing for a vaccine at once is important for two reasons. First, the more making the effort, the greater the likelihood at least one will be successful. Second, if more than one are successful, then U.S. health care consumers will have options. As it is, the federal government has already ordered and these manufacturers are producing millions of doses so that when the testing is complete distribution will move very quickly so that we hasten the day we can return to the “new normal.”

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How close are we? Manufacturers Moderna and Pfizer are in the final phase of their vaccines’ trials involving tens of thousands of volunteers who are taking the vaccines or a placebo to determine safety and effectiveness. Public health authorities and leading scientists are cautiously optimistic that one or both of these, and perhaps a few of the others, will receive Federal Drug Administration approval by year’s end. The first priority for administering the vaccine will be frontline health care providers, first responders, and senior citizens, the three groups most at risk from the disease. The hope is that they will be vaccinated by the end of next March and that the ramp up in production will allow widespread administration of one or more of the vaccines beginning in April, perhaps sooner.

This is dramatic, unparalleled progress. But there are those with their own political agenda undermining Operation Warp Speed by sowing distrust in the process. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and California Governor Gavin Newsom have been prominent in this regard, as has Democrat vice-presidential nominee Kamala Harris. They are doing a disservice to the American people who need to have confidence the vaccine will be both safe and effective. I am particularly concerned that black people will be reluctant to take the vaccine because of their bad experience with American health care in the past and because of this cynical pre-election messaging by prominent Democrats. Yet, the data is clear: Black people are contracting and dying from COVID-19 at relatively high rates. They need the vaccine, and injecting doubt into the process for purely political reasons is shameful.

The FDA will only approve one or more of these vaccines if the trial results and other data meet its appropriately high standards. That doesn’t mean every person who gets the vaccine will develop complete immunity – that’s not true for any vaccine. But the vast majority will become immune and those who don’t and still come down with COVID-19 are likely to have a much less severe experience with the disease.

I’m old enough to remember when everyone in the U.S. stood in line to get the polio vaccine in a sugar cube. As a result of that effort, annual new polio cases in the U.S. were reduced to 100 in the 1960s, and we have been polio free since 1979, eliminating the scourge of a disease which frightened everyone in the 1950s and 60s. And just think what it will mean for all of us to eliminate COVID-19. But that will happen only if the vast majority of us get the vaccine,

So, I want to be clear. I’ve already gotten my flu shot for the season and as soon as I can, I’m going to get vaccinated against COVID-19. I know the FDA will only approve a vaccine which has demonstrated through thorough trials and data that it is safe and effective, and you should have that confidence too. By the way, the vaccine will be free. At no cost, you will be able to protect yourself and those you love from this terrible disease and its dire effect on our economy and our very freedoms.

Don’t listen to the cynical politicians. Get vaccinated now for the flu and, when it’s available, for COVID-19.

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

Byrne: FEMA’s Hurricane Sally response

(U.S. Representative Bradley Byrne/Facebook)

Most people in Alabama have heard of FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Administration. Its name is a little misleading because emergencies by their nature aren’t so much managed as responded to, often after the fact. You can’t manage a tornado or an earthquake, for example, but you can and should respond to it.

Hurricanes are facts of life down here, and nearly every part of our state, not just the coast, has been affected in some way by at least one. We can prepare for hurricanes and guard against the worst consequences and that starts with each of us as individuals, family members and citizens doing our part to be prepared to protect and take care of ourselves, family members and neighbors. Alabamians are actually pretty good at doing that.

But, there is also a role for governments at all levels. Local governments actually play the most important public role because they are closest to the people of their areas and have the first responders already employed and trained to take care of the needs of local residents during the period running up to, during, and in the immediate aftermath of the storm. State governments manage the preparations before the storm and provide the support local governments need afterward to do their jobs. The federal government supports the state and local efforts, which typically means providing the lion’s share of the money needed, anywhere from 75% to 90% of the costs. So there’s not one emergency management agency involved in responding to hurricanes but three, corresponding to each level of government.

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The day before Hurricane Sally hit, I was individually briefed by the director of the National Hurricane Center Ken Graham, FEMA Administrator Pete Gaynor and Coast Guard officials. That same day I went to the White House and made sure we had a good line of communication in case we needed help, which looked likely at the time. I have to say, the White House was immediately responsive and has continued to be so.

