Earlier this week, Congressman Bradley Byrne sat down with Gulf Coast Media for an interview session on a wide range of topics affecting residents of Baldwin County and the region at large.
There’s an open governor’s race next year, and your name keeps coming up as a possible candidate. Is it something you are considering?
“The answer to that is yes, but I love what I’m doing now. I don’t have a big urge to leave what I’m doing now, and I think that the work I’m doing now is very important.
“I’m going to take the time over the next several weeks, and I mean several weeks, to come to a conclusion about it. Partly it’s that and partly it is where I’m at with my family right now.
“That race in 2010 was extraordinarily difficult for my family, and it didn’t end the way we wanted it to. We’ve all gotten over that, and we’re moving on.
“It takes something pretty significant to get me to leave the job that I’ve got and go through what I know it takes to run statewide for governor or any other office, but we’re going to take the next several weeks and make the right decision.
“I sort of look at it that the Senate campaign is sort of soaking up all the oxygen right now, which is a good thing, and that gives the breathing room for people like me to really sit back and look at things and not jump into the race prematurely.
“I think it would be premature for me to jump into the race right now.”
What is going on with regards to helping protect the extended red snapper season?
“The deal we got this summer was the result of all of the congressmen on the Gulf coast coming together with the new Secretary of Commerce.
“We need a legislative solution, so the same group that worked together to get that solution are working together on a piece of legislation that was introduced last Friday. It’s going to be brought up to the Natural Resources Committee when we get back, and it probably will go through some changes in committee.
“The bill will go to the floor, and I feel pretty confident it’s going to pass the House.
“What I’m not as confident of is that it’s going to pass in the Senate. As opposed to two years ago when we passed my bill in the Senate, we have one person who has sort of taken this up as a cause - Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana (R). We’ve always had Senator Shelby’s help on the Appropriations end, but for a permanent fix, it’s good to have Senator Cassidy take it up. He’s going to have to have some help over there, so I’m modestly hopeful we get it through the Senate.
“If we can get that through this year and have a new regime in place next year in time to have it implemented, then we can have a permanent solution - but only in the sense that we set up a process.
“Every year, it’s going to have to be looked at and redetermined. There are plenty of fish out there. If we get the right people making the right decision with the right science, I think we can continue to have a good snapper season.
“That also means that in this legislation in the years to come, we have to have the same cooperation between the five state Departments of Conservation and the feds because that’s what made the difference this year, getting everyone on the same page.
“I’m modestly hopeful about it now, and I wasn’t a couple of months ago.”
What is your position on the division currently seen between President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions? How are you dealing with that?
“I know that Jeff Sessions is the right person to be Attorney General of the United States, and the president knows that as well. That’s why he appointed him.
“Jeff has done a great job. He’s a professional. He’s got a lot of integrity and he’s going to do the right thing.
“I think the president and Jeff have a long standing relationship that goes back several years, and I don’t think one incident is going to blow that up.
“I’ve noticed the president has dialed back on his comments recently, so it’s my hope the president will allow Jeff to do the job he appointed him to do in the first place.
“I continue to support Jeff Sessions and will support Jeff Sessions, and I hope the president will as well.”
With the recent failure to pass the Affordable Care Act repeal in the Senate, where does the Congress go from here?
“You have to remember that this bill has been put under that weird process called reconciliation, so under the Senate rules, if that bill isn’t used under that by Sept. 30, it dies. It’s over.
“That particular vehicle, it’s up to the Senate for them to change their mind. That’s highly unlikely.
“So, that means we have to have a new bill in either the House or the Senate, and that bill will have to have Democratic support to pass through the Senate unless the Senate changes the rule, which is also highly unlikely.
“I think we have to do something, but the Senate has to tell us what they can pass and let us work on it. We’re ready to work - we thought we were going to go to conference last week, so we’re pretty disappointed.
“The House is in the uncomfortable position of having to wait on the Senate to tell us what they’re going do. When they tell us, we’ll figure out what we can do in conjunction with that.
Is there a thought of just scrapping the entire thing and trying to pass a bill that would get broader support from Democrats?
“There are several groups working on that, particularly one big group in the House and another smaller group in the Senate.
“I just think the month of August, we’re all going to be away. People go home, talk to their constituents - maybe when we come back after Labor Day there will be a new approach that can work because the old approach didn’t work.
Where are some areas where you are seeing cooperation between the two parties?
“We’ve passed 295 bills out of the House this year - 85 percent of them are bipartisan. We’re far more likely to work together on things than not to do so.
“Now, the things we don’t work together on are the things that tend to be the most controversial and the ones people know the most about.
“The bill we passed out of the House last week and agreed upon by the Senate in huge numbers on the sanctions against North Korea, Iran and Russia - 400 something to 3 in the House.
“National security issues, we tend to pull together on. A lot of education, workforce training issues, we pull together on.
“There are some things that we can find common ground on with certain domestic policies, but the biggest divide between the two parties is that both of us agree with have to do something with the deficit. Democrats want to raise taxes and Republicans want to cut spending. That’s a very basic divide, and that’s going to be the most difficult divide to bridge but we have to bridge it to be able to get to something close to a balanced budget.”
Are you seeing the parties going more in partisan directions, and do you see yourself going in a more conservative direction as well?
“I’m still as conservative as I’ve ever been, and I think you can be conservative but at the same time be willing to sit down with people who disagree with you and find areas where you can make compromises.
“I really think that the distinction now is not between which party is furthest to one end or the other, but which party is more willing to work with people they disagree with to come to some sort of common ground.
“I think that you can be a staunch conservative but still find ways to work with liberal Democrats.
“The so-called moderates in each party tend to ebb and flow, and right now they’re definitely ebbing right now among the Democrats. We have a fairly large number of so-called moderates in the House.
“It’s really more about the willingness to overcome the differences of ideas to bring about ways to talk and create compromise. And that’s what we’re missing. We don’t have the capacity to do that as well as we used to.
“I’ve got a great new group that a congressman from northern Virginia and I started that had our first meeting last Friday called the Opportunity Action Group. We’re talking about how can we help young people who are stuck in poverty, how can we reduce the number of people stuck in that cycle. There was remarkable consensus in that room because several in that room have good personal relationships.
“I’m always going to be looking for ways to work with Democrats because it makes it far easier to do what you need to do if you’re working across the aisle and not constantly having to deal with partisan battles.”
What is the state of the proposed I-10 Bridge project?
“We should have, by the end of this year, all of the federal approvals we need. That’s been a process that has taken too long. It was actually dead in the water when I showed up, and we kicked it up another notch and it’s going to be done this year.
“The actual design of the bridge itself is done by the state’s Department of Transportation, even though the vast majority of the dollars will come from the federal government. In addition, the state has to decide where they’re going to get the rest of the money from.
“So, the only thing the feds will be waiting on in terms of what needs to be done to make this happen is for the state to say ‘Here’s the design,’ which I know they’re working on and here’s how we’re going to pay for our part of it.
“It’s my hope that they’ll be ready at the end of the year and we can start construction next year. If we do that, it’s a six year build just due to the enormity of the project. The quicker we get started on it, the better we are, but I don’t see it being completed until 2024 at the earliest.”
What sources of funding are being looked at federally to help with the project?
“What we’ve been helping them on are these special grants for nationally important projects, which we certainly qualify for - but they haven’t had the design ready yet, so the federal government is not going to award you that grant until you have the design ready.
“ I think that as soon as they get the design going, they should be able to get the grant.
“Obviously, there’s also the money the state gets anyway from the federal government, but there’s also the opportunity for them to take this GOMESA (Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act) money, which comes from some of the revenue they make off of oil wells in federal water.
“The other way to make this work is to toll the thing and take the money out of tolls.
“All of that is up to the state. The federal government is not going to tell the state you should do it this way or that way. They’ll provide them with options, but the state has to make up its mind about how it wants to do this. That’s what we’re waiting on the state to do.
What is going on with the Save Local Businesses Act you have sponsored?
“For years, since the Reagan administration, there has been a pretty common definition of joint employer, and it was you’re not an employer unless you exercise direct and immediate control over what your employee does.
“A couple of the agencies that deal with employment law under the Obama administration decided to change that to where you could be an employer in certain circumstances where you only indirectly control the employee.
“That created an enormous amount of uncertainty, which is very difficult for any people in a franchise sort of model to be able to deal with.
“What my bill does is simply take us back to the definition that has been in place for 30 years and has worked very well since then. It’s easy to apply, easy to understand and we’ve got bipartisan sponsorship on it. It’s not just a Republican bill - we’ve got both sides of the aisle coming together on this.
“So now, what you typically do with legislation like this, we’re building support in the House. There’s a separate effort going on in the Senate because we are very serious about passing this bill and having it signed into law. This is not just a messaging bill.”
How are we faring on keeping the litoral combat ships in the budget?
“We’re doing great. The National Defense Authorization Act authorized three litoral combat ships, which is the right number. And then we appropriated last week in our Defense Appropriation bill the money for those ships. As far as the House goes, I think we’re doing very well.
“The problem is that the Senate committee only authorized one, but that’s their authorization bill, not their appropriation bill. It hasn’t gone to the floor of the Senate yet, so we don’t have an answer from the Senate as a body.
“It’s very difficult for us to get from one ship to three ships, so we’ve got to be working a lot with our senators to get that to three ships or at least to two ships so when we go to conference we can get it to three.
“We’ve done it in the past. Senator Shelby certainly knows how to play this game. We’ve got our work cut out for us in the Senate, but having the House come out as strong as we did is enormously helpful in the Senate.”