The U.S. Capitol. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

Increases for military, CDC help win Georgia votes for spending plan

Seven Georgia Republicans and two Democrats joined with their colleagues to advance the measure through the House 256-167, sending it to the Senate. Lawmakers there will need to pass the legislation before Friday evening to avoid a funding lapse.

“Vehicle,” the Phrase of the Week by James Salzer. Video by Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com

The spending package would fund federal agencies for the remaining six months of the 2018 budget year, including the Pentagon and the Atlanta-based U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It would boost pay for troops and appropriate $380 million in grants for states to make cybersecurity improvements to their voting systems. It also seeks to bolster rural broadband initiatives and strengthen school security in the aftermath of last month’s mass shooting in Parkland, Fla.

Georgia supporters of the measure touted the impact it would have on the state’s major military installations. The $320 billion budget agreement that Congress passed last month cleared the way for tens of billions of dollars extra for the Defense Department this year — giving the Pentagon one of its largest budgets in the modern era — money local lawmakers said will filter down to Georgia.

Pay raises for military personnel will lead to more money circulating in the local economy, they said, and increased funding for military equipment such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and the C-130J Super Hercules transport aircraft will benefit the state since parts of the planes are manufactured in Marietta.

“The investments in this bill mean jobs and economic growth in our communities, more money in the pockets of our troops and their families, and a more modern and lethal military,” said U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ranger, one of the bill’s co-authors.

The measure would boost funding for the CDC by roughly 15 percent above last year’s level, including $480 million for a new lab focused on deadly pathogens such as Ebola and smallpox. The text clarifies, for the first time in two decades, that the agency is free to conduct gun violence research. But lawmakers do not spell out exactly how much money should be set aside for such research.

Two of Georgia’s biggest parochial priorities fared relatively well in the final spending deal. Local lawmakers stripped out language authored by a powerful rival from Alabama that they said would have harmed Georgia’s position in the tri-state water wars.

Several lawmakers, including Pooler Republican U.S. Rep Buddy Carter and Atlanta Democratic U.S. Rep. David Scott, said they backed the measure in no small part because of the $50 million it sets aside for a dredging project at the Port of Savannah. The money is half of what Georgia lawmakers say is needed to keep the nearly $1 billion economic development project on track to finish by 2021, but it still represents a high-water mark for federal funding in a single year.

“We’re very happy with the $50 million at this point,” said Carter, whose 1st Congressional District includes the port. “We wish we had all of it guaranteed … (but) we feel like we have a better shot at getting more money for the harbor deepening project.”

More money for the port could be in the pipeline in the weeks ahead. The measure sets aside additional money for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, dollars the agency could eventually decide to send to Savannah. The corps took a pass on a similar opportunity last year.

Dissenters

Five Georgia lawmakers, two Democrats and three Republicans, voted against the bill. Several cited the measure’s compressed timeline for consideration. Negotiators unveiled the text of the 2,232-page measure at roughly 8 p.m. Wednesday, and lawmakers voted on final passage about 16 hours later.

“I don’t like this process,” U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Lithonia, said as he walked into the House chamber on Thursday afternoon, unsure of how he would vote. “Here we are voting on a 2,200-page bill that no one has had a chance to read. Nobody. It’s physically impossible to do that.”

Johnson ended up voting against the bill, but his office did praise the money it set aside to secure U.S. voting systems from cyberattacks. The six-term lawmaker has pushed for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to designate the country’s voting systems as “critical infrastructure,” a designation that would come with a higher level of federal protection. Meanwhile, the state Legislature is considering a measure that would replace all of Georgia’s 27,000 electronic voting machines, which critics say are old and vulnerable to attack.

Republican U.S. Rep. Jody Hice of Monroe joined fellow members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus to vote against the measure. He faulted the bill for not including more funding for President Donald Trump’s proposed wall on the Southwest border and for not tackling so-called sanctuary cities, jurisdictions that limit how local police can cooperate with the feds on immigration, as well as its overall spending level.

“This is not the way to run the government,” he said. “Probably the biggest spending bill in our nation’s history and we don’t even have time to look it over.”

Atlanta Democratic U.S. Rep. John Lewis also rejected the legislation, but for different reasons.

One of the most liberal members of the state’s congressional delegation, Lewis said he opposed it because it did not include help for so-called Dreamers, immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children. He also said it set aside too much money for defense programs.

“In good conscience I cannot vote for it,” he said.

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