Posted: 12:05 pm Saturday, May 10th, 2014

Isakson attempts to create clout in a time of reduced influence 

By Jim Galloway

If you were watching C-SPAN on Thursday, you saw mild-mannered Johnny Isakson test-drive a new style of Washington politics.

He got angry. In public. As best he could, anyway. “I think I was respectful. I tried to be,” Isakson said afterwards.

In the short-term, whether the senator’s tactics bear fruit could mean a great deal in terms of economic development – here and on the Georgia coast.

More broadly, Isakson’s strategem could also foretell a shift in how the U.S. Senate does its business – bringing into public view many of the negotiations and sidebar discussions that, in the past, have been conducted behind closed doors.

Earlier this year, Georgia officialdom was crushed when a federal budget proposal emerged from the White House without any of the $685 million needed deepen the Port of Savannah – despite a bipartisan push led by Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and Gov. Nathan Deal.

The dredging operation is the top business priority for the state, bar none. Isakson and the rest of Georgia’s delegation weren’t just disappointed. They were furious.

But a ray of hope appeared with the resignation of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, the woman in charge of Obamacare. To replace her, President Barack Obama named Sylvia Burwell, his budget director.

Burwell is the woman who applied the brakes to funding for the Port of Savannah in March. And Isakson would have a seat on both of the Senate committees that would hear from the nominee.

It is hard overstate how much the business of Congress has changed in just the last seven years. In the old days, federal cash for the Savannah harbor expansion wouldn’t have been a problem to begin with. A budget earmark slipped in by Isakson, Senate colleague Saxby Chambliss, or an influential House member would have solved the problem.

That possibility disappeared with the rise of the tea party movement.

In the old days, a senator could put a private hold on a presidential nominee until his demands were met — the public need never know. But last year, Majority Leader Harry Reid deployed the so-called “nuclear option,” changing Senate rules to prevent Republicans from effectively blocking confirmation of the president’s nominees by requiring 60-vote margins.

“She can’t be filibustered, and you really can’t put a hold on her,” Isakson said.

The only option left to Georgia’s junior senator was a public campaign – a kind of guerrilla warfare conducted through the Senate committee system.

On the day Burwell was nominated, Isakson let the White House know that he would be asking some tough questions when she appeared before Congress – questions that had nothing to do with her future supervision of Obamacare.

Among the many things that the White House prizes about Burwell are her reputation for competence and her unanimous Senate approval last year as director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Isakson politely threatened both that day. The president’s nominee called him within a few hours. Over the phone and in person, Burwell and Isakson have talked about the Port of Savannah for the last few weeks.

On Thursday, Burwell made her first congressional appearance as the next HHS secretary, before the Senate committee that oversees federal health care policy. It was the kind of event that provokes those overused comparisons to kabuki theater.

Senators were given five minutes each to question the nominee, and to bash or praise the Affordable Care Act, depending on their party affiliation.

Isakson departed from the script. His purpose was to put on public record at least a portion of the private conversations he has had with Burwell.

“There’s no challenge that I have before me as a U.S. senator that is more important – including your confirmation – than getting the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project done in my state,” Isakson began. “I don’t want you leaving OMB until I know that we’re going to be able to move forward with the Savannah harbor project.”

Burwell assured Isakson that she and her boss held the port project in high esteem. She appeared to throw the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which would oversee the dredging, under the bus. The Corps has $60 billion in backlogged projects that require the re-approval of Cogress, she said – implying that Savannah had been caught up in a larger bureaucratic fight.

There was no blood on the ground, but Isakson had made his point. Immediately after the hearing, Isakson got a phone call. Top lawyers from the OMB will be in his office on Tuesday.

“That’s a good sign. We raised the visibility of the Savannah project in the United States Senate today,” Isakson said by phone afterwards – on his way to the airport. He was to give the commencement address at the University of Georgia, his alma mater, the next day.

Even later Thursday, House and Senate negotiators announced they had reached agreement on a water resources bill that includes provisions designed to erase any further objections to the Port of Savannah dredging.

Burwell will appear before the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday – a sign that the White House is in a hurry to see her confirmed.

Isakson will be among her interrogators, and again it’s unlikely any of his questions will be about Burwell’s next job.

At least in one way, clout can be a lot like luck. When it’s been drained away, sometimes you’re required to make your own.

20 comments
denniscbrown
denniscbrown

And as sorry as the all above is, as Harry Reid said after being busted offering Ben Nelson of Nebraska financial concessions to cast the deciding Obamacare vote, "what's the fuss? It's just politics!" 

Baumer_1
Baumer_1

This headline should have read:

Senator Isakson kicks off reelection campaign: Takes out his frustrations with Tea Party on Obama HHS nominee.

Of course he knows OMB has nothing to do with the Port funding issue...but his primary base doesn't know that and it is way easier to falsely blame the black Democratic president than it is to correctly blame the Tea Party for making Congress unmanageable.

BuckheadBoy
BuckheadBoy

The Senator has had a busy year so far, by his own admission working hard to save a single-payer federal insurance program by further subsidizing the premiums and seeking the largesse of Uncle Sam in many ways. So you see, with Republicans, its not really about the federal gravy train, its who gets to ride. And, "conservative" just means never having to say you're sorry to those left at the station.

Brosephus
Brosephus

I thought that Conservatives/Tea Partiers/Republicans were done with putting pork in bills.  Seems like Isakson is mad because he didn't get his pet project funded.


I thought that State's Rights states could do on their own without having to go begging to Uncle Sam for money.  I guess that's been proven a lie, and we didn't have to go to Maury Povich for a lie detector test.  If that project is so important to Georgia and its businessess, why don't Georgia and its businesses fund it themselves, you know, do the old bootstrap method?

