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Notes from the Hill: Isakson wins one -- then loses

WASHINGTON — For Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-GA, it was a short-lived victory.

Lawmakers hammering out a compromise on a $787 billion economic stimulus package nixed Isakson's popular measure to stimulate the nation's declining housing market by offering a $15,000 tax credit to individuals who purchase a home in the next year. Instead, Congress likely will eliminate a repayment requirement on a more modest $7,500 credit.

The move caused no small degree of consternation among Republican lawmakers who, throughout the daylong debate, pointed to the change as a yet another example of Democratic cheek and unwillingness to work in a bipartisan fashion.

"I commend my good friend and colleague, Senator Isakson, who worked to put a housing tax credit in the bill that actually would have stimulated the economy and revived the housing market," said Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga. "It is disheartening that my colleagues in the majority did not choose to include that provision."

For his part, Isakson seemed reconciled to push forward.

"This economic decline began in housing and it will only end when the housing market rebounds," he said. I'm extremely disappointed the members of Congress negotiating the final product decided to eliminate my tax credit for all Americans who purchase a home."

Isakson said he will continue to pursue the housing tax credit as standalone legislation.

"We have historical precedent that shows this idea works and there has been so much public support for it," he said. "I believe my colleagues will go home next week and their constituents will ask them why a tax credit for all buyers and all homes wasn't included in the final stimulus bill. I'm optimistic it can still be done."

Many lawmakers are licking their wounds as details of the compromise legislation reveal a much slimmer package than previous versions. However, it is a measure that is still too weighty for Republican tastes.

The House passed the final version of the bill on a vote of 246-183 on Friday with no Republican support. Lawmakers who opposed the measure said their offices were bombarded with calls from constituents urging a "no" vote.

"For Valentine's Day, the Congress gave the American people a Yugo but paid Rolls Royce prices, and adding insult to injury, the House put your 'gift' on your credit card," said Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, R-Grantville. "This is an economic Valentine's Day massacre."

Lawmakers supporting the measure and President Barack Obama said voters wanted the bill to pass.

In the meantime, the White House has said the package will help resuscitate the nation's ailing economy by offering tax relief and creating or saving 3.5 million jobs. States will net $27.5 billion to modernize roads and bridges, $53.6 billion to help offset education costs and $87 billion for Medicaid, the administration said.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and fellow Republicans said that aid comes at too steep a price, contains too much entitlement spending, doesn't do enough to help financially strapped homeowners and doesn't contain enough tax cuts -- a provision Republicans see as vital to shoring up the private sector.

"This week, congressional Democrats are handing taxpayers a bill for $1.2 trillion. Soon, they'll spend $400 billion to finish up spending from last year. We're being told to get ready for untold hundreds of billions for the financial industry," McConnell said. "Since taking over Congress and the White House, Democrats have been making up for lost time with a government spending spree on the taxpayer credit card. Even without this massive spending bill, the deficit continues to grow."

Notes on the Hill is an occasional column by Washington Correspondent Halimah Abdullah.

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