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TN Congressmen Torn on Taxing Online Sales

While Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker are big supporters of the “Marketplace Fairness Act,” which would allow states to collect their sales tax from online retailers, Tennessee’s U.S. House delegation is torn on the subject, reports The Tennessean.
Americans for Tax Reform, headed by anti-tax lobbyist Grover Norquist, contends the proposal is a tax grab that could open the door for other ways for states to attempt to tax businesses and individuals with no physical presence within their borders.
“This leads to only ugly places,” Norquist said in an interview.
Once they have the geographic distribution of a firm’s sales taxes payments, states could argue that they are entitled to a similar percentage of a firm’s overall revenues.
“They do it now with jock taxes,” he said, referring to some states’ attempts to tax out-of-state athletes’ income if they played a certain percentage of their games within their borders.
…(F)irmly opposing the bill is Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Brentwood.
“There is nothing fair about the Marketplace Fairness Act currently being considered by the Senate,” she said in a statement.
“We don’t need the federal government mandating additional taxes on Tennessee families and businesses. The American people have been taxed enough.”
At least half of the state’s other eight members in the House remain undecided.
For instance, Patrick Newton, aide to Republican Rep. John Duncan of Knoxville, said: “At this time, Congressman Duncan has very mixed feelings about the bill. He hates to increase taxes on anyone; but on the other hand, he hates to give an advantage to big out-of-state companies that we don’t give to local small businesses.”
Meanwhile, Democratic Reps. Jim Cooper of Nashville and Steve Cohen of Memphis said they were happy to co-sponsor a House version.
“This is not a new tax but the collection of an existing one, and everybody should be for that. Online retailers should follow the same rules that Middle Tennessee’s small businesses do,” Cooper said.

Washington Republicans Host Fundraiser for DesJarlais

Powerful congressional Republicans shrugged off a lingering abortion scandal Tuesday, hosting a fundraiser for U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., as he escalated his quest for a third term, reports Chris Carroll.
Six prominent Republicans, including three House committee chairmen, facilitated a closed-door DesJarlais event at an upscale Capitol Hill restaurant Tuesday evening. DesJarlais and two aides declined to comment as they walked in the door, so it was unclear how much campaign cash surfaced.
A few hours before DesJarlais allies gathered to dine and donate, one Republican leader praised the Jasper resident’s work ethic.
“DesJarlais has been a good, solid member of the [agriculture] committee,” House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said. “Very positive force in the farm bill markup last year. That’s really all I can say.”
Lucas ended the interview when asked to comment on news that rocked Tennessee’s 4th District last year.
A medical doctor, the anti-abortion Jasper, Tenn., congressman generated headlines in October and November after interviews and documents revealed he had sex with his patients and encouraged one to get an abortion. DesJarlais won a second term, but court documents later showed he supported his ex-wife’s two abortions while he was married to her.

TN Republican Congressmen on Meetings With Obama

Deep into President Barack Obama’s hourlong visit with House Republicans on Wednesday, reports Chris Carroll, someone stated the obvious: “Nobody in this room voted for you.”
The freshly re-elected chief executive paused and pondered the Capitol Hill hostility for a moment.
“Well,” he said, “I voted for myself.”
“Some other guys and I got a good chuckle out of that,” said U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, a Republican from Johnson City, Tenn. “At least he had one supporter there.”
A light moment to be sure, but the exchange illustrates the serious gap between all parties even after Obama’s separate goodwill sessions with Senate Democrats, House Republicans, Senate Republicans and House Democrats.
The result of Obama’s closed-door charm offensive? Plenty of dish, but no developments. And certainly no “grand bargain” over taxes and entitlement reform.
“Hopefully, we can come up with something,” said U.S Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn. “It doesn’t mean we’re going to. You never know.”
Dining on lobster Thursday at the Capitol, Senate Republicans applauded the president at least three times. But afterward, senators said the audible praise came only because Obama showed up. They denied any sign of a real breakthrough.
“We welcomed him and said this is the way presidents historically have dealt with members of the Senate,” said U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.. “They’ve gotten to know them in an informal way.”

