Tuesday U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-Alabama) applauded the return of a normal appropriations process in a speech Shelby delivered on the Senate floor.
“Just three months ago, Congress passed and the President signed a $1.3 trillion omnibus spending package for fiscal year 2018,” Sen. Shelby said. “No one had time to read it, much less an opportunity to amend it. The President vowed that never again would he sign such a measure. Collectively, we lamented the absence of process and the excess of partisanship that led to that point once again. The collapse of regular order had become the new normal, despite our usual resolutions to revive it.”
Senator Shelby became the Chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee in April after Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Mississippi) retired due to declining health.
“I am pleased to report today that the Senate Appropriations Committee has charted a different course in the months since the fiscal year 2018 omnibus became law,” Chairman Shelby stated. “In April, I began working with Vice Chairman Leahy and our colleagues on the Appropriations Committee to put into motion an aggressive schedule to mark up all twelve appropriations bills before the July 4th recess. Thus far, the Committee has passed seven of these bills. This week, the Committee will mark up three additional bills, and in the final week of June we will consider the remaining two. We are right on schedule.”
“What has been truly remarkable, however, is not the speed of the fiscal year 2019 appropriations process but the bipartisanship that has given it new life,” Shelby said. “All seven of the bills passed by the Committee thus far have garnered overwhelmingly bipartisan support. Most of them, in fact, have been approved unanimously. This is no small accomplishment in today’s partisan political environment. On this point, I want to pause and recognize the significant contributions of Vice Chairman Leahy to this effort. Senator Leahy and I have known each other for many decades now. In fact, our combined years on the Appropriations Committee exceed the age of many of our colleagues. On this basis, we came together at the outset of the process and determined that only by uniting would appropriations bills make it to the Senate floor. He and I made a deal, the essence of which Politico succinctly summarized in the headline of a recent article titled, “Poison pills banished from Senate spending bills.” As part of this deal, Vice Chairman Leahy and I agreed to reject not only partisan riders but also new authorizations in the 2019 appropriations bills. We resolved that senators on both sides looking to authorize new law in appropriations bills would be referred to the appropriate authorizing committees.”
“As the appropriations process has unfolded, I have honored this deal. Vice Chairman Leahy has honored this deal,” Chairman Shelby continued. “Our subcommittee chairmen and ranking members have honored this deal. And the results speak for themselves. Just last week, for example, the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies appropriations bill passed unanimously out of committee. Madam President, you would have to go back nearly a decade to find the last time the Interior bill garnered such strong bipartisan support. I recognize that we are still early in the game here, and that many contentious issues lay ahead. But I believe that we have established a framework for success in returning to regular order. It is now time to translate this success to the Senate floor. Through their discipline in adhering to this framework, members of the Appropriations Committee have demonstrated that their perennial calls for a return to regular order were not hollow. Today we will begin to discover whether the full Senate is equally sincere in its resolve. The package before the Senate combines three fiscal year 2019 measures recently approved by the Appropriations Committee: the Energy and Water Development appropriations bill; the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies appropriations bill; and the Legislative Branch appropriations bill.”
“The Energy and Water Development bill provides $43.7 billion in discretionary funding, a $566 million increase over the FY18 enacted level,” Shelby continued. “The bill addresses critical national security needs concerning nuclear energy while also improving our water infrastructure and investing in basic science and energy research. Senators Alexander and Feinstein, the chairman and ranking member of the Energy and Water Development Subcommittee, have crafted a balanced, bipartisan bill that passed the full committee by a 30-1 margin.”
“The Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies bill provides $97.1 billion in discretionary funding, which is $5.1 billion above the level enacted in FY18,” Shelby said. “This bill supports investments that will ensure maximum readiness and warfighting capability for our troops, while also providing funding for needed improvements and innovations at the VA. Senators Boozman and Schatz, the chairman and ranking member of the Milcon-VA Subcommittee, wrote a strong bill that received the unanimous support of the full committee.”
“Finally, the Senate’s Legislative Branch bill provides $3.3 billion in discretionary funding, which is $68 million above the 2018 enacted level,” Sen. Shelby stated. “This bill makes important investments in the safety and security of those working in Congress and those visiting our Capitol. Chairman Daines and Ranking Member Murphy of the Legislative Branch Subcommittee, also drafted a strongly bipartisan bill that garnered the unanimous support of the full committee.””
Shelby thanked, “Chairmen Alexander, Boozman, and Daines; Ranking Members Feinstein, Schatz, and Murphy,” for their continued hard work and leadership. “Vice Chairman Leahy and I are committed to an open amendment process, as are each of the subcommittee chairmen and ranking members who will be managing their respective parts of this package.”
