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Isakson warns against fall shutdown, debt default

Washington has little to gain politically by entering into a shutdown showdown or defaulting on the national debt this fall, warned U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson.

Shutting down the government “doesn’t solve anything,” the Georgia Republican said in an interview earlier this week. “Never has, never will.”

And defaulting on the country’s debts should not be on the table, he said, “because that costs our kids a lot more, it costs our country a lot more.”

The third-term senator laid out his opening positions as lawmakers prepare to return from their August recess next week and confront a brutal September schedule. On Congress’ must-do list for the next month:

  • Raising the borrowing limit
  • Funding the government
  • Renewing a federal children’s health insurance program
  • Reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration
  • Refreshing the National Flood Insurance Program

Lawmakers may also need to set aside new money to help rebuild Houston as Hurricane Harvey brings historic flooding to Southeast Texas. Senate leaders have also indicated their desire to pass the annual defense policy bill and stabilize Obamacare’s markets in September.

Each of those items is complicated on its own, but the most radioactive will likely be the most routine from the list: keeping the government running.

President Donald Trump is insisting that Congress set aside seed money for his border wall in next month’s spending bill in order to fulfill a key campaign pledge. But Democrats say they won’t support anything that includes a penny for the wall. Senate Republicans need to woo at least eight Democrats to pass any spending bill.

Without mentioning the border wall specifically, Isakson indicated that a shutdown battle wasn’t worth it.

“I’m not interested in doing that,” he said.

The GOP suffered in the polls during the last shutdown over Obamacare in 2013, but the party then went on to win big during the 2014 midterm elections.

Raising the borrowing limit could be a less dramatic affair. Markets tumbled during skirmishes between House Republicans and then-President Barack Obama in 2011 as the former demanded spending cuts in exchange for suspending the debt limit. There is still some thirst for spending cuts among some of the more conservative members of the House GOP, but Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has recently pushed for a debt ceiling hike without any policy strings attached.

Isakson said his support for such legislation would be dependent on the policy specifics but that “you don’t want to default.”

His Georgia colleague David Perdue agreed. The first-term Republican told reporters during a Friday roundtable discussion that the nation can’t risk a “default on our interest liability out there.”

He added that the debt ceiling has been a failure because it hasn’t “slowed Congress from spending money.”


Opinion: So Mexico’s off the hook for that wall?

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About the Author

Tamar Hallerman is The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Washington correspondent, covering Congress, federal agencies and other government activities that impact Georgia.