On a recent trip to Washington DC, I found myself at a table with Senator Richard Shelby and Congresswoman Terri Sewell. We were there to present Sen. Shelby with a resolution honoring his 36 years of service to the residents of Alabama and to discuss appropriations that would benefit Alabamians in the upcoming federal spending bill.
At a glance, Congresswoman Sewell and Sen. Shelby might seem like an unlikely pair from different ends of the political spectrum. However, in this meeting I was reminded of the power of bipartisanship and how vital it is for a functioning democracy. The gridlock and partisan brinkmanship we’ve witnessed in recent years in Congress has disproportionately impacted everyday people and is only about scoring cheap points in the news cycle. Frankly, this trend has been a disservice to every single American, especially those in states that have less private industry and job opportunities.
If Alabamians are not going to be left out of federal budgets, all the members of the Alabama Congressional Delegation must be lockstep in bipartisan efforts to bring federal dollars to Alabama. If not, Alabamians will be marginalized, while federal dollars go to other states — only creating more disparity in the amount of opportunities that exist for Alabama versus better-funded states. It’s a familiar song and dance we’ve seen lately: elected representatives posturing and refusing to support something only to later get on stage and take some credit when the time comes to break ground. In the race to be the most extreme, there are no winners.
Being able to come to some sort of compromise in order to bring resources to the people you represent should be paramount for our elected leaders in Washington. What we have now is an outgoing Senator with over 36 years of experience that has been willing to do whatever possible to bring economic change to Alabama’s residents. Most recently, he played a crucial role in securing funding for an FBI headquarters at Redstone Arsenal and for the dredging and modernization of the Mobile Bay, a project that will spark generational change for the region.
Sen. Shelby also helped secure billions of dollars which will make up a large percent of Alabama’s overall economy in FY 2023. In the Birmingham region some highlights include: $55 million for the Secret Service’s National Computer Forensics Institute (NCFI), located in Hoover, to expand training opportunities for state and local law enforcement and legal/judicial professionals in computer forensics and cyber investigations; $30 million in funding for Alabama’s Northern Beltline of the Appalachian Development Highway System; $629 million for Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSAs), which continues funding for a CTSA award at UAB; $25 million in grant funding for the Regional Pediatric Pandemic Network, a network of ten Children’s hospitals, including Children’s of Alabama; $520 million for the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research; and $76 million for the UAB Heersink School of Medicine, which will continue to elevate Birmingham’s standing as a leader in medical care and research.
In the same vein, Congresswoman Sewell brought home over $48.8 million to her district. In the Birmingham region some highlights include: $4 million for the Valley Creek Rails to Trails in Birmingham (funding will be used to redevelop and construct a 4.57-mile recreation and transportation project); $750,000 for the Bethel Baptist Church Family Child Care Center in Birmingham that will be used to construct a multipurpose community center providing childcare and educational support for youth and families; $500,000 for the Birmingham-Southern College; and $2 million for the Lovelady Center in Birmingham for facilities and equipment to rehabilitate two dormitories, each housing 30 women.
On the flip side of the coin, we must make sure we do not have too much government waste. The truth of the matter is sitting silently on either side of the aisle does not reduce unnecessary pork. Alabamians will not win if we do not have any spending for the state in the budget and we “just vote no.” Meanwhile, other states in the Union will get their cut of the federal budget and Alabama’s representatives are left holding an empty bag. This can also be illustrated in this budget as Sen. Shelby’s office stated, “an increase of only 5.5 percent in non-defense funding, which reduces the Biden Administration’s wasteful non-defense budget request increase by more than half.”
Our elected leaders in Washington must be able to find a middle road, because that gives Alabamians a win – it brings jobs, healthcare, and economies of scale. As it currently stands, only 23 percent of Americans approve of the way Congress is handling its job. There’s nothing wrong with being a Republican and there’s nothing wrong with being a Democrat. Everyone has different ideals and constituents to represent. But when you have representatives who aren’t even willing to come to the table and discuss the issues, that only hurts the people in their district who expect them to speak on their behalf.
From City Councils all the way up to the US Senate, we, as elected officials, have a sacred duty to pass legislation that will have a positive impact on our residents. Full stop. It is my hope that Alabama’s Congressional leaders can begin to move away from their predilection for brinkmanship and extreme ideological positions. If I can find myself sitting at a table with Sen. Shelby and Congresswoman Sewell as they spoke to compromise and opportunities for Alabamians, I know the remaining members of the Alabama Congressional Delegation can find a way to do the same for the great state of Alabama.
Hunter Williams is a member of the Birmingham City Council and chair of its Economic Development and Tourism committee