Duncan is TN Leader in Taking from PACs; Blackburn 2nd

The Tennessean has a list, compiled from Center for Responsive Politics information, ranking Tennessee members of Congress in their dependence on PACs for contributions in the 2012 election cycle. Here it is:
• Rep. John Duncan Jr., R-Knoxville: $471,649 or 73 percent, 19th highest (of U.S. House members).
• Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Brentwood: $1.11 million or 63.4 percent, 63rd highest.
• Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis: $482,822 or 58.1 percent, 95th highest.
• Rep. Diane Black, R-Gallatin: $1.17 million or 48.3 percent, 187 highest.
• Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Ooltewah: $554,955 or 39.5 percent, 278th highest.
• Rep. Steve Fincher, R-Frog Jump: $881,086 or 39.2 percent, 281st highest.
• Rep. Scott DesJarlais: $471,178 or 37.5 percent, 295th highest.
• Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Nashville: $358,654 or 29.7 percent, 348th highest.
• Rep. Phil Roe, R-Johnson City: $0, 433rd highest.

The accompanying story is focused mostly on U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn. It’s HERE.

On the Guns of TN Congressmen

All six members of the Tennessee congressional delegation — Republicans and Democrats — who responded to a survey said they own guns, bucking a trend in Congress in which Republican members are much more likely to be armed than their Democratic colleagues.
From The Tennessean:
Republican Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, along with GOP Reps. Marsha Blackburn of Brentwood, Scott DesJarlais of South Pittsburg and Phil Roe of Johnson City all said they own guns. But so did the state’s two Democratic representatives, Jim Cooper of Nashville and Steve Cohen of Memphis.
Four members of the delegation — Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander and GOP Reps. Stephen Fincher of Frog Jump, Diane Black of Gallatin and John Duncan Jr. of Knoxville — declined to participate in the USA TODAY survey. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Ooltewah, did not respond to the survey question.
Black said she would not answer the question for “safety” reasons and Alexander says his gun ownership is a “private matter.” Cooper reported having a carry permit, as did Blackburn, while Cohen said he owned a .38-caliber handgun.
DesJarlais said he owns several deer rifles and shotguns. Roe and his wife, Pam, both have permits to carry concealed guns, according to spokeswoman Tiffany McGuffee.

DesJarlais Donations Kept Coming from Some After Revelations

Revelations about 4th District Congressman Scott DesJarlais didn’t prevent some big corporations and his Republican colleagues from donating to his re-election campaign, reports Chris Carroll.
Political action committees representing at least 15 corporations and interest groups — including the National Pro-Life Alliance — gave more than $25,000 to the Jasper Republican after the Huffington Post published the revelations Oct. 10. The story brought national attention to Tennessee’s 4th District and the congressman’s claims of anti-abortion credentials.
More groups, the Tea Party Express among them, ponied up after the Chattanooga Times Free Press published an Oct. 28 interview with a second woman who had an affair with DesJarlais while he was her physician.
Asked whether the revelations affected their support for DesJarlais, Tea Party Express spokesman Taylor Budowich said the group believes the economy is the most important issue.
“We focus exclusively on the candidate’s stand on how to right America’s fiscal woes,” Budowich said. “We have made no decisions about 2014 in any district.”
A National Pro-Life Alliance representative did not respond to a request for comment.
Campaign finance records released this month also reveal that the Jasper Republican’s late-campaign donors included 16 House colleagues — all men, all Republican and none from Tennessee — who gave a combined $48,000. House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of California, the third-ranking House Republican, donated $5,000 a day before the election.
A $2,000 contribution came from House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, one of two congressional DesJarlais backers who responded to a Times Free Press inquiry.
“Chairman Issa looks forward to continuing to work with Congressman DesJarlais as he pursues the best interest of his district and our nation in the coming Congress,” Issa spokesman Frederick Hill said Friday.
DesJarlais sits on Issa’s committee. The other respondent was U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas of Oklahoma.
“‘No comment’ is Congressman Lucas’ response,” Lucas spokesman Laramie Adams said.
Two fellow physicians-turned-politicians, Reps. Andy Harris of Maryland and Tom Price of Georgia, gave money after crucial parts of the controversy were published and confirmed by DesJarlais.
According to the American Medical Association, it’s misconduct for a doctor to have a sexual relationship with a patient
.

