Georgia's state senators will gather at Little Ocmulgee State Park and Lodge near McRae on November 15-16. The meeting officially is to establish Senate and Caucus rules for the upcoming session of the General Assembly, as well as elect Senate leadership.
While that may sound nebulous and mundane, it is far from it. The Senate rules establish who gets to appoint committee chairmen, among other things. In short, this is the meeting to decide how much power the lieutenant governor will be allowed to wield over Senate matters.
The invite from Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Cowsert states that "I hope this retreat will help us reunite our caucus and reach a consensus" for the rules. He adds, "It will also be an opportunity for us to develop a vision for the Senate Caucus Trust for the future." Use of that trust to fund an independent expenditure group that was less than independent resulted in multiple ethics charges against Senate Caucus members and had several boycott the Senate Republican Trust's annual fundraiser. "Vision" appears to be light code for "let's make sure we don't screw this up again."
The setting of Little Ocmulgee State Park is described in the invite as "a nice remote and private setting which will allow us the opportunity to work and socialize without distractions." Having visited the park once for an overnight retreat while in high school, I can help translate that line as well. It's the kind of place where no one can hear you scream. Expect a few items among members to be aired out before they emerge with a new leadership slate and a statement of unity and purpose.
Tuesday's elections will also have had a great impact on Georgia's budget and our delivery of health care. The winner of the White House will be taken as a signal whether or not Georgia has to set up a health care exchange under the recently upheld Health Care Reform Law. There is also the matter of Georgia officially deciding whether or not it will expand our Medicaid program under the law.
While the governor has said he is against expanding Georgia's program, legislators are starting to look at the renewal of the hospital bed tax and see a needed correlation. It will be difficult to get legislators to vote to renew the bed tax in order to maximize federal Medicaid revenues paid to the state while simultaneously refusing the additional money offered by the feds to add more people to the insured rolls, albeit adding them with heavy future strings attached.
At the federal level, much business awaits Georgia's congressional delegation when they return to D.C. the week of November 12. There is an extension of the Farm Bill, Sequestration, the debt ceiling, the expiration of the Bush/Obama tax cuts, and expiring temporary payroll tax cuts that must be dealt with before December 31.
Neither party is having serious conversations about renewing the payroll tax cuts. Expect the federal government to take its full FICA tax again beginning January first. That's an additional 2% over what we've been contributing over the past two years.
The House and Senate left town for their election season recess fairly close to a compromise on the Farm Bill. The major point of disagreement is over how much the food stamp program will be cut. A unique Georgia angle is how Sen. Saxby Chambliss will vote. Once a strong supporter of the farm bill, Chambliss is looking at beginning his reelection campaign in earnest after Tuesday's election. The TEA Party votes he would desire if there is a credible primary challenge aren't usually too supportive of farm subsidies, yet Chambliss hails from a part of the state whose economic model depends on them.
Expect a lot of grandstanding, and for Congress to be in session well after we have presents under our Christmas trees. But as always, beware of any packages gift-wrapped from Washington.
Charlie Harper, author and editor of the Peach Pundit blog, writes on Georgia politics and government; www.peachpundit.com.