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POLITICAL NOTEBOOK: Congressmen sound off on State of the Union

Both Republicans and Democrats, Gwinnett's representatives in Washington agreed they were glad to hear President Barack Obama focus on jobs and the economy during his State of the Union speech last week.

"I am pleased to hear the president say he is going to do whatever is necessary to help create jobs and reinvigorate the economy," U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss said. "It's pretty obvious the stimulus package did not help reduce unemployment, so we need to go in another direction. And it is imperative that we work in a bipartisan manner to do so."

Chambliss and his Senate colleague Johnny Isakson, both Republicans, said they were pleased that Obama, a Democrat, discussed freezing spending, but both said he still needs to work on the issue.

"The only problem with freezing it at current levels is it includes all the money that's been spent for the stimulus," Isakson said. "It includes all of the budget increases from last year, in some cases 20 percent increases in one year. It's also inconsistent to come to us (Wednesday) and ask us to cap spending while on the Senate floor he's asking us to raise the debt by almost $2 trillion.

"The American people expect us to spend their money like they spend their money," he continued. "Sitting around the kitchen table, establishing priorities, not going into debt, spending money only where it should be spent. That's what the federal government needs to be doing. Caps are fine. Limitations are fine. But they need to be meaningful and they need to be consistent with debt borrowing, and they're not right now."

For Congressman Hank Johnson, a Democrat, the stimulus has helped in his DeKalb, Rockdale and Gwinnett district, and he said he looks forward to working with the president to create jobs, pass health care reform and more.

"We still are waiting for Republicans and some in the Senate to join us in solving today's problems," Johnson said. "Instead of simply blocking our progress to score political points, we should all work for the success of our president's efforts to revitalize America."

U.S. Rep. John Linder, the Republican whose district encompasses most of Gwinnett and all of Barrow, said he was "personally offended" by Obama's comments on Republican partisanship.

"I wanted to hear President Obama be bold. His baby step is better than no step, but we must do so much more if the president is to fulfill his promise to protect the financial interests of the American people," Linder said. "It is time to lead. To continue to blame the Bush Administration for our nation's economic woes lacks class. The dramatic spending increases came, not from President Bush's eight years in office, but from President Obama's one year in office. As unemployment levels continue above 10 percent and the middle class shrinks, it is time for this administration to look within and accept responsibility for its own failed policies. Only then can we begin to work together and enact real change for the better."

Of the four, only Isakson directly commented on Obama's health care remarks.

"The American people think we need to get back to the basics and start over," the Marietta man said. "I think we ought to do a step-by-step approach. For example, we know by allowing insurance to be sold across state lines and forming risk pools across state lines that we can open accessibility to affordable health care for almost a third of the uninsured. We know that a third of the uninsured are really eligible for Medicare, Medicaid or SCHIP, but they're not enrolled. The government ought to have an enrollment system so when they show up at health care facilities the coverage is there.

"There are other things we need to do, including tort reform. The tremendous amount of money that goes out in runaway verdicts or from negotiated settlements out fear of going to trial is just not right. I would rather us start with a step-by-step approach that deals with the things we know we can do rather than a comprehensive and pervasive overhaul of a system that ends up destroying what 86 percent of Americans have all for the 14 percent who don't."

Johnson poll

Johnson, by the way, says he still has a commanding lead over the myriad candidates who have tossed their hats in the ring since he announced he has Hepatitis C last month.

According to a poll conducted by Lake Research Partners, Johnson has a 28-point lead over fellow Democrats Vernon Jones, Connie Stokes and Lee May.

The poll showed he was well-liked among primary voters and that he begins the campaign season with 47 percent of the support in the four-person race. The number is three percent below the required majority needed to avoid a runoff.

Political Notebook appears in the Thursday and Sunday editions of the Gwinnett Daily Post.

Camie Young can be reached via e-mail at camie.young@gwinnettdailypost.com.