Alexander, Corker Leave Options Open on Raising Taxes; Others in TN GOP Just Say No

While other Middle Tennessee Republicans in Congress expressly oppose raising tax rates as part of any solution to the looming “fiscal cliff,” the state’s two GOP senators appear to be leaving negotiating room, reports The Tennessean
When asked specifically this week if they would rule out increasing tax rates for those making $250,000 and above — rather than just modifying deductions and exemptions — Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker stopped short of such a declaration.
“I am still waiting for the president to do his job, which is to recommend a specific plan to restrain entitlement spending so that Congress can go to work on fixing the debt and getting the economy moving again,” Alexander said in a statement, offering no further comment.
Corker kept his statement even shorter. “Until the discussion moves to entitlement reform, especially Medicare, it’s not a serious conversation,” he said.
…Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Brentwood, has repeatedly said she would oppose an increase in rates, and her spokesman Mike Reynard re-emphasized that point Wednesday, saying too many small businesses, who frequently pay taxes on their firms through their individual returns, would be affected.
…Rep. Diane Black, R-Gallatin, added: “Raising tax rates will hurt the economy and destroy jobs. This is the same position that President Obama held two years ago when he extended the current tax rates for all Americans.”
With more than 23 million Americans looking for work, Black said, “we should not be raising taxes on anyone. Washington has a spending problem not a revenue problem. A tax hike will perpetuate more deficit spending and destroy jobs.”
And Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Jasper, said: “Simply raising taxes on small businesses and job creators won’t solve our debt crisis and is the last thing we need to do in a struggling economy. I want to see a bold plan that addresses unsustainable entitlement spending, reforms our outdated tax code and prioritizes government spending.”
…Among other Republicans in the state, a spokesman for Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Ooltewah, said there should be no discussion of revenue increases, either through increasing rates or modifying tax deductions and loopholes.
“Rep. Fleischmann has consistently maintained that it is a spending problem and not a revenue problem that is the source of our $16 trillion debt. In keeping with this position, he believes we need serious long term spending cuts before revenue is even put on the table,” aide Alek Vey.

Congressmen Scold DOE Over Oak Ridge Security

Congressional Republicans and Democrats harshly scolded the U.S. Department of Energy on Wednesday for a security breach at the Oak Ridge Y-12 nuclear weapons plant in which three peace activists evaded guards and cut through fencing to infiltrate the facility’s highest-security area, reports Michael Collins.
U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., called the break-in appalling:
“Not only did you have a security breach,” she said, “you had a breach of public trust.”
U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said the Y-12 infiltration was “a wake-up call if ever there was one.”
The July 28 security breach at the Oak Ridge plant, where warhead parts are manufactured and the nation’s stockpile of bomb-grade uranium is stored, dominated a congressional hearing Wednesday on safety and security at the nation’s nuclear facilities.
Lawmakers said they were astounded that three pacifists, including an 82-year-old nun, managed to cut through several layers of fencing and spray-paint messages, hang banners and pour human blood on the site.

