Washington Watch: Kingston sharpens his big budget ax

WASHINGTON -- Congress, the saying goes, controls the government's purse strings.

And as a new Republican-led House reconvenes Tuesday, nobody in Georgia's delegation to Washington is poised to have tighter control on those purse strings than Republican Rep. Jack Kingston of Savannah.

Already chairman of the House Appropriations Committee's agriculture subcommittee, Kingston on Friday announced he also has been appointed a member of the labor, health and human services Appropriations subcommittee, which controls almost one-fourth of all government expenditures, including payments for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

“Health care, education and jobs are some of the most important issues to our everyday lives ... but they are also areas where the government’s overreach is felt most," Kingston said in announcing his latest appointment.

Kingston, who -- now that Rep. John Linder and former representative Gov. Nathan Deal are gone -- is the longest-serving Georgia Republican in the House, also is a member of the defense Appropriations subcommittee.

That means overall, Kingston will have a hand in deciding how the government spends money on defense, on agriculture, on health care and on a wide variety of other areas.

The 10-term congressman is making sure folks know he wields a sharp budget ax and he isn't shy about threatening to use it.

Last month, he threatened to pull funding from the National Portrait Gallery over a sexually charged exhibit.

And last Tuesday, after a presidential panel released a report indicating that the government did a lousy job regulating the oil industry before the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, Kingston wondered aloud about accountability at the Department of Interior.

"I want to know, who's been fired in the Department of Interior?" he told me in an interview. "To me, it would be very disturbing to find out that nobody's head rolled and that their jobs weren't in jeopardy."

An early look at redistricting data

The Georgia Assembly isn’t expected to start the congressional redistricting process until the summer.

But as it decides where to create a new 14th congressional district and how to reshape the state's 13 current districts, they'll be looking at data from guys like Dan O'Connor, a reapportionment expert at the Georgia House.

Recently, O'Connor shared with me his analysis of voting trends in the November congressional races, and he came up with some interesting findings that the politicians in charge of redistricting will surely be examining closely.

Among them:

  • Georgia's 3rd Congressional District southwest of Atlanta, held by Republican Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, had the most registered active voters of any congressional district (467,526), while the 2nd District in southwesternmost Georgia held by Democrat Rep. Sanford Bishop had the least (324,010).
  • The 4th Congressional District, held by Democratic Rep. Hank Johnson, had the largest percentage of registered active black voters (almost 61 percent) while the 13th District held by Democrat Rep. David Scott had the most black voters in total, about 231,425.
  • The 9th Congressional District in northernmost Georgia, held by new Rep. Tom Graves, a Republican, was the whitest district in the state, with almost 90 percent of all registered active voters saying they were white and only 3 percent listed as black. Close behind was Republican Rep. Tom Price's 6th Congressional District north of Atlanta, which was almost 80 percent white.

Warming up in Florida

Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss was planning to get out of frigid Georgia for the weekend, opting instead for sunnier Florida.

According to the nonprofit, nonpartisan watchdog group Sunlight Foundation, Chambliss was scheduled to host a two-day fundraiser in the Sunshine State for his Republican Majority Fund political action committee.

The price tag to join in the fun in the sun, according to a copy of the invitation posted by Sunlight Foundation: $1,000 for personal donations, $2,500 for other PACs.