Archive for March, 2013

This ethics bill is hardly a stopping point

Shortly before the 2013 legislative session ended, the House and Senate passed an ethics bill by a combined vote of 225-0. Such overwhelming, bipartisan actions often are hailed. Should this one be?

Before I answer, let me offer an analogy to kicking a field goal. No, not the one involving Charlie Brown and Lucy.

I mean the one Sen. Josh McKoon made just before HB 142 passed in his chamber. The Columbus Republican has been an early and tireless champion of ethics reform. After enumerating the final bill’s problems, including the way it came into being, McKoon explained why he’d vote for it anyway:

“It’s not everything we need to do, but it’s definitely putting points on the board,” McKoon said. “Tonight, let’s put this one through the uprights, but let’s be prepared to come back next year to score a touchdown on ethics reform.”

I sympathize with the position McKoon found himself in. I also think his analogy should go further.

The way football fans think …

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A good sign on one of the areas in which the GOP really must change

There’s a lot of talk about how Republicans need to re-brand themselves on social issues. I’m not convinced that’s more important for the GOP than shedding its image of being too closely aligned with Big Business.

There are three key ways in which Republicans lost credibility since 2000. One, as Peggy Noonan argued recently, was the 2003 Iraq invasion. Another was the increase in federal spending that took place during George W. Bush’s presidency; spending accelerated toward the end, when Democrats were in control of Congress, but it was rising too swiftly well before Nancy Pelosi became speaker of the House.

The third was the 2008 bailout of Wall Street. The party that supposedly champions free enterprise went along with using hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars to save financial institutions that acted recklessly. Some Republicans argued then, and still argue now, that the alternative would have been worse. But the larger point is that the nexus of Big Business, …

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Ethics bill isn’t perfect, but it is progress

It appears we have an ethics bill.

Speaker David Ralston just confirmed from the House side what the AJC had heard from senators earlier today. Namely, that the two sides, urged along by Gov. Nathan Deal, agreed in the wee hours of Thursday to a compromise between the two main* ethics bills they each passed earlier in the session.

The text of the bill has not yet been made available publicly, but the compromise appears to have been chiefly along two grounds:

First, the House agreed to drop its insistence on a ban on one-on-one lobbyist gifts to legislators and accept the Senate’s preference for a cap — albeit a cap of $75 rather than $100. In exchange, the House won more carve-outs it included in its original version of the bill, HB 142. Those exceptions include gifts (think meals) provided by lobbyists to entire caucuses, the nature of which is subject to approval by each chamber’s ethics committee, as well as allowances for spouses and staff members to accompany legislators …

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Most important bill of 2013? A river runs through it

The final day of the legislative session is upon us, with a variety of high-profile bills from guns to ethics to education yet to be decided. But legislators already have taken what could become one of their most consequential actions this year.

And it’s not even a law.

HR 4 is a resolution calling for the settlement of something that, at least until recently, you probably believed was settled long ago: the Georgia-Tennessee border.

Turns out, HR 4 is the 10th such resolution our General Assembly has passed since 1887 seeking to correct a surveyor’s error in marking the border two centuries ago. This time, however, the Legislature explicitly threatens legal action if Tennessee will not resolve the dispute with us by the end of next year’s legislative session.

You can practically hear the guffaws ringing through national news stories about HR 4. To read some of them, you’d think even a meth-addled Don Quixote would know better than to accept this quest.

I, too, …

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Poll: Who should be next to join 2014 Senate race?

Phil Gingrey today joined fellow congressman Paul Broun in the race to represent Georgia in the U.S. Senate. No surprise there, nor will there be when Jack Kingston makes it a trio of House members trying to move to the other end of the Capitol.

But the field is highly unlikely to remain at three — and it’s anyone’s guess who will be the fourth person to enter the race.

Who do you want to join the 2014 Georgia Senate race next?

