published Tuesday, December 25th, 2012

Speaker John Boehner gets backing of Tennessee Valley leaders


by Chris Carroll
House Speaker John Boehner
House Speaker John Boehner
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Some Republicans are questioning Speaker John Boehner's leadership skills and negotiating ability, but the Ohio lawmaker has three dependable allies in the Tennessee Valley.

Despite Boehner's freshly failed bid to extend the Bush tax cuts for households making less than $1 million per year, Georgia Rep. Tom Graves and Tennessee Reps. Chuck Fleischmann and Scott DesJarlais expressed confidence in their speaker late last week.

"While I may not always agree with Speaker Boehner, I do believe that he does his best to represent the wishes of the entire Republican conference," DesJarlais said through a spokesman. "I will continue to support him."

None of the recently re-elected freshman legislators said they would have voted for Boehner's much-maligned "Plan B," but all plan to back the speaker when House leadership positions are settled and the 113th Congress begins in January.

Influential conservative groups have called for Boehner's ouster, citing ineffectiveness with President Barack Obama and in cutting spending. In an article on the conservative news blog RedState, American Majority Action founder Ned Ryun wrote, "[Boehner] should save the Republican Party the embarrassment of a public leadership battle and resign."

Still, Fleischmann spokesman Tyler Threadgill said Chattanooga's congressman will support the speaker for a second term. And when asked via email if Graves would vote for Boehner, spokesman John Donnelly simply responded, "Yes." Neither spokesman responded to the question of why.

"I think I'll leave my answer there with 'he will support him,'" Threadgill said in a phone interview.

Boehner recently placed Fleischmann on the influential House Appropriations Committee and helped raise $200,000 during an October 2011 Fleischmann fundraiser in downtown Chattanooga. In DesJarlais' case, the speaker hasn't publicly criticized the 4th District Republican's personal struggles with abortions.

But Fleischmann and DesJarlais also are close to No. 2 House Republican and Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, considered the most likely to usurp Boehner. Earlier this year, Cantor appeared at a $1,000-per-plate Knoxville fundraiser for Fleischmann and a $500-per-plate Chattanooga fundraiser for DesJarlais.

But dating back to January 2011, the GOP trio has voted with Boehner more than 90 percent of the time on legislation, according to the Washington Post. Fleischmann leads the way at 96 percent. High-profile defections came when the trio opposed Boehner's summer 2011 plan to raise the debt ceiling and when DesJarlais and Graves opposed extending the payroll tax cut later that year.

Those votes, based in tea-party-hardened fiscal conservatism, set the stage for the local opposition to "Plan B."

In calling for an emergency vote to keep the Bush tax cuts for everyone except millionaires, Boehner effectively stopped negotiations on a bigger deficit deal to avert the so-called fiscal cliff. Without such a deal, hundreds of billions in spending cuts and tax increases are expected to kick in Jan. 1.

Despite Boehner's urgency and their own promises to keep taxes low, DesJarlais and Graves opposed the speaker on Plan B. Even though the legislation froze taxes for 99.8 percent of taxpayers, House conservatives blocked it because it didn't stop a tax increase on millionaires and didn't do enough to slash government spending.

Graves represents North Georgia and the anti-tax faction. He said he would have opposed the legislation because "raising taxes has become a smoke screen for the real problem, and that's spending."

DesJarlais used similar reasoning.

"Unfortunately, this legislation did not contain anywhere near the sufficient level of spending cuts the overwhelming majority of my 4th District constituents demand," said the congressman, who represents Grundy, Marion, Sequatchie and other counties.

Fleischmann spokesman Threadgill would not reveal whether his boss would have voted for Plan B.

"It didn't come to a vote, so I'm not going to play hypotheticals," Threadgill said. "His position is still that we have a spending problem, not a revenue problem."

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