Isakson quietly goes about his senatorial business

McClatchy NewspapersJune 10, 2011 

WASHINGTON — Sen. Johnny Isakson isn't one of those flashy types of Washington lawmakers who regularly spar with the gaggle of reporters clogging the halls on Capitol Hill or pontificate for the major network news cameras after press conferences.

Instead, Isakson speaks with the even-paced gravitas of a lawmaker who's used to taking a quieter approach to getting things done. Still, there are some topics that make even the low-key lawmaker raise a brow ... if not his voice.

He spoke this week from his office on Capitol Hill — a formal room made more hospitable by the collection of framed family photos on the marble mantle and side tables — about what he considers the biggest issues facing Georgia: the economy and the national debt. Isakson said he worries government regulation might become "so oppressive that it becomes impossible (for businesses) to operate."

"I was at the OK Cafe in Buckhead and Steve Hennessy came running at me and put his finger on my nose and said he had to fire a salesman and hire two accountants," Isakson said, adding that the auto dealership owner's complaints are an example of businesses' fears about the impact of government regulation.

For example, Isakson is co-sponsoring legislation to prohibit the National Labor Relations Board from telling private companies where they may do business. The measure is a response to the Obama administration's attempt to block Boeing from building a second 787 Dreamliner factory in South Carolina, which, like Georgia, is one of 22 so-called right-to-work states.

In a case filed in April, the NLRB charged Boeing with union- busting and retaliating for past strikes at its facilities in the Puget Sound area of Washington state.

"The NLRB's attempt to dictate where Boeing, a private company, may do business is unfathomable," Isakson said. "We cannot allow the administration to continue to go down this unprecedented path that would hinder job growth in our country."

The debate over the NRLB's actions in the Boeing case may have erupted in a partisan showdown, but there are some issues that Isakson's working on that cross party lines.

Isakson's measure to adopt a biennial budget to better allow lawmakers to scrutinize federal programs to determine if they should be continued, reduced or eliminated is gaining traction on both sides of the aisle. He said he's hopeful the measure will be a part of any broader compromise on raising the national debt ceiling.

The idea of a biennial budget — one that is passed every two years rather than annually — is a perennial topic in Washington. It's often met with resistance by appropriators reluctant to pass a measure that might chip away at their authority by increasing oversight. Wooing that powerful group will have to happen "one appropriator at a time," he said.

Isakson, a member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee, pointed to the committee's discovery that there are currently nine programs in eight agencies assigned the task of dealing with workforce development. Such overlap is unnecessary, and giving lawmakers enough time to root out such inefficiencies will save taxpayers in the long run, he said.

In the meantime, Isakson, who spent more than three decades in the housing industry, renewed his warning to regulators of his belief that their plan to require a 20 percent down payment from highly qualified homebuyers for the newly enacted Qualified Residential Mortgage rule will devastate the housing market and prolong the nation's economic recovery

"If a 20 percent down payment requirement for highly qualified homebuyers is put in place, it would be a second hit to what is already a very fragile U.S. housing market," Isakson said. "It is critically important that when you pass regulation that the unintended consequence does not cause a bigger problem than the one you are trying to correct. The unintended consequence of this proposed rule would create lower demand in the housing market, perpetuate declining housing prices and a cause a continued protraction of the worst housing recession in the history of the United States of America."

Isakson worked with Sens. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., and Mary Landrieu, D-La., to include a provision exempting so-called "qualified residential mortgages" from a provision in last year's Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act that requires originators to retain at least a 5 percent interest in loan pools, known as "risk retention," sold to investors. Their provision was intended to ensure that highly qualified homebuyers have access to affordable home loans.

Regulators have extended the comment period on the proposal from June to August.

"A lot of the marketplace can not afford 20 percent down," Isakson said.

McClatchy Newspapers 2011

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