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Shelby announces that Senate Committee has advanced defense markup

Brandon Moseley

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Tuesday, U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-Alabama) conducted a committee markup of the FY2020 Department of Defense Appropriations Act.

“The Subcommittee meets this morning to consider the Department of Defense Appropriations Act for fiscal year 2020,” said Senator Shelby. “The bill recommends $622.4 billion in base Defense funding, $70.7 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations, and $1.7 billion in emergency funding.”

“The subcommittee held a number of public and classified hearings to get a complete picture of the needs of the Armed Services and intelligence community to better understand how those fit into the President’s budget request,” Sen. Shelby added. “That review has allowed Senator Durbin and me to work together to produce a strong, bipartisan bill. The bill before you continues increases in funding for our nation’s defense that meet the objectives of the National Defense Strategy by improving readiness, investing in innovation, and bolstering the combat effectiveness of the Department of Defense.”

“It provides strong support for our men and women in uniform, including a 3.1 percent pay increase – the largest in ten years,” Shelby continued. “The bill includes significant investments in both basic research and future technologies such as hypersonics, 5G, artificial intelligence, missile defense, and cybersecurity. These investments in future technologies are not only game-changers, but they are essential for our military to maintain its technological superiority. We must continue to make investments today that demonstrate our commitment to ensuring that our Armed Forces are well-trained, well-equipped, and better prepared than any other around the world. This bill does that.”

Shelby said that last year was the first time that Congress funded the military through regular order in a decade and that this is key to ensuring the United States maintains its military advantage.

“Without sustained and predictable investments to restore readiness and modernize our military, we will rapidly lose our military advantage – something we cannot afford in light of increasing national security challenges from around the globe,” Shelby said. “This year we are off to a late start but with the certainty of the budget agreement; stable, two-year funding, and the decision by all parties to eliminate poison pills, I see no reason why we cannot repeat the successes of the fiscal year 2019 appropriations process. It is only on this foundation that we will successfully complete the considerable work that lies ahead.

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Shelby thanked Ranking minority member Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) for his commitment to this framework and efforts in crafting this bill.

The proposed budget allocates money for the Army’s Future Vertical Lift (FVL) program. FVL is one of the Army’s top modernization priorities. The budget also funds the Army’s manned ground vehicle under the Next Generation Combat Vehicle (NGCV) program. The NGCV is being designed to replace the Bradley Fighting Vehicle. Hypersonics also are heavily funded in the NDAA. There is also funding for arming Stryker vehicles with 300 mm cannons.

The plan also includes funding the Next-Generation Squad Weapon (NGSW) an automatic 6.8mm rifle that will replace the M249 and M4 carbine family in infantry and other close-combat formations.
Richard Shelby is the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations and its subcommittee on Defense.

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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Congress

Jones applaudes inclusion of his anti-money laundering legislation in defense bill

The bill aims to combat illicit financial activity by terrorists, drug traffickers and other criminals. 

Eddie Burkhalter

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Sen. Doug Jones speaks during a live-streamed press briefing. (VIA SEN. DOUG JONES'S OFFICE)

U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, and a bipartisan group of three other senators applauded the inclusion of their anti-money laundering legislation in the National Defense Authorization Act. 

Jones and Sens. Mark Warner, D-Virginia, and Mike Rounds, R-South Dakota, in September 2019 introduced their Improving Laundering Laws and Increasing Comprehensive Information Tracking of Criminal Activity in Shell Holdings (ILLICIT CASH) Act which aims to combat illicit financial activity by terrorists, drug traffickers and other criminals. 

“For too long, our anti-money laundering laws haven’t kept up with the rapidly evolving methods that criminals and terrorists use for illicit financial activities,” Jones said in a statement Thursday. “Our bipartisan bill is the largest comprehensive effort in decades to improve transparency and will give prosecutors, national security officials, law enforcement, and financial institutions the modern tools they need to crack down on money laundering and terrorist financing. Its inclusion in the annual defense bill is a great step forward for the rule of law and for the security of all Americans.” 

If approved as part of the NDAA, the ILLICIT CASH Act will require shell companies, which are often used to launder money from criminal enterprises, to disclose their true owners to the U.S. Department of Treasury. It would also improve communication between law enforcement, financial institutions and regulators, according to a press release from Jones’s office.

According to research from the University of Texas and Brigham Young University, the U.S. remains one of the easiest places in the world to set up an anonymous shell company. A recent report by Global Financial Integrity found that in every state in the U.S. more information is currently required to obtain a library card than to register a company. 

“To form a company in any state in the U.S., it is not necessary to identify or provide any information about the person(s) who will ultimately be controlling the company. In some cases it isn’t even necessary to provide information about who will be managing the company and, where some information about managers (i.e. officers or directors) is required, it is very limited,” the report states. 