How has FEMA handled the federal response to Hurricane Sally? When the state of Alabama requested a pre-storm disaster declaration, which triggers federal financial support for preparations and response during the storm, FEMA and the White House gave the okay in just a few hours. On that day before when I spoke with the White House, I asked them to send FEMA Administrator Gaynor to my district as soon as possible once the storm cleared to see the damage and meet with local officials. He came three days after the storm and spent several hours touring the damage with me and meeting with local leaders. When the state of Alabama requested a post-storm declaration, triggering federal financial support for public and individual assistance, FEMA and the White House responded affirmatively in less than 48 hours – record time.

Public assistance is federal financial support for the costs to state and local governments as a result of a storm. This includes water bottles and meals ready to eat for locally requested points of distribution, debris removal and cleanup costs (think of the large tandem trucks picking up debris piled up on the right of way), as well as the costs to repair damage to public buildings and infrastructure like roads and bridges, and in the case of Sally damage to the Port of Mobile.

Individual assistance, as the label states, goes to individuals affected by the storm. Private assistance won’t pay something you have insurance for, but it does pay for a variety of losses, particularly having to do with an individual’s home. So far 60,000 Alabamans have applied for individual assistance and already FEMA has approved $42 million. If you haven’t applied for individual assistance there’s still time for you to do so online at DisasterAssistance.gov, or if you need help in applying call FEMA’s Helpline at 1-800-621-3362. If you have applied for individual assistance and have been denied, appeal the decision because frequently the denial is simply because the applicant didn’t include all the needed information.

Many people were flooded by Sally and over 3,000 of them have made claims to the National Flood Insurance Program. Over $16 million has already been paid out on those claims. The Small Business Administration has approved over a thousand home loans to people with storm losses, totaling over $40 million, and many more loan applications are still pending.

So, how has FEMA performed in responding to Hurricane Sally? So far, pretty darn well. I want to thank FEMA Administrator Gaynor for coming down here so quickly after the storm and for FEMA’s quick and positive responses to all our requests. And I want to thank President Trump for his concern and quick response to Alabama’s requests for disaster declarations. Hurricane Sally was a brutal experience for us in Alabama, but FEMA’s response shows that government can do good things, helping people and communities when they really need it.

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

Byrne: Business and school lockdowns don’t work

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

The United States is such a big and diverse country with transparent sources of information and data that we are the world’s lab for various policy practices. Take the response to COVID-19. Some states closed down early and hard and stayed that way for a long time. Others were more judicious about their closure, closing later and with less severity, and came out more quickly. Those same hard lockdown states have been reticent to reopen schools for in-person learning, whereas the more open states have reopened more schools for in-person learning.

Who was right?

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Let’s start with the lockdowns. In general, the states with the earliest and hardest lockdowns have had the worst economic outcomes. Think New York and nearby New Jersey, two of the most locked-down states in the nation. New York’s August unemployment rate, for example, was 12.5%, and New Jersey’s was 11%, whereas the national rate was 8.4%. Here in Alabama, where the lockdown was moderate and we have largely reopened, the August unemployment rate was 5.6%. New York state government is facing huge deficits while Alabama just finished its fiscal year in the black.

The defenders of New York and New Jersey’s practices argue that those two states were better at protecting their people from the worst of the disease. OK, fair enough. New York’s extreme efforts to protect their people resulted in a case fatality rate of 6.5%, and New Jersey had an even worse fatality rate of 7.5%. Alabama’s rate? 1.6%. When your economy is substantially underperforming the U.S. economy and your people are dying at a much faster rate from COVID-19 despite your lockdown, perhaps it’s time to rethink things.

Last week, led by three leading public health experts, over 13,000 epidemiologists, public health scientists and health care practitioners from all over the world signed a petition calling for the lockdowns to end and for the world to return to a new normal, citing the physical and mental health issues caused by the lockdown policies. The World Health Organization echoed this call a few days later.

And schools? I’ve advocated for a return to in-person learning going back to this past July based upon data, reports and testimony those of us on the House Education and Labor Committee had received. In-person learning returned for many students around the country, and here in Alabama, in August. Many of the “experts” warned of spikes in the disease among those returning to school and made dire threats of these spikes spreading to older adults. Well, it’s two months later and experts such as Emily Oster of Brown University agree there has been no spike in the disease among these students. You can find a short article she wrote on her findings in the Atlantic Monthly dated October 9. Yet, as I noted in July, those students not returning to school in person face lifelong losses in learning, a point no one has argued with.

