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Rep. Martha Roby on Honest Budget Act and Keystone XL Pipeline

Martha Roby

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Honest Budget Act:

Americans are disappointed with the dysfunction in Washington—the people see politicians talking about budget savings and future spending cuts that never seem to materialize. Their frustration is justified, and many Members of Congress, including myself, share it.

My freshman class came to Washington to cut wasteful spending and bring more transparency and accountability to the legislative process. Over the past year, we have consistently pushed for deeper spending cuts, less regulation, and a harder line against efforts to raise taxes and expand government power. But during a year of budget battles, we have discovered that the nuances of the budget process can be exploited to hide federal spending.

Congress, as an institution, is a sick patient.

My colleagues and I have learned that the House and Senate are plagued by budget loopholes and gimmicks that are deeply engrained in the rules of the two chambers. Exploiting those gimmicks is widely accepted and has become commonplace in both parties.

Honesty, accountability, and transparency are the cure—and implementing legislation to rid the budget process of gimmicks is one way to deliver that medicine.

In a rare bi-cameral event this week, more than 25 Senate and House colleagues stood in support as Sen. Jeff Sessions and I announced the introduction of my bill, the Honest Budget Act of 2012.

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My legislation would put an end to the procedural trickery that Washington too often uses to hide federal spending and run up the debt. It is companion legislation to a bill introduced last year by Senator Sessions in the Senate. The legislation takes his commonsense approach to the problem and extends it to the House of Representatives, where revenue and spending bills are first considered.

The Honest Budget Act would give rank-and-file House members greater authority to challenge the nine most commonly used budget gimmicks found in the budget and appropriations process. Experts estimate that these gimmicks have accounted for more than $420 billion in new spending since 2005—including $73 billion last year.

The legislation is a direct response to the problems that my freshmen colleagues and I have witnessed over the last year. It is a first step toward holding the Congress and the President accountable through an honest and transparent budget process.

As Thomas Jefferson wrote, “The whole art of government consists in the art of being honest.” The American people deserve a government that shoots straight, and they are looking to Congress for a budget that is reliable, genuine, and accountable. The Honest Budget Act would help Congress meet those expectations.

Keystone XL Pipeline: On the House floor this week, I delivered a speech expressing my disappointment over the President’s recent decision to block the Keystone XL Pipeline by rejecting an application to build and operate the oil pipeline across the U.S.-Canadian border. Click to watch The Keystone Pipeline represents an opportunity to increase supply of much-needed natural resources in our country. If built, it would have the capacity to deliver up to 900,000 barrels of crude oil per day over 1,700 miles of pipeline. In terms of job growth, tens of thousands American jobs would be created over the life of the project.America’s energy policy is vitally important to our national security and our economic security. Oil, for example, accounts for more than a third of total U.S. energy consumed, with 94 percent of all transportation in the U.S. powered by petroleum products. We need to implement ways to increase domestic energy production here at home. Therefore, I support an “all of the above” approach to energy, which includes opening up new areas for American energy exploration, transitioning to renewable and alternative energy, and using more clean and reliable nuclear power. The President made a major decision to deny the Keystone Pipeline, and every American should be aware of the consequences.I consider his choice a grave mistake, and I am pleased that Congress is now considering ways to allow construction of the Keystone Pipeline through legislation. The Impact of Medicaid Expansion: This week, I participated in an Education and the Workforce Committee hearing to discuss various federal policies that affect the states. During the hearing, I addressed the negative impact Medicaid expansion would have on state government. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that, as a result of President Obama’s health care reform law, Medicaid will expand to cover an additional 25.6 million enrollees in the next decade, increasing the cost on states by more than $118 billion through 2023. Medicaid is jointly funded by state and federal government, therefore, the expansion would place a burden not just on the federal government, but on the states as well. As Medicaid is already significantly underfunded, many states are unsure they can devote even more resources to cover this expansion. The Medicaid provision is just one of many included in Obama’s health care law, which would create more government while increasing taxes—directly and indirectly—on Americans. I was sent to Congress to root-out unnecessary federal spending and shrink the size of government. One of the first actions I took after being elected to Congress was vote to repeal the President’s health care law. It is important to find ways to encourage affordable health care for citizens without placing additional burdens on state budgets. I look forward to implementing market-based reforms that actually lower cost, increase access, and maintain high quality of care.