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“Human traffickers, terrorist groups, arms dealers, transnational criminal organizations, kleptocrats, drug cartels, and rogue regimes have all used U.S.-registered shell companies to hide their identities and facilitate illicit activities,” the press release reads. “Meanwhile, U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies find it increasingly difficult to investigate these illicit financial networks without access to information about the beneficial ownership of corporate entities involved.” 

The ILLICIT CASH Act includes the following elements: 

  • Setting national exam and supervision priorities to improve AML-CFT outcomes and better target federal resources in the effort to identify evolving criminal and national security threats.
  • Establishing federal disclosure requirements of beneficial ownership information that will be maintained in a comprehensive federal registry, with strict privacy protections, accessible by federal and local law enforcement.
  • Improving the recruitment and retention of top talent to combat money laundering and terrorism by providing special hiring authority at the Department of Treasury and FinCEN.  
  • Prioritizing innovation and technology in AML-CFT monitoring and reporting through the establishment of a new Subcommittee on Innovation and Technology, updated guidance on financial technology risk assessments, and a Financial Crimes Tech Symposium.
  • Facilitating communication and information sharing between FinCEN, national security agencies, law enforcement and financial institutions through the establishment of new programs and reporting mechanisms.  
  • Requiring law enforcement agencies and regulators to formally review regulations within the Bank Secrecy Act to ensure regulations, guidance, reports and records are highly useful in countering financial crime. 
  • Requiring streamlined data and real time reporting of suspicious activity reports, and requiring law enforcement to coordinate with financial regulators to provide periodic feedback to financial institutions on their suspicious activity reporting.
  • Prioritizing the protection of personally identifying information while establishing a clear path for financial institutions to share AML-CFT information for the purposes of identifying suspicious activity.
  • Preventing foreign banks from obstructing money laundering or terrorist financing investigations by requiring these banks to produce records in a manner that establishes their authenticity and reliability for evidentiary purposes, and compelling them to comply with subpoenas. This legislation also authorizes contempt sanctions for banks that fail to comply and increase penalties on repeat BSA violators. 
  • Ensuring the inclusion of current and future payment systems in the AML-CFT regime by updating the definition of “coins and currency” to include digital currency.

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Congress

Mike Rogers will be most powerful Republican in the House on national defense

Rogers currently serves as the ranking member on the House Committee on Homeland Security.

Brandon Moseley

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Congressman Mike Rogers, R-Alabama

Congressman Mike Rogers, R-Alabama, has been elected the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee by the House GOP Steering Committee for the next Congress.

Rogers currently serves as the ranking member on the House Committee on Homeland Security. Rogers defeated Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, the ranking member of the House Strategic Forces subcommittee, and Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Virginia, in the race.

The full House GOP conference is expected to ratify the Steering Committee’s decision in the coming days.

Current ranking member Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, is retiring.

The House Armed Services Committee is tasked with crafting the National Defense Authorization Act. Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California, recently named Rogers a conferee on the conference committee tasked with preparing the 2021 NDAA.

“I am honored to once again be named an NDAA Conferee,” Rogers said. “Being at the table to negotiate the NDAA is more important than ever. With more threats to our great nation every day, I will continue to advocate for a strong National Defense.”

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Rogers was a strong proponent of creating the Space Force as a new military branch.

Democrats were able to narrowly maintain control of the U.S. House of Representatives after the 2020 elections. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, leads one of the smallest majorities anyone has had in the House since World War II. That, and if the Republicans can hold onto their majority in the Senate, means that Republicans will have a sizeable influence on defense policy during the Biden presidency.

If Republicans can pick up seats in the 2022 midterms, Rogers presumably would chair the House Armed Services Committee. Under House GOP rules, a member can be a ranking member or a chairman of a committee for just three terms until they are term-limited out of that role.

The popular Rogers easily defeated his Democratic challenger in the 2020 election to win his 10th term representing Alabama’s 3rd Congressional District.

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Health

Alabama breaks daily COVID-19 case, hospitalization record again Thursday

Coronavirus hospitalizations reached another record high for the fourth time in so many days.

Eddie Burkhalter

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An aerial view of Huntsville and Huntsville Hospital, where medical staff are treating a record number of COVID-19 patients.

For a second straight day, Alabama’s daily COVID-19 case count was at a record high on Thursday, and coronavirus hospitalizations reached another record high for the fourth time in so many days.

The Alabama Department of Public Health reported 3,531 new cases Thursday, and the state has averaged 2,461 cases each day for the last two weeks, a 28 percent increase over the previous two weeks. 

