Washington Watch: Tea party group less than sweet on Graves

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Rep. Tom Graves got elected in June with the backing of Atlanta-area tea party groups.

But is the conservative Republican from Ranger already falling out of favor with some tea partiers?

Recently, the State of Georgia Tea Party sent a terse letter to Georgia's newest congressman, chastising him for two of his recent votes that they called "unconstitutional" and warning Graves that he can lose his new job just as quickly as he got it.

"2012 is another election to determine what politician is best suited by intelligence and judgment to serve the 9th District of Congress," group director Bill Evelyn wrote in a letter to Graves dated Sept. 26. "This was not one of your better weeks."

The votes in question involve relatively obscure changes to laws regarding how emergency medical technicians are trained, and separately, malpractice insurance for physicians who volunteer their time.

According to the State of Georgia Tea Party, the legislation -- which Graves supported -- infringes on states' rights and represents a power grab by the federal government.

Reached by phone, Evelyn downplayed his group's disappointment with Graves.

"He can't be expected to do everything perfectly ... but I will say this: We're watching him like a hawk," he said.

To be clear, Evelyn's group wasn't one of the tea party affiliates that supported Graves when he won the right to replace former Rep. Nathan Deal. Evelyn's group backed Steve Tarvin, one of Graves' GOP challengers.

For his part, Graves disputed any contention that he's getting soft on conservative ideals and constitutionalism.

"I stand by the Constitution," Graves told me. "I appreciate their input and welcome them to contact my office to discuss it."

Chambliss tries to improve legal status of immigrant farm workers

Just before leaving Washington, Sen. Saxby Chambliss introduced legislation aimed at making it easier for immigrants who work in agriculture to get temporary legal status.

Chambliss' bill, called the Helping Agriculture Receive Verifiable Employees Securely & Temporarily, or “HARVEST,” Act, would reform and streamline the H-2A temporary worker program that lets agriculture interests get temporary legal status for workers.

A spokeswoman for Chambliss said farmers and ranchers have repeatedly complained that they can't get enough legal workers to do the jobs they need to do. Chambliss is ranking Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee.

Currently about 50 percent to 70 percent of the nation's 1.2 million agricultural workers are undocumented immigrants, according to Chambliss' office.

For Chambliss, immigration can be a touchy subject. Not long ago, he took heat for suggesting that rules be relaxed for immigrant workers.

A spokeswoman for Chambliss assured me that he's not suggesting any sort of amnesty program for illegal immigrants with his proposal.

In fact, his bill would do the exact opposite, she said. By making it easier for farmers and ranchers to participate in the H-2A program, it discourages them from hiring undocumented workers.

“This bill focuses on the needs of America’s farmers and ranchers rather than focusing on providing citizenship to illegal farm workers and their families," Chambliss said in a statement.

Rep. Bishop: A Democrat sounds Republican

In an indication of the heat Democratic Rep. Sanford Bishop of Albany is feeling from conservatives in his race for re-election, he made a point to publicize his split with Democrats in Washington this week.

"Bishop to Pelosi: Extend Tax Cuts Now!" he trumpeted in a statement earlier this week, saying he was siding with Republicans in calling for a vote to extend Bush-era tax cuts for all Americans.

"I am extremely disappointed that given the delicate state of the economy, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi did not schedule a vote on this important issue," Bishop said, sounding more Republican than Democrat.

There's good reason Bishop is trying to appeal to voters in both parties. The nine-term congressman is facing what could be the toughest campaign of his career against Republican challenger Mike Keown, who is getting lots of support from the national GOP.

Keown, not surprisingly, quickly slammed Bishop for his statement supporting the Bush tax cuts and criticizing Pelosi, calling it political "double talk."