Washington Watch: Isakson on tax credits; Kingston the snake wrangler

WASHINGTON -- After the news Tuesday that existing home sales fell a dizzying 27 percent in July, talk turned to tax credits.

Should the government extend the homebuyer tax credits that had been the main support propping up the housing market? That's what economists and others asked. Or were the credits a bad idea in the first place, since without them, maybe the housing market would have run a more natural course?

I turned to the guy who came up with the idea in the first place, Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson.

Isakson, a former Cobb County real estate executive, drafted the legislation last year that extended the $8,000 first-time homebuyer credit and added a $6,500 repeat buyer credit for people who signed a purchase contract by the end of April.

He was a tireless booster for extending the homebuyer tax credit program last year, but now Isakson says the program has run its course.

"It had a positive effect -- it did help sales," he said.

"But ... if people thought it would be there forever, it would not have accomplished its purpose," he added.

The idea behind the housing credits, Isakson said, was to temporarily lure buyers back to the housing market and prop it up through the traditionally rough winter months.

"What I thought, and what a lot of other people thought, was that we'd begin to see a recovery in the spring of 2010," he said. "But unfortunately, everything that's happened since then ... has kept that from happening."

Calling from the campaign trail in South Georgia, Isakson explained that "everything that's happened since then" includes the health care system overhaul, the financial industry reform regulations, the specter of income tax increases and other Democratic policies that have added to economic uncertainty.

He defended against criticism by some housing economists and others that the government's intervention in housing was possibly a bad idea.

"The first thing is, [without the credits] we'd be in a much more difficult situation now," Isakson said. "The tax credits provided an impetus needed at the time."

What's needed now, Isakson added, is something different.

"What we need now is to return jobs and job growth to America," he said.

JACK KINGSTON, SNAKE HUNTER

As if there weren't enough in Washington, Rep. Jack Kingston recently took some of his time back home in Georgia to hunt for snakes.

You read that right.

Kingston recently accompanied naturalists to a wildlife preserve between Savannah and Macon to search for the rare Eastern indigo snake as part of an outing with a nonprofit reptile preservation group.

The Republican from Savannah has long been a reptile enthusiast, he told WMAZ-TV in Macon.

"It's golf for one guy, fly fishing for somebody else, it's snakes for me," Kingston told the TV station.

Maybe he should've stayed in Washington after all. Kingston and his crew didn't find an endangered indigo on their outing -- although they did find a few other reptiles, and he checked out some captive snakes. Among them: a captive cottonmouth that Kingston released and re-caught by hand while at the preserve, according to a member of his staff.

"They're so much more pleasant than the crowd in Washington," Kingston joked to the TV station.

KATRINA ANNIVERSARY DRAWS LEWIS

Rep. John Lewis of Atlanta is scheduled to be in New Orleans this weekend to help mark the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

In doing so, Lewis decided to skip another anniversary punctuated by rallies and other events: the 47th anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech in Washington.

Lewis, 70 is the only surviving member of the speakers who joined King at the Lincoln Memorial during the historic 1963 "March on Washington" that punctuated the civil rights movement.

It wasn't just that conservative talk show host Glenn Beck and supporters were at the Lincoln Memorial for Beck's "Restoring Honor" rally this weekend, Lewis told me.

"I just felt [New Orleans] was the place for me to be," Lewis said. "I made a conscious decision to go to New Orleans, to cast my lot with the people there and along the Gulf Coast."