Georgia has two voices that figure strongly in resolving the fight between President Donald Trump and U.S. House Democrats over border security and avoid another shutdown of the federal government. One is U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ranger, who sits on the committee now negotiating a possible agreement. The other is Republican U.S. Sen. David Perdue, a close Trump ally who is advising the president to hold his ground. Photo for The Washington Post by Ilana Panich-Linsman.

Capitol Recap: Georgia voices could be key in border security talks

Georgia has one of 16 seats at the table for border security talks underway in Washington that aim to avoid another shutdown of the federal government

U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ranger, is relatively optimistic about what he and the other House and Senate members on the committee can achieve.

Graves said he will focus on finding consensus on a bill that “keeps the government open, secures our border and has the president’s signature at the end of the day.”

President Donald Trump hasn’t appeared as hopeful, giving the effort about a 50 percent chance of succeeding in reaching an agreement by Feb. 15 that he would sign.

If Trump is unhappy with the outcome of the talks — he still wants $5.7 billion for a border wall — he says the government could close again or he could declare a national emergency. That would allow him to divert funds from other projects to build a wall. One of them could be Georgia’s biggest economic development project, the dredging of the Port of Savannah, to accommodate larger cargo ships.

The panel is chock-full of people like Graves, who serve on the House and Senate Appropriations committees and are used to finding compromise to make bipartisan deals.

A lot of talk could focus on what is and what isn’t a border barrier and what might satisfy Trump’s definition of a wall.

“People are worried about terminology,” Graves said of his colleagues on the panel. “Let’s be more focused on comprehensive security and let that work itself out.”

U.S. Sen. David Perdue isn’t on the committee, but his close ties to the president make him another Georgia voice that could determine the final product.

He said the president should hold his ground and make sure Democrats provide him new money for a barrier on the southern border.

“I’ve told him all along: It’s not the (dollar amount) that’s important. It’s the momentum,” Perdue said. “Let’s keep going on what past presidents have started here in terms of securing the crisis points on the border.”

Who’s your Medicaid model? Momentum is building in Georgia for a Medicaid waiver, and a leading voice on health care in the General Assembly appears to favor Indiana’s system.

First, it’s a big thing that Republican Ben Watson, the Savannah physician who just took the reins of the state Senate Health and Human Services Committee, supports drawing more federal dollars for Medicaid. Georgia and 13 other states have not expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, all of them firmly under GOP control. Waivers would allow those states to draw federal money for Medicaid without following the dictates of Obamacare.

“We … must not overlook the fact that more than 500,000 Georgians are without insurance and we will strongly consider Medicaid waivers,” Watson wrote in a column for The Savannah Morning News.

Part of what appeals to Watson about the system Indiana used to add hundreds of thousands of Hoosiers to its Medicaid rolls is its health savings accounts.

“I believe it’s more effective to implement models more aligned with private insurance, rather than continue using a failed system,” he wrote. “My employer offers health savings accounts to its employees, and I’ve seen first-hand the effectiveness of this option.”

Indiana also requires adults enrolled in the program to work an average of 20 hours a month, with an exception for people who are over age 60. There also are exemptions that include job training, volunteering, and caring for a child or disabled parent.

That would apparently be fine with most Georgians. An Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll last month found 65 percent support a work requirement to receive Medicaid benefits. The same poll also found that 71 percent back expansion of Medicaid.

Gov. Brian Kemp supports spending $1 million to develop a waiver proposal.

‘I just don’t fit in’: Watson’s rise to head the Health and Human Services Committee has left his predecessor, state Sen. Renee Unterman of Bufordsomewhat adrift.

She considers herself estranged from her male GOP colleagues in the Senate.

“I don’t have a home anymore. I don’t go to my caucus meetings anymore,” Unterman said. “I just don’t fit in.”

That doesn’t mean she hasn’t been active.

Unterman just signed on to Senate Resolution 55, a measure state Sen. Nan Orrock, D-Atlanta, introduced that would ratify the Equal Rights Amendment that Congress approved in 1972.

“It won’t be the first time or the last that Senator Unterman and I have partnered to stand up for women,” Orrock said. “We certainly don’t agree on everything, but she has an underlying commitment to women having a place at the table.”

Also signing the bill is state Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick of Marietta, the other female Republican member of the upper chamber.

Orrock drew a line between Unterman’s support for the ERA resolution and a protest during the first week of the legislative session that partly involved the Republican’s removal as head of the health panel. The 13 Democratic women in the Senate joined Unterman in charging that female members of the chamber had been banished to the committees of lesser importance that handle fewer pieces of legislation. They also slammed a new deadline on making sexual harassment complaints against senators and staffers.

Unterman has since proposed her own version, a duplicate of Orrock’s measure except for the addition of six of those male GOP colleagues as co-sponsors: state Sens. John Albers of RoswellBrandon Beach of AlpharettaMatt Brass of NewnanChuck Hufstetler of RomeBurt Jones of Jackson and P.K. Martin of Lawrenceville.

If either measure wins passage, Georgia would become the 38th state to ratify the ERA, crossing the threshold of 75 percent of states needed to ratify a constitutional amendment. Some work, however, still may be necessary.

U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Ben Cardin, D-Md., introduced legislation weeks ago to clarify whether the amendment can still be ratified 47 years after Congress passed it on to the states for approval.

A state of difficulty: U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III, who was widely mocked after giving last year’s Democratic response to Trump’s State of the Union address, offered some advice to Stacey Abrams after she got the job for this year.

  • Be yourself, you’ll crush it.
  • He’ll talk longer than you expect, so keep snacks handy.
  • Be the fighter we know you are.
  • Misplace your Chapstick.
  • You have millions of Americans standing with you.

The task comes with a lot of disadvantages Trump won’t face.

While he will have a large live audience with at least one side cheering frequently, she will be stuck in a small room with little more than a camera. She also will go second, meaning there could be some last-minute rewrites.

Nate Silver from fivethirtyeight.com sums up the situation this way in a tweet:

“If anybody can actually deliver a good State of the Union response, which most scientists believe is not physically possible under conventional interpretations of physics, they should not only run for president but should probably just become president automatically.”

Governor speaks out: Kemp revealed his thoughts on a number of issues that the Legislature could take up this session during an interview this past week with Georgia Public Broadcasting.

  • On the “Netflix” tax: The governor doesn’t care much for a 4 percent tax on internet streaming services such as Netflix, as well as e-books and music downloads that would raise money to expand rural broadband access.

“My first inclination is not to look at tax increases to pay for this,” Kemp said.

He did say, however, that he will live up to his promise to bring more internet access to rural areas.

“We cannot continue to wait. This is very important to rural Georgia,” Kemp said. “And even more important than that, it’s important to the whole state. It will help our economy as a whole, and it will diversify our entire economy.”

Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan has also come out against the proposed tax.

Their stances fall in line with the AJC's poll in January that showed 65 percent opposing such a tax, with 27 percent in favor.

“We’re following the law, keeping the voter rolls secure now,” he said. “Everybody calls it a purge, but when people move out of the state, they don’t need to be on our voting rolls if they’re living somewhere else. That’s how you get double voting.”

Respondents to the AJC poll in January fall on the other side of the issue, with 57 percent saying inactive voters should remain on the rolls and 40 percent supporting removal.

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