Tennessee’s congressional Republicans usually find themselves on the same page as think tanks and advocacy organizations that call for restraining government spending, observes The Tennessean. But when it comes to setting federal agricultural policy for coming years through a farm bill currently making its way through Congress, that’s not the case. While there is uncertainty over what happens next, the versions of the farm bill offered so far have been backed by seven of the nine Republicans in the congressional delegation — Reps. Stephen Fincher of Frog Jump, Marsha Blackburn of Brentwood, Diane Black of Gallatin, Scott DesJarlais of Jasper, Scott Fleischmann of Ooltewah and Phil Roe of Johnson City. And Sen. Lamar Alexander voted for his chamber’s version.
Among Tennessee Republicans, only Rep. John Duncan Jr. of Knoxville and Sen. Bob Corker voted the way farm bill critics preferred.
“For a bill that spends close to $1 trillion, just under $18 billion in savings is not nearly enough,” Corker said.
Both Democrats in the delegation — Reps. Jim Cooper of Nashville and Steve Cohen of Memphis — voted against the bill, but Democrats had slightly different reasons for opposing the legislation. They especially disliked a $20 billion cut in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps, in the House bill.
“It would have cut programs that help children and seniors while protecting subsidies for millionaires, agribusiness and even foreign banks,” Cooper said. “We must do a better job of protecting taxpayer dollars and prioritizing our nation’s agricultural policies.”
As it happened, advocates for the poor and the environment joined the conservative and anti-government spending groups in opposition.
Joint news release from Tennessee congressional delegation:
WASHINGTON – Members of the Tennessee United States congressional delegation today announced that their inquiry into whether the administration awarded Medicare contracts to businesses not licensed in Tennessee has resulted in the finding that 30 of 98 suppliers were not licensed and will have their contracts voided.
On May 21, Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), along with Representatives Marsha Blackburn (R-Brentwood), Phil Roe (R-Johnson City), John J. Duncan, Jr. (R-Knoxville), Chuck Fleischmann (R- Ooltewah), Scott DesJarlais, (R-Jasper), Jim Cooper (D-Nashville), Diane Black (R-Gallatin), and Steve Cohen (D-Memphis) sent a letter to the administration requesting details on its policy of awarding Medicare contracts for durable medical equipment to businesses not licensed in Tennessee, a violation of the administration’s bid policy and a violation of Tennessee state law. Durable medical equipment includes products that are intended for at-home care of sick or injured individuals. The category includes wheelchairs, crutches, blood pressure monitors, and hospital beds.
In a letter responding to the May 21 inquiry from the members, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Marilyn Tavenner, said: “We have determined that certain out-of-state suppliers that were licensed in their home state, but that did not meet aspects of existing Tennessee licensing requirements at the time of bid submission, were awarded contracts. As a result, CMS will take steps to void contracts for these suppliers in the Tennessee competitive bidding areas, consistent with the policies and guidelines established for the competitive bidding program. This applies to approximately 30 out of the 98 contract suppliers in the Tennessee Competitive Bidding Areas.” Note: The full text of the CMS response is below:
All seven Tennessee Republican congressmen voted against the $50 billion Hurricane Sandy relief package approved by the U.S. House on Monday night – along with Democratic Congressman Jim Cooper of Nashