U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Montrose, briefed Business Council of Alabama Federal Affairs Committee members on his first few months in the nation’s capital as the newest member of the Alabama congressional delegation today, touching on economic, military, and political issues.
Byrne, elected in a December special election from the 1st Congressional District to succeed U.S. Rep. Jo Bonner, R-Mobile, was assigned to the House Armed Services and the House Natural Resources committees, and two subcommittees of each committee.
Byrne is the third Alabama member of Congress on the important House Armed Services Committee that affects Alabama’s significant military presence and its financial impact.
He spoke with BCA committee members in a conference call and answered questions. Byrne’s first assessment was of the state’s other members of Congress.
“We have a great delegation and we all work together,” Byrne said. House members meet once a month and between formal meetings discuss issues important to each district, he said.
“They are great for the state of Alabama,” Byrne said.
Significant issues to conference call participants include calls for a higher federal minimum wage and a presidential decision to change overtime provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act, decisions that could increase the cost of doing business and even result in some employers reducing employment or cutting hours.
“In my business, industry, it will cause the loss of jobs,” said Charles Nailen Jr. of BBG Specialty Foods, a fast-food franchise company in Dothan.
Byrne said the overtime debate is in the Senate where President Obama’s political party holds a majority, but he doubts a minimum wage bill will make it to the House floor where Republicans command. “I’m opposed to doing anything to the minimum wage because I know what it would do to the economy and businesses like yours,” he told Nailen.
President George Bush revised the overtime law in 2004, raising the salary cut-off point for overtime to $455 per week, a change that resulted in classifying more workers as managers and avoided paying for time-and-a-half in excess of 40 hours.
Byrne said his assignment to the House Armed Services Committee is important to Alabama’s four military bases, their multi-billion-dollar financial impact on the state, and their importance to the nation’s defense, which Byrne said is government’s first responsibility.
“I’m very concerned about the cutback in armed services in general,” Byrne said of President Obama’s desire to cut military spending. “It puts America in a weakened position.”
Among proposed cuts are construction of fewer navy Littoral Combat Ships, from 52 to 32, Byrne said, a decision if finalized will hurt the Austal shipbuilding facility in Mobile. Byrne said he met with Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, who is supportive of the littoral ships. “But that doesn’t mean we can rest on it,” Byrne said.
Byrne said options to the Navy include modifying existing the ship plans. “I don’t doubt that any modification they come up with can’t be handled by the shipyard in Mobile,” Byrne said.
Byrne said Mabus will be in Mobile on Saturday for a ship christening. And Mobile will have another opportunity to shine when the U.S. Naval Academy plays the University of South Alabama in football in Mobile on Nov. 28.
“We’ll have the brass from the Navy in our area,” Byrne said. “We’ll use every opportunity to showcase our shipyard.”
As for another round of Base Realignment and Closing, Byrne said the House delegation has discussed “whether we want to do another” round of BRAC.
“I’m not going to be for BRAC if it weakens our national defense,” he said. “Frankly, I think it may be going in that direction. We are going to work together to do what we can to protect these assets.”
Byrne said President Obama wants more infrastructure investment but there has to be a way to pay for those roads and bridges. “I’ve heard there is a tax increase involved in his plan but that has no chance of going anywhere in the House,” he said. “If the president’s proposal is a non-starter we Republicans need to come up with our proposal.”
Byrne said state transportation issues include a new Interstate 10 bridge over Mobile Bay, which, he said, “I’m a strong proponent of that. This is a national issue and we’re going to have come up with a national solution.”
Other important projects are an I-10 connector from Montgomery, the northern Beltline in Birmingham, and a new Redstone Arsenal road in Huntsville.
The U.S. Senate voted in January to delay new flood insurance rates for four years and the House last week, with Byrne voting for it, passed the measure 306 to 91, preventing astronomical flood insurance premium increases.
“When those (Federal Emergency Management Agency) flood maps come out, the new ones, we were going to see huge increases, even areas that never flooded were in jeopardy of increased rates,” Byrne said. “I don’t think our battle is over on this.”