Tag Archives: bipartisan

AP Profiles ‘Pragmatic and Peripatetic’ Bob Corker and His New ‘Outsized Role’

By Donna Cassata, Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Republican Sen. Bob Corker is spending a lot of time lately talking to Democrats.
The freshman lawmaker from Tennessee unveiled his own 10-year, $4.5 trillion solution for averting the end-of-year, double economic hit of automatic tax hikes and spending cuts and then spoke briefly last week with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. Deficit-cutting maven Erskine Bowles had forwarded Corker’s proposal to White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew.
Corker also was on the phone with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton for a 15-minute conversation about Libya and other issues. Not only is Corker a senior member of the Foreign Relations Committee, he is poised to become the panel’s top Republican next year, with a major say on President Barack Obama’s choice to succeed Clinton — possibly the divisive pick of U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice — and other diplomatic nominees.
Pragmatic and peripatetic, the conservative Corker has been deeply involved in negotiations on the auto bailout and financial regulations during his six years in the Senate, bringing the perspective of a multimillionaire businessman and a former mayor of Chattanooga to talks with Democrats and the White House.
“I don’t see him as a partisan,” said Democratic Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, another multimillionaire businessman who has worked closely with Corker on banking and housing issues. “I think he’s somebody who’s willing to work with anybody who he thinks has a good idea.”
Next year, in the Senate’s new world order of a smaller Republican minority, the 60-year-old Corker is certain to play an outsized role, not only because of his high-profile standing on the Foreign Relations panel but because he is willing to work across the aisle in his eagerness to get something done. It is something of a rare trait in the bitterly divided Congress and one that often draws an angry response from the conservative base of the GOP.
It didn’t affect Corker politically. He scored a resounding win last month, cruising to re-election with 65 percent of the vote.
“I can count. I went to public schools in Tennessee and learned that to pass a bill it takes 60 votes and I know we have 45 going into next year,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I came up here to solve problems, not to score political points, and yes, it was rewarding that after throwing ourselves into the most controversial issues there were and trying to solve things pragmatically we ended up in the place where we were in this last race.
“I’m more energized than I’ve ever been,” he continued. “The last two years of my first term were like watching paint dry because nothing was occurring and it was fairly discouraging and one has to ask oneself is this worth a grown man’s time.”
There were some doubts whether Corker, who made a fortune in real estate and had promised to only serve two terms, wanted to come back for more of a Congress riven by dysfunction and partisanship.
“At times I wondered if he would really run again,” said Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, who has known the senator for decades ever since Haslam’s older brother, Jimmy, the new owner of the Cleveland Browns football team, roomed with Corker at the University of Tennessee. “It kind of frustrates him, admirably so, when people aren’t focused on problem solving.”
Tom Ingram, a political consultant who has worked on Corker’s campaigns, said the senator deliberated on whether to run again. “He had to convince himself it was something worth doing before he did it,” Ingram said.
So Corker is back, with a black notebook that he grabs every morning to jot down problems and what he’d like to accomplish in a Senate where Democrats have strengthened their majority to 55-45, from 53-47.
On avoiding the so-called “fiscal cliff,” his 242-page bill challenges both Democrats and Republicans. Corker calls for a mix of tax increases and limits on Medicare and Social Security benefits. He would raise the Medicare eligibility age incrementally to 67 by 2027 and require wealthier retirees to pay higher premiums.
Although he would make all the Bush-era tax rates permanent, Corker wants to cap itemized tax deductions at $50,000, which would affect high-income taxpayers.
Corker recognizes that a final deal will be hammered out between Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, but hopes his ideas earn some consideration.
A member of the Foreign Relations Committee since 2007, Corker has been frustrated with a committee that hasn’t produced an authorization bill in years and has become something of a backwater since its heyday of the 1960s and ’70s. His goal is to make the panel more relevant, and he wants to conduct a top-to-bottom review of all foreign assistance and spending by the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development.
High on the list for the panel early next year will be nominations, including Obama’s choice for secretary of state and possibly U.N. ambassador.
For all of Republican Sen. John McCain’s recent bluster about Rice and her initial, much-maligned account after the deadly Sept. 11 raid on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya, it is Corker who will render his judgment and provide a crucial vote on her prospects. Corker has described Rice as more of a political operative but has avoided saying definitively where he stands on the potential nominee.
While other Republicans criticized Rice after her comments based on talking points prepared by intelligence officials, Corker traveled to Libya the first week of October to meet with officials there and learn more about what happened. The senator has traveled to 48 countries since he joined the committee.
“He’s viewed as conservative, but he’s independent,” said former Republican Gov. Don Sundquist.
After being appointed state finance commissioner by Sundquist, it was Corker who brought together various factions and helped Tennessee lure the Houston Oilers to the state. To complete the deal, Sundquist had to work with Nashville Mayor Phil Bredesen, a Democrat he had just defeated in the gubernatorial race.
Corker was like a child trying to make peace between warring parents. It paid off with the arrival of the Tennessee Titans in 1997.
One of Corker’s first jobs was good training for moving immovable objects, whether home-state politicians or members of the Senate. In college, Jimmy Haslam and Corker had a small business doing odd jobs, including removing tree stumps.
“I always give them both a hard time that the biggest thing they removed was the axle from two or three trucks that they ripped out trying to get the stumps out,” said Gov. Bill Haslam. “They were better at axle removal.”