“To recap for the benefit of all Members: We are not interested in poison pill riders,” Shelby told his fellow senators. “We are not considering new authorizations of law. But we are interested in discussing substantive amendments that are germane to this package. This is the path that leads back to regular order. It is my hope that we will not be led astray down the path of delay and partisanship that results in yet another omnibus. That is no way to fund the government.”
The Congress left normal order and began passing a series of continuing resolutions and omnibus bills in 2009. At no point did President Barack H. Obama (D) ever sign a normal budget, even when the Democrats controlled the Congress. Instead a C.R. would pass, usually with leaders from the majority and leaders from the minority agreeing to continue funding both their priorities and the priorities of the other party. Along with this came periodic increases in the national debt limit. While the Great Recession and the TARP bailouts contributed greatly to the deficits, over $7.9 trillion was added to the national debt (more money than under any other president).
Despite a roaring economy and record low unemployment, the debt has kept growing under President Trump. The deficit is currently $774 billion. Most federal spending, however, is so-called mandatory spending on entitlements and interest on the debt. Discretionary spending is increasingly a smaller portion of total federal outlays.
Alabama Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth tests positive for COVID-19
Ainsworth is the only state constitutional officer in Alabama known to have contracted the coronavirus to this point in the public health crisis.
Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth on Wednesday said that he has tested positive for COVID-19.
“After being notified this afternoon that a member of my Sunday school church group had acquired the coronavirus, I was tested out of an abundance of caution and received notice that the results proved positive,” Ainsworth said in a statement. “Because I follow social distancing rules and wear a mask both in church and in my daily interactions, the positive result shows that even those of us who are the most cautious can be at risk.”
“State Public Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris has been informed about the results, and my office is taking the necessary steps,” Ainsworth said. “Though no symptoms have yet appeared, I will quarantine for the appropriate period and seek follow-up tests to ensure the virus has run its course before resuming public activities.”
“I appreciate the words of support that have already begun to be extended and am thankful for the prayers that are being offered for my recovery,” Ainsworth said.
To this point 174,528 Alabamians have tested positive for the novel strain of the coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, including 1,043 on Tuesday. At least 859 Alabamians were hospitalized on Tuesday with COVID-19, and 1,265,575 tests have been given across the state since March. Some 74,238 Alabamians have recovered from their illness, and 2,805 Alabamians have died from the COVID-19 global pandemic.
Ainsworth is the only state constitutional officer in Alabama known to have contracted the coronavirus to this point in the public health crisis.
The state remains under a “safer-at-home” order, including a mask mandate, through Nov. 8. That is likely to be extended into December given the recent uptake in coronavirus cases. Citizens are urged to continue social distancing, wear their masks, wash hands and avoid shaking hands and hugging.
Congressional candidate James Averhart endorsed by list of U.S. dignitaries, retired military leaders
The 1st Congressional District Democratic candidate has been endorsed by a list of retired U.S. dignitaries and retired military leaders, his campaign said Wednesday.
James Averhart, the Democratic candidate in Alabama’s 1st Congressional District and a retired U.S. Marine, has been endorsed by a list of retired U.S. dignitaries and retired military leaders, his campaign said Wednesday.
“James Averhart is an integral leader — a man of principles and a patriot. He is the best choice to represent District One on The Hill,” said Ambassador Theodore Britton, a World War II Veteran who was nominated by President Gerald Ford to serve as U.S. ambassador to the island nations of Barbados and Grenada.
Retired U.S. Marine Corps Lt. General Walter E. Gaskin, who served as commanding general of the 2nd Marine Division at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, said Averhart is experienced in matters of government and policy and understands the lay of the land in Washington D.C.
“He will be ready to hit the ground running to get things done for the district, and moreover, be that bridge to unite the parties in Congress as well as the nation,” Gaskin said in a statement.
“James Averhart is a strong dynamic leader who will get the job done. He is meticulous and a consummate professional that will advocate and work for all citizens of our district and Alabama,” said Ambassador J. Gary Cooper, a retired Marine Corps major general who was nominated by President George H.W. Bush to serve as assistant secretary of the Air Force, Manpower and Reserve Affairs, and was nominated by President Bill Clinton to serve as U.S. ambassador to Jamaica.
“At a time when it seems that the Republican leadership is in lockstep with a president, who considers those in service to our great nation to be ‘suckers’ and ‘losers,’ is antithetical to what this country needs. We have over 30,000 citizens hospitalized and over 211,000 deaths due to coronavirus, which could have been prevented with sound, methodical leadership. We have been disappointed by this President and the Republican leadership standing with him. It is time for substantive change in our Nation’s Capital,” Averhart said.
