Rail line, other work on hold, Georgia Congressman Tom Graves says

Rail line, other work on hold, Georgia Congressman Tom Graves says

January 4th, 2011 by Andy Johns in News

North Georgia Congressman Tom Graves says there are many "worthy projects" out there, but all of them -- including high-speed rail lines from Atlanta to Chattanooga -- must go on the back burner until legislators reel in spending.

"If we're going to get this nation back on track in a fiscally responsible manner, then we've got to stop spending and then begin cutting and reducing the current spending levels," said Graves, R-Ga., in a phone interview.

Graves said he was looking at $100 billion in cuts to the federal government during the next 12 months.

A former state representative from Ranger, Ga., in Gordon County, Graves won five elections over the summer and fall to take over Georgia's 9th District seat from former Rep. Nathan Deal, who was elected governor.

"I think there are many worthy projects out there, but the reality is, with an earmark moratorium in place, no matter the project nor the district nor the state, they're off the table," said Graves.

Graves said the U.S. House's ban on earmarks should create a level playing field among states and force governors and state legislatures to be creative and prioritize projects rather than relying on the seniority and clout of their congressmen.

He said Georgians' creativity and initiative would "propel itself in front of all the states" when the federal government is scaled back and stops "picking winners and losers."

Eyebrows were raised in political circles around the country when the freshman was appointed to the powerful Appropriations Committee at the beginning of December.

The 60-member committee, one of the most powerful on Capitol Hill, has in the past distributed more than $1 trillion in nonentitlement dollars annually.

Graves said the committee has been a place for big-spending senior members to funnel projects to their home districts, but things are changing.

"Normally, guys who are cutters like myself, that's not the first committee you would look to," he said. "It's just going to be a new look into the appropriations process with a new set of eyes."

Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Marietta, an eight-year veteran in Congress whose 11th District adjoins Graves' district to the south, called Graves a "welcome addition" to the delegation and said his appointment to the Appropriations Committee should help the region and the state.

Gingrey said Graves' "fiscally conservative principles are just what we need to help reign in out of control federal spending."

Looking forward, Graves said his main focus would be on de-authorizing the new federal health care program and looking for more ways to cut.

He said many federal programs are duplicating efforts and costing taxpayer dollars.

"We've got a big task ahead of us," he said.

Contact staff writer Andy Johns at ajohns@timesfreepress.com or call 423-757-6324.