Trio of Chattanooga-area lawmakers supports payroll tax cut

Trio of Chattanooga-area lawmakers supports payroll tax cut

December 15th, 2011 by Chris Carroll in News

Tennessee Congressman Scott DesJarlais

Tennessee Congressman Scott DesJarlais

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn.

U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn.

Photo by Alex Washburn /Times Free Press.

U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ga., responds to a question from Danielle Hooper during a town hall-type meeting Monday at Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School in Ringgold, Ga.

U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ga., responds to a...

Photo by Jake Daniels /Times Free Press.

POLL: Should Congress extend the payroll tax cut?

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 almost no 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-controlled House because it was packaged with unrelated provisions, including one that could accelerate construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.

The proposal also would reduce the 99-week-cap on jobless benefits to 59 weeks.

President Barack Obama has said he would veto any attempt to pair the oil pipeline with an extension of the payroll tax holiday, a key part of his jobs plan. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., called the latest proposal a "partisan charade," adding that Tuesday's House action would be "dead on arrival" in his chamber.

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 more than $1,000 to the average American's expenses.

Despite the impasse, local conservative legislators celebrated their votes, sending out news releases late Tuesday night and blaming Democrats for playing politics.

"If they are serious about wanting tax relief for the middle class and lowering unemployment in this country, it's time for the Senate and president to act," said Fleischmann, of Chattanooga.

In DesJarlais' case, the congressman from Jasper, Tenn., recently said he would oppose any extension of the payroll tax holiday because it would cut into Social Security. Changing course with his vote and issuing a statement, he touched on 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 would go on ships to China. We need to keep those jobs, and that energy supply, here in the United States."

Earlier this month, Republican Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, both of Tennessee, voted against versions of the payroll tax cut extension. Neither mentioned Keystone in their statements.

Corker in particular scorned what he saw as a temporary political fix, saying "it's not the way to govern a country that has the huge economic, spending and deficit issues we have right now."