Nov 09 2008

Shelby expects defense cuts fight

By Kenneth Kesner

Jobs coming here won't be stopped, senator promises

Alabama's senior U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa, said last week that the election is shifting the balance of power in Washington, D.C., so protecting his concerns will take more work and vigilance.

"You know, you've got a new administration coming in and they'll be looking to cut defense, I'm afraid," Shelby said Thursday after a groundbreaking ceremony for a new building on Redstone Arsenal. "And we're going to have to fight that battle because it could have an impact here."

But we shouldn't worry about that too much right now.

"Not yet, but be careful," Shelby said. "It's a little early; let's see some proposals first."

This was a Democratic election, said Shelby, who was a Democrat before switching parties after the Republican sweep of Congress in 1994. That is, there is a new president who is a Democrat and the party has majorities in both houses of Congress. But that doesn't mean Republicans will be powerless.

"We'll be involved in the Senate, deeply, in every decision," said Shelby, a senior member of the powerful appropriations and banking committees. "We would like to be in control, and we will someday. But it shifts, and right now the Democrats have control.

"I've worked together with a lot of the Democrats and I'll continue to do everything I can to work to national purpose, for national security, NASA, the Justice Department. ...

"And, of course, being a senator from Alabama, I know how important the Huntsville community is," Shelby said. "I tell everybody that, I promote it and I think it speaks for itself.

"We've got a lot going on in Huntsville," he said. "We've got thousands of jobs coming in here. That will not be stopped, because this is a center of excellence for the Army."

The Rocket City is also being made a center of excellence for FBI and Justice Department efforts to deal with bombings, he said. The ceremony Thursday was for a $26 million National Center for Explosives Training and Research. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives will have 60 employees at the center, which will bring 3,000 students from law enforcement and military agencies here for training.

"I'm just very positive on Huntsville," Shelby said.

Shelby is also the ranking Republican on committees dealing with the space program's budget.

"We'll continue to deal with NASA," he said, adding that Marshall Space Flight Center is in a key position. "You know, the role that Marshall plays ... you can't go anywhere in space without propulsion.

"We would like to see a larger NASA budget," Shelby said. "It's a big fight every year. ... I hope to do it but we're going to have some challenges and some political fights. But I'll be there working for Marshall."

Shelby said he enjoyed a good relationship with outgoing U.S. Rep. Bud Cramer, D-Huntsville, and they worked together for North Alabama in Congress over the years.

He said the district's newly-elected representative, Democrat Parker Griffith, will be a freshman, one of 435 members in the House, and will have to fight his way up.

"It takes a while to build seniority up there and get on some coveted committees," Shelby said. "Of course, I wish the congressman-elect very well and I'll try to work hard with him."