TN Congressmen Richer Than Their Challengers (believe it or not)

The Tennessean has a story comparing the wealth of some incumbent Tennessee congressmen and their challengers, based on recent financial disclosures. Not surprisingly, the incumbents are mostly richer.
For example, Lou Ann Zelenik, the tea party activist who will take on Republican Rep. Diane Black for the second time in August’s primary, reported 2011 assets of at least $850,000, mostly in real estate. Black reported assets totaling at least $16.5 million in 2010.
The disclosure statements report assets and liabilities only in broad ranges. This year, for the first time, congressional incumbents were required to report any residential mortgages owed by them or their spouses.
More recent figures for Black — and 2011 disclosure statements for Republican Sen. Bob Corker and Democratic Rep. Jim Cooper — weren’t available because they were given extensions to file later.
Zelenik lent her campaign more than $400,000 in 2010, which has since been repaid. Black topped that, putting more than $1 million of her own money into the 2010 campaign.
Republican Rep. Stephen Fincher reported “Stephen and Lynn Fincher Farms” as his only asset, worth between $500,000 and $1 million. He said he earned $33,943 from farming last year. Fincher’s debts — consisting of loans for farm equipment and a home mortgage of at least $15,000 — amount to at least $810,000.
Independent candidate James Hart, the only one of Fincher’s challengers who has filed a financial disclosure statement, reported $1,000 to $15,000 in assets and no debt.
Because the statements report values in wide ranges, it’s sometimes impossible to tell which of two candidates is wealthier.
For example, Republican Rep. Scott DesJarlais reported assets of between $421,000 and $1.04 million. His challenger, Democratic state Sen. Eric Stewart, reported assets worth between $269,000 and $610,000, meaning either could be wealthier.
Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn reported assets of at least $189,000 and debts of at least $300,000, including two mortgages on a Brentwood residence. Disclosures for Blackburn’s challengers are not yet available.
…Most of Corker’s opponents — including Democrat and environmentalist Park Overall — have not filed personal financial disclosure forms. The only challenger who has, Republican Zachary Poskevich, reported assets of at least $139,000 and no debt.
Corker’s filing from last year showed assets of at least $26.6 million and debts of at least $5.5 million.
Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander, who typically ranks with Corker and Black as one of the wealthiest members of Congress, reported having at least $9.8 million last year and at least $4.5 million in liabilities. Refinanced mortgages accounted for at least $4.2 million of that debt.
…In Tennessee’s hotly contested 3rd Congressional District — where first-term Republican Rep. Chuck Fleischmann is locked in an expensive primary battle with dairy executive Scottie Mayfield and Weston Wamp, son of former Rep. Zach Wamp — the candidate who puts in the most personal money could gain a financial edge.
Self-financing could be easier for Fleischmann, who reported at least $1.7 million in assets, and Mayfield than for Wamp, who reported between $16,000 and $65,000 in assets.

Pat Summitt Gets Presidential Medal of Freedom

President Barack Obama paid tribute today to former Tennessee Lady Vols Coach Pat Summitt, presenting her with the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, reports Michael Collins.
At a White House ceremony this afternoon, Obama reflected on Summitt’s legendary career at Tennessee, her status as a role model to the young women she coached, and her tenacity in confronting the health problem that led to her retirement last spring.
“Anyone feeling sorry for Pat will find themselves on the receiving end of that famous glare,” Obama said.
Summitt was among more than a dozen political and cultural legends to receive the medal. The award is given to individuals “who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”
Summitt, 59, stepped down as the University of Tennessee women’s head basketball coach in April, just eight months after disclosing that she has been diagnosed with early-onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type.
Her remarkable, 38-year career included 1,098 victories and eight national championships. She was named NCAA Coach of the Year eight times and has been a member of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame since 1999. She now holds the position of head coach emeritus at UT.
Besides Summitt, others receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom include former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright; singer and songwriter Bob Dylan; astronaut John Glenn; novelist Toni Morrison; Israeli President Shimon Peres; and retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stephens.

Note: The state’s Republican congressmen rushed out statements praising Pat Summitt, but somehow forgot to mention that guy who made the presentation they were applauding. A sampler is below.

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