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In the Weeds: Sen. Richard Shelby sets service record and talks appropriations

By TODD STACY, Alabama Daily News

U.S. Senator Richard Shelby is now the longest-serving senator from the state of Alabama in history. Today (Sunday), Shelby has now served 11,748 days in the U.S. Senate, surpassing former Senator John Sparkman’s record of 11,747 days.

That’s 32 years and 59 days in the Senate as of Sunday.

While setting the length of service record is certainly an accomplishment unto itself, it’s the substance of those 32 years that has defined Shelby’s legacy as a prolific appropriator of funds back to his home state. Leveraging his influence on the Senate Appropriations Committee, Shelby has been responsible for dozens of major federal spending project throughout the state. Just to name a few recent ones: the build up of missile defense engineering in Huntsville; a next-generation comprehensive cancer research center at UAB; a new USDA soil laboratory at Auburn; funds to dredge the shipping channel at the Port of Mobile.

Last April, Shelby reached the pinnacle of his long career by ascending to the chairmanship of the Appropriations Committee. For eager constituents back home, the move signaled perhaps even more goodies could be delivered back home, and that’s probably true. But for Shelby, taking the reins of the committee meant an opportunity to reform the long-broken appropriations process.

I wrote about Shelby’s plan to fix appropriations last year, and I have to say the senator called his shot. By September, the Senate had cleared spending bills making up 75 percent of the discretionary budget – a feat not seen for 20 years. But as the debate over border security got more and more heated, other appropriations measures got caught up in the fray.

When I sat down with Shelby for this “In the Weeds” podcast, he was in the midst of negotiating a budget deal that would keep the federal government open and find a balance on the question of border wall funding. Days later, Shelby and fellow appropriators reached that deal, and eventually Congress passed the rest of the spending measures for the Fiscal Year.

Though our interview is a bit dated with talk of the State of the Union, it’s also fascinating. Shelby talked about how and why he went on the Appropriations Committee in the first place, how he went about his mission to fix the federal spending process, his vast network of former staffers (some of whom have come back to the Shelby office), and lots more in our 20-min talk.

Thank you to Sen. Shelby and his staff for graciously allowing me some time during a terribly busy week. Enjoy.

Listen to the podcast below or find it on iTunes HERE.

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