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Rebuilding, reforming, and repairing our military

Bradley Byrne

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By Congressman Bradley Byrne (AL-1)

There is no greater responsibility of the Federal government than to provide for the safety and security of the American people. I have found myself making this point over and over again throughout my short time in Congress.

With the wide range of issues under debate here in Washington, some of my colleagues seem to forget that our most basic responsibility as outlined in the Constitution is to “provide for the common defense” of the American people.

That is exactly what we did last week when the House passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) by a strong bipartisan vote of 344 to 81. As you may remember, this is the bill that authorizes funding and sets policy for the entire United States military. Needless to say, it is a critically important piece of Legislation that Congress must pass each year.

As a member of the House Armed Services Committee and Vice Chairman of the Seapower Subcommittee, I was able to play a key role in the bill as it moved through our Committee and then to the House floor for a vote.

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The bill is especially important this year given President Trump’s pledge to grow our military. Our bill increases total military spending by 10 percent over last year’s levels, which will help reverse the severe readiness crisis that has been plaguing the military.

Consider these numbers: thirty years ago, the Fiscal Year 1988 NDAA represented 27.3 percent of total Federal outlays and 5.2 percent of projected GDP. This year’s bill authorizes funding for the military at $688.3 billion, which is 16.8 percent of total Federal outlays and 3.4 percent of projected GDP.

We are spending less proportionally today on our military despite the fact that we face a wider range of threats across the globe. That should be troubling to every American.

Thirty years ago our Nation’s military faced only one serious threat: the Soviet Union. There was no ISIS or al Qaeda or other radical Islamic terrorist organization threatening the United States. Iran was not an existential threat to the American people. North Korea wasn’t developing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. China was not on the radar as it relates to military power. We weren’t worried about cyberattacks or cyber espionage.

The threat environment today is incredibly complex, and we must ensure that our military funding is in line with the realities of the threats we face. This year’s NDAA is a big step in that direction.

The bill increases the size of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Army Guard and Reserve, Naval and Air Reserve, and Air Guard. It also provides for the procurement of critical military aircraft, ships, and equipment while also setting money aside for maintenance and repairs to current military resources.

Important to our area, the bill authorizes the construction of three more Littoral Combat Ships (LCS), which are built in part by Austal USA in Mobile. It is critical that the bill support three ships because that is the number necessary to keep the shipyard operating at full speed and keep the cost of the ships down.

Given the nuclear and ballistic missile threat posed by North Korea, the bill boosts our Nation’s missile defense programs. A number of important cyber security provisions and reforms related to the space domain are also included in the bill.

In an effort to support our service members and their families, the bill authorizes a 2.4 percent pay raise for our troops. It also includes significant provisions related to military health care, housing, and benefit programs.

All told, this bill will help ensure the safety and security of the American people through rebuilding, repairing, and reforming our Nation’s military.

 

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Opinion | Words cannot express our gratitude

Bradley Byrne

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One hundred years ago, on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, the world’s largest, deadliest, and costliest war to that date drew to an end. The guns that boomed over field and forest in Europe fell silent.

World War I was over.

Over 116,000 Americans had lost their lives.

One year later, President Woodrow Wilson issued a statement to the nation in celebration of the first Armistice Day, expressing his thoughts on the war’s end: “To us in America the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service, and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of nations.”

In 1938, twenty years after the Armistice, Congress formally recognized Armistice Day as a national holiday “dedicated to the cause of world peace.”

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Unfortunately, the “war to end all wars” was only the precursor to an even deadlier, costlier war.

The next year, World War II broke out across Europe, a war that would cost the lives of over 400,000 American soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines.

For a particular Alabamian and veteran of WWII, the celebration of Armistice Day was not quite recognition enough for the service and sacrifice of veterans who had served, not just in WWI, but for all those who had worn the uniform of our nation.

Raymond Meeks, a native of Birmingham, brought the idea of a national Veterans Day, to be held on what was then Armistice Day, to General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Gen. Eisenhower greatly supported this idea, and in 1947 Weeks led the first national celebration of Veterans Day right here in Alabama.

In 1954, President Eisenhower signed into law the formal celebration of Veterans Day here in the United States, dedicated to the memory of all those who served our country in the armed forces.

To this day, words cannot express our gratitude for that service.

