Chuck Fleischmann addresses a crowd at a speaking engagement with the Tea Party of Bradley County held at the Bradley County Library in Cleveland, Tenn., on Tuesday. Fleischmann is congressman for Tennessee's 3rd District, which includes Chattanooga, Oak Ridge and a large number of rural areas.Photo by Alex Washburn.
The latest political battle in Washington, which involves payroll taxes and oil pipelines, found local Republican lawmakers siding with House leadership Tuesday evening.
U.S. Reps. Scott DesJarlais, Chuck Fleischmann and Tom Graves voted to extend a cut in payroll taxes for 160 million middle-class Americans.
But it has little chance of becoming law.
Passed 234-193 mostly along party lines, the bill would prevent a scheduled increase in payroll taxes, but it cleared the GOP-dominated House only because it was packaged with unrelated provisions, including one that could accelerate construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.
The proposal would also reduce the 99-week-cap on jobless benefits to 59 weeks.
President Barack Obama has said he would veto any effort to connect the oil pipeline — proposed to span from Canada to the Gulf Coast — with payroll tax negotiations, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Tuesday’s House action would be “dead on arrival” in the Senate.
Payroll taxes will increase for the middle class at the beginning of the year if the House and Senate can’t agree. Obama has said a payroll tax hike would add $1,271 to the average American’s expenses.
Despite the impasse, local conservative legislators celebrated their votes, sending out press releases late Tuesday night and blaming Democrats for playing politics.
“Anytime we can keep more money in the hands of the American people it is a win for the economy,” said Fleischmann, of Chattanooga.
In DesJarlais’ case, the congressman from Jasper, Tenn., recently said he wouldn’t support any extension of the payroll tax cut because it would cut into Social Security. Changing course with his vote and issuing a statement, he addressed the payroll tax issue, but devoted ample space to the oil pipeline.
“Finally, this bill will require the president to put politics aside and make a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline,” DesJarlais said. “Americans should not be made to wait a minute longer than necessary for projects that will create badly needed jobs.”
Graves, who represents parts of North Georgia, speculated what would happen if the Keystone pipeline isn’t built on American terms.
“If we don’t move forward on the Keystone XL pipeline now, we are giving China a full year to come to Canada, make those investments, lock up that oil and encourage that pipeline to go — not to the Gulf Coast — but to Vancouver,” he said. “From there, the oil ships would go on ships to China. We need to keep those jobs, and that energy supply, here in the United States.”
Contact staff writer Chris Carroll at email@example.com or 423-757-6610.