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Two-year budget agreement includes multiple Georgia goodies


The details of the new budget agreement struck by congressional leaders were slow to trickle out on Wednesday, but an early summary of the $300 billion, two-year deal indicated local interests would have plenty to cheer about. 

Tucked into the agreement is money long sought by Georgia’s military bases, cotton farmers and hospitals. Additional details on other priorities, such as how the state’s lone nuclear project prevailed, were not immediately available as aides rushed to write the bill text and lobbyists parsed through the limited summaries that were available. 

Most Georgia lawmakers said they were still reviewing the agreement on Wednesday afternoon, although some expressed concerns about factors like its price tag. 

“This is a big number but I support (the defense) part of it,” said U.S. Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., shortly after the deal was announced. He said he wanted to review the details of the measure before making a final decision. 

The bipartisan deal still faces significant roadblocks, particularly in the House. Democrats are livid it does not address immigration –Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi delivered a searing, record-breaking speech on the House floor for much of the day – and conservative Republicans are upset because the deal bursts through spending caps designed to keep the deficit in check.   

Read Jamie Dupree’s overview here.

Here’s a preliminary look at how Georgia interests fared:

Military interests  

Pentagon boosters have been screaming for months about how stopgap budgeting hurts the country’s defense system. The new agreement would loosen the grip of tight spending caps on the military – their top priority – by approving an extra $165 billion for defense over two years. That money would undoubtedly trickle down to aid Georgia’s eight military bases and 118,000 active-duty, reserve and civilian personnel. A Defense Department flush with cash would also means more money for equipment such as airplanes, which could help defense contractors such as Lockheed Martin, which builds the wing of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter in Marietta. Some of the tougher line-by-line choices, such as whether to continue rehabbing the aging surveillance aircraft flown out of Robins Air Force base, will come later. 

Local hospitals 

Like the stopgap spending agreement the House advanced Tuesday, the new budget deal would avert two years of funding cuts to safety net hospitals such as Grady Memorial that treat a disproportionate share of indigent patients. It would also set aside two years of money for community health centers such as the Atlanta-based Mercy Care. Groups representing both interests had been lobbying Congress furiously for the money after earlier stopgap spending deals left them in the cold. The budget deal would also extend federal support for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, the parent to PeachCare, for four additional years. The program now has enough money to operate for 10 years. 

Cotton farmers

The budget deal includes a lifeline to cotton farmers in Georgia and elsewhere who say they have been pinched by years of low commodity prices and other unfavorable economic conditions. The agreement would make farmers eligible for new federal subsidies for the cottonseed they produce, which is used to make livestock feed, oils and fertilizers. The provision is a workaround to the current system of subsidies that is designed to put more money in cotton farmers’ products until the new farm bill can be finalized later this year. The industry has been pushing Congress for the provision for several years. 

Other questions

Broad swaths of the bill remained clouded in mystery for much of the day Wednesday. U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said the agreement would set aside $20 billion in new money for infrastructure projects, including roads and rural broadband, but which projects would be eligible were not clear. Depending on how the federal program is structured, Georgia initiatives may be able to apply. 

Ditto for the victims of Hurricane Irma on the Georgia coast. The budget deal is said to include more than $80 billion in emergency money for the victims of last year’s natural disasters, although it’s still unclear how agencies such as the Small Business Administration and Army Corps of Engineers would be directed to dispense that money. 

One of the biggest questions for the Georgia delegation is whether the agreement would aid the state’s struggling nuclear power project at Plant Vogtle. The deal is said to include one year’s worth of funding for “tax extenders,” of which the nuclear project has previously been considered, but details were unavailable on Wednesday afternoon. The companies behind the $23 billion Plant Vogtle, as well as Georgia utility regulators, are counting on Congress to approve the tax credits, which are said to be worth some $800 million for the project. 


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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.