Georgia’s Special Election: A Symbolic Race

The polls are tight, and political money is pouring into the campaigns vying for the open House seat in next week’s special election in Georgia. While media coverage has focused on the candidates' clashes over their residence and background, NTUF is concentrating on the policy issues and future spending proposals of the nominees. Georgia’s sixth district has gained national attention and is seen as a symbolic referendum on the Trump presidency. After no one from the original field of eighteen candidates reached a majority of the vote last April, the race has boiled down to a runoff between Karen Handel (R) and Jon Ossoff (D). Each candidate’s platform features specific policies that were highlighted during the 2016 presidential election (which we tracked at, but each candidate didn’t always provide specific details about the costs of their initiatives.

National Taxpayers Union Foundation reviewed the campaigns’ platforms as detailed on on their websites. Where possible, cost estimates for their proposals have been priced out. Please note that these are estimates reflect net average-yearly changes to spending.

Karen Handel’s (R) policies prioritize tax reform, health care reform, and national security.

  • Repeal and Replace of the Affordable Care Act (ACA): Handel supports the American Health Care Act which would reduce outlays by $111 billion per year.

  • Preserve and protect Medicare for current seniors and protect Medicare for future generations”: Indeterminate

  • “We need to build a wall along our southern border … .”: $8 billion

  • “ … [I]mprove the reliability of temporary visa programs, and create a viable guest worker program.”: Indeterminate

  • “I support President Trump's budget proposal to increase national defense spending”: Trump’s budget proposes to boost defense by $52 billion over FY 2017 levels, offset by targeted reductions elsewhere.

  • " … [W]e also have an obligation to our veterans. I will be an advocate for these heroes and their families.”: Indeterminate

On tax reform, Handel vowed, “I will fight for a fairer simpler tax structure with lower rates for families and businesses. .. I support a simpler, fairer, tax code that promotes economic growth, as well as reforms that promote the repatriation of overseas profits.” 

Jon Ossoff’s (D) policies promote health care initiatives, military spending, and specific educational funding initiatives. Mr. Ossoff spoke in support of many existing programs and policies, including national parks, STEM education, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. He opposes the American Health Care Act which would repeal and replace the ACA, but has called for reforms to the current law to address premium costs for small businesses and “to simplify and streamline the online health insurance marketplace.” He has highlighted several other new policies or reforms on his website but without specificity to determine cost estimates, including:

  • Increase and index the federal minimum wage: the budgetary impact is indeterminate, but research indicates that this would increase unemployment.

  • Increase “outreach and coordination efforts with European allies and intelligence partners around the world.”

  • “Strengthening the Military ... Congress will need to sustain significant resources for U.S. forces fighting in the region for the continued fight against ISIS.”

  • “Respond quickly and fully to veterans’ needs.”

  • “ … [M]ake Georgia a clean energy economic powerhouse.”

  • Work to “ensure our local schools get the resources they need to hire and keep great teachers, to invest in technology to keep students learning at the cutting edge, and to reduce class sizes. Teachers should be … given the support and tools they need to do their best work, and paid better.”

  • Work to “reduce the burden of student debt on young Americans.”

  • Provide “law enforcement the tools and resources they need to take down organized criminals wherever they are.”

Ossoff also proposes specific reforms to reduce spending, most of which were included in the Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) FY 2016 report on duplicative government programs:

  • Reduce incarceration of nonviolent offenders: Related legislation to enact criminal justice sentencing reform for nonviolent offenders would reduce outlays by $75 million per year.

  • Consolidate federal data centers: GAO estimated that further actions could accrue additional savings of $5.4 billion over three years.

  • Use “strategic sourcing” at the Department of Defense: GAO reported, “The Department of Defense (DoD) and other selected agencies could better leverage their buying power and achieve additional savings by directing more procurement spending to existing strategically sourced contracts and further expanding strategic sourcing practices to their highest-spending procurement categories. GAO estimated that savings of 1 percent from selected agencies’ procurement spending alone would equate to over $4 billion.”

  • Improve existing joint basing at DoD: According to GAO, “DoD needs an implementation plan to guide joint bases to achieve $2.3 billion dollars in cost savings over a 20-year period and efficiencies anticipated from combining support services at 26 installations located close to one another.”

  • Consolidate mobile communications: GAO notes that “the federal government could have saved about $388 million in fiscal years 2013 through 2015 by consolidating or eliminating mobile device contracts.” It is unclear what level of savings could be attained going forward.

  • Improve demonstrative spending at Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS): GAO found that “To save billions of dollars, (1) Congress should consider requiring the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to improve the process for reviewing, approving, and making transparent the basis for approving spending limits, including ensuring that valid methods are used to demonstrate budget neutrality and (2) HHS should establish specific criteria for assessing whether demonstration spending furthers Medicaid objectives and take other steps to improve the transparency and accountability of the approval process.”

  • Improve oversight of state CMS spending: GAO reported, “To potentially save hundreds of millions of dollars, CMS should ensure that states report accurate and complete data on state Medicaid sources of funds so that it may better oversee states’ financing arrangements that can increase costs for the federal government.”

While many of these proposals, could reduce spending, as GAO notes they would require consistent effort on behalf of the related agencies, and in some cases additional funding may be required, for example, to improve oversight. Ossoff also called to reduce improper payments; while this could save money over the long-term, program integrity reforms would also require an initial increase in spending.

Ossoff also supports some tax reform, noting he would work “to reduce the tax burden on small businesses and simplify small business tax filing. He will work to repeal wasteful, anti-competitive special interest subsidies that make it hard for entrepreneurs to raise capital, enter the market, create jobs, and compete with larger firms who have lobbyists in Washington.”

Although the candidates have opposing views on health care and the minimum wage, both candidates share similar sentiments regarding the military, national security, Medicare and Medicaid, and veterans’ programs. On the positive side, both address the need for tax reform, (although Ossoff did not go into specifics on the individual burdens of the Tax Code) and both have specified spending reductions. Even though both candidates campaigned for more government transparency with regards to the budget, they both leave their constituents in the dark on the net costs of many of their proposals. The election for Georgia’s sixth Congressional District takes place on June 20th, and it may be an indicator for what is to come in the 2018 midterm elections.