WASHINGTON — All of Alabama’s representatives in Washington last week voted in favor of a bill to appropriate $8.3 billion for public-health initiatives to counter the spread of the coronavirus in the United States while helping the U.S. diplomatic community cope with the epidemic overseas.
The vote cut across party lines, being passed by the House and the Senate and signed by the president in just days.
U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne, who ran in the Republican primary for Senate last week, was absent for the vote. But the House passed the bill in a vote of 415-2 on Wednesday and the Senate passed it on a vote of 96-1 on Thursday before President Trump signed it Friday.
As emergency spending, the outlay would be added to the national debt. The bill funding includes: up to $4 billion for developing a vaccine and diagnostic and therapeutic procedures and training caregivers; $2.2 billion for preparedness including the manufacture and delivery of test kits, ventilators and respirators; $950 million for additional state and local preparedness; unspecified sums for building surge capacity at local hospitals and clinics including community health centers; $264 million to operate consular offices and cover evacuation costs; $435 million in contributions to global health funds; $300 million for international humanitarian aid; $250 million for economic and security measures in countries destabilized by the virus; and $1 million for inspector-general oversight of the government’s overseas coronavirus response.
The bill also ensures seniors’ access to Medicare-funded telemedicine services and subsidizes billions of dollars in low-interest loans to help small businesses cope with economic losses resulting from the coronavirus outbreak.
Alabama’s Sen. Richard Shelby, a Republican, said the bill “provides a surge in funding at every level — local, state, federal and international — to meet the growing challenge that we face.”
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said the bill is “vastly different from the $1.25 billion grossly inadequate proposal from the Trump administration that was so poorly thought out that both Republicans and Democrats said it made no sense.”
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., objected to all of the spending in the bill being added to annual deficits rather than offset by cuts elsewhere in the budget. He was the only senator who voted against the bill. Republicans Andy Biggs of Arizona and Ken Buck of Colorado were the House members voting against the bill.
Here’s how area members of Congress voted on major issues during the legislative week ending March 6.
Adding Airport Security to Civil Service:
Voting 230 for and 171 against, the House on March 5 passed a bill (HR 1140) that would include Transportation Security Administration employees in the civil service personnel system while granting them full collective bargaining rights, paid medical and family leave, the right to appeal disciplinary actions to an independent panel and other benefits and job protections available to nearly all other federal civilian employees.
The TSA was established in the wake of 9/11, and most of its 45,000 employees work as passenger screeners at airports. TSA pay levels and benefits, which are set by the agency administrator rather than “Schedule 5” civil service rules, lag behind those for other federal employees, resulting in a workforce with high turnover and low morale. But defenders say current personnel rules enable the agency to adapt quickly to changing national-security threats. Although TSA workers are represented by the American Federation of Government Employees, their collective-bargaining rights have been restricted by Congress.
Mary Gay Scanlon, D-Pa., said underpaying and overworking airport screeners “is a greater threat to national security than paying a fair wage to keep Americans safe … . Whether in business, law or government, you get what you pay for, and I, for one, do not believe that the security of our airports and skies or the lives of the traveling public are something we should be looking to get a bargain on.”
Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz., said “placing the screener workforce under (civil service rules) would tie the agency’s hands related to national security policy, workforce management and collective bargaining. (The bill) amounts to a forced unionization of the TSA workforce and a forced designation of the union (the AFGE) that will represent that workforce.”
A yes vote was to send the bill to the Senate.
Voting yes: Terri Sewell, D-7
Voting no: Byrne, Martha Roby, R-2, Mike Rogers, R-3, Robert Aderholt, R-4, Mo Brooks, R-5, Gary Palmer, R-6
Barring Sexual Predators From Airport Screening:
Voting 227 for and 175 against, the House on March 5 added Republican-sponsored language to HR 1140 (above) that would prohibit the Transportation Security Administration from hiring workers with criminal histories, including crimes related to terrorism and sexual misconduct. Critics said civil service hiring rules already would disqualify such individuals from TSA employment.
A yes vote was in support of the GOP motion.
Voting yes: Byrne, Roby, Rogers, Aderholt, Brooks, Palmer
Voting no: Sewell
Starting Debate on Energy Bill:
The Senate on March 4 voted, 90 for and four against, to start debate on a bipartisan bill (S 2657) that would marshal government and private resources to upgrade all energy sectors of the U.S. economy.
The bill would further the development of technologies for the capture and underground storage of carbon-dioxide emissions from industrial sites and coal-burning power plants; promote wind, solar, geothermal and other sources of renewable energy; boost technologies for stockpiling supplies of renewable energy including hydropower; and incentivize “smart” weatherization technologies to improve the energy efficiency of commercial and government buildings and schools. The bill also includes measures to tighten the security of the nation’s power grid, reduce dependence on foreign-supplied rare minerals used to build military weapons and develop a more skilled and better educated energy workforce.
Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, called nuclear energy “our nation’s largest and most reliable source of zero-emission electricity,” and said the bill would spur development of “advanced reactors to help restore our national leadership and keep our domestic (nuclear) industry competitive with the likes of Russia and China.”
Another supporter, Tom Udall, D-N.M., voiced support for certain provisions but said the overall bill fails “to set targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to the levels required to meet global targets or transition us to a clean energy economy, which is where we need to head, and we need to be heading there fast.”
No senator spoke against starting debate on the bill.
A yes vote was to advance the bill.
Voting yes: Shelby
Voting no: None
Not voting: Jones
KEY VOTES AHEAD
The House in the week of March 9 will take up bills that would renew parts of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and prohibit President Trump from closing U.S. borders to travelers from Muslim-majority countries. The Senate will continue to debate an energy bill.