Alabama House Members Split Votes on Spending and Tax Cut Package

WASHINGTON – Alabama’s members of the U.S. House of Representatives split votes on a package of eight appropriations bills (HR 1865) that would fund non-defense agencies and departments for the remaining nine months of fiscal 2020

The package passed Dec. 17 on a vote of 297-120. It would approve the funding at an annualized level of $632 billion. The bill also would raise the minimum age for buying tobacco products from 18 to 21 years, fund federal gun-violence research for the first time since 1996 and repeal the Affordable Care Act’s “Cadillac tax” on high-end insurance plans and excise tax on sales of medical devices. In addition, the bill would preserve coal miners’ health care and pension benefits; provide election-security grants to states; reauthorize the Export-Import Bank and Terrorism Risk Insurance Program for seven years each; prohibit pay raises for members of Congress while increasing House members’ staff budgets; grant federal civilian workers a 3.1% pay raise; and fund two carbon-free nuclear-energy reactors by the mid-2020s while boosting outlays for renewable energy development and climate research.

Kay Granger, R-Texas, said the bill “provides funding to the National Institutes of Health to continue their groundbreaking research in the areas of Alzheimer’s disease and cancer research. It combats the opioid and methamphetamine epidemic by providing funds for prevention, treatment, recovery and research into alternative therapies for pain management.”

Chip Roy, R-Texas, said the bill “changes the tobacco age nationwide, turning federalism on its head, with nary a whimper from Republicans who like to talk about the 10th Amendment in speeches back home. The bill funds bureaucrats who wish to target your Second Amendment rights. It funds abortion through Obamacare plans.”

A yes vote was to pass the bill.


Voting yes: Martha Roby, R-2, Robert Aderholt, R-4, and Terri Sewell,


Voting no: Bradley Byrne, R-1, Mike Rogers, R-3, Mo Brooks, R-5, and Gary Palmer, R-6

Here’s how area members of Congress voted on other major issues during the legislative week ending Dec. 20.


Setting New Rules for North American Trade

Voting 385 for and 41 against, the House on Dec. 19 passed a bill (HR 5430) giving congressional approval to the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which would replace the 25-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement as the framework for commerce among the three countries.

The agreement requires Mexico to guarantee workers the right to join unions and engage in collective bargaining; authorizes fast-track probes of labor violations in Mexico and factory-specific penalties when transgressions are found; gives U.S. dairy and poultry farmers and, to a lesser extent, winemakers more access to Canadian markets; raises environmental standards but does not address climate change; reduces patent protections for certain pharmaceuticals; expands domestic-content rules to benefit automakers and parts manufacturers in the three countries; sets wage requirements that benefit U.S. and Canadian auto factories over those in Mexico; prohibits duties on digital products including music and e-books; and protects Internet companies against liability for their users’ content.

Kevin Brady, R-Texas, said the agreement “will set the stage for billions more in economic activity. It creates, for the first time, rules for competing in the digital economy … ends the race to the bottom created by what had been Mexico’s poor labor laws … (and) best of all, is enforceable, allowing us to challenge violations and to stop countries from blocking these challenges, holding Mexico and Canada accountable for these new rules.”

Andy Levin, D-Mich., said the agreement “will not be enough to overhaul the entrenched system in Mexico that denies workers their rights, keeps wages unconscionably low and, consequently, incentivizes companies to ship jobs to Mexico.”

A yes vote was to approve the trade agreement.


Voting yes: Byrne, Roby, Rogers, Aderholt, Brooks, Palmer, Sewell

Voting no: None

Raising Cap on State and Local Tax Deductions

Voting 218 for and 206 against, the House on Dec. 19 passed a bill (HR 5377) that would temporarily lift the 2017 tax law’s cap on deductions for state and local taxes (SALT). To offset the resulting loss in Treasury revenue, the bill would raise the top income tax rate for individuals from 37% percent to 39.6%for the 2020-2025 tax years and lower income thresholds at which the top rate takes effect.

The bill would raise the SALT cap in 2019 from $10,000 to $20,000 for married couples filing jointly and from $5,000 to $10,000 for married taxpayers filing separately and eliminate it for all taxpayers in 2020 and 2021, allowing it to return in 2023. In addition, the bill would permanently increase from $250 to $500 the tax deduction for teachers buying school supplies and index the deduction for inflation. The bill also would create a permanent $500 deduction indexed for inflation for work-related expenses by first responders including firefighters, police officers, paramedics and emergency technicians. The bill is projected to increase federal revenue by $2.4 billion between 2020 and 2029.

Norma Torres, D-Calif., said: “In 2017, the Republicans gave away almost $2 trillion in tax cuts to corporations and the wealthy. They paid for this tax scam on the backs of hardworking American families. Thirty-six million middle-class families saw their taxes increase” as a result of the cap on SALT deductions.

Tom Cole, R-Okla., said: “This is not a middle-class bill. This is not even an upper-middle-class bill. This is a bill for pretty wealthy people. Ninety-six percent of the benefits go to households that make more than $200,000 a year.”

A yes vote was to pass the bill.


Voting yes: Sewell

Voting no: Byrne, Roby, Rogers, Aderholt, Brooks, Palmer 

Retaining Deduction Cap for the Ultra-Rich

Voting 388 for and 36 against, the House on Dec. 19 approved a Republican amendment to HR 5377 (above) that would retain the $10,000 cap on deductions for state and local taxes for taxpayers earning $100 million or more per year and use the resulting revenue to fund work-related tax deductions for teachers and first responders.

A yes vote supported the amendment.


Voting yes: Byrne, Roby, Rogers, Aderholt, Brooks, Palmer and Sewell

Voting no: None


Approving $738 Billion for Military in 2020

Voting 86 for and eight against, the Senate on Dec 17 gave final congressional approval to a $738 billion military policy budget (S 1790) for fiscal 2020, up $23 billion from 2019.

The bill includes a repeal of the so-called “widow’s tax,” sponsored by Alabama Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala. The “widow’s tax” affects spouses of military men and women who were killed or disabled on active duty or during training. It prevents them from collecting the full amount for which they are eligible under a death benefit and a retirement program, even when retired service members elected to pay into that program.

The rules affect an estimated 67,000 surviving military spouses, 2,000 of them in Alabama, Jones stated in a press release.

The bill also authorizes $71.5 billion for combat operations and at least $57 billion for active-duty and retiree health care; sets a 3.1 percent pay raise for uniformed personnel; creates the U.S. Space Force as the sixth branch of the military; establishes 12 weeks’ paid family and medical leave for the federal civilian workforce; confronts global warming as a national-security threat; requires Pentagon strategies for countering Russian interference in U.S. elections; and funds programs for military victims of sexual assault.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said: “For the third consecutive year, President Trump and Republicans in Congress will deliver on our commitment to continue rebuilding America’s military after nearly a decade of forced belt-tightening.”

Rand Paul, R-Ky., said: “We spend more on our military than the next seven largest militaries combined. Over the past six years, military spending has risen over $120 billion. Many so-called conservatives will hail this bloated military spending, but in truth, there is nothing fiscally conservative about borrowing money from China to pay for our military.”

A yes vote was to approve the fiscal 2020 military budget.


Voting yes: Richard Shelby, R, and Doug Jones, D

Voting no: None


Congress has completed its legislative year and will reconvene Jan. 6 for the Second Session of the 116th Congress.