Sen. Shelby fields Atmore's questions
By By Tray Smith
U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-Tuscaloosa) arrived at David's Catfish House in Atmore Friday afternoon where area residents anxious to learn about Congress's agenda for the year and discuss the public policy issues before the nation today greeted him.
"It is good to get out and see you're state," Shelby said as he conducted his third of five meetings planned for the day. "A lot of my former colleagues in the Senate are no longer my colleagues, probably because they did not go home for five and a half year."
Shelby, now entering his 21st year in office, has made a tradition of hosting town hall meetings in each county annually since he was first elected to the Senate in 1986.
After delivering a report on business in the nation's Capitol, Shelby fielded questions from the floor, hearing residents concerns on issues ranging from immigration to the intertwining of banking and commerce. Shelby, who chaired the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee until noon on Thursday, is now the committee's top ranking Republican. He was forced to give up his chairmanship due to the Democratic power shift that occurred when the newly elected 110th Congress was officially sworn in last week.
"We'll be back," Shelby said. "The pendulum swings."
Shelby said that his position on the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee has given him the opportunity to bring billions of federal dollars back to Alabama, citing specifically the more than $300 million that have been granted to our state's universities as a result of his efforts. Shelby said that continuing to support higher education would be critical to remaining competitive in science, math and engineering during the 21st century and that much more money was needed in order to succeed in those fields.
The Senator also vowed to support education in general and pledged to review a proposal to build a library in Flomaton at the behest of residents requesting federal funding for the project.
On Iraq, Shelby cited the early disbanding of the Iraqi Army as the first in a series of mistakes that have been made in the war effort, which has now cost more than 3,000 American lives. He said that he would never support a decision to "cut and run," citing the damage such an action could have on America's credibility in the world. Yet, if the President recommends sending more troops into the war zone, Shelby promised to use his position on the Appropriations Subcommittee for Defense to ensure that those troops are given a specific mission.
"I will be watching Iraq closely," Shelby said.
With respect to a minimum wage increase, the Senator said that setting labor prices would never work in a free market economy and that if wealth could be created by government regulation, "Russia would be the richest planet on earth – I would hate to make the minimum wage, but some people expect us to guarantee everyone a living wage and it is just impossible for us to do that."
Shelby, however, did signal that he would accept a wage hike if it was accompanied by tax relief for small businesses or if it excluded small businesses altogether.
The state's senior Senator also boasted of a recent bill that will allow more drilling off Alabama's coast and bring millions of dollars in royalties into state coffers. Shelby said some of that money will go to coastal restoration because we cannot "let the coast erode, we have to protect the environment." However, much of the money will be the state's to keep and use at its discretion and some of those funds could make their way to Escambia County.
On the banking issue, local resident Dale Johnson of United Bank inquired about the "mix of commerce and banking," which would allow commercial businesses such as Wal-Mart and Toyota to form banks of their own with insurance coverage provided from FDIC. Shelby said such a policy could hurt local banks around the country and that he did not feel commerce and banking should be mixed. Shelby also stated that though Democrats now control the Senate, Republicans have 49 Senators, "enough to keep a bad bill from going through."
As conversation on the high-profile political issues concluded, the Senator ended the meeting on a light note, saying he would go back to Washington, D.C. on Monday to focus on the affairs of the Senate and reviving Alabama football.
"We would like to win some games in Tuscaloosa; we would just like to level the playing field," he said.
Shelby was referencing an earlier conversation on Mike Saban's recent decision to take the top job at Alabama and replace ousted former head coach Mike Shula.
"I wish I was getting paid what they offered him, but I am just not that good of a coach," Shelby joked.
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