“The American citizenry deserves and expects more of its leadership. We should no longer settle for those who continue to promulgate untruths and spew divisive rhetoric. We deserve leadership who will extol the truth and hold in high regard a united nation,” Averhart said.
Avergart’s Republican opponent in the Nov. 3 election is Mobile County Commissioner Jerry Carl.
The following are a list of Averhart’s endorsements, according to his campaign:
Ambassador Theodore Britton
- Nominated by President Gerald Ford to serve as U.S. Ambassador to the island nations of Barbados and Grenada
- Served as the U.S. Special Representative to West Indian island nations of Antigua, Dominica, St. Christopher, Nevis, Anguilla, St. Vincent, and St. Lucia
Ambassador J. Gary Cooper
- Vietnam Veteran and Retired U.S. Marine Corps Major General
- Nominated by President Bill Clinton to serve as U.S. Ambassador to Jamaica.
- Nominated by President George H.W. Bush to serve as Asst Secretary of the Air Force, Manpower and Reserve Affairs.
Lieutenant General Ronald L. Bailey
- First African American to command the 1st • U.S. Marine Division
- Served as Deputy Commandant for Plans, Policies and Operations, U.S. Marine Corps.
- Retired in 2017 following 41 years of service.
Lieutenant General Walter E. Gaskin
- Served as Commanding General of the 2nd Marine Division at Camp Lejeune, NC Served as Commanding General, Marine Corps Recruiting Command, Quantico, Virginia
- Served as Chief of Staff, Naval Striking and Support Forces-Southern Europe
- Served as Deputy Commanding General, Fleet Marine Forces-Europe in Naples, Italy
Major General Cornell A. Wilson, Jr.
- Served as Director, Reserve Affairs Division, Manpower and Reserve Affairs – Headquarters, U.S. MArine Corps, Quantico, Virginia.
- Appointed by Gov. Pat McCrory, NC, to the position of Secretary of Military and Veterans Affairs.
Lieutenant General Willie J. Williams
- Served as Director of the Marine Corp Staff
- Retired in 2013 after serving 39 years in the U.S. Marine Corp.
Brigadier General John R. Thomas
- Served as Director for Command, Control, Communications and Computers, U.S. Marine Corps.
- Served as Director and Chief Information Officer, U.S. Marine Corp.
Alabama’s Black Belt lacks quality internet access, report finds
Twenty-two of 24 Black Belt counties are below the statewide average of 86 percent of the population who have access to high-speed internet, and two Black Belt Counties — Perry and Chocktaw — have no access at all.
During an online video briefing Monday on a report about a lack of internet access in Alabama’s Black Belt, University of Alabama student Brad Glover warned reporters that he could get kicked off the briefing at any moment.
That’s because he was talking during the video briefing by way of audio only, using his cell phone, as he does not have access to high-speed internet access at his Linden, Alabama, home in the Black Belt’s Marengo County.
The COVID-19 pandemic that sent students home to study online left many in the Black Belt and other rural parts of Alabama in the lurch, without access to the high-speed internet enjoyed by so many other Americans, according to the latest report in the University of Alabama’s Education Policy Center’s Black Belt 2020 series.
The latest report, titled “Internet Access Disparities in Alabama & the Black Belt,” found that 22 of 24 Black Belt counties, as defined by the Education Policy Center, are below the statewide average of 86 percent of the population who have access to high-speed internet, and two Black Belt Counties — Perry and Chocktaw — have no access at all.
“It is still a terrible struggle for me to connect to get the things done that are required,” said Glover, who interned with the Education Policy Center.
Stephen Katsinas, director of the Education Policy Center, said that in the 1930s, nine of ten rural homes lacked the electric service that urban American homes, by that point, had for 40 years.
“The Rural Electrification Act was passed to address this abject market failure,” Katsinas said. “Today, as the COVID pandemic has shown, access to high-speed internet is as essential to rural Alabama as the REA was in the 1930s. Alabama must directly address the market failures that exist today to bring high-speech internet to every rural Alabamian, so that our rural workforce can access the lifelong learning skills they need, and our rural businesses can compete globally.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has also spotlighted the need to expand the growing area of telemedicine.
Dr. Eric Wallace, medical director of Telehealth at UAB, told reporters during the briefing Monday that patients are largely doing telehealth from their homes, and explained that disparities in access to high-speed internet present a problem for them.
“Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, UAB has done approximately 230,000 telehealth visits, and 60 percent of those were done by video,” Wallace said.
“Forty percent are audio only, and why is audio only? It’s because we do not have broadband,” Wallace said. “So it’s not just broadband. It’s broadband. It’s tech literacy. Socioeconomics, to have a device in your home. It’s all of that.”
Wallace said that the coronavirus crisis has made clear that telemedicine is a “100 percent necessity” and that patient satisfaction studies make clear it’s not going anywhere.
