Freshman Congressman Bradley Byrne said his first three weeks in office were highlighted by a warm bipartisan welcome and key committee assignments. Speaking with Lagniappe Jan. 24, he remained committed to advancing the conservative agenda he promoted during his campaign, even while recognizing Congress may be hesitant to act on more substantive legislation in an election year.
On Jan. 8, the day he took the oath of office, Byrne announced he had been selected to join the House Armed Services Committee and House Natural Resource Committee, where he can influence policy on issues such as on military spending and recreational red snapper quotas. Within the Armed Service Committee, Byrne will have direct jurisdiction over policy for the U.S. Navy, specifically those contracts represented at Austal USA’s shipyard in Mobile.
He said any proposed cuts to the Navy and Austal’s Littoral Combat Ship program were coming from the White House budget office and not the Navy itself. He said he intends to vouch for the program not only because it provides 4,000 direct jobs to the district, but also because he believes the LCS program represents the “future of the Navy.”
“For that argument pretend I’m not a member of the Armed Services Committee,” he said. “So I’ll evaluate the sort of mission we’re undertaking in the Navy today and realize it’s not the same as World War II. There’s not another surface fleet in the world from a purely standard warfare perspective that can compete with the U.S. Navy today, but the fleet has declined from 500 ships to 300 ships. The Secretary of the Navy suggests we need to have faster vessels that can accommodate a diversity of payloads in a shallow-draft environment. They are not as strong as steel but they are not designed to be operated in the same kind of environment. Yet they are also far less expensive to build than standard steel construction vessels and cost less to operate.”
As a member of the House Natural Resources Committee, Byrne’s first act was to write a letter to Chairman Doc Hastings to request that the Mobile-Tensaw Delta be removed from consideration for inclusion in the National Park System.
“I’m happy with my committee assignments, especially considering [the chairman] said they usually have five applications for every vacancy,” Byrne said. “Obviously the leadership has been very kind to me. On natural resources, that’s where we oversee offshore energy production, fisheries, the Restore Act, the issue about the National Parks and the delta, there are a lot of things very important to my district so I’m incredibly pleased.”
In his first official act as Congressman, Byrne announced Jan. 9 that he would cosponsor H.R. 3121, the American Health Care Reform Act, a bill cosponsored by 118 House conservatives that “repeals and replaces the ObamaCare law with common-sense, market-based solutions.”
“ObamaCare will not survive in the long run,” he said. “But if we repeal it and don’t come up with an alternative we’ve failed. Republicans have to be willing to listen to Democrats’ concerns about a market-based replacement. The bill I support repeals ObamaCare and uses a market-based approach, letting consumers act like real consumers and get health care from all over the country. Open up the market and let qualified health insurers across the United States offer consumers a package while they compete with one another.”
On Jan. 10, Byrne also supported the passage of H.R. 3362, the Exchange Information Disclosure Act, a bill that would “expand requirements for transparency from the Obama Administration on reporting efforts to remedy failures in consumer interactions, such as the high-profile failures of the federal exchange website.”
In a statement, Byrne said the bill was an effort to “accurately communicate to the American people the utter failure of this law.”
“How can you understand the problem if you don’t understand the nature,” he elaborated later. ”We can argue about the meaning, but I just want clear data. The administration has been playing games with us. I don’t understand what Democrats have to lose in understanding the truth.”
More recently, Byrne supported the passage of H.R. 7, a bill that prohibits the use of federal funding for abortion, “specifically barring federal funding from being used to pay for any health insurance benefits that include abortion coverage.” On Jan. 29, he signed a letter to Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez requesting an acknowledgement that OSHA can’t regulate a farming operation with fewer than 10 employees.
Byrne also endorsed the 2013 Farm Bill, a bipartisan agreement cutting as much as $23 billion from farm programs and food assistance over 10 years. The President is expected to sign the bill.
In an unrelated observation, Byrne said he was initially “surprised” by the bipartisanship of the House of Representatives.
“I’ve noticed there is a willingness of Democrats I’ve talked to about need to deal with the budget problem and the significant problems we’re seeing in the American economy,” he said. “A pleasant surprise was how many Democrats have expressed to me that there is a free market system in America and that’s what we have to depend upon to help the middle class.”
Meanwhile, he said he recognizes more of a divide in the Senate and “poor to non-existent communication from the White House” in both houses of Congress.
“You can’t solve problems if you’re not talking. I expected the President in his last term, when he has nothing to lose, to be more proactive in communication. But he just will not lead,” he said.
Byrne predicted problems implementing the Affordable Care Act would “hurt the Democrats” in midterm elections and if Republicans can secure six more seats in the Senate, “it could change a lot.”
“We would pass bills in both houses that would make it to the President’s desk. He would have to decide to veto it or sit down and negotiate. If that didn’t happen, he’d be the lamest of lame ducks.”
Byrne also doesn’t believe the district suffered for being unrepresented for five months after the resignation of Jo Bonner.
“Everybody in the House has been extraordinarily helpful and very complimentary of the people in this district and the people who have represented this district,” he said. “I think the goodwill has been built up over decades for this area is still very much there. It’s my job to keep it going. “