WASHINGTON -- Congress on Friday easily cleared a $1.1 trillion spending bill to fund every corner of the government through September, after Georgia won a last-minute victory in the water wars.
The Georgia delegation almost completely lined up behind the bill, which was stuffed with thousands of pages of things to love and hate but with report language that was crucially tweaked Thursday in Georgia's favor. Of the 14 House members, only Reps. Jody Hice, R-Monroe, and Hank Johnson, D-Lithonia, voted no. Both senators also voted yes.
All of them had threatened to line up against it because of a harmless sounding paragraph inserted by Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., that could have upset the balance of the tri-state water wars. But leadership yanked the paragraph, and Georgia responded with near-unanimous backing.
"They stuck their neck out for us," said Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., of congressional leaders. "Being a successful senator and a successful member of Congress, it's all about reciprocity and relationships. ... I think Georgia flexed its muscle over good relationships."
Said Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., of Thursday's frenzy:
"That was something that we focused on once we became aware of it. We said: 'You know what, it shouldn’t be in the bill, and we should fix it.' And we got that done and the Georgia delegation was strongly supportive of the bill because it fixed that problem that would have been devastating to Georgia and shouldn’t have been in the bill. And we took it out."
Conservative critics attacked the bill for a variety of shortcomings, from not blocking refugees from Syria or allowing the Environmental Protection Agency to implement a new water regulation unpopular with farmers. Hice said his no vote had to do mostly with refugees.
But there were under the radar conservative wins, said Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, R-Coweta County:
"I know why they’re upset. I’m upset. But two years ago we were getting reamed because we were not stopping Obamacare – reamed. So now we finally get the insurance corridors gone, which is going to help dismantle it.
"The device tax [delayed] for a couple of years, the Cadillac tax [delayed], so all these funders are going. Two years ago if we had done this, people would have been having parades for us, hugging our necks.
"And so they just want things instantly. And I understand that. Look, I would love instant things too, but this institution moves very slow. And when you’re negotiating with Harry Reid and Obama, they’ve got two of the three hands."
Sen. David Perdue --like most of Georgia's House members -- voted against the fall budget and debt ceiling deal that set these spending levels and set the stage for the omnibus spending bill. Perdue said he came around to yes Friday because several parochial priorities were protected, from the J-STARS aircraft at Warner Robins to a USDA poultry lab in Athens.
"But the big thing," Perdue said, "was the water rights of the people of Georgia are protected."