One thing was certainly easier for Georgia Republicans when Barack Obama was president: sticking together on big-ticket spending bills.
Back then, it wasn’t such a hard choice to reject a budget deal or appropriations measure - even if the legislation included provisions they liked – because it added to deficits and was authored primarily by, well, Democrats.
Things aren’t as simple now that the GOP has control of both chambers of Congress and the White House. As the governing party, Republicans need to keep the government’s lights on, but they also need to cut deals with Senate Democrats since they don’t have a filibuster-proof majority.
Hence the two-year, $300 billion budget deal unveiled Wednesday evening.
It includes several of the biggest parochial priorities Georgia lawmakers have been fighting for over the last year: more money for cotton farmers, safety net hospitals and Plant Vogtle. A special commission to study the chronically malfunctioning budget process, an idea promoted by Republican U.S. Sen. David Perdue and U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville. Additional dollars for infrastructure, rural broadband and Hurricane Irma victims.
And then there is the biggest fish of them all: more than $160 billion in additional funding for the military. The state’s defense hawks have long argued that strict spending caps in place since 2011 have strangled military readiness, including at Georgia’s eight bases. The measure would give the Pentagon a whole lot more breathing room over the next two years.
All of that puts Georgia’s 12 Republicans on Capitol Hill in a precarious position. Not only is there little time to read the actual bill, but approving the White House-backed deal would mean adding about $300 billion to the national debt.
Conservative groups such as Heritage Action and Club for Growth are pressuring lawmakers to vote ‘no’ on those grounds.
That’s made some of the state’s Republicans jittery. Many campaigned as fiscal conservatives hell-bent on whittling down the debt, not adding to it.
Most lawmakers made themselves - and their staff - scarce on Thursday in the lead-up to preliminary votes on the deal, avoiding reporters’ questions. Others said they were still undecided as they caught up on the bill’s contents.
“I’m not going to tell anybody how I’m going to vote until I have time to read the bill and go through it,” said U.S. Rep. Rick Allen, R-Evans.
Allen’s 12th Congressional District is home to Vogtle, and the two-term lawmaker has also been a major proponent of the cotton financing change included in the final bill. He acknowledged it would be hard for him to vote against the bill for that reason, but he also expressed worry about its price tag.
Ditto for Perdue, who campaigned on decreasing the debt in 2014. But he’s also a new member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and said the extra defense money is desperately needed.
At least one Georgia Republican stood firmly in the ‘yes’ column. U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson said he would support the budget deal because it funded many of his top legislative priorities, including several long-sought health care changes.
“It’s an extraordinarily good bill for Georgia,” he said.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.