Graves tries to reinforce Georgia’s position in Congress on water wars

But there’s a new speaker in town, so last week, Ranger Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Graves made his case to Paul Ryan about why a yearlong spending bill being negotiated behind closed doors should not upset the balance of the decades-long water wars.

Graves helped wrangle together all 16 members of the Georgia delegation on a letter to the Republican and Democratic leaders in the House and Senate, an occurrence typically reserved for top parochial priorities such as water wars and the Port of Savannah.

“I think he’s equally as supportive,” Graves said of Ryan. “But again, it was not an issue he had been aware of prior to the speakership.”

As things stand now, the Army Corps of Engineers is putting together a new water plan for the river basins shared by Georgia, Alabama and Florida. Recent court decisions have been favorable to Georgia’s desire to quench the growing thirst of metro Atlanta — and get credit for the treated water it returns to the basin — while its downstream neighbors complain about water flows and Florida blames Georgia for declining oyster populations in the Apalachicola Bay.

Generations of politicians have puffed their chests on the issue, and generations of lawyers have racked up billable hours. Georgia and Florida have now enlisted a mediator in the legal case that sits before a special master for the U.S. Supreme Court.

Georgia wants to keep all this in the courts, as the corps proceeds with a water distribution plan that allows more for Atlanta. The other two states want Congress to step in and shut down any new water plans, resulting in a tug of war in the omnibus spending bill, which has not yet been finalized and must pass by Dec. 11.

U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., inserted language in the Senate’s spending bill that would block the corps from reallocating water in the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa basin until the states’ governors can reach a deal. Gov. Nathan Deal met with his counterparts earlier this year, but a settlement does not appear nigh.

Deal updated Georgia’s congressional delegation by conference call last week. All the members then signed onto a letter to Ryan, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid.

“Our delegation stands united and we ask that you support our position against the inclusion of any language pertaining to the ACT and (Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint) River Basins in any appropriations legislation,” the letter states.

The House version of the bill does not have the offending language, and details for a massive omnibus bill are all being hashed out now in a dark room somewhere that is presumably less smoke-filled after Boehner’s departure.

Relationships matter in these circumstances. Ryan is close pals with U.S. Rep. Tom Price, a Roswell Republican, and works out from time to time with Graves. Shelby, first elected in 1986, has been making appropriations deals for decades with old bulls like McConnell.

The Georgians argue that once Congress starts weighing in on interstate disputes, it opens up a Pandora’s box. The Alabamans and Floridians — including presidential hopeful Marco Rubio — contend that the governors should work it out, and the Obama administration is not being fair.

Georgia has beat back similar efforts in the past, but there is one wrinkle worth keeping an eye on.

In a water policy bill during the last Congress, the Georgia delegation was able to throw its weight entirely behind the bill. In this case, many — if not most — of the state’s 16 members of Congress will end up voting against the omnibus spending bill, regardless of its water approach.

All of Georgia’s Republicans voted against a budget deal to set new spending levels for the omnibus and hike the debt ceiling in late October. And bill language — or lack thereof — on Syrian refugees, Planned Parenthood, the Environmental Protection Agency and a million other sins could force some Georgians to vote “no.”

So while Georgia is making a request of congressional leadership, it does not have guaranteed votes to offer in return.

When asked about this conundrum, Graves replied that no one in leadership has yet asked for their votes, either.

Scott says Obama lacks ‘backbone’

Atlanta U.S. Rep. David Scott rates as more hawkish than most of his Democratic colleagues. He serves on the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, and he has been critical of President Barack Obama at times — particularly on foreign policy.

But as Scott broke with Obama last week to back a bill to halt the resettlement of refugees from Syria and Iraq until additional screenings can be put in place, he unloaded with unusually sharp language about the fight against the Islamic State.

“We wouldn’t even be here with this conversation if this president had the backbone to go and take ISIS out when the first American journalist’s head was cut off,” Scott said Thursday in an interview off the House floor.

“They attacked America then and we should have responded. … The refugee crisis, this is nothing. The way you solve this crisis is kill ISIS. I don’t understand why people don’t understand that. They’ve blown a Russian plane out of the sky. They’ve killed people in three, four, five different countries. They’re coming. What do we do? We fiddle our thumbs.”

Vote of the week

The U.S. House voted, 289-137, Thursday to halt refugees from Syria and Iraq until additional screenings can be put in place.

Yes: U.S. Reps. Rick Allen, R-Evans; Sanford Bishop, D-Albany; Buddy Carter, R-Pooler; Doug Collins, R-Gainesville; Tom Graves, R-Ranger; Jody Hice, R-Monroe; Barry Loudermilk, R-Cassville; Tom Price, R-Roswell; Austin Scott, R-Tifton; David Scott, D-Atlanta; Rob Woodall, R-Lawrenceville.

No: U.S. Reps. Hank Johnson, D-Lithonia; John Lewis, D-Atlanta.

Not voting: Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, R-Coweta County.

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