  • Karen Handel (69 Votes)
  • No one; I’m planning to vote for Broun, Gingrey or Kingston (31 Votes)
  • Someone else (specify below) (25 Votes)
  • Tom Price (24 Votes)
  • Casey Cagle (16 Votes)
  • A state legislator (specify below) (2 Votes)

Total Voters: 167

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Congressman Tom Price was once thought to be a lock to enter the race, but now I’d put the odds of his running at less than 50 percent. He won’t make an announcement until mid-May and is said to be truly undecided, but the thinking is that he would be risking a great deal of upward …

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Obamacare is proving just how super-efficient our federal government can be

Throughout the Obamacare debate — which ended just over three years ago — we heard a lot of talk about how the federal government was so much more efficient at delivering health insurance than private firms are. This argument required a willing suspension of disbelief for anyone who has ever even heard of the federal government, much less its innumerable examples of wasteful spending. But that’s what we were told.

And I was reminded of that line of argument when I read this blog post by health-insurance expert Bob Laszewski about the mounting costs of building the health-insurance exchanges that will be central to delivering Obamacare beginning next year.

In California alone, Laszewski reports, federal grants for building an exchange already total $910 million. In New York, it’s $340 million just for establishing an enrollment and eligibility process. All told, this year the feds have awarded $3.3 billion in grants to build and market exchanges — and that doesn’t include …

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How to bridge the gap between House, Senate on ethics bill

A ban on lobbyist-to-legislator gifts with several big exceptions, or a $100 cap with fewer exceptions? That’s the main question legislators must answer by midnight Thursday if they are going to pass ethics reform this year.

The proposed ban originated in the House, the cap in the Senate. Either one would be an improvement over the status quo of unlimited gifts. But, ultimately, legislators must pick one approach. And the best approach would be an even tighter version of the $100 cap.

House Speaker David Ralston has called a cap, rather than a ban, a “gimmick.” Referring to the $100 cap senators imposed on themselves on the first day of this session, Ralston has wondered aloud: Does it limit gifts to $100 per day? Per hour? Per minute? He opted instead to sponsor a bill with a ban.

The speaker was right to question the Senate rule’s lack of specificity. But with only three days left in this session, and with his bill looking dramatically different as senators send it …

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March Madness, Georgia-style

One by one, the field gets smaller. Some advance, while others don’t. Long-shot dreams are realized, while some sure-fire bets fall by the wayside.

Yes, the Georgia legislative session is winding down.

Hey, I couldn’t have been talking about basketball in Georgia this time of year. (Thanks for nothing, Bulldogs, Yellow Jackets, Panthers, Eagles, Bears, and any other Division I schools I left out.) But if you read the foregoing and thought of the usual kind of March Madness, feel free to discuss how your brackets are doing in the thread below. I hope they’re doing better than mine; they almost have to be.

Or use the thread below to talk about whatever else is on your mind.

– By Kyle Wingfield

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Broun’s wrong about ’slight’ difference between Ryan, Obama plans

Congressman Paul Broun, R-Athens, is the only announced candidate in the election next year to replace retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss. I met with him last week while I was in Washington, and the thing he talked about over and over was cutting federal spending.

“I expect to win” next year’s election, he told me. “Georgians know I have the record. I have the will to say no to out-of-control spending. And I’m the only person who can be in this race who has done so, and they’ll elect me to the U.S. Senate.”

Asked about the possibility that two or three of his fellow House members could join him in the race, Broun replied: “I hope they’ll see the wisdom of staying where they are instead of losing to me.”

Strong words, as were the ones Broun wrote in an op-ed published in the New York Times on Monday. In the op-ed, Broun criticized House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s latest budget — the one Democrats have railed against as Draconian — as instead being inadequate.

“Spending [under the …

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Senate plan to ban ‘assault weapons’ appears dead for now

If the bill forthcoming from Senate Democrats is any indication, it appears there’s little appetiate in Congress to decide what constitutes an “assault weapon” and ban it. From the Washington Post:

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chief sponsor of the [assault weapons] ban, said Tuesday that her proposal won’t be included as part of a bill encompassing several proposals that the Senate Judiciary Committee approved last week and that the Senate is expected to begin debating when it returns from a two-week recess in early April.

In addition to the assault weapons ban, the Judiciary Committee approved a bipartisan proposal to make gun trafficking a federal crime; a bipartisan bill to expand a Justice Department grant program that provides funding for school security; and a Democratic proposal to expand the nation’s gun background check program.

Instead of including the assault weapons ban in the final bill, Feinstein said Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) has …

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