Today, as I serve in Congress, it is an incredible honor to know that I am able to represent a free people thanks to the service, dedication, and sacrifice of our veterans.

That is why I advocate so strongly for our nation’s veterans. We need to provide them with proper access to educational and workforce opportunities, we must work towards a health care system that actually gets them the care they need, and we must help them get the benefits they earned.

Just this year, I voted to provide greater funding for programs in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), positive reforms to the G.I. Bill, and better access to career and technical education for veterans to reenter the civilian workforce. Additionally, my office has helped to resolve hundreds of cases for veterans and their families right here in Southwest Alabama.

Service in the military is so much more than just a job. It is a dedication to support and defend the Constitution and the people of the United States, both at home and abroad. That service is immeasurable, and I am humbled to represent so many of those who have fought for our freedoms.

The words of President Eisenhower on the first official Veterans Day stand as a charge for today: “Let us solemnly remember the sacrifices of all those who fought so valiantly, on the seas, in the air, and on foreign shores, to preserve our heritage of freedom, and let us reconsecrate ourselves to the task of promoting and enduring peace so that their efforts shall not have been in vain.”

 

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Opinion | Alabama board of education member says school choice is trying to “destroy a whole race of people”

Rachel Blackmon Bryars

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Alabama board of education member Ella Bell, D-Montgomery, spoke out during a work session Thursday claiming that Alabama’s landmark tax credit scholarship program for low income families was part of an effort to “destroy a whole race of people.”

“They took money from the poorest counties in the state to send kids to private school,” Bell claimed, after accusing the program of “stealing” from the state. “That’s just awful.”

Trouble is, that’s just not true.

The small yet popular program created by the Alabama Accountability Act only amounts to one half of one percent of the state’s multi-billion-dollar education trust fund – a fund that has grown well beyond the minuscule cost of providing the scholarships, according to state budget data.

And more than 80 percent of the parents who received scholarships last year from the two largest providers are minorities, according to an AL.com report. All made at or below 185 percent of the federal poverty level when they applied, as required by law, which is also the eligibility requirement to receive free or reduced priced lunches.

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Disabled veteran Dalphine Wilson of Montgomery, who is African-American, is one of those parents.

The single mother of two uses the scholarships to send her children to private school instead of the city’s troubled public school system.

Wilson’s children dropped to one knee in protest during a recent Montgomery County School Board meeting after its members approved a resolution demanding a repeal of the scholarship program.

Her daughter wept after the meeting, afraid she’d lose her scholarship. Her son asked if they could leave Alabama.

“Parents deserve a choice,” said Wilson, 44, who applied for scholarships after seeing what she described as the “overwhelming” and chaotic culture in her daughter’s elementary school classroom. “And your choice should not be, ‘Gosh, I really hope my child can get into a magnet school, and if they can’t, their only option is this failing school that is under state intervention.’”

She said if anyone is stealing, it’s those who want to take away the scholarships.

“Why rob us of a choice?” Wilson asked.

Ryan Cantrell, a school choice advocate in Montgomery who was an aide in the State Senate when the act passed in 2013, said the program was specifically designed to provide parents like Wilson with a choice that was once only available to higher income families.

“We’re talking about families who absolutely had no other option,” he said. “For the life of me, I don’t understand how an elected official could consciously vote to take that away from a low-income child. It boggles the mind.”

Cantrell said the “heart of the problem” is that opponents of the scholarship program are primarily concerned with the public education system itself, not the students it was established to serve.

“We are so focused … on the adults in the room, and our education system is not built to serve adults,” he said. “Our education system is built to serve students, and whatever it is that works for kids ought to be what we’re doing.”

Cantrell also disproved Bell’s claim that the program has been “stealing” from public school systems. On the contrary, he said, public schools have more funding and less students now than when the scholarship program began.

Montgomery’s school system, for example, has seen its funding increase by more than $8 million, up 5 percent since 2014, even while the overall student population has decreased by more than 7 percent, according to Cantrell.

During the board meeting, Bell also said the program “is absolutely horrifying to me because already I’m black and I grew up in Montgomery County 70-years ago and I know all the tricks.”

But the scholarships aren’t a trick. They’re a lifeline, a choice, for thousands of kids who otherwise wouldn’t have one. Alabama shouldn’t allow that choice to be taken away because of past wrongs.