The latest White House Coronavirus Task Force state report for Alabama, released Sunday, shows that shows 90 percent of Alabama counties had moderate or high levels of community transmission last week, while 64 percent had high transmission levels. The state ranked 19th highest in the percentage of tests that were positive. 

Coronavirus is surging across the country, with cases per day increasing more than seven times the levels seen in the U.S. before the summer surge, and hospitalizations are three times as high now as then, according to the report. The U.S. reported record high cases and deaths Wednesday. 

“It must be made clear that if you are over 65 or have significant health conditions, you should not enter any indoor public spaces where anyone is unmasked due to the immediate risk to your health,” the report states. “You should have groceries and medications delivered.” 

The report warns that for those under 40 “you need to assume you became infected during the Thanksgiving period” if you gathered beyond your immediate household. 

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“Most likely, you will not have symptoms; however, you are dangerous to others, and you must isolate away from anyone at increased risk,” the report continues. 

The number of people in Alabama hospitals with COVID-19 on Thursday reached 1,827. That’s nearly 40 percent higher than two weeks ago. Huntsville Hospital had a record-high 338 COVID-19 patients on Thursday, after a string of record-setting daily hospitalizations. UAB Hospital was caring for a record 127 COVID-19 patients Wednesday and 125 on Thursday.

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Testing statewide remains low. The average positivity rate over the last week was 34 percent. Public health experts say it should be below 5 percent to ensure adequate testing is being done to prevent cases from going undetected. 

The state averaged 8,517 tests each day over the last two weeks, down from the two week average of 9,407 recorded on Nov. 26.

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National

U.S. Chamber announces support for a coronavirus aid bill before Christmas

The Chamber is supporting a $908 billion bipartisan stimulus proposal.

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce said Wednesday that it strongly supports coronavirus relief legislation introduced by a bipartisan group of lawmakers Tuesday.

“For pandemic relief to become law, it must be bipartisan,” said Neil Bradley, the executive vice president and chief policy officer for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “We are greatly encouraged that a bipartisan group of House and Senate members along with the Problem Solvers Caucus have released an outline that can potentially break the partisan gridlock that has prevented long-overdue pandemic relief. Between this effort and the recent revisions to the Senate Republican proposal — which maintains critical elements especially with respect to liability protection — we believe there is an opportunity for Republicans and Democrats to negotiate a bill that can become law.”

While it is critical that lawmakers get the details right, time is of the essence. American families cannot wait until next year, Bradley said.

“The Chamber urges lawmakers to support bipartisan efforts to enact pandemic relief in the coming weeks,” he said. “We also urge lawmakers to work with the business community to ensure that relief reaches small businesses as soon as possible and that liability reforms provide meaningful protections like in the ‘Safe to Work Act’.”

Before the election, House Democrats passed a $2.2 trillion stimulus package that included stimulus checks for every family in America. That costly package was dead on arrival in the Republican-controlled Senate like their earlier $4.4 trillion HEROES Act proposal, which they passed in the early summer. Senate Republicans supported a $500 billion “skinny” package that failed because Senate Democrats filibustered. Senate Democrats also killed a $500 billion extension of the Payroll Protection Program.

The $908 billion bipartisan stimulus proposal does not mail out a second round of checks to every family like the CARES Act did. To get Democratic support, this bill — unlike the two Republican bills — does include $160 billion in support for state and local governments. Small businesses would receive $288 billion, at least partially through the Paycheck Protection Program. The PPP loans would keep people on payrolls through the holiday season and into next year. The unemployed would be paid an additional $300 per week in federal unemployment benefits for four months, totaling $180 billion. There is also $82 billion earmarked for education and $16 billion for vaccine development and distribution.

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The latest bipartisan proposal was put together in the Senate by Democratic Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, Mark Warner of Virginia and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, along with Independent Sen. Angus King of Maine and Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine and Mitt Romney of Utah.

In the House of Representatives, it is supported by Democrats Dean Phillips of Minnesota, Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey and Abigail Spanberger of Virginia, and Republicans Fred Upton of Michigan, Tom Reed of New York, Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio and Dusty Johnson of South Dakota.

In a joint news conference, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, said that they could support the legislation but that they want some tweaks to it. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, called the bill a “waste of time,” saying that he thought it was too big and is still supporting his $500 billion stimulus bill. Republicans say they are concerned that a large third stimulus bill would only add to the debt.

The incoming Biden administration’s transition team is also supporting the bill.

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The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is the world’s largest business organization representing companies of all sizes across every sector of the economy. Members range from the small businesses and local chambers of commerce that line the main streets of America to leading industry associations and large corporations.

(Original reporting by Newsweek, Fox News, and CBS News contributed to this report.)

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