Sen. Doug Jones has had a busy week in the United State Senate, and members of his chamber traditionally tend to be subdued in any remarks they make publicly about “the other body,” the House of Representatives. But the Alabama Democrat couldn’t resist getting in a little dig at the House, where an investigation into articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump has been dominating headlines and time on cable news channels.
“I really wish that, rather than tuning in to partisan bickering over in the House of Representatives, that the people had been watching the Senate floor this week and last week to see what all we have done in a bipartisan way, and the accomplishments we have done in spite of everything going on,” Jones said at the beginning of a teleconference with Alabama reporters Thursday.
Jones was more interested in talking about two pieces of legislation he’s pushed through the Senate with help from Republican colleagues.
One is an act added to the coming year’s defense appropriations bill that will end a longstanding tax that greatly reduced survivors’ benefits to families of military personnel killed in action; the other assures historically black colleges and universities, or HBCUs, of federal funding on a permanent basis — eliminating year-to-year and stopgap funding measures that have been the norm for several years.
The Military Widows Tax Elimination Act repeals a reduction in benefits for Gold Star families that’s been in place since 1972, despite numerous efforts to remove it. The act, co-sponsored by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, passed the Senate by a 94-0 vote. The reason previous efforts to repeal the reduction was simple, Jones said: money.
“In the past, it has been a question of dollars and cents. People put the budget and the dollars and cents over their commitment to these military families,” Jones said, adding that the total effect on the national budget amounted to about $500 million a year. “This year was different. We made it a point to make this a top priority in our office…. We built an incredible array of support in the Senate and the House that kind of just fed off each other.”
The tax effectively reduced the amount of survivors’ benefits that families had paid for through a form of insurance over the career of the military member. Jones said families will receive an additional $12,000 per year on average.
The overall defense appropriations bill is expected to pass in the House and be presented to Trump for his signature next week.
Jones also announced the Senate passage of the Fostering Undergraduate Talent by Unlocking Resources for Education (FUTURE) Act, which restores federal funding for HBCUs and minority-serving institutions and makes the funding permanent. The bill, which passed both chambers of Congress on Tuesday, gives the institutions $255 million per year. That funding had expired at the end of the previous fiscal year on Sept. 30. The act was an amended version of the bill that Jones introduced earlier in the year along with co-sponsor Sen. Tim Scott, R-South Carolina. Previously, Jones had proposed increasing the funding to $300 million yearly, but the measure failed to pass the Senate.
The FUTURE Act will directly benefit 13 HBCUs in Alabama.
The act also includes provisions that simplify applications under the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA) program, made possible by a provision that now allows the Internal Revenue Service to share income information with the Department of Education, with the permission of the applicants. The administrative savings will help pay for the FUTURE Act, Jones said in a press statement issued last week.
“This means that HBCUs and MSIs will now have the financial stability to plan for the future for generations of students to come,” Jones said.
Both Parties Made a Serious Process Too Political
As for the impeachment process, Jones said he expects a partisan vote in the House to impeach Trump.
“It’s unfortunate that both Democrats and Republicans have made what’s a very serious process in the House so political,” he said. “I think my bigger disappointment is that we’re going forward without hearing some very important people who could share some important light one way or another on the facts surrounding the allegations that have been made — the secretary of state, the chief of staff, the energy secretary, the national security advisor — and there’s virtually no documents that we’ve been provided by the White House, only a couple of transcripts or conversations.”
Jones said he’s unsure whether an impeachment trial in the Senate would be a drawn-out affair with many witnesses, or relatively brief with both sides presenting arguments only, followed by an up-or-down vote.
“I don’t believe there’s been any real discussions between Senator [Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell and Sen. [Minority Leader Chuck] Schumer about what a trial would look like at this point,” Jones said.