Budget deal too enticing for most Ga. lawmakers to reject

The U.S. Capitol on Feb. 9, 2018.  (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

Credit: Zach Gibson

Credit: Zach Gibson

The U.S. Capitol on Feb. 9, 2018. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

Many Republican members of Georgia’s congressional delegation have built their careers on fiscal conservatism. Sparked by over-zealous government spending, they argue, the growing national debt is strangling the economy and the military and desperately needs to be reduced.

The reality is similar for local Democrats, who have stressed their focus on immigration this year and securing legal status for so-called Dreamers, undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children.

But this week’s $320 billion budget deal ultimately proved to be too politically enticing for many local lawmakers to reject.

The two-year agreement will add hundreds of billions of dollars to deficits over the coming years -- and that’s not counting the trillion-plus dollars Congress will still need to appropriate annually to fund federal agencies. And it does not include anything to advance the dialogue on immigration ahead of a critical March 5 deadline.

Yet 13 of the state’s 16 lawmakers voted for the deal.

The reality is that the agreement includes many of the parochial priorities lawmakers have been pushing for all year. There's more money for the military, local hospitals and cotton farmers; tax credits for the state's troubled nuclear project and the potential for additional infrastructure dollars for state priorities such as rural broadband and the Savannah Port.

Those local goodies were in part what prompted all but one of the state's Republicans to ultimately back away from conservative groups pressuring them to vote no. Half of Georgia's Democrats similarly rejected the party's liberal base itching for a showdown in solidarity to the Dreamers.

The political crosscurrents local lawmakers grappled with was evident in the official statements many released following Friday morning's vote.  Many chose to focus on local priorities funded in the bill. Some dodged the press entirely.

Take Augusta-area Republican Rick Allen, who has both Plant Vogtle and Fort Gordon in his district:

“Ultimately, when it comes down to it, my job is to represent the people of Georgia-12 and this legislation provided my district with some critical support,” he said. “Looking to the future, we shouldn’t have to make tough choices like this anymore.”

Tifton Republican Austin Scott, a member of the House Armed Services Committee elected as part of the 2010 tea party wave, chose to focus on the military. Ditto for Roswell Republican Karen Handel, who also highlighted the bill’s two years of funding for community health centers.

Then there was Republican U.S. Sen. David Perdue. Perhaps no Georgia lawmaker has fixated more on the national debt than the former Fortune 500 CEO.

While he routinely voted against blockbuster fiscal bills during the Obama administration, Perdue has backed government spending measures since his ally Donald Trump was sworn in as president, as well as his party's $1.5 trillion tax bill. He voted for last night's budget deal, and in a press release focused heavily on its creation of a special panel to overhaul the budget process, an issue he's advocated for in the past:

“We won’t solve this debt crisis unless and until we fix our broken budget process,” he said. “This select committee is our opportunity to finally develop a process that works.”

The political gymnastics also came from the left.

Two of the state’s four Democrats, U.S. Reps. John Lewis of Atlanta and Hank Johnson of Lithonia, voted with the majority of their colleagues against the bill, mainly in protest of Speaker Paul Ryan refusing to commit to an immigration vote on the Dreamers.

Meanwhile, the state’s two more moderate Democrats, Sanford Bishop of Albany and David Scott of Atlanta, backed the bill.

Scott told the AJC he is supportive of the Dreamers and hopes Congress votes on an immigration bill soon, but that “at this moment, voting in favor of this bill is the right thing for Georgia and for our country,” citing funding for farmers, health care and the VA.

How Georgia lawmakers voted: 

YES – Johnny Isakson, R-Ga.; David Perdue, R-Ga.; Buddy Carter, R-Pooler; Sanford Bishop, D-Albany; Drew Ferguson, R-West Point; Karen Handel, R-Roswell; Rob Woodall, R-Lawrenceville; Austin Scott, R-Tifton; Doug Collins, R-Gainesville; Barry Loudermilk, R-Cassville; Rick Allen, R-Evans; David Scott, D-Atlanta; Tom Graves, R-Ranger

NO – Hank Johnson, D-Lithonia; John Lewis, D-Lithonia; Jody Hice, R-Monroe

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