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VOL. 128 | NO. 1 | Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Local Politicians Split on Fiscal Cliff Bill

By Bill Dries

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There was only one vote for the American Taxpayer Relief bill Tuesday, Jan. 1, among the nine Tennesseans who represent the state in the U.S. House of Representatives.

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, said he wasn’t happy with all of the agreement but voted for it because of the tax cuts it maintained.

A few hours after the House vote, Cohen posted a banner on his Facebook page reading “Your voices were heard. Congress voted to extend middle-class tax cuts.”

“This isn’t a perfect deal but it’s the deal we got,” Cohen said on the House floor before the vote, adding later that he would have preferred an income threshold of $200,000 to $250,000 in the legislation. The amount in the legislation is twice that.

“My district can’t afford to wait a few days and have the stock market go down 300 points tomorrow if we don’t get together and do something,” Cohen added in his floor remarks.

The only other Democrat in the Tennessee delegation to the House, Jim Cooper of Nashville, voted against the fiscal cliff legislation.

“No real spending cuts. No real deficit reduction. No acknowledgement of America’s out-of-control national debt,” Cooper said after the vote. “This is a popular vote today, but it will harm America in the long run. It is good to see a return to bipartisanship, but not when it makes our fiscal problems worse.”

U.S. Rep Stephen Fincher of Frog Jump, a Republican whose district now includes parts of Shelby County and East Memphis, voted against the bill.

Meanwhile, both of Tennessee’s Republican senators voted for the fiscal cliff package.

U.S. Sen. Bob Corker called it “legislation to rescue 99 percent of the American people from a tax rate increase.”

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee said that the 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.”

Like Corker, Alexander cautioned that Congress has not resolved the debt ceiling debate and other longer-term fiscal issues.

“The Medicare fiscal cliff is still ahead of us,” he said noting that he and Corker have a proposal to deal with “out-of-control spending that will soon bankrupt the programs seniors rely on to pay their medical bills.”

The Corker-Alexander proposal would reduce the growth of spending on Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security by nearly $1 trillion and Congress would, in turn, approve a request from the White House for a $1 trillion increase in the debt ceiling.

Corker was adamant that the cuts would improve the solvency of all three programs.

He said the proposal would “structurally reform Medicare, keeping traditional Medicare in place and competing side by side with private options so that seniors can choose the health care plan that works best for them.”

“Medicare can’t survive when the average working couple retiring at age 65 continues to receive $3 in benefits for every $1 they pay into the program during their lifetimes,” Corker added. “It is dishonest for Washington to cover up the true cost of the government services it delivers. No one wants to talk about this. But unless we act, at some point these programs will go bankrupt and services will disappear.”

Before the votes, President Barack Obama said on the NBC-TV program “Meet The Press” that he had offered $1 trillion in additional spending cuts to avert the fiscal cliff. Corker called on Obama to be more specific about those cuts.

In the U.S. Senate roll call at 1 a.m. CST Tuesday, Arkansas Democrat Mark Pryor and Republican John Boozman voted for the compromise.

So did Mississippi Republican Sens. Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker.

In the Mississippi House delegation, North Mississippi Republican Alan Nunnellee voted against the bill and North Mississippi Democrat Bennie Thompson voted for the bill.

Eastern Arkansas Republican House member Rick Crawford voted against the legislation.

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