The reasons for disparities in access to high-speed internet are myriad, explained Noel Keeney, one of the authors of the report and a graduate research assistant at the Education Policy Center.
Keeney noted a study by BroadbandNow that estimates there are 154 internet providers in Alabama, but there are 226,000 Alabamians living in counties without a single provider, and 632,000 in counties with just a single provider.
Even for those with access to internet providers, Keeney said that just approximately 44.4 percent of Alabamians have internet access at a cost of $60 monthly or below.
“If we really care about our rural areas, we need to make an investment, and it needs to cut off that cost at a very low rate,” Wallace said.
Katsnias said there’s a growing consensus on the part of Alabama’s political leaders that access to high-speed internet is an important issue, noting that Gov. Kay Ivey in March 2018, signed into law the Alabama Broadband Accessibility Act, which has given internet access to nearly 100,000 Alabama students.
“In March, Gov. Ivey awarded $9.5 million in broadband expansion grants, with a significant amount going to Black Belt communities,” the report reads. “This was followed by $5.1 million in additional grants in May.”
“The State of Alabama also allocated $100 million in federal CARES Act-related dollars for “equipment and service for broadband, wireless hot spots, satellite, fixed wireless, DSL, and cellular-on-wheels to increase access for K-12 students undergoing distance learning,” the report continues.
An additional $100 million in CARES Act funds were made available to facilitate virtual learning across Alabama’s K-12 schools, researchers wrote in the report, and another $72 million in federal aid went to the state’s colleges and universities.
Katsinas said however those federal funds are spent, the state still needs a long term plan for how to address the disparities in access to high-speed internet.
“We need a long term plan and we need to do what we can do immediately,” Katsinas said
Read more of the Education Policy Center’s reports in the “Black Belt 2020” series here.
Governor announces auto supplier IAC plans Alabama expansion
IAC is committing $34.3 million in new capital investment to expand its new manufacturing facility located in Tuscaloosa County.
Gov. Kay Ivey announced Monday that International Automotive Components Group North America Inc. plans to invest over $55.9 million in expansion projects that will create 182 jobs at two Alabama facilities.
“International Automotive Components is a leading global auto supplier, and I am pleased that this world-class company is growing significantly in Alabama and creating good jobs in Cottondale and Anniston,” Ivey said. “IAC’s growth plans show that Alabama’s dynamic auto industry continues to expand despite today’s challenging environment.”
Nick Skwiat is the executive vice president and president of IAC North America.
“Alabama was the logical choice due to its skilled workforce and proximity to the customer,” Skwiat said. “We are excited to see the continued growth of the automotive industry in Alabama and we plan to grow right along with it. We thank the Governor and Secretary Canfield for their leadership in this sector.”
IAC is committing $34.3 million in new capital investment to expand its new manufacturing facility located in Tuscaloosa County. This facility will produce door panels and overhead systems for original equipment manufacturers. That project will create 119 jobs at the production site in Cottondale.
IAC also plans to invest $21.6 million at its manufacturing facility located in the former Fort McClellan in Anniston. That East Alabama project will create another 63 jobs.
This project builds on a milestone 2014 expansion that doubled the size of the Calhoun County facility. There IAC manufactures automotive interior components and systems. Key components produced at the Anniston plant include door panels, trim systems and instrument panels for original equipment manufacturers.
IAC Group is a leading global supplier of innovative and sustainable instrument panels, consoles, door panels, overhead systems, bumper fascias and exterior ornamentation for original equipment manufacturers.
IAC is headquartered in Luxembourg and has more than 18,000 employees at 67 locations in 17 countries. The company operates manufacturing facilities in eight U.S. states.
“With operations around the globe, IAC is the kind of high-performance company that we want in Alabama’s auto supply chain to help fuel sustainable growth,” said Alabama Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield. “We look forward to working with IAC and facilitating its future growth in this strategic industrial sector.”
Danielle Winningham is the executive director of the Tuscaloosa County Industrial Development Authority.
“International Automotive Components is a valued part of Tuscaloosa County’s automotive sector,” Winningham said. “We are grateful for IAC’s investment in our community and the career opportunities available to our area workforce as a result of their investment.”
“The City of Anniston is excited that IAC has made the decision to expand here. I have enjoyed working with the leadership at IAC, the Calhoun County EDC, and the state of Alabama to get this project finalized,” said Anniston Mayor Jack Draper. “This is even further evidence that Anniston is indeed open for business.”
Only Michigan has more automobile manufacturing jobs than the state of Alabama. Honda, Mercedes, Hyundai, Polaris, Toyota and soon Mazda all have major automobile assembly plants in the state of Alabama.