published Saturday, December 29th, 2012

Alexander, Corker predict few will see federal taxes increase


by Chris Carroll
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn. listens Friday while Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. gestures as he speaks during a news conference on the fiscal cliff on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn. listens Friday while Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. gestures as he speaks during a news conference on the fiscal cliff on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
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Despite stalled negotiations over the "fiscal cliff," U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker predicted Friday that "almost all Americans" won't see an increase in their federal income taxes.

"We know that's going to be dealt with," Corker said.

But when asked what the household income cutoff should be for Bush-era tax cut extensions -- $250,000, $400,000, $1 million or a threshold that hasn't been suggested yet -- neither senator weighed in during a conference call with reporters. Both Tennessee Republicans deferred to congressional leaders and President Barack Obama.

"Instead of me negotiating with you and sharing with you -- and I'm looking at Lamar and I think he feels the same way if my eye contact is right -- but these guys are going to meet this afternoon, and there's a possibility that there will be a meeting of the minds on [the threshold]," Corker said. "I'd rather see that take place and see what comes out of that before responding."

The threshold issue comprises part of the so-called fiscal cliff, which, left unresolved, will trigger tax increases starting New Year's Day. American households would face an average $3,500 income tax hike, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center.

Senators returned to Washington this week, while House members are expected back Sunday, for last-minute negotiations. On Friday, Obama again pushed for an extension of current tax rates for incomes below $250,000. Republicans focused on higher thresholds, including $400,000, according to The New York Times.

The impasse reflected past votes on the topic.

In July, Alexander and Corker voted against a Senate-passed plan that would have extended the Bush-era tax cuts for families making less than $250,000 annually. Both supported another proposal that would have extended the tax cuts for all income levels. Neither measure became law.

During the conference call, both senators stressed their long-held beliefs that spending cuts should take priority over revenue increases.

Five hundred billion dollars in automatic tax hikes and spending cuts to domestic and military programs was part of the Budget Control Act of 2011, which raised the debt ceiling in exchange for a deficit reduction plan. The hikes and cuts were to kick in if a broader deficit deal wasn't struck.

Corker and Alexander voted for the Budget Control Act; both men said Friday they don't regret their votes despite the consequences for taxpayers.

"I wouldn't change my vote," Alexander said. "It was our best opportunity to begin reducing spending."

Alexander said that, even if the nation goes over the cliff, Congress would pass "retroactive" legislation that would set rates at their current levels and allow Americans to recover money briefly collected at higher tax rates. Neither senator offered specifics on exactly how that would occur.

Local Democrats have long called for higher taxes on the nation's wealthiest individuals. Hamilton County Democratic Party Chairman Paul Smith recently called for Republican lawmakers to "reject welfare for the 1 percent."

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