A taxing bit of courage
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., has faced quite the Republican backlash for his bipartisan plan to raise federal gas and diesel taxes for the first time in 20-plus years for road building and road improvements on the nation's highways and bridges.
With the federal Highway Trust Fund expected to run out of money in August, Corker is proposing to raise the current 18.4 cent-per-gallon gas tax and 24.4 cent-per-gallon tax on diesel by 12 cents over the next two years. A 6 cent increase would come next year and a similar boost the following year. The tax would then be pegged to inflation to avoid future shortfalls. Gasoline and diesel taxes were last raised in 1993 and now have only 63 percent of the buying power they once had, according to Corker.
To make his plan palatable to fellow Republicans, Corker calls for offsetting the fuel tax increases with other tax cuts, including personal or corporate income tax deductions that include the fuel tax increases.
Some Democrats have called Corker's proposal "a move that truly passes for courage these days in the GOP ranks." But Republicans such as Tennessee's U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn labeled it more of Washington's "spending problem."
Here's the rub for Blackburn and her ilk: There's no such thing as a free lunch. Those roads and bridges can't maintain themselves, and road workers don't work for free. When the bridges and roads are unsafe, the free flow of commerce is threatened.
And here's the rub for Democrats: Corker is not especially brave. If he were brave, he'd be tackling votes to stop obstacles to fully implement the Affordable Care Act and to improve long-term care. If he were brave, he'd be rallying for Common Core to give our children a better education. If he were brave, he'd be signing on to the law that would outlaw pads and chains on Tennessee walking horses.
Potholes are a fairly easy rallying point. But at least they are a start.
A horse of another color
Speaking of Congressional courage, we're still waiting for Congress -- and especially Tennessee's delegation -- to bring back Tennessee's real walking horses by banning the pads and chains and soring practices that have corrupted a beautiful breed in recent decades.
Last week, owners of sound and flat-shod Tennessee walkers took their horses to a "walk on Washington" to raise public awareness of the abusive training method known as "soring," which uses caustic chemicals and other pain-inducing tactics to make the animals step higher to win contests.
Soring has been illegal for more than 40 years, but the walking horse industry largely polices itself, so the problems go unresolved. Only in the past two years has anyone been convicted of the abuse, and that happened after secret videos were made by the Humane Society of the United States and turned over to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
New proposed legislation, the Prevent All Soring Tactics Act, would toughen the law. It has 291 co-sponsors in the House and 55 co-sponsors in the Senate. Those numbers might make it seem like a slam-dunk, but that's not the reality.
Instead of helping rid Tennessee of this problem, lawmakers in Tennessee and Kentucky (another big walking horse state) are rallying to an alternative and softer bill that really would just continue the industry's status quo. The alternative was introduced by Tennessee Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander and co-sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
McConnell is said to be blocking the PAST Act in the Senate, and Tennessee's Rep. Marsha Blackburn, with her own version of Alexander's bill, is blocking the PAST Act in the House Energy and Commerce Committee, where she is vice chairman. The Tennessee representative has 12 co-sponsors for her bill.
So much for counting co-sponsors.
Chalk up another last: long-term care
Tennessee in recent years has been trying to paint itself as a haven for retirees. Let's hope those folks didn't read recent reports that the Volunteer State -- along with Alabama and Georgia -- ranks low, low, low in the country for quality long-term care systems, according to a new AARP report.
Tennessee ranks 48th, Alabama ranks 50th and Georgia ranks 36th.
Not to worry, though. There's always one sure alternative. Don't live long enough to need long-term care.