With Congress set to go on spring break, without any breakthrough on disaster relief for Hurricane Michael damage from last October and Hurricane Irma damage from 2017, tempers are wearing thin.
A few scene-setting paragraphs from today’s piece by your Insider in D.C.:
Without imminent help from Washington, some local farmers warn they could be forced to sit out the upcoming planting season, sell off land or even leave agriculture for good.
But deep partisan mistrust is making it exceedingly difficult for lawmakers to reach consensus on a long-promised natural disaster relief bill, even with no stated opposition to delivering federal aid to storm victims. An increasingly bitter fight over funding for Puerto Rico could keep a bipartisan deal out of reach for weeks — if not months.
“It appalls me to no end that Congress thinks that we can continue to operate while taking hit after hit after hit,” [farmer Ken] Hickey said.
In Washington, U.S. Rep. Austin Scott, R-Tifton, has been scrambling to force an agreement. “Every time we see an opportunity, we’re taking it,” Scott said in a Tuesday interview.
Scott has been one of the few Republicans in Congress willing to meet Democratic demands to send more financial aid to Puerto Rico -- something President Donald Trump has adamantly opposed.
On Monday, Scott tried – unsuccessfully – to attach to a spending bill an additional $150 million in Housing and Urban Development block grants for 2017 natural disasters, which the island territory would be able to tap.
And on Tuesday afternoon, Scott went where even fewer Republicans have been willing to go. He leveled his sights on Trump’s White House. His remarks came on the House floor:
“The president and vice president personally came down and promised help. I was there. For months, we’ve stressed the magnitude of the damage to our colleagues and for months, we’ve been promised that this was a priority for the White House and congressional leadership, from both sides of the aisle.
“‘Any bill to fund the government will have disaster relief.’ I don’t know how many times I’ve heard it. I can’t name all the people I’ve heard it from.
“And as we stand here today, six months later, these can only be called empty promises. Never before have we seen American communities that were wrecked with catastrophes, neglected like this.
“To this day, [Office of Management and Budget] hasn’t even submitted a request for disaster assistance. Calls to White House staff have gone unheeded. And but for one Tweet on April 1, it seems the president has moved on…
“And then last week, the Senate showed how truly ugly and partisan politics had become, voting down measures that would have brought billions in federal relief to communities in my home state of Georgia…
“Certainly no one would have stood in the way of disaster relief for states like Vermont or New York. But rural Americans, we’ve been forgotten. We were forgotten again last week in the Senate’s failure to pass disaster assistance.
“Rural Americans are Americans, too, whether the press likes it or not, and whether certain members of the Senate like it or not. And they need our help to rebuild. And if the Senate cannot pass a bill to provide this disaster assistance, the bottom line is that farm bankruptcies will continue. And I fear that the community banks and businesses that support the farm sector will, too.
“The truth is, if Hurricane Michael had hit Americans who weren’t farmers, or farmers who aren’t American, the story of Washington’s apathy…would be [on] the front page of every paper…
“I urge the White House and the Congress to reverse their course of abandoning our farmers, and keep the promises that you made to them.”
Watch the Tift County congressman deliver his remarks below:
State Sen. Jen Jordan had a big day in Washington yesterday, where she testified against a bill that would ban most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. It was a major moment for the Atlanta Democrat, one that’s added to speculation about her future political ambitions.
When one of your Insiders asked about chatter surrounding a potential 2020 challenge to U.S. Sen. David Perdue, Jordan gave a pretty open-ended answer:
“What I have realized in life is to never say never. If you were to tell me I was going to be a state senator two years ago I would have laughed at you. But you kind of take the opportunities where you think they’re there.
“I also have a lot more considerations in the sense that I’ve got a 10-year-old daughter and 14-year-old son and a full-time law practice and all that kind of stuff. And right now I’m just having so much fun in the state Senate making Republicans lives tough, so we’ll see.”
Unofficial results on Tuesday showed Chris Erwin beating Dan Gasaway for a third time in the Republican primary for a state House seat in northeast Georgia.
Results from Georgia's secretary of state showed Erwin receiving about 75 percent of over 6,000 votes cast, defeating Gasaway -- who had been the incumbent. There is no Democrat in the race, so the winner takes the House District 28 seat spanning Banks, Stephens and Habersham counties.
The state’s new voting system and overhauled electoral policies hasn’t stopped the legal challenges. Lawyers for the Coalition for Good Governance urged U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg on Tuesday to block the state from using ballot-marking machines that were recently approved by the Republican-backed Legislature.
Last night, state Rep. Todd Jones, a Republican from south Forsyth County, sent out a press release to remind us that, on the last day of the legislative session, he filed a bill to partially restore the $5,000 tax credit for the purchase or lease of new plug-in hybrid electric, total electric, and “zero emission vehicles.”
Jones’ measure, House Bill 732, would cap the credit at $2,500. Local interests are in favor. From the press release:
Auto manufacturer Fisker, Inc. is considering 11 states, including Georgia, for building a manufacturing plant for its electric SUV. Furthermore, this year SK Innovation is investing billions of dollars in a massive EV battery plant in the City of Commerce that will employ thousands of hardworking Georgians. HB 732 would allow our state to remain competitive in this shifting market.
“House Bill 732 aligns with our vision for fuel diversification and fits our plan for increasing ZEV sales volumes and more electrified models in the Kia Motors fleet,” said Jim Alvis, Senior Manager of Government Affairs for Kia Motors Corporation. “This is a reasonable and balanced policy approach to electrification and alternative fuels, which is the future of transportation around the world, and Kia is proud to support House Bill 732.”
ProPublica has dug up a curious provision in a tax bill co-authored by U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Atlanta. The legislation includes language long sought by tax preparation companies like TurboTax that would ban the IRS from creating a free online tax filing system:
"Companies like Intuit, the maker of TurboTax, and H&R Block have lobbied for years to block the IRS from creating such a system. If the tax agency created its own program, which would be similar to programs other developed countries have, it would threaten the industry’s profits."
The House unanimously passed the broader IRS legislation on Tuesday. Lewis said, “whatever the problem may be, we will fix it.”
She's calling it a "community listening session," but Congresswoman Lucy McBath, D-Marietta, is holding her first town hall over the weekend. The event will take place at the Pilgrimage United Church of Christ in Marietta at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday and will be preceded by a meet and greet. The import of this: Republican Karen Handel, defeated by McBath last year, was often criticized for not holding town hall meetings during her 18 months in Congress.