Contact Me: Keeping close contact with you is my top priority as I am traveling between Alabama and Washington, D.C. As the 112thCongress continues, I hope you will stay updated on my activities by joining me at:

Web site http://roby.house.gov/

Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/Representative.Martha.Roby

Twitter page @ RepMarthaRoby

Flicker page at Martha Roby

Sign up to receive Congressman Martha Roby’s Weekly Column at http://roby.house.gov/contact-me/newsletter.

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Push to rename Edmund Pettus Bridge gains steam, but Selma activists want their say

The latest effort to rename the bridge is gaining momentum, with a petition surpassing 300,000 signatures, but residents of Selma are saying not so fast.

Micah Danney

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The latest effort to rename the Edmund Pettus Bridge is gaining momentum, with its online petition surpassing 300,000 signatures and attracting some high-profile supporters, but residents of Selma are saying not so fast.

“We don’t agree that one person’s name should go on the bridge because it was a collective of people that made that happen,” said Alan Reese, of Selma, whose grandfather F.D. Reese was one of the “Courageous Eight” who invited Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to join their push for voting rights.

The bridge became a landmark of the civil rights movement in 1965, when state troopers and a white posse attacked the roughly 600 marchers who crossed it as they attempted to march to Montgomery to register to vote.

The event became known as Bloody Sunday and galvanized support for civil rights for Black Americans. Among the beaten was Georgia Rep. John Lewis, then a member of King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

His role as a leader of that march, and the injuries he suffered from a trooper’s baton, made him the focus of The John Lewis Bridge Project, a nonprofit formed last month by Michael Starr Hopkins, who has worked as a political strategist for several Democratic campaigns.

Hopkins had just watched the 2014 film “Selma” and looked up who Edmund Pettus was. When he learned that Pettus had been a Confederate general and reputed grand wizard in the Ku Klux Klan, Hopkins decided he wanted to do something to change the bridge’s name. He created the petition, and within 24 hours, it had more than 10,000 signatures.

Its goal is half a million signatures, Hopkins said. He’s also raising money to start an outreach program in Alabama and nationally to build a pressure campaign to change the name. 

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Lewis responded to a previous petition to rename the bridge in his honor with a statement that it was not his desire. His office has not addressed the current effort. Lewis is undergoing treatment after he was diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer in December.

Hopkins said he understands Selma residents’ concerns.

“If someone was coming into my back yard and wasn’t from where I was from, telling me that I needed to change something, you know, I’d be a little ticked off too,” Hopkins said.

After speaking with Reese, he agreed that the citizens of Selma need to be central to the conversation about what will happen to the bridge’s name.

Alternatives to Lewis’s name have been suggested, including bestowing the honor on the “foot soldiers” who marched there, or on the eight activists who led the Dallas County Voters League, which laid the groundwork for the march that made the bridge a global icon of nonviolent struggle.

The very thing that my forefathers and mothers were walking on the bridge to secure was agency.”

“Yes his name was on the bridge on Bloody Sunday, but if he had had it his way, none of the people crossing that bridge would have been let out of shackles, and we would still be slaves,” Hopkins said. “So I think that by continuing to keep his name on the bridge, you bestow a sense of honor that he is undeserving of.”

Reese said he plans to speak to Hopkins later this week to figure out how to proceed. This isn’t the first push to rename the bridge, and Reese said that Selma’s residents are tired of outsiders making decisions about what happens to what may be the most famous landmark in their community.

Monuments have faces, he said. The bridge is not a monument, and its history changed the meaning of Pettus’s name, he said, although he understands the urge to change it. If that happens, he wants the name to prompt people to learn about what the people of Selma did before and after Bloody Sunday. If it honored the Couragious Eight, for instance, that might encourage future generations to learn about who they were. 

Reese’s grandfather was not featured in Ava DuVernay’s 2014 film, he noted. DuVernay tweeted recently in support of renaming the bridge.

