Talk of bipartisanship at annual Chamber luncheon belies D.C. gridlock



ATHENS — The four lawmakers on the program at the Georgia Chamber’s annual Congressional Luncheon generally kept their remarks focused on issues where there is bipartisan agreement. Three Republicans and one Democrat spoke about improving infrastructure, boosting manufacturing, increasing affordable housing and addressing the doctor shortage.

The word “woke” was used only once on the main stage, and there was no talk of indictments, insurrections or stolen elections. In this way, the luncheon carried the same theme as past chamber events with a focus on business and bipartisanship before a crowd of about 1,000 economic and community leaders from across the state.

“We spend a lot of time in this country fighting about stuff that ultimately really doesn’t matter,” U.S. Rep. Drew Ferguson, R- The Rock, told a smaller audience during a breakout session on housing before the luncheon. “And ultimately, it belongs to the individual. Our focus has got to be on American competitiveness, and we have to stay focused on Georgia being the No. 1 state in the No. 1 country to grow jobs.”

But the moderate tone struck by these lawmakers while in Athens belies the rancor in Washington. There, not only are Republicans and Democrats struggling to get on the same page but the rifts are deepening within the Republican Party itself.

The consequences could become dire.

When Congress returns after Labor Day from its summer recess, lawmakers will have roughly four weeks to pass 12 appropriations bills by the Sept. 30 deadline to avoid a shutdown. So far, little progress has been made.

A faction of deeply conservative members in the House is pushing for steeper cuts than what Speaker Kevin McCarthy agreed to as part of his compromise with President Joe Biden to raise the debt ceiling in May. Right before lawmakers left for recess, the House canceled a vote on one of the spending bills after it became clear there were enough Republicans planning to oppose the measure that it would not have passed.

The Senate is expected to sign off on very different versions of these appropriations bills, and then the two chambers will need to come together to iron out a compromise. Congress can pass a “continuing resolution” to keep the government funded at current levels to avoid a shutdown, but that only kicks the can down the road and could be blocked, too, if enough Democrats or Republicans refuse to go along.

U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff held a news conference prior to the luncheon where he expressed optimism that Congress can pass the spending legislation by the end of September. But the Atlanta Democrat also said “an extreme faction in the House that appears more focused on politics than results” is making these deliberations more difficult.

The lawmakers featured at Tuesday’s luncheon did make subtle digs. Ferguson referenced the recent U.S. credit downgrade as proof that Congress needs to rein in federal spending. U.S. Rep. Rick Allen, R-Augusta, said the House’s strictly partly-line approval of the National Defense Authorization Act came after Republicans insisted on adding provisions addressing the Department of Defense’s “woke” policies.

U.S. Rep. Rich McCormick laid blame on both parties for the rising costs of health care and its drag on overall budget.

“I felt like my own party was doing a disservice on health care; that’s what got me involved,” the Suwanee Republican said. “Since I got up there, I realize how big the problem really is.”