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Congressmen making some waves that reach Georgia

ATLANTA --- In a city with as many reporters as Washington, it would seem almost impossible for a politician to avoid frequent publicity.

But as one of 435 members of the House or even the 100 in the Senate, an individual lawmaker doesn't often feel the warmth of the limelight.

For one thing, the public increasingly considers to the presidency as all-powerful and the solution or cause of all problems. At the very least, the White House has more ability to set the national agenda than individual officeholders at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.

Often, the biggest splash a congressman can make is within a special-interest group. Lately, some of Georgia's delegation have been making ripples.

Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson's tax break for first-time homebuyers has made him the current darling of the real estate industry he spent his career in. Congress just extended the $8,000 tax credit for six more months and expanded it to apply $6,500 to any homebuyer.

For example, the California Association of Realtors issued a press release in support of the extension.

"The success of the home buyer tax credit and its positive impact on the real estate market is clear," said association President James Liptak. "According to our research, nearly 40 percent of first-time buyers said they would not have purchased a home if the federal tax credit for first-time home buyers was not offered."

Some conservative groups, like the Heritage Foundation, objected, calling the credit wrongly conceived and destined to penalize thrifty homeowners trying to sell their residences in favor of builders who foolishly over built in a saturated market.

Another Georgian making news for a niche group is Democrat Rep. Hank Johnson of Atlanta who introduced HR 3986, the "Effective Death Penalty Appeals Act." He was inspired by the experience of Troy Davis who received a capital sentence for the murder of off-duty Savannah policeman Mark McPhail.

Davis lost multiple appeals in state and federal courts despite claims that seven of nine eyewitnesses were ready to change parts of their testimony against him. Laws designed to speed executions by limiting appeals kept Davis from getting a hearing on the witness recanting until the U.S. Supreme Court acted on his third appeal there.

Johnson won praise from Laura Moye, director of Amnesty International's Death Penalty Abolition Campaign.

"When a person facing execution has strong evidence of his innocence, he should have ample opportunity to bring those claims back into a court of law," she said in a press release. "The law as it stands today is flawed in this respect. Rep. Johnson's bill would ensure that death row inmates have the opportunity to present newly discovered evidence of innocence."

The health care debate is providing opportunities for several Georgians to make a little noise along the Potomac. Republican Rep. Tom Price, a physician and chairman of the GOP Policy Committee, was behind a "kill the bill" rally, or "House call," on the Capitol steps Thursday that drew thousands and national media attention -- not to mention that of radio talk shows.

Rep. Jack Kingston of Savannah won kudos from his fellow Republicans for an idea that they considered a success, a Web cast protesting the Democratic health care proposal and helping stir excitement for the House call rally.

"We're connecting with Main Street America," Kingston was quoted by The Hill newspaper. "Our base has kind of moved from talk radio to e-mail, to YouTube."

Savannah Democrat John Barrow is also opposing his own party's health reform legislation. He initiated a letter signed by 35 of his fellow House "blue dog" moderates telling House Speaker Nancy Pelosi the House bill costs too much.

"We will be unable to support any health care legislation that doesn't meet the president's goals of driving down and holding down the cost of health care, as determined by" the CBO, the letter concluded.

At the same time, Barrow drew the ire of the electric utilities for introducing HR 2165, which would require the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to safeguard from cyber attacks the computer networks that link the nation's electric grid. The utilities balked at added regulation, arguing that threats should be stopped by law enforcement rather than giving regulators added emergency authority.

In a lot of small ways, these congressmen are making their impact on Capitol Hill. It's just not often that the ripples reach all the way back to Georgia.

(Walter Jones is the Atlanta bureau chief for Morris News and has been covering Georgia politics since 1998. He can be reached at or at (404) 589-8424.)

Web posted on Thursday, November 12, 2009

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