We all know Washington is dysfunctional. After my first year in the United State Senate, I can tell you it’s worse than we realized. Power politics have allowed Washington insiders to push their personal priorities ahead of national interests, and they must be stopped.
With $19 trillion in debt today, and more than $100 trillion in future unfunded liabilities, the United States is on track to hit $30 trillion in debt over the next decade. Yet surprisingly, the one thing I haven’t heard anyone say in Washington is: “We cannot afford it.”
Last year, Congress continued to pass bills that added to the national debt — including the grand bargain, doc-fix, highway bill — and I voted against each one to try and stop this insanity. Despite my efforts, the rest of Congress continued to ignore its fiscal responsibility.
Given my focus to stop Washington’s spending spree, many people have asked why I ultimately voted for the end-of-the year appropriations package, also known as an “omnibus,” which only allocated how this money would ultimately be spent. The answer is simple: we cannot take Georgia’s water for granted.
As many Georgians know, there is an ongoing fight between the states of Georgia, Alabama, and Florida over water rights. This decades-long debate — often called “water wars” — is about protecting Georgia’s precious water resources and ensuring there is enough water to sustain our state’s growth and support our diverse industries.
Here’s what you might not know…
Last year, Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama — a long-time appropriations committee member and chairman — attempted multiple times to use the appropriations process to direct the actions of the Army Corps of Engineers to disadvantage Georgia, including giving other states veto power of any water resource plan proposed by the Army Corps.
Then in November, when it was clear the budget process had completely broken down, Washington lumped together all 12 of the appropriations bills into one massive bill. As the “omnibus” was being put together behind closed doors, Senator Shelby slipped in a provision that would have instructed the Department of Justice to insert itself in these multi-state water issues.
The combined impact of these unilateral attempts to disrupt the Army Corps’ water management procedures could have led to water rationing and other draconian water management practices that would harm Georgia homeowners and businesses.
The Georgia Congressional Delegation directly confronted House and Senate leaders about this issue and threatened to block the bill from advancing if the provision was not immediately removed. Together, we successfully removed this provision to protect Georgia and every state’s water supply. This is a huge accomplishment and no small feat in the ongoing water dispute.
While Georgia currently enjoys abundant water resources, they must be carefully managed to meet the needs of our growing population and thriving industries. Georgia is the 8th most populous state and one of the fastest growing in the nation. Between 2000 and 2015, Georgia gained 1.9 million new residents.
Georgia is blessed with a climate that allows tremendous opportunities for businesses from manufacturing to agriculture. Our state is consistently ranked as one of the best states in which to do business and our booming agriculture industry has an economic impact of $72 billion annually.
Unfortunately, many of us remember the drought in 2007 and the tremendous impact this had on Georgia. We could find ourselves in a similar situation, but much worse, if Georgia’s water supply isn’t secure.
Another drought could negatively affect water access across the state threatening the loss of jobs and directly harming economic expansions like the new Atlanta Falcons stadium and the new home of the Atlanta Braves, which would only have access to a fraction of the water resources they need to function.
The Metro Atlanta area would no longer be as attractive to new business or business expansion because companies would be hesitant to invest in a community where water resources are not guaranteed. Homeowners could see the value of their homes decrease because of the uncertainty that would surround their access to water for basic household needs.
Farmers in southwest Georgia and across the entire state would be devastated by the potential loss of access to the water they use for irrigation purposes. All of this could have become a stark reality if the Georgia Congressional Delegation did not work together to protect our water supply from Washington insiders.
Let’s be clear, this is not the way the budget process should work. In fact, since the current budget process was created in 1974 it has only worked four times in the past 40 years.
What’s worse, no one should be able to secretly insert contentious language into any bill without debate. The appropriations process should be an open one and not manipulated behind closed doors by a single member of Congress.
That’s why I’m fighting to change the budget process so it finally works. This is going to take a lot more than tinkering around the edges. We need to completely reinvent the process. Above all, no member of Congress should ever be forced to choose between adding to the national debt and protecting the people they represent.
This is a perfect example of how Washington’s broken budget process has dangerously empowered politicians to spend more and build up the debt. It is time we put an end to Washington’s perverse power politics and focus on delivering results.