Georgia lawmakers divided on Obama's budget

WASHINGTON -- Georgia lawmakers waded into the fray over President Barack Obama's proposed $3.55 trillion budget this week in what likely will prove a contentious showdown pitting partisan support for a popular president's ambitious plans against worries over an ever-swelling deficit.

So far, the state's two Republican senators expressed cautious optimism over the president's reassurance on the banking system in his speech Tuesday before a joint session of Congress.

"I thought it was a good speech overall," Sen. Johnny Isakson said after the president delivered his speech. "I thought the optimism on the economy was needed and the reassurance on the banking system was important. I appreciate the spirit and the tone on health care and education and I look forward to seeing the details of both of those proposals."

Earlier in the day, Isakson outlined several principles he feels are needed to improve the economy -- including his popular, but ultimately nixed, proposal to extend a $15,000 tax credit for all purchasers of any home this year to help boost home sales.

The $787 billion economic stimulus package doesn't include Isakson's measure. Instead, Congress eliminated a repayment requirement on a more modest $8,000 credit.

Isakson also supports homeowners' eligibility for the refinancing opportunities recently outlined by the Obama administration. The president's Homeowner Stability Initiative seeks to provide low-cost refinancing for as many as 5 million Americans who are current on but struggling to make mortgage payments.

Members of the moderate Blue Dog Democrat group, whose support is seen as critical to passing provisions in the president's budget, were a bit more effusive in their praise of the Obama administration's efforts to shore up the economy. The Blue Dogs stressed that they would work with their colleagues to ensure a return to responsible spending in the budgeting process while reflecting the president's overall vision.

"There are many components to the president's plan, but each is dependent on the next and none of them can stand alone," said Blue Dog Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Albany. "The challenges we face are interrelated, and if we are to see our economy through to a brighter day, we must address them all."

Georgia's GOP House members were less impressed.

"This budget represents no tough choices. We're expanding government spending at the fastest rate since the Carter administration," said Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, R-Grantville. "The Democratic leadership can't have it both ways. They've doubled the deficit in four weeks and the out of control spending just continues. Their talk of protecting taxpayers and future generations doesn't pass the laugh test."

In the meantime, Bishop was all smiles Tuesday as he basked in a prime position near both the chamber entrance and the network cameras during Obama's speech to Congress. In shot after shot, Bishop was seen shaking the president's hand, grinning as members of the cabinet filed in and clapping as dignitaries took their seats.

Sen. Isakson may find himself in a much more uncomfortable spotlight as a member of the Senate ethics committee investigating whether Sen. Roland Burris, D-Ill. should keep his seat.

Burris, who was appointed by impeached Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, has offered a slew of explanations for how he was named to the seat following Obama's election. The Senate's leaders agreed to seat Burris after he assured them he was not involved in Blagojevich's attempts to extract money in exchange for the position.

Later, Burris said he raised money for the former governor.

The full scope of the committee's inquiry, including whether subpoenas could be issued, is unclear. The committee has the power to recommend sanctions -- including expulsion -- and will wrap up its inquiry in a few weeks.

Quick work for a political saga that has dragged on for months.

Notes on the Hill is an occasional column by Washington Correspondent Halimah Abdullah.