The plain fact today is that the Alabama Accountability Act is a tiny fraction of our state’s education budget, it gives low-income families a sometimes life-altering choice, and almost all of the students receiving scholarships are minorities.

We should all be proud of that.

Because in the end, this is about what we believe education dollars are for – the system or the student.

Please call your state legislator and local school board member today and let them know what you think.

Rachel Blackmon Bryars is a senior fellow at the Alabama Policy Institute. Contact her at [email protected].

 

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Opinion | Brewbaker: Advice for new legislators

Dick L. Brewbaker

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Congratulations on your election. Public service is a high calling but as recent history has shown, it can get you in trouble in a heartbeat. So as an ex-legislator who has survived his career and is now safe in “Bucks Pocket,” here is a little advice.

1. Watch out for all the “new friends” you suddenly have acquired. They are friends who want something from you. You don’t work for them, even if they gave money for your campaign. Don’t forget you are there for your neighbors who actually voted for you.

Read Proverbs 27:5-6 once a day. It was written for politicians.

2. If you are a family man and are invited to an event where your spouse is not welcome — don’t go.

3. Judge not. Do not get in the business of assigning bad motives to people that disagree with you. It makes listening impossible.

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4. Make it a point to buck your own leadership at least once a session. If you are voting with them 100 percent of the time, you’ve stopped thinking.

5. Beware of becoming a consultant. You aren’t any smarter now than you were before you got elected. If someone offers you money to “consult,” turn it down. It’s a bribe, and it could land you in jail. The Ethics Law can be summed up simply: “Thou shalt not use your position as a legislator to enrich yourself.” Don’t.

6. Pay your own way. Always.

7. Be nice to your legislative assistant. Your career is in their hands.

8. Listen to the other side, sometimes they are right.

9. Take time to get to know the pages, and always, always make time for school groups even if they aren’t from your district. It will make your day a lot more fun.

10. Keep your sense of humor. Remember that the state Legislature is just the AA baseball of politics. The really important stuff is back home, so don’t let politics ruin your good name. Keep it in good condition.

Brewbaker is the president and CEO of Brewbaker Motors in Montgomery. He served two terms in both the Alabama House of Representatives (2003-07) and the Alabama Senate (2010-18). He would have easily won re-election but chose not to run.

 

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Opinion | It’s time to get back to work in Montgomery

Randall Shedd

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Winning football coaches tell their teams to celebrate victory for 24 hours then get back to work.

We’re ready to get back to work in Montgomery!

As the chair of the House Committee on Urban and Rural Development, I have three number one legislative goals in no particular order; they are all number one:

  • Urban and rural development with a focus on strategies to bring rural and small-town Alabama up while not bringing urban Alabama down.
  • Address poverty in Alabama not with government handouts but attack the causes of poverty.
  • Protect Retirement System of Alabama.

As committee chair, I understand that our urban areas are the main economic engines in our state and I fully support economic development in our urban areas.

I also understand that we can’t continue to let rural Alabama and our small towns decline. We have to develop strategies and public policies that encourage development in rural and small-town Alabama, too.

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I was proud to be an early supporter of Governor Kay Ivey, Lt. Governor-elect Will Ainsworth, and Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon. I want to work with them on a serious, well-planned and dedicated focus on rural Alabama.

All three of our new top leaders have roots in and understand rural Alabama and small-town Alabama.

It’s time for us all too seriously address rural and small-town Alabama issues.

My committee will be working closely with the House Rural Caucus chaired by Rep. David Standridge, R-Hayden plans to be active in addressing issues this term.

I want to make it perfectly clear; we don’t want to bring urban Alabama down, we want to bring rural Alabama and small-town Alabama up!

We will support urban areas and their economic engines, and we want their support to improve rural and small-town Alabama.

We will be asking all our state resources, organizations and advocates in Montgomery to be part of the solution. The state Department of Commerce, BCA, Manufacture Alabama, AEA, RSA, Republicans, Democrats, Independents, and many others all have crucial roles to play in addressing these issues. Let’s work together on the things we agree on and make our state the best it can be.

Poverty exists in both urban and rural areas and every legislative district. Let’s find a solution this term in office.

The time for celebration is over now we must get to work for Alabama.

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Rebuilding, reforming, and repairing our military

by Bradley Byrne Read Time: 3 min
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