So, the verdict is in. Economic and societal shutdowns which have wrecked parts of our country and the world should be reduced to only those circumstances which clearly place people at great risk. This would include continued limitations on mass indoor gatherings, but a lessening of restrictions on outdoor events where people can spread out and on large indoor meetings where people can spread out. Restaurants, which have been opened for over five months now in Alabama, should open everywhere, including for indoor dining, and retail should be reopened everywhere as well. Travel restrictions should be lifted except for countries with exceptionally high rates of the disease in recent weeks, and for those with little transparency. I have been traveling these last few months without any problem and our travel and tourist industries need to come back.

And schools should reopen everywhere for students to return for in-person learning. I am proud to report that as of the beginning of this month, that is true for all schools in southwest Alabama. Again, that has been the case in many schools across Alabama for two months without a serious spike in the disease. In-person education is clearly far superior to virtual learning and those who have the most to lose are poor students as well as children of color. Without in-person education, they will slide even further behind, and their educational deficit is the main driver of inequality in America.

I’m aware that some parts of the U.S. are led by people who simply won’t open up. I believe in federalism and that is their prerogative. But, the rest of us shouldn’t bail them out as the Democrats have demanded in Washington. If they want to stay closed and are suffering as a result, they shouldn’t expect the rest of the country to enable their poor choices.

Shutting down doesn’t work. So, it’s time, it’s past time, to open up, carefully and safely. And now we know that opening up actually does work.

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

Byrne: A ‘Do Nothing Congress’

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

Congress was sent home by Speaker Pelosi last Friday without securing a deal with the White House or the Senate on the next COVID bill. While we were told we might get a 24-hours’ notice to return, our calendar doesn’t show us coming back to Washington until November 16.

President Truman ran against the Republican majority 80th Congress (1947-49) as the “Do Nothing Congress” because it considered but refused to pass his “Fair Deal” program of liberal government initiatives as a follow on to President Roosevelt’s “New Deal.” In actuality, the 80th Congress was a very active one, passing major legislation including aid to Greece and Turkey as they faced Soviet-backed Communist insurgencies and the Marshall Plan, both significant parts of Truman’s anti-Communist program. They also passed the Taft-Hartley Act, which revised the National Labor Relations Act, and the National Security Act, a dramatic reorganization of U.S. defense and security efforts, including the creation of the Department of Defense, the Air Force, the CIA and the National Security Council.

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The 116th Congress hasn’t come close to matching that level of legislative production. We spent virtually all last year on hearings regarding the Mueller investigation and the Democrats’ failed attempt to have President Trump removed from office. This year we had the sorry spectacle of the speaker ripping up her copy of the president’s State of the Union address and then a hurried flight from Washington in the spring and continuing into the summer.

We have passed four COVID bills which have been important to the national response to the disease and its effects on the economy, but nothing else of such national importance. We wasted a Saturday session in August on a false issue regarding the Postal Service (see how quickly that’s been forgotten) and chased our tails on numerous messaging bills that have no chance in the Senate. For its part, the Senate continues to confirm new conservative judges for the Federal judiciary because it doesn’t need the House to do that.

Pelosi did push yet another of her COVID bills last week which barely passed after 16 of her own members voted against it. The Senate won’t take it up, however, as it contains a host of non-COVID policies like marijuana banking and because it cuts funding to law enforcement (“Defund the Police” the Democrats say) while providing too much money to blue state and local governments which have totally mismanaged their COVID response.

We actually ended the week on a resolution condemning the QAnon conspiracy theory which was hardly an issue worth House attention during a pandemic. And then we left for six weeks.

I wasn’t elected to Congress to waste time, and my first five years were largely productive, even when the House had a Republican majority and Barack Obama was president. But these last two years have been a waste in the House because of Speaker Pelosi’s choice to use our valuable time on pointless failed attacks on President Trump and totally unrealistic messaging bills — that is, when she hasn’t sent us away from Washington for weeks at a time.

I don’t know what to predict when we return in November. It probably depends on who wins the elections. But if past is prologue, we in the House will end this Congress not with a bang but with wearied and loud gridlock, doing little or nothing, a true “Do Nothing Congress.”