Lydia Chatmon, who works to promote tourism in Selma and is a program manager for the Selma Center for Nonviolence, said that most surviving foot soldiers she has talked to aren’t keen on changing the name. It could also have implications for tourism, she said, noting that the bridge is under review for designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The bridge’s renaming is an opportunity to have a valuable conversation at a critical time, Chatmon added. The brutality captured by cameras on the bridge sent shock waves through American society, as did the brutality of George Floyd’s death captured by cell phone cameras, she said. Part of the process of building a better nation is having an open dialogue about issues like the bridge and how its name and legacy are owned and handled.

She looks forward to setting a date for an open town hall where the discussion can take place, likely in early August, she said.

Above all, it is a matter of agency, Chatmon said. King’s model for social change required the consent and participation of the people his work purported to help.

“The very thing that my forefathers and mothers were walking on the bridge to secure was agency,” Chatmon said.

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Health

Alabama’s COVID-19 hospitalizations surge over July 4th weekend

The new high of 919 patients in hospitals being treated for COVID-19 on Sunday was 41 percent higher than the number of patients a week ago on June 28.

Eddie Burkhalter

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The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Alabama hit another record high on Sunday, jumping over 900 for the first time since the pandemic began, and while the state’s supply of intensive care beds and ventilators are currently adequate, there’s concern that usage of both could spike in the coming weeks. 

The new high of 919 patients in hospitals being treated for COVID-19 on Sunday was 41 percent higher than the number of patients a week ago on June 28, and the seven-day average of hospitalizations was also at a record high on Sunday at 818. Over the last week, Alabama saw five record highs in COVID-19 hospitalizations. 

Dr. Don Williamson, president of the Alabama Hospital Association and a former state health officer, told APR on Monday that 893, or 57 percent of the state’s supply of ventilators, were available Monday morning, while 309 of 1,669 ICU beds, or 18.5 percent, were available. 

Williamson said while those two indicators are encouraging, it may take several weeks to learn whether many of those hospitalized will worsen and require ICUs and ventilators, and possibly lead to a rise in deaths. He said another possibility is that younger people are being admitted for COVID-19 but may not become sick enough to require more of the hospitals’ resources, and doctors are getting better at caring for coronavirus patients.

“We just don’t know yet. We don’t know which way we’re going to go,” Williamson said. “We just know we got a whole lot more cases than we had a month ago, and we’ve got a lot more hospitalizations than we had a month ago.” 

Williamson said that from the week beginning June 29 to the week starting July 5, the average number of daily COVID-19 hospitalizations increased by 140, rising from 658 hospitalizations to 798 hospitalizations on average during that time. He believes the number of confirmed cases will continue to spike after Fourth of July celebrations. 

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For six straight days, Alabama has added more than 900 new COVID-19 cases daily, and on Monday the state recorded 925 new cases, and the 14-day average of new cases was also higher than it’s been since the pandemic began, at 1,025. 

While testing has increased in Alabama, so too has the percent of tests that are positive, a marker public health experts say shows that there still isn’t enough testing and many cases are going undetected. 

We just know we got a whole lot more cases than we had a month ago, and we've got a lot more hospitalizations than we had a month ago.”

The 14-day average of percent positivity was 13.5 percent on Monday, and taking into account incomplete data on negative tests in April, which inflated the positivity percentage, the data Monday was at a record high. Public health experts say the number should be at or below five percent.

The seven-day and 14-day average of daily COVID-19 deaths both were at 11 on Monday, and the numbers have remained largely steady for most of May, June and July.

In the last week, there have been 79 COVID-19 deaths in the state. Since the pandemic began, there have been 984 deaths in Alabama attributed to the virus, and the Alabama Department of Public Health estimates that 23 more deaths are likely due to COVID-19.

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Governor

Governor awards $48 million to Department of Education, up to $50 million for higher education

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Gov. Kay Ivey on Monday awarded $48 million of the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund (GEERF) to the Alabama State Department of Education in response to challenges related to COVID-19. This allocation will enable schools to enact policies established in the Alabama State Department of Education’s Roadmap to Reopening Schools.

As schools across Alabama are navigating increased challenges related to COVID-19, this initial investment will assist by providing budget stability, enable distance learning for any student that seeks it, and get additional resources to students most in need.