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

From the MyAJC.com article on poll results released today at noon:


"Deal has opposed expanding the Medicaid health insurance program to more low-income Georgians under Obamacare because he declared it too expensive in the long run. The stance only appealed to a fraction of GOP voters, but it helped galvanize Democrats; almost two-thirds say they’re less likely to vote for him because of his refusal. It also resonated with independents; some 42 percent said they were less likely to back him in November.

Rick Clark, a 60-year-old Jackson man who is unemployed, said the stance could come back to haunt Republicans.

'That’s a shortsighted and backward way of approaching health care because the state’s not really capable of doing it to the degree that the federal government can,' he said, adding: 'National health care is, I think, a God-given right, really — at least in this country.' ”


honested
honested

Poor johnny, he thought he would be able to coast through a career with a permanent real estate bubble.


Reality must have been hard to take.

Bernie31
Bernie31

Johnny Boy aka "Prune Face" “Nice mannered kid, just a little on the dumb side”. His taste in Suits has greatly Improved. Johnny is HOLLYWOODII.

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

The House passed the legislation they should have passed last year! What did Isakson say to Boehmer and the House to do there jobs for ALL Americans? I like Johnny, but sanity must happen...he can champion that also.

CherokeeCounty
CherokeeCounty

'keep moving Ms. Burwell around"

No, Mr. Hollister.

Now you sound like one of the know nothing tp crowd.  And you're smarter than that.

This is her second position with the Administration - that's not unusual at all.

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

It is a shame that there is so little competence in the gaggle of folks working for this regime, that they have to keep moving Ms. Burwell around to solve problems.


I think there are plenty of competent people out there, that could perform as well as Ms. Burwell, if they would look outside their nepotistic pool of spouses and family members of journalists, crony capitalists, lobbyist, and campaign donors.   


Sad to say, I think they value ideological purity over competence.

DS
DS

Earlier this year, Georgia officialdom was crushed when a federal budget proposal emerged from the White House without any of the $685 million needed deepen the Port of Savannah...

No, they weren't. That was a performance for voters back home. Georgia officials knew perfectly well that the project couldn't be funded until the WRDA was reauthorized with current estimates. That's just the way it works, by law.

Burwell is the woman who applied the brakes to funding for the Port of Savannah in March.

No, she didn't. Congress applied the brakes to the funding when they failed to reauthorize the WRDA for seven years.

A budget earmark slipped in by Isakson, Senate colleague Saxby Chambliss, or an influential House member would have solved the problem.

No, it wouldn't. That's why the WRDA was originally passed, many years ago: to prevent earmarks from being slipped into legislation, putting taxpayers on the hook for very large, multi-year projects for construction and maintenance.

There was no blood on the ground, but Isakson had made his point.

There was no blood on the ground, because this hearing was a love-fest with fulsome praise for Burwell from all sides:

http://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/205589-hhs-nominee-breezes-through-confirmation-hearing 

Readers should understand three things about the Savannah Port expansion: 

(1) it's been held up, along with about 20 other such projects, because Congress has failed to reauthorize the WRDA for seven years.

(2) The Obama administration is very eager to get these projects going, because they will improve the economy and infrastructure. They don't factor in whether Deal has authorized Medicaid expansion into their thinking about the WRDA. While they think Georgians would benefit greatly from Medicaid expansion, they aren't about to mess with the WRDA because of that.

(3) It would be just plain stupid to try and sneak through an earmark for the Savannah port expansion without following the WRDA process. The other states waiting for those 20 projects would have howled in protest. That foolish stunt never had a chance.


Nobody_Knows
Nobody_Knows

td1234

Last night you asked for proof about what you had previously said.  Not sure if you ran away when it was posted or didn't want to admit you lied so I'm posting again for your reading pleasure.

From 3/2/2014

 

http://politics.blog.ajc.com/2014/03/01/episcopal-bishops-come-out-against-gun-bill/


td1234


"And posting from Church is a crime? Con you not multi task? "

Those are your words so don't lie but be proud of your blogging activities during the service.  Or did you lie about blogging during church and you were at home at that time?

Good day. 

 

TheATLMac
TheATLMac

@Baumer_1  I agree, Sen. Isakson's stunt appears more related to PR than substance, but don't worry, he really doesn't have a lot of friends left in the Tea Party and a televised fit isn't going to do much to win back his former base.

honested
honested

@Brosephus  

Many of Georgia's businesses (at least those who depend on monopoly access to taxpayer/ratepayer's pockets) are busy funding politicians, especially those who will guarantee consistent access to those aforementioned pockets.

A sad shift in the reality of Governance.

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

@CherokeeCounty  Well other than being a key member of the Obama/Biden transition team.  She was deputy chief of staff for Slick Willie, and held two or three responsible positions prior to the dep chief job.


Nothing wrong with riding a good horse, if you have one, but my point is they don't have many to choose from, at least not many that can get confirmed 98-0, like she did.  The GOP respects her ability as well, she is obviously well qualified.

CuriousPrime
CuriousPrime

@RafeHollister  Let's see now about ideology over competence.  Besides the obvious Richard Cheney, Michael Brown, Donald Rumsfeld, Condi Rice, John Bolton,and Alberto Gonzales, we could keep going but the fingers are getting tired.  Lets discuss OMB


1. Mitch "Added Trillions to the Deficit" Daniel, 

2. Rob "Double the Deficit" Portman, 

3. Joshua "Dismiss US Attorneys" Bolten, or, 

4. Jim "Opposed His Own Budget" Nussle.

Baumer_1
Baumer_1

Your talking about the tea party. ..right?

Baumer_1
Baumer_1

When was the shift? This is just business as usual.

CherokeeCounty
CherokeeCounty

Okay fair enough.

I read her bio and got as far as her experience with Wal mart - should have read further...