It was a year of learning and experiencing a lot, U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, R-Ga., said.
In his first year as representative from the 1st Congressional District, the Pooler native got to experience Pope Francis’ address to Congress up close and went with a group of legislators to Israel to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Each event, Carter said, was an honor.
Then, there was dealing with a new schedule. In his days as a state legislator, Carter was used to 40-day sessions in Atlanta and getting to go home around the end of March or beginning of April. Being a U.S. congressman, however, is year-round and 24/7, he said. Even being back home, he said he was busy getting around and seeing people in a district that has 17 counties, including Liberty and Long.
“It’s very time consuming, but it’s very, very exciting,” Carter said.
One of Carter’s major goals when going to Congress was to tackle the national debt, which was at nearly $19 trillion Dec. 24, according to TreasuryDirect.gov. This year, for the first time since 2009, Congress passed a budget, which cuts the debt by $5.5 trillion over the next 10 years, Carter said.
“A budget that, granted, it’s not a balanced budget, but it does give us a roadmap to a balanced budget,” he said.
Also, Congress passed a highway bill that covers five years’ worth of spending, marking the first time in decades that a highway bill longer than two years was approved. That was key to helping relieve the debt, Carter said. That is because in order to economically grow out of debt, sound infrastructure has to be in place, which means transportation has be taken care of, he said.
The federal bill will work in harmony with Georgia’s highway bill that was passed this year in Atlanta by making sure projects keep going, Carter added.
“The federal government’s got to be a reliable partner to the states in order for the states to get projects underway and completed,” he said.
Other key legislation from this year included ensuring doctors will accept Medicare from seniors, entitlement reform for the first time in two decades, and the passage of an omnibus bill that included $21 million for the Savannah Harbor deepening. Also, the defense budget was increased, which he said was vital to the 1st District and its four military bases.
For 2016 — the House reconvenes on Tuesday — Carter said the No. 1 item as far as he’s concerned is national security. Carter, a member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, said the top responsibility of the government is to protect its citizens from terrorist groups like the highly publicized Islamic State, also known by the acronym ISIS.
“We’ve got to make sure this is done. We’ve got to destroy this threat known as ISIS,” Carter said.
The congressman said the House has addressed some concerns connected with that. In November, the House passed legislation that puts a hold on allowing Syrian and Iraqi refugees into the country until they are deemed safe to enter, according to CNN.com. Also, earlier this month, the House passed an overhaul of the federal visa-waiver program, which would restrict anyone traveling to or from Iraq, Syria, Iran and the Sudan without a visa, also according to CNN.com. Both pieces of legislation are currently in the Senate.
Other aspects for the House to consider in 2016 include having regular order on voting for appropriations — basically, being able to focus on 12 appropriations bills instead of passing one omnibus package as was done this year. Also, with U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., recently installed as speaker, Carter said comprehensive tax reform — one of Ryan’s main projects — should get looked at in the coming year.
Of course, with an even-numbered year looming, elections are imminent. Carter is used to that, as he has run for office 12 of the last 20 years, and has his re-election campaign underway.
“We always like to get out,” he said. “… This is my home and has been my home my whole life, and I just love the 1st District.”
On Monday — his 71st birthday — U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., said he got good news on his health. The senator, who announced earlier this year he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, had a checkup and got a “100 percent sign-off, no problems whatsoever,” he said.
That means a good start for the impending new year, one that will see Isakson run for re-election and a third term as senator.
The 2015 legislative year, meanwhile, featured one of the biggest projects for Georgia that Isakson has seen in his public life: the Savannah Harbor deepening. The senator said getting President Barack Obama to include funds for that project in the recently passed budget secures its future.
“That’s huge for Georgia and huge for southeast Georgia,” Isakson said.
The past year also saw Isakson accomplish his legislation calling for significant compensation for the Americans held hostage in Iran from 1979-81. Three of the hostages were from Georgia. Compensation had been held up by the Algiers Accords, which forbade America from suing Iran for the money.
“It’s long overdue, but well-deserved,” Isakson said.
That legislation was part of the budget bill passed earlier this month, which also included $665 billion in tax cuts in next five years. Isakson said he was pleased with the budget in terms of tax policy, stating that in terms of relief and incentives, it’s probably the biggest spending package he has been a part of.
While the Senate did more this year than in the other six years of the Obama administration, Isakson said, there were some goals that fell short. Expansion of the Keystone Pipeline was vetoed by the president, as was a repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Isakson said the efforts will continue to repeal the ACA, also known as “Obamacare,” which Isakson said is “imploding on its own” with rate hikes and the closing of insurance cooperatives.
One thing that also did not get repealed was the Waters of the United States rule, which says that the federal government has jurisdiction over pretty much any water on any property — even “a puddle left over because of a rainstorm,” Isakson said. He said that rule hurts agriculture and construction, and it’s an issue that should be left up to local control.
Also in terms of the environment, Isakson said that he is all for a clean environment and carbon reduction, but he felt the president overreached with new regulations for the coal industry, saying it has been bad for prosperity and the electrical grid, and would like to see that rolled back.
Echoing Carter, Isakson cited national security as a major priority for 2016. The senator said he would like to see a stronger policy with regard to the Middle East in order to root out terrorists.
“The more committed we are to eradication of ISIL, the safer our children and grandchildren and our country will be,” the senator said, referring to another acronym for Islamic State.
Isakson said he would like to see a change in the direction of the National Labor Relations Board in the wake of its ruling that, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, established “any company that reserves the right to influence employment conditions over workers hired by a contractor is a joint employer, even if it never exercises that right or only does so indirectly.” Isakson said the ruling tries to suppress small businesses.
With the election year coming up — and already wild presidential campaigning on both sides — Isakson said it promises to be “one heck of a presidential race.” Isakson already has his re-election bid in full swing, saying his campaign has raised $5 million in the last year and the campaign staff has been hired.
A representative for U.S. Sen. David Purdue, R-Ga., did not respond to an interview request by the Coastal Courier before press time Tuesday.