published Thursday, January 3rd, 2013

Deal not popular among greater Chattanooga area House Republicans


by Chris Carroll
The lights of the U.S. Capitol remain lit into the night.
The lights of the U.S. Capitol remain lit into the night.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

How they voted

The House and Senate this week passed legislation to avert the "fiscal cliff." Among other things, the legislation freezes Bush-era tax rates on everyone except individuals earning more than $400,000 per year and households making $450,000 per year.

A "yes" vote indicates support for the final deal.

Georgia

U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R) -- Yes

U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson (R) -- Yes

U.S. Rep. Tom Graves (R) -- No

Tennessee

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R) -- Yes

U.S. Sen. Bob Corker (R) -- Yes

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen (D) -- Yes

U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper (D) -- No

U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R) -- No

U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R) -- No

It's been said that U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann owes everything to House Speaker John Boehner. That he doesn't think for himself. That he belongs to Grover Norquist and his pledge.

But the Ooltewah Republican's vote Tuesday night against the "fiscal cliff" deal that froze popular tax rates for most Americans bucked all the assumptions: Boehner personally supported the deal; Norquist, the conservative lobbyist, said "aye" votes honored his pledge to keep taxes low; and a sizable bloc of House Republicans -- 85 in all -- joined Democrats in passing an 11th-hour measure that had Americans white-knuckling their pocketbooks and economists predicting another recession.

Boehner helped raise $200,000 at a Chattanooga fundraiser for Fleischmann's re-election campaign, and the speaker recently appointed the freshman lawmaker to the influential House Committee on Appropriations. Meanwhile, Norquist's Taxpayer Protection Pledge once provided political cover when Fleischmann needed it -- as a little-known candidate up against a dozen hopefuls to replace longtime 3rd District Rep. Zach Wamp in 2010.

But Fleischmann said he disregarded the favors and opposed the final deal because it delayed automatic spending cuts and, in a replay of prior fiscal showdowns, postponed another try at deficit reduction for two months.

In fact, every House Republican from Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee voted against the final legislation, which passed that body 257 to 167 Tuesday after the Senate passed it 89 to 8.

The local opposition emerged despite Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker of Tennessee and Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson of Georgia, all Republicans who voted to avert the "fiscal cliff" and raise income taxes for the first time in two decades.

"I'm glad that tax rates have been made permanent to keep taxes low on some folks," Fleischmann said in a Wednesday phone interview, "but I want taxes low on all hard-working Americans."

When he said "some folks," Fleischmann was referring to individuals who earn less than $400,000 per year and households that take in less than $450,000 per year. The congressman cited two House-passed bills that would have set Bush-era tax rates in place for all Americans, "whether somebody makes a dollar or the sky's the limit."

President Barack Obama last year campaigned on promises to raise taxes on America's wealthiest. He had hoped for lower income thresholds, but he and other Democrats still claimed victory Tuesday. While U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen didn't name anyone, the Memphis Democrat and lone Tennessee "aye" vote targeted "petulant" lawmakers.

"Compromise gets us over cliff. Dems not thrilled, but many to most accept ... deal for [nation's] good," he said on Twitter. "But petulant won't help."

The chasm between local House Republicans and their Senate colleagues is wide. In a news release this week, Alexander touted his vote to stabilize tax rates for all but the nation's top earners.

"This agreement rescues 99 percent of Americans from individual and estate tax increases in 2013, and then makes these lower rates permanent, providing certainty and creating jobs," he said.

On Nov. 7, a day after he was re-elected to the Senate, Corker criticized the idea of "some process-only bill that kicks the can down the road" on so-called fiscal cliff issues. But on Tuesday, after supporting a deal that postponed spending cuts and added $4 trillion to the deficit, Corker instead touted his own vote to "rescue 99 percent of the American people from a tax rate increase."

On CNBC Wednesday, Corker compared the vote to "a you-know-what sandwich."

"I can run. I can always vote no," the former Chattanooga mayor said. "Or you can vote as if you're the deciding vote on a bill. And I looked at the policy of where we were going to be if we didn't pass it or where we would be if we did."

U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais voted against the final bill. The Jasper Republican declined an interview request.

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