The allocation will be used as follows:

  • $10 million to equip all school buses with WiFi capabilities to increase internet connectivity and help bridge the digital divide
  • $4 million to improve remote learning opportunities by providing digital textbook and library resources for all students
  • $26 million to provide additional academic support to bridge learning and achievement gaps
  • $9 million to support intensive before and after school tutoring resources for learning and remediation in schools

Additionally, Alabama institutions of higher education will be able to submit requests for a combined reimbursement of up to $50 million of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). Alabama received approximately $1.9 billion of CARES Act funding to respond to and mitigate the coronavirus pandemic. Alabama Act 2020-199 designated up to $118.3 million of the Coronavirus Relief Fund for any lawful purpose as provided by the United States Congress, the United States Treasury Department, or any other federal entity of competent jurisdiction.

“I am pleased to invest in our state’s greatest asset – our students,” Governor Ivey said. “As we respond and adapt to COVID-19, we must ensure that our local school districts and institutions of higher education receive necessary support and provide our students full access to their educational opportunities. Closing school during the pandemic disproportionately impacts students who are already struggling, and it is our obligation to provide as much stability and access possible in these uncertain times.”

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Elections

Tuberville should release fraud victims from NDAs, Sessions says

Brandon Moseley

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GOP Senate candidate Jeff Sessions.

GOP Senate candidate and former U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions on Monday called on his primary opponent, former Auburn football head coach Tommy Tuberville, to release victims of a fraud scheme from non-disclosure agreements they signed as part of a court settlement.

“If Tommy Tuberville has nothing to hide, why does he continue to refuse to release the victims from the secrecy agreements that he made them sign, so that they could share exactly what happened?” Sessions said. “Tuberville and his lawyers must release the victims immediately, so we can get the full truth about this issue. Tommy’s hedge fund scheme bilked investors out of large sums of money, and now he’s trying to gag the victims to keep them quiet — and hope that Alabama voters don’t notice.”

Following the end of his coaching tenure at Auburn, Tuberville and former Lehman Brothers broker John David Stroud formed a hedge fund, which later went broke, costing the investors to lose their investments. Stroud went to prison and some investors sued Tuberville, who maintains he was the biggest victim of the fraud.

“If Tuberville was truly just an innocent investor and victim of the fraudulent hedge fund, as his campaign handlers now claim, why did he hand out business cards calling himself the ‘managing partner’ of the firm?” Sessions asked. “Why did the hedge fund’s offering documents that he gave to potential investors say that he was personally ‘responsible for the investment direction, capital raising, and the day-to-day oversight of business decisions’ of the fraudulent hedge fund? We need to know exactly what happened, and Tuberville must immediately give a full accounting of his scandals.”

Sessions has made the case that he is the known and vetted candidate and will be best able to withstand an onslaught of negative ads from Democrats who want to hold on to Democratic Sen. Doug Jones’ Senate seat, which some analysts view as the most vulnerable seat in the 2020 election and a key pickup if Republicans hope to hold their narrow Senate majority.

“If this is just coming out now, we have to wonder what other skeletons are hiding in Tommy Tuberville’s closet,” Sessions said. “The truth is that he’s an unvetted candidate, and Alabama voters can’t afford to send a question mark into the race against Doug Jones and the millions of dollars of out-of-state money at his disposal.”

According to The New York Times’ reporting and court documents, the victims include a married couple from Wetumpka, a bookkeeper and a retired teacher, who invested $800,000 with TS Capital. The other victims include a married couple from Auburn, who transferred over $100,000 from their retirement accounts to invest with TS Capital.

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After more than a year of fighting the lawsuit, Tuberville settled the case by paying a secret amount. All the parties involved signed non-disclosure agreements that prohibit them from speaking about the fraud allegations.

The Sessions campaign claims that it appears that none of the victims were made whole. “Meanwhile, Tuberville filmed videos for ESPN, bragging about his house on the white, sandy beaches of Florida,” the Sessions campaign said in a parting shot.

Tuberville and Sessions are running in the Republican primary runoff on July 14. The winner will then face Jones in the Nov. 3 general election. Tuberville had the most votes in the March 3 Republican primary and has led Sessions in polling throughout the runoff race.

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