Sen. Shelby discusses shutdown, border security at 2019 Washington Update
HUNTSVILLE — Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., visited the Von Braun Center in Huntsville to deliver his 2019 Washington update in front of hundreds Feb. 4. In his address, he touched briefly on hot issues like border security, the government shutdown and Huntsville’s growing footprint on the nation.
“What’s going on and what’s not going on in Washington—it affects this community,” Shelby said.
The senior senator spent the first few minutes of his address explaining how the recent government shutdown has impacted the Huntsville area, as well as the country as a whole.
According to Shelby, 25 percent of the government has gone without funding, a percentage which includes NASA, an economic driving force in North Alabama. As chairman of the Committee on Appropriations, Shelby said they are conferencing with the House of Representatives dealing with homeland security and six other bills that constitute the 25 percent of funding, which amounts to “hundreds of millions of dollars” and includes NASA.
“We know that right here in the Huntsville area and on up there are thousands of people not getting paid,” he said. “I will assure you, we’re going to pay you, and the sooner the better.”
Shelby, who said he spent nearly a year trying to avoid a government shutdown, described such shutdowns as “silly” and “ridiculous.”
“I know it’s about power play and everything, but nobody, in my judgment, wins on a government shutdown—nobody, whether it’s the speaker of the house, whether it’s the president, whether it’s a member of the House or Senate or whatever,” he said. “Who really loses is the American people, and our economy loses.”
Shelby added that the country’s GDP will also drop because of the shutdown, saying there is “a lot of uncertainty there.”
As far as border security goes, Shelby said he is “sure” that President Donald Trump will speak on the issue in tomorrow night’s State of the Union address. Shelby also said he agrees with the president that the United States does not protect its borders and that it is the obligation of the president as commander in chief to protect the borders. “We do not know who’s coming into this country, either legally or illegally,” he said. “They come with a visa, and nobody knows what happens to them. They come across the border from every direction, and we never find them. We understand that.”
The U.S. needs more than just a barrier of some sort, though, according to Shelby. More manpower and technology is “absolutely” necessary as well, however, Shelby said the issue has become political and that the committee needs to get input from “the professionals” who man the border.
“We fund [border security], yes, but we’re not experts,” he emphasized. “I said, let’s bring the professionals up to the committee and let them talk to us. … I think they’re going to tell us that you need a lot of things.”
A meeting with these professionals is planned for this Wednesday, and Shelby said he hopes the meeting will help those who are not experts to better understand what is needed to rectify current issues at the border.
“We owe it to the American people, I think, to secure the border and stop the bickering back and forth,” Shelby asserted. “… What I’m trying to do is get the ‘yes’ to fund the government, to move on to other things and think about next year. We did three-fourths of it, as I said. We’re that close, and I think we can do it. … I don’t think we need another government shutdown. We don’t ever need one, in my judgment.”
Shelby commended Huntsville and the surrounding region for its continuing growth and economic development. “The whole area is on fire economically,” he said. “You’re attracting everything here.” Contributing to this success is the region’s brainpower, workforce and good attitude. “In Congress, we’re doing everything we can to make the footprint of Huntsville bigger and bigger because of what you do here and what you can do here.”
Continuing with the notion of national security, Shelby touched on the FBI’s expansion to Huntsville as part of this developmental success, mentioning his recent visit to Redstone Arsenal for a briefing. Though the move takes “a lot of money,” Shelby said they are funding that money.
“We hope to deliver probably a billion dollars worth of investment for the bureau because that’s security for the American people,” Shelby said. “We’ve got to have it.”
Later in his address, Shelby addressed a question regarding the creation of the U.S. Space Command and an eventual Space Force service, saying the new service would have to go through the Armed Services Committee before facing funding from his committee.
“I’ve been hearing they’ve already pared some of it down, but if there’s going to be a Space Force, Huntsville will be the place for it,” Shelby said. “It’d bring a lot of jobs and power because you know a lot about it, and you’ve got the people here.” Shelby added, though, that he has not come out as for or against the creation of the Space Force as another force separate from the Air Force.
The Huntsville area is also a hotbed for research and development, which Shelby addressed in response to another question, noting the impact of Alabama’s colleges and universities in pushing the region forward.
“We benefit from research,” he explained. “That’s why we’re here today. That’s why Huntsville is here—the science and engineering research that went on in space and everything is ancillary to it. Most of this stuff comes out of our universities. … More research money can improve ideas. It helps. It helps the market, it helps national security, it helps us all.”
Shelby also commended North Alabama for attracting private industry to the region. He said the area has “a lot to be thankful for,” and that North Alabama not only gives a lot, but does a lot as well.
“You know it better than anybody here in North Alabama, but we need it on the whole state,” Shelby said. “You can set the example. We can use you as a prime, good example.”
In answering one question relating to the possibility of an infrastructure bill, Shelby said the issue is a subject he is keeping a close eye on, and it is part of the reason he is now a junior member of the Committee on Environment and Public Works. “That’s where the infrastructure bill will come from, and I wanted to be sitting there—if there was an infrastructure bill—on the day of distribution to make sure that Alabama was recognized,” he said.
That day has yet to come, though, Shelby said.
“Believe me, a lot of our infrastructure is crumbling,” he said. “Let’s be honest with each other. We need that. You need it, and the state’s matching a lot of that money.”
Shelby recognized infrastructure’s role in North Alabama’s growth and development, saying the spurt from Interstate 65 has contributed much to that success. Unfortunately, Shelby also noted that it would likely take “more money, more revenue, more taxes” to make an infrastructure bill happen.
Another piece of development in the works is a federal courthouse in Huntsville. Though Shelby could not give a concrete timeline of when that would manifest, he said it would be “soon.” It is currently being designed, and Shelby said the money is there for it.
“Soon is not this afternoon, but it’s all in place,” he explained. “It’s going to happen. I’d say the construction—I’m just guessing now—will probably start in a year or less. Who knows? It will be good for Huntsville. It will be a big imprint. It will be a good statement.”
Upon his return to Washington, D.C., Shelby said he hopes that the issue of the government shutdown will be solved. “If we solved the problem with the shutdown, that’ll be good. If we don’t, we’re going to be where we are, maybe worse, in a few days. Let’s hope and pray and work like the dickens, and so forth.”
Shelby is the fourth most senior member of the U.S. Senate and is in his sixth term as a senator. He has four committee assignments: the Committee on Appropriations; the Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee; the Committee on Rules and Administration; and the Committee on Environment and Public Works. Shelby has also served four terms in the U.S. House of Representatives and eight years in the Alabama legislature.