Bipartisan TN Wilderness Act Mired in Congress’ Partisanship

Conservationists are getting antsy that Congress for more than a year has failed to take up a bill that would cost nothing and protect 19,556 acres of Volunteer State wilderness, reports the Chattanooga TFP.
The Tennessee Wilderness Act of 2011, introduced in May 2011 by Sen. Lamar Alexander and co-sponsored by Sen. Bob Corker, would expand five existing wilderness areas in the Cherokee National Forest and create the first new one in 25 years.
The five expansions include two in Polk County and one in Monroe County. The new wilderness area also would be in Monroe County.
“There is no opposition to this,” said Jeff Hunter, director of the Tennessee Wilderness Campaign. “The Forest Service chief has testified strongly in favor of the bill; it doesn’t cost anything.”
Yet, while the bill passed out of committee on a bipartisan basis and takes no private land, closes no roads and snatches no taxes from local communities, it has languished without a full vote for nearly a year.
“It takes an act of Congress to create or expand wilderness areas,” said Jay Mills, who as a co-founder of Southwings, volunteers his small plane and piloting skills to help policymakers learn about them and other conservation issues.
But Mills and Hunter said the bill is stalled.
“It’s mired down in Congress because Congress is bogged down in partisan issues and they are not accomplishing much,” Hunter said.
The areas proposed for protection already are public lands as part of the Cherokee National Forest, but still they lack protection from off-roading, logging, mining and road building — all things that can
fragment forests and harm stream quality.
…The Tennessee Wilderness Act is one of 25 wilderness bills across the
country that are caught in the mire.
Hunter and Mills are hoping to rally citizens to lean on their congressional representatives to tell them they want action once big fiscal issues are dealt with in the upcoming lame duck Congress. The
Congress is scheduled to reconvene Nov. 13 after the 2012 elections.

In Nashville, Candidates Dodging Party Label

In the Nashville area, WPLN reports that legislative candidates of both parties refrain from stressing their party affiliation. House District 53, being vacated by Rep. Janis Sontaney, D-Nashville, provides an example.
After lines were redrawn by Republicans, this district doesn’t lean quite as heavily toward Democrats. But (Ben) Claybaker still keeps his brand in the background.
“I don’t want to walk up to somebody and have this big ‘R’ stamped on my forehead and have people make assumptions, good or bad,” he says.
You wouldn’t know Claybaker is a Republican by looking at his website either. The “R”-word is nowhere to be found, although his resume does list a position he held in the Bush Administration. Then there are his yard signs. Instead of red, they’re dark blue.
“It’s my favorite color,” he says. “You walk up to my closet, and it’s all blue.”
Others running in Nashville’s historically Democratic districts haven’t gone to printing up blue signs. But they have stayed away from the more partisan social issues.
However, Democrats aren’t exactly loud and proud about their party. Claybaker’s opponent – Jason Powell – gives only a tepid endorsement of the President.
“I’ve been so focused on this local election and my own race, I’ve had barely any time to keep up with what’s going on a national level,” Powell says when asked if he supports President Obama.
Going door-to-door off Nolensville Rd, Powell finds a gentleman just off an overnight shift sorting mail. His pickup truck’s bumper stickers reveal he’s a conservative.
“We need somebody working for hardworking people like yourself, and I sure would appreciate your vote in November,” he says.
When the homeowner asks if he’s a Republican or Democrat, Powell says he is a Democrat.
“But I’m a ‘Jason Powell’ Democrat, kind of my own man,” he says.

Howard Baker, Bob Dole Hailed for Bipartisanship

WASHINGTON (AP) — Once upon a time in Congress, compromise between Republicans and Democrats was the norm. And a witty GOP senator named Bob Dole was one of the best practitioners of the art, preferably on a West-facing balcony of the Capitol where he could get sun on his face while lawmaking.
Nearly 16 years after Dole left the Senate to run for president, the balcony is named for him. And the former Kansas senator is half of a pair of leaders being feted in Washington for their century of combined service and for practicing this thing called bipartisanship that seems lost, for now.
“All I know is I don’t have to make a speech,” Dole, 88, said in a telephone interview before the festivities. He said he’s feeling a bit better lately but still suffers from chronic back pain.
Dole’s predecessor as Senate Republican leader, Howard Baker of Tennessee, also was being honored Wednesday night by the non-profit group they helped found, the Bipartisan Policy Center, dedicated to “great moments in compromise by encouraging civil, respectable political discourse between the political parties.”
That sounds quaint after more than a year of divided government mired in standoffs over the nation’s troubled economy and, lately, a selection of long-settled social issues like access to contraception and the Violence Against Women Act. So polarized is Congress in the 2012 election year that centrists like Maine Republican Olympia Snowe and Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson are fleeing.
In fact, Dole and Baker, both former presidential candidates and veterans of World War II, were at the center of such historic moments of bipartisanship. They could each be conciliators and fierce partisans.
Baker, 86, served in the Senate from 1967 to 1985 and was the senior Republican on the congressional panel investigating Watergate. He is famous for asking the question of his fellow Republicans: “What did the president know and when did he know it?”
His calm demeanor was considered key to passage of the 1978 Panama Canal Treaty, which called for the gradual transfer of the canal to Panama. He served as Senate majority leader from 1981 to 1985.
The equally steady and acerbic Dole was his successor as leader of the Senate Republicans. He developed a reputation in the Senate of valuing thoughtful discussion over incivility in lawmaking, and, wounded in World War II, became a leading advocate for veterans and disabled Americans generally. He was a key to passing the Americans With Disabilities Act in 1990.
“I think the Senate operated more effectively then than it does today,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., one of the hosts of the tribute. “But I don’t think it would make much to change it today. It would take a change of behavior rather than a change of rules.”