U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson (R-Georgia) participated in a town hall meeting Thursday in Georgia College’s Magnolia Ballroom.
The Marietta resident Congressman entered politics in 1974 and served 17 years in the Georgia Legislature and two years as chairman of the Georgia Board of Education. In 1999, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives for the first of three terms before being elected to the U.S. Senate in 2004. He was re-elected to the Senate in 2010.
The Milledgeville community, GC students and faculty engaged Isakson on a variety of topics affecting both the state a federal political climate.
• Government surveillance
Isakson said the federal government “threaded the needle” between personal rights and national security after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
The resulting Patriot Act allows National Security Agencies to monitor telecommunication and digital communications to snuff out potential terrorist activity and mobilization.
“You don’t have but a split second in this technological world,” Isakson said. “We had to provide American security agents the ability to do their job, while providing citizens health, safety and privacy. I voted for the Patriot Act. I understand people that have problems with it.”
The U.S. senator cited an incident averted at Georgia Tech three years ago where two students were using Tech computers to communicate to a terror network in Pakistan.
Both men were arrested and sentenced to prison within the last six months.
“It’s a delicate balance. You’ve always got to be vigilant protecting the health and welfare while also protecting the constitution,” he added.
• Appropriations gridlock
The senator said the national debt is the largest problem.
“We have too much deficit, and we have government expenses that are out of control,” he said.
Isakson said 1995 was the last year both the U.S. Senate and House passed all 12 appropriations bills and the president signed a budget ratified by each.
“That’s an indictment of inefficiency, and it’s the reason why the debt and deficit continue,” Isakson said.
In January 2013, Isakson was named to the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance, which has jurisdiction over taxes, trade, Medicare and Social Security and which plays a critical role in the debate over cutting spending and reducing national debt.
He has introduced a bi-annual budget bill that has the support of nearly 50 senators.
• Port of Savannah project
The port that provided 297,000 jobs will soon be deepened from 42 to 47 feet.
Isakson calls the agreement the “single largest economic boost in the history of our state.”
Room for larger boats means more cargo coming through the Georgia port keeping and adding jobs as a result.
“There are good things happening for the state that sometimes go under the radar,” he said.
The project was initially approved in 1999. Currently, cost estimates are near $680 million with one third of that matching state funding.
The hefty price is for environmental mitigation and security.
“It’s taken 15 years to run the science, but we know we can do it and not damage the oxygen demand,” he said.
• Affordable Care Act
Isakson said 83 percent of “Obamacare” falls under the Medicare formula meaning its mandatory federal spending.
“You have to repeal the law,” the senator said. “You can’t defund it. My personal belief is that the Affordable Care Act will implode under its own weight. I think the end result will be a piecemeal approach repealing parts of it at a time to end up with the system we should have had in the first place.”
• Georgia Power closings
Environmental regulation will close a number of power plants in the coming years including Plant Branch that affects Baldwin and Putnam counties.
“I believe we are pushing coal regulation so far that we are actually hurting the United States more than we are actually helping the environment,” Isakson said. “It’s become an economic decision.”