Posted: 9:43 am Wednesday, March 5th, 2014
By Jim Galloway, Greg Bluestein and Daniel Malloy
A White House budget snub of Georgia’s effort to dredge the Port of Savannah has jumped up just in time to complicate the qualifying ceremonies of Democrats Jason Carter, expected to sign up today for governor, and Michelle Nunn, whose Senate turn comes Thursday.
And the bipartisan effort behind the deepening of the port, expected to cost beyond $600 million, now seems so 2013.
The background word from White House sources is that this is not a budget problem, but an authorization problem that can be fixed by passage of the Water Resources Development Act, now in a House-Senate conference committee.
But in the state Capitol, Republicans are wondering if President Barack Obama intends to hold up federal funding until after the May 20 primary, when Nunn might be by his side. Or if Obama is slapping around Gov. Nathan Deal for his rejection of the Affordable Care Act and not expanding Medicaid.
“Yes, I think there are some hardcore politics involved,” said U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston of Savannah, one of several Republican candidates for the Senate, this morning in an interview with Martha Zoller and Tim Bryant on WGAU (1340AM).
Kingston also had a taunt for Nunn, who was raising money with Vice President Joe “Hell or High Water” Biden on Tuesday: “Did she even bring it up? Does she even know where the Port of Savannah is? Or was she and Biden so busy raising money they didn’t worry about the 352,000 jobs related to the Port of Savannah?”
But Kingston also supplied Nunn with ammunition that she might use to reply. In the old days, a Congress that didn’t agree with White House priorities simply loaded its own projects into the budget, in a bit of horse-trading.
But Republicans, particularly in the House, have placed such bargaining out of bounds – a self-imposed box on their own influence. Said Kingston:
“Because, under the House rules, this is an earmark. And so for us to place something in the budget which is not in the budget already – it’s not allowed. And this is considered an earmark if it doesn’t come out of the White House.”
When he qualified at the state Capitol this morning, Senate candidate David Perdue dodged the issue of whether the earmark ban is too restrictive, saying instead that Washington fails to prioritize projects that could have the biggest economic impact. Said Perdue:
“It’s just one thing after another. And my frustration is the conversations we’ve had in Washington are drifting with it. There’s been no sense of urgency. We’re on third base, but it’s tough to get somebody home from third base.”
He said lawmakers look at this type of project as a “one-off” rather than a strategic priority.
“The money is there,” he said, before taking a swipe at Kingston. “It’s five feet. We’ve been digging that port since Oglethorpe. I just hold accountable the people who have been in office. It’s not just the Democrats, it’s not just the president. It’s the Republicans too.”
The Savannah snub and Vice President Joe Biden’s presence in Atlanta on Monday prompted an earlier-than-planned first shot by Georgia Victory, the Super PAC established to help keep Saxby Chambliss’ seat in Republican hands.
This was the missive, in part, we received last night from GV staffer Leslie Shedd, who only last Friday was flacking for U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland:
Just a few months ago in December 2013, Nunn stressed the importance of the Savannah port project and put her full support behind it saying, “We need to ensure that the port is fully funded.” Yet today, we see that her priority isn’t the Savannah port or the Georgia economy – it’s picking up fundraising checks courtesy of Joe Biden and his liberal friends.
Meanwhile, Gov. Nathan Deal’s decision to thumb his nose at Washington and plumb the depths of Savannah’s port with state money instead of federal dollars is almost assured to set up an election-year legal battle between the state and Washington.
The move helps him win political points with residents in Savannah and with powerful business interests in metro Atlanta, who have led the charge to deepen the port to make way for the bigger ships that will soon rumble through an expanded Panama Canal.
But it also risks a protracted and costly legal fight with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who would still need to sign off on the project. And legal action could always backfire, forcing the project through new hurdles that could delay the timeline.
It seems he’ll have the weight of much of the business community behind him. If you needed any proof, consider this statement that came from the Georgia Chamber late last night that commended Deal for “pledging that Georgia will continue to move ahead with this this critical project.”
Expect the port decision also to become a dividing line in the race to replace Rep. Jack Kingston of Savannah. Five Republicans have already signed up to run for Kingston’s seat, and Democratic chair DuBose Porter said he expects a solid Democratic candidate to join the race.
Yesterday, we heard from Dr. Bob Johnson, who previewed an attack Savannah residents will hear plenty in the coming months:
“This flies in the face of statements from his own Vice President, who just last year stood in our town and said our port would be fully funded. Obama through this budget has made it clear that he is a small minded politician playing red-state, blue-state politics.”
Huffington Post has a lengthy Q&A with Democrat Jason Carter, who is expected to qualify in the governor’s race today. Aside from asking his take on a Washington Nationals phenom –yeah, we were scratching our heads about that, too — Carter offered this take on the GOP line of attack he’s facing:
“What we have seen so far is the same playbook they’ve always rolled out for years and years, which is, he’s going to raise your taxes, which is not true. I’ve been as fiscally conservative as anybody in the legislature. They’re going to say that I’m a national Democrat. And also, not true.”
One thing that the furor over the Port of Savannah helped cover up: The U.S. House overwhelmingly approved changes to the flood insurance program last night, a fight that pits wealthy coastal landowners against conservative groups. From USA Today:
“Supporters of the measure, including Gulf Coast lawmakers, said the increases were making it impossible for many people to keep their homes or sell them. Critics, however, say taxpayers will be left to foot the bill for the financially troubled insurance program.
“The premium increases were required under a 2012 law known as Biggert-Waters that was designed to designed to make the government’s flood insurance program financially solvent by bringing rates in line with true flooding risks…
“The House measure also would repeal a provision in the Biggert-Waters law that increases premiums — up to the full-risk rate over five years — when the Federal Emergency Management Agency adopts new flood maps.”
For Georgia, coastal Republican Rep. Jack Kingston was a “yes,” while his U.S. Senate primary foes Phil Gingrey and Paul Broun voted “no.” The only other Georgia Republican in favor was Lawrenceville’s Rob Woodall.