NASHVILLE — With U.S. Sen. Bob Corker a potential key vote in the success or defeat of the proposed Republican tax overhaul, national groups are rushing to amp up the pressure on the Tennessee Republican's home turf with a flood of TV and internet ads and robocalls.
A self-described "deficit hawk" who isn't running for re-election next year, Corker said last month that "if it looks like to me we're adding one penny to the deficit, I am not going to be for it, OK?"
More recently, the former Chattanooga mayor and one-time state finance commissioner said in The New York Times that "we're looking globally at the whole thing and trying to do what we can to make it more fiscally palatable. For 11 years around here, my big concern has been fiscal issues, and I'd love to see us do something that's very pro growth but I don't want to throw the fiscal side out."
Corker spokeswoman Micah Johnson said the senator "is still closely reviewing the legislation."
The senator, meanwhile, said in a statement that throughout his public service, "I have been a strong advocate for pro-growth tax reform and, like my colleagues, am excited about the possibility of producing the biggest tax rewrite since 1986."
But he noted, "that said, I cannot stress enough that what I care about is doing this right and implementing sound policy.
"As I have made clear from the beginning of this debate, it is my hope that the final legislation — while allowing for current policy assumptions and reasonable dynamic scoring — will not add to the deficit and set rates that are permanent in nature."
The Senate Republican leaders' $1.5 billion tax bill is headed to the floor as early as next week for a floor vote.
The U.S. House has already passed its version of the tax overhaul, a bill championed by House Budget Committee Chairman Diane Black, R-Tenn., a 2018 gubernatorial candidate, and U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., who is seeking Corker's soon-to-be-vacant Senate seat in 2018.
Senate Republicans' proposal differs from the House version in a number of respects.
Corker could prove to be a pivotal factor in the Senate plan's success or failure. With Republicans having only a 52-48 majority in the Senate, GOP leaders can afford no more than two "no" votes from the chamber's Republicans.
In the event of a 50-50 vote, Republican Vice President Mike Pence could break the tie in favor of the proposal.
According to public filings on the Federal Communications Commission website, the National Taxpayers Union is running tens of thousands of dollars of television ads in the Chattanooga, Nashville, Knoxville and Memphis media markets encouraging Corker to back the bill.
"Bob Corker was a job-creating, successful businessman. So Sen. Corker knows lower taxes will boost economic growth and help working families," says one of the group's TV ads. "We're counting on his leadership to simplify the tax code."
But Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez has his own message for Corker.
"Republicans are trying to pass a disastrous tax plan that will raise taxes for millions of hardworking middle-class families and drastically cut Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and education funding," said Perez in a robocall as he urges listeners to "call Sen. Corker right now" and tell him "you oppose this giant giveaway to wealthy corporations and the top one percent."
In an email, a DNC spokesman, Francisco Pelayo said: "Senator Corker has said many times in the past he would not support increasing the deficit, and if he believes strongly in this position, he should be voting no on this disastrous bill that hurts Tennessee's middle-class families."
On Wednesday, The Tennessean reported that a new poll by Democratic polling firm Hart Research Associates of 400 registered Tennessee voters found only 37 percent of them backed the congressional tax plan, with 47 percent saying they disapproved.
Many Tennesseans were unfamiliar with details of the plan — just 57 percent said they were. Among those who were familiar, 55 percent said they disapproved of the measure. The poll's margin of error was plus or minus 5 percentage points.
Other groups are weighing in, among them the Sierra Club, which said it is running internet ads targeting Tennesseans.
And FCC filings show a recently formed group, Businesses for Responsible Tax Reform, which is critical of the GOP plan, purchased $17,825 worth of ads on WKRN-TV in Nashville. The order form showing that purchase is part of a projected $104,853 buy that was to have started Wednesday.
"Congress is debating tax legislation that would give big businesses a huge tax break at the expense of small firms," the group says on its website. "Businesses for Responsible Tax Reform is pushing for tax reform that helps small businesses strengthen our economy and create jobs."
On its website, the organization says its members are small business owners, "economic leaders" and business associations at the national, state and local levels. The coalition is led by Ron Busby, president and CEO of the U.S. Black Chambers Inc., and Frank Knapp Jr., president and CEO of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce, according to the website.
Contact staff writer Andy Sher at email@example.com or 615-255-0550. Follow on Twitter @AndySher1.