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Senate clears Defense, Health appropriations; Shelby touts major wins for Alabama

By TODD STACY, Alabama Daily News

The U.S. Senate on Tuesday approved a major $854 billion appropriations bill that funds the military and a wide range of federal agencies, including the Department of Education, Department of Labor and Department Health and Human Services.

The measure includes $675 billion for the Department of Defense and boosts military pay by 2.6 percent, the largest pay raise in nine years. The bill also provides a five percent boost for the National Institutes of Health.

Senators approved the bill 93-7. The measure now goes to the House, where lawmakers are expected to approve it next week, days ahead of a Sept. 30 deadline for a government shutdown. The bill contains a continuing resolution funding the government at current levels through December 7 for any appropriations bills not enacted before October 1, the end of the fiscal year.

Once this latest minibus is signed into law by President Trump, lawmakers will have fully funded 75 percent of the federal government. Should Congress also pass the transportation and agriculture appropriations bill currently under negotiation in the House, as much as 90 percent of the government will be fully funded.

The last time Congress enacted such a large portion of appropriations legislation on time was 1997, according to Pew Research.

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Sen. Richard Shelby, Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, marked the significance of the occasion in a speech from the Senate floor.

“We are going to make the appropriations trains run again,” Shelby said. “It will be the first time in a decade that our military will not be operating under a continuing resolution at the beginning of a new fiscal year.

“What a remarkable turn of events from just six months ago, when the entire government was funded in one omnibus spending package – six months behind schedule.”

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Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations panel, said he was pleased that the compromise bill eliminates contentious policy riders that he and other lawmakers call “poison pills.” Such riders frequently lead to a spending bill’s defeat even as lawmakers from both parties agree on a vast majority of spending priorities.

“We did our job and focused on what we should be doing — making responsible, thoughtful decisions about how to fund these federal agencies and leaving controversial policy issues out of it,” Leahy said in a refrain that has become familiar on the Senate floor in recent weeks as Leahy, Shelby and other leaders fend off partisan proposals.

The bill contains funding for many Alabama priorities, from national defense to health and education programs.

“Addressing our nation’s health and education needs is vital to the overall well-being of the American people,” Shelby said. “This historic legislation further highlights Alabama’s strong national defense capabilities and provides our state with the opportunity to continue producing essential tools to support our men and women in uniform.  I am confident that this legislation will allow our defense programs to remain of the highest caliber.”

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The following is information from the Senate Appropriations Committee and Chairman Richard Shelby’s office.

The legislation includes the following provisions impacting health and education programs impacting Alabama:

  • $39.084 billion, a $2 billion increase, for the National Institutes of Health.
  • Opioid Funding – $3.8 billion, an increase of $206 million above FY2018. This level includes $1.5 billion for the State Opioid Response grant in SAMHSA, replacing the sun-setting 21st Century CURES funds, and maintains 15 percent set-aside to the most impacted states and $50 million for Tribes. Additional funding includes:
    • $65 million increase for Community Health Center opioid efforts;
    • $50 million increase for Behavioral Health Clinics;
    • $500 million to continue NIH research related to opioids and pain management.  In addition, NIH will spend $774 million, a $58 million increase.
  • $440 million for the Charter Schools Program, an increase of $40 million.
  • $325 million for the Children’s Hospital Graduate Medical Education Program, an increase of $10 million. The President’s Budget proposed to eliminate this program.
  • $20 million for HRSA’s Delta States Rural Development Network Grant program, an increase of $6 million.  This level includes $8 million, an increase of $4 million, to help small rural hospitals improve financial and operational performance.
  • $317.79 million for HRSA’s Rural Health programs, an increase of $27 million.
  • $6.14 billion included for NIH’s National Cancer Institute, an increase of $186.9 million.
  • $22.8 million for poison control centers, an increase of $2 million.
  • $7.5 million for CDC Lupus Patient Registry, an increase of $1 million.

The legislation includes the following provisions impacting the production and use of missiles and helicopters in the Wiregrass region:

  • An additional $95 million for Future Vertical Lift research, which will help accelerate development of helicopters flown at Fort Rucker.
  • $10 million to upgrade Navy MH-60 Seahawk helicopters.
  • $1.0 billion for Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missiles.
  • $111 million for Long Range Anti-Ship Missiles (LRASMs). The measure also encourages the Navy to evaluate the capabilities and costs of a surface-launched LRASM.
  • $307 million for Joint Air-to-Ground Missiles (JAGMs).
  • $663 million for Joint Air-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSMs), which recently made its debut in strikes on Syria in response to their use of chemical weapons.
  • $484 million for Hellfire missiles, which are made in Troy and used for training at Fort Rucker.
  • $254 million for Javelin missiles for the Army and Marine Corps.

The legislation includes the following provisions impacting North Alabama:

  • Army Research – $11.1 billion for investments in transformational technologies to address modern and future Army warfighting needs.
  • Missile Defense – $10.4 billion for the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), including $1.1 billion to support urgent MDA unfunded priorities and emergent threats.  The measure included $191 million for Standard Missile Improvements, which are built in Decatur, and supports work done by MDA at Redstone Arsenal and many local companies.
  • Directed Energy – $184 million in additional funding to further develop directed energy technology and transition these activities to both offensive and defensive capabilities.
  • Hypersonics – $664 million in additional funding to support and accelerate offensive and defensive hypersonics research and prototyping efforts.
  • Cyber – $306 million in additional funding to expand and accelerate cyber research across the Department of Defense, including $127 million for Army cybersecurity research efforts and $116 million in Missile Defense Agency cybersecurity enhancements.  The bill encourages the enhanced use of cyber red teams to address cyber intrusions that threaten our weapons systems, an area of particular excellence for Huntsville.
  • Space – $200 million in additional funding for Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) development efforts to ensure assured access to space.  United Launch Alliance (ULA), which builds rockets in Decatur, continues to be seen as the most reliable and capable space launch provider.
  • Advanced Shipbuilding Capabilities – $15 million to establish North Alabama as a center for classified, high power large-scale electron beam welding.  This technology is critical to new Navy Columbia-class submarines and many high-performance aerospace systems such as hypersonic reentry vehicles, scramjet missiles, and rocket and jet engine turbomachinery.
  • Small Glide Munitions – An additional $15 million to integrate Small Glide Munitions onto on Unmanned Aerial Systems.  This highly successful weapon is used by Special Operations Command and built in Huntsville. 

The legislation includes the following provisions impacting Anniston:

  • $276 million for Hydra rockets, which are built in Anniston and fired from Army and Marine Corps helicopters.

Funding for Army Vehicles which are overhauled and maintained at Anniston Army Depot (ANAD):

  • $2.5 billion to continue modernizing M1 Abrams tanks;
  • $393 million for Stryker vehicles, including an additional $94 million to support increased Stryker DVH A1 conversions;
  • An additional $110 million for Paladin Integrated Management artillery vehicles; and
  • $18 million in additional funding for M88A2 Hercules Improved Recovery vehicles.

The legislation includes the following provisions impacting Mobile’s shipbuilding industry:

  • Two additional Littoral Combat Ships (LCS).
  • One additional Expeditionary Fast Transport (EPF) ship.
  • An additional $700 million in Advance Procurement for LPD and LHA amphibious ships.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

As Chairman, Shelby takes on an Appropriations culture problem

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