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

Byrne: A new Supreme Court justice

(Representative Bradley Byrne/Facebook, CNBC Television/YouTube, YHN)

On the Friday night after Hurricane Sally passed, while many of us down here were still digging out and cleaning up and without electrical power, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died. As an attorney, Justice Ginsburg was a leading advocate for women’s rights and gender equality. She was placed on the powerful U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia by President Jimmy Carter in 1980 and on the Supreme Court as its first Jewish woman by President Bill Clinton in 1993. Though small in physical stature, she became a liberal giant on the Court particularly with her dissenting opinions. In her later years, she became a cultural icon.

Immediately, the liberal mainstream media and Democrat senators demanded that President Trump wait to name a successor, insisting that whoever is elected president this fall should make that decision, obviously hoping that president will be Joe Biden. The irony is that they had nothing but good things to say about President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to take Justice Antonin Scalia’s place in the last year of the Obama-Biden administration and pushed the Republican Senate majority to confirm him prior to the presidential election that year.

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Article II of the Constitution clearly states that the president has the power to nominate “Judges of the Supreme Court” with “the Advice and Consent of the Senate.” There is no question President Trump has the power to nominate Justice Ginsburg’s successor, and there is no question the Senate has to consent to the appointment, a process which typically involves the Judiciary Committee holding hearings and then a vote to advance the appointee to the Senate floor for a final vote. In over half of the nominations to the Supreme Court in the history of our country, the time period between nomination and the final vote on confirmation has been 45 days or less. For Judge Ginsburg, it was 44 days. Until after World War II, some of our most illustrious justices were confirmed in a matter of just days.

This past Saturday, President Trump nominated Judge Amy Coney Barrett of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to replace Justice Ginsburg. A former law professor at the University of Notre Dame who specialized in Constitutional law and statutory interpretation and was named “Distinguished Professor of the Year” three times, Judge Barrett has impeccable credentials to serve on the Supreme Court. So, why is the mainstream media and all Democrat senators, including our own Doug Jones, so indignant that President Trump would nominate and the Senate timely consider her for confirmation?

First of all, she’s a Trump appointee, and the left has gone crazy that he’s already appointed two Supreme Court justices and over 200 circuit and district court judges, all young and all with strong conservative bona fides, thus remaking the Federal judiciary and the course of the law for a generation. Judge Barrett would make a previously close 5-4 Supreme Court a stronger conservative 6-3 court. That’s truly a big deal. And the left is particularly offended by the fact Judge Barrett is a woman – a strong, smart, accomplished woman who doesn’t follow the leftist line.

Second, she has a strong faith and isn’t bashful about living that faith. A Roman Catholic, she has traditional personal views on many issues, including abortion. She and her husband have seven children, two adopted from Haiti and another with Down syndrome. During her confirmation hearing for her present position, she was attacked because of her faith. Senator Dianne Feinstein of California said to Judge Barrett, “the dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s a concern.” Since when has faith been belittled to “dogma” and since when has being a Catholic been “a concern?” I thought we left that behind when John F. Kennedy was elected in 1960. The attacks on her faith are of even more concern because Article VI of the Constitution prohibits the use of a religious test for any public office, and the First Amendment protects everyone’s right to freely “exercise” their faith. And Judge Barrett has repeatedly made the distinction between her beliefs and her obligation as a judge to follow the law.

Third, Judge Barrett is an originalist in her approach to interpreting the Constitution and laws passed by Congress. That means she interprets the words according to the way they would have been meant at the time the Constitutional provision or statute was passed. Otherwise, the court is placing its own or modern society’s understanding on the words, in effect judicially amending the law. The Constitution has provisions for amending it, but those don’t include the courts doing so, and only Congress can amend its laws. The left wants to get around the difficulty of the amendment process by allowing judges, typically very liberal judges, to interpret the law as they like, thus expanding government far beyond the intent of those who wrote and ratified the Constitution and its amendments, and far beyond what Congress intended in passing its laws.

President Trump has the clear constitutional power to make this nomination, and history is a clear guide that, even in a presidential election year, a nominee can be confirmed in a matter of weeks, even days. He has nominated an outstanding, well-credentialed circuit judge for the position, and she should get a thorough vetting but not a delayed vote on the floor of the Senate. I’m looking forward to Judge Barrett’s service on the Supreme Court.

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

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% 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.