What Others Are Saying

Georgia’s senior U.S. senator, Johnny Isakson, says the biggest accomplishment of the Republican-majority Congress in 2015 was the approval of an omnibus appropriations bill for the first time in seven years.

Congress actually went through the process of appropriating rather than doing continuing resolutions and “rather than having a government that’s on cruise control and continues to spend money like it always did,” the senator said in a post-session telephone interview.

“Probably that accomplishment more than anything else is something that gives us hope, because we had a lot of things that needed to be addressed both from an enhancement standpoint as well as a reduction standpoint,” Isakson said.

As for measures sponsored by Republicans, Isakson cited first the Clay Hunt suicide prevention act named for a young Texas Marine veteran who took his own life in 2011. The law provides better access to mental health resources aimed at preventing suicides — which average about 22 a day among veterans.

“It’s already being implemented around the country and we’re beginning to get some meaningful reductions in suicide incidents in our veterans population,” said the senator. This is an issue close to Isakson’s heart, and he has wielded his influence as chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee to bring about reforms in the VA and increased funding for veterans health care. He also has a lot of other irons in the fire as chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Ethics.

Isakson ticked off other accomplishments of congressional Republicans.

“We passed a Keystone Pipeline bill to get Canadian crude down to Texas for refining but the president vetoed it — but we put it on his desk, which was important,” the senator said. “We did a defense authorization bill for the first time in a couple of years. We did the trade promotion authority to give the president authority for fast track negotiations on trade.

“We passed repeal of Obamacare on the reconciliation bill, which the president will veto, but we passed it and put it on his desk. This has been a promise of the Republican caucus for the last two election cycles.

“We passed a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act which repealed the Common Core provisions of the federal law and left those decisions up to the states and reinforced parental decision making and parental opt-out provisions on testing.

“We also passed the highway bill for reauthorization of the highway trust fund for the next five years. So for the first time in 17 years, you have a predictable flow of highway money for five years for federal interstates and federal projects in the states,” he said.

Isakson and his Republican colleagues brought home the bacon for Georgia. The omnibus appropriations act includes $21 million for expansion of the Savannah Harbor. It will be deepened to 47 feet to increase the amount of cargo moved through the port by more than 50 percent. “From an economic standpoint, there’s nothing more important” as far as Georgia is concerned, the senator said. Add the spending from the highway bill, and the economic impact is huge, he said.

Summing up, Isakson said: “From a standpoint of business, of education and of the best interests of the people in terms of transportation, it’s been one of the best years we’ve had in a long time.”

Asked if it was his busiest year ever, he replied: “Chairing two committees and having as much as I have had to do as the senior senator now, there’s no question it’s been my busiest and probably my most productive year.” Indeed, senator, you make the Energizer Bunny look a little slow in comparison. So just “keep going and going.”