Georgia class of '92 surveys new congressional landscape

Fourteen years ago, John Linder, Jack Kingston and Sanford Bishop came to Congress as freshmen, Linder and Kingston with the minority Republican Party and Bishop as a majority Democrat.

Just two years later, Linder and Kingston rode into power on a GOP wave generated by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia. That same Republican Revolution relegated Bishop to minority status for, as it turned out, 12 long years.

Now, control of Congress has changed hands again and, because of their seniority, no members of Georgia's House delegation - other than 20-year veteran Rep. John Lewis, D-Atlanta - stand to benefit or lose more than those three from the class of '92.

Linder, R-Duluth, appears to have suffered the most damage from last week's Democratic takeover of the House.

He had been making inroads with the chamber's Republican leadership, particularly Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., on the FairTax bill, long Linder's top priority.

Now, Hastert will be handing the speaker's gavel to a Democrat, probably Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, who has been one of the loudest voices in Congress opposing President Bush's tax cuts as too skewed toward the wealthiest Americans.

Of the 58 lawmakers who signed onto Linder's bill during the 109th Congress, only one was a Democrat.

Now, Linder will have to sell the idea of scrapping the federal income tax and replacing it with a national sales tax to a lot more Democrats if he wants to get anywhere with it.

He says he's confident he can do that as long as members of America's huge baby boom generation continue retiring faster than younger Americans enter the work force, a scenario that the income tax system over time simply can't support.

"I think the FairTax is still going to be an issue,'' Linder said. "The economic forces driving the need for it are still there.''

Bishop, D-Albany, boasted during the fall campaign that he has landed $11 billion for various projects in Georgia's 2nd Congressional District since he's been on the House Appropriations Committee.

"We've been able to bring federal tax dollars home to help people improve their lives,'' he said. "I think we're doing our job.''

Those numbers should go even higher now that Bishop's party is back in power.

With seven terms under his belt, he may have piled up enough seniority to qualify for a subcommittee chairmanship on Appropriations.

Even if a chairmanship doesn't come his way, Bishop's influence will grow in the most powerful committee in the House.

He also will gain more clout on the Agriculture and Veterans Affairs committees, policy areas of great importance to both his district and Georgia, if he chooses to keep those assignments.

Kingston, R-Savannah, is the one Republican on the Georgia delegation who actually could emerge a winner out of last week's congressional results.

When Republican Conference Chairman Deborah Pryce of Ohio announced after the elections that she was stepping down from leadership, he put his name in the hat for the job.

As vice chairman of the conference, the gregarious Kingston has long been the House Republicans' point man with the media, appearing on numerous cable shows from Fox News to Comedy Central.

He said his ability to play that role will be needed more than ever with the GOP out of power.

"What members don't understand who haven't served in the minority is that, legislatively, you've lost the inside game,'' he said.

"The outside game of communicating with the press and public is made more important. You have to be able to go out and communicate that the Dems are making bad decisions.''

Pelosi, who was a frequent target in Republican attack ads before Election Day, moved quickly after last week's Democratic victories to throw water on the concept that her party would try to completely remake federal policy, particularly on the war in Iraq, and launch a rash of oversight hearings.

But Linder said whether the Democrats overreach with their newfound power also will depend on the new committee chairmen, who enjoyed a good deal of independence during previous periods of Democratic rule.

He noted that Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., incoming chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, has talked openly of rolling back the president's tax cuts, while Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., has threatened to use his chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee to hold impeachment hearings on Bush.

"If (the chairmen) go their own way, you're going to see an impeachment resolution and tax increases,'' Linder said.

For their part, Democrats are promising rules changes to give minority Republicans more input than House GOP leaders gave them during the last dozen years.

"The House was hijacked by partisanship,'' Bishop said. "Both sides of an issue were seldom heard. ... You can expect Democrats to adjust those rules and make them fairer.''

E-mail Dave Williams at dave.williams@gwinnettdailypost.com. Have any thoughts about this column? Share them with us at letters@gwinnettdailypost.com. Letters should be no more than 200 words and are subject to approval by the publisher. Letters may be edited for style and space requirements. Please sign your name and provide an address and a daytime telephone number. Address letters for publication to: Letters to the Editor, Gwinnett Daily Post, P.O. Box 603, Lawrenceville, GA 30046-0603. The fax number is 770-339-8081.