Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Marietta, says August is "a good month" for him because of the way he spends his "vacation" from the U.S. Senate -- visiting with the folks back home and listening to what they have to say.
Isakson dropped by The Herald on Friday to meet with the newspaper's Editorial Board and said there are two constant themes he's hearing throughout the state this August: unhappiness with Congress's failure to get much accomplished and the sour economy.
"Everybody is mad at Congress for what is seen as inaction," Isakson said, adding there are a lot of concerns about the economy, which has never really recovered from the 2007 recession, creating the "longest protracted period of economic downturn since the Great Depression."
The uncertain political climate that has resulted from election-year stalemates hasn't helped that for a simple reason -- businesses doesn't like uncertainty when they're deciding where to expend capital. So they put it in their pocket and wait to see how things will shake out.
Unfortunately, it doesn't look like Congress will be doing much of anything, at least through the November election.
"I think we'll pass a continuing resolution to continue spending as is through April," Isakson said.
But once the election is over -- regardless of who wins -- he said Congress will have to head off the disaster known as sequestration. After the 12-member bipartisan "Super Committee" charged with trimming $1.2 trillion from the federal deficit over a 10-year period failed miserably, the clock started ticking down on a self-administered "poison pill" that Congress prescribed itself -- across-the-board budget cuts that will start taking effect in January unless the Legislature heads them off. If Congress fails to do something -- and something constructive -- we could be seeing spending cuts and tax increases that experts estimate will knock 3-4 percent out of the American gross domestic product, and quite probably usher in a new, deeper recession.
"We are reaching the fiscal cliff," the senator said, "and the telling moment on the future of our country."
And, he said, it's not like the solution is a secret. It's going to take a combination of things: cutting spending, reforming entitlements and placing the federal tax code on the table. Blueprints have been drawn in the Simpson-Bowles Act, based on the work of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform that was chaired by former Wyoming Senator Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, a White House chief of staff under President Bill Clinton. There was also the work done in 2011 by the bipartisan Gang of Six in the Senate, which included Georgia's senior U.S. senator, Saxby Chambliss of Moultrie.
"We need to do what the American people have done," Isakson said. "We need to tighten our belt."
How that will happen with a federal government that can't even pass a spending plan is the question. Isakson said one change that could improve the way Congress does its fiscal business would be to implement biennial budgeting.
Thirty-seven co-sponsors have signed onto the idea that he and U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., have proposed that has the potential to take some of the politics out of the budgeting process. Each federal budget would cover two years, and it would be passed in odd-numbered years -- when no one from Congress is up for re-election -- just overseen in even-numbered election years, when senators and representatives are focused primarily on bringing federal money to their states and districts.
The senator said he believes a biennial budget cycle would lead to Congress prioritizing its spending, paying what needs to be paid and living within its means.
It's worth a try. The way Congress is approaching it now sure isn't working. Not by a long shot.
Maybe that's something lawmakers will look at next year. But this year, they've got to find an antidote for this fiscal poison pill.
Frankly, it'd be unconscionable for Congress not to take action to head off this disaster. But then, many people also dismissed the thought that the Super Committee would completely flop and leave this ticking time bomb strapped to the U.S. economy. But that's what it's doing. And it's getting louder every minute.
Tick ... tick ... tick ...
Email Jim Hendricks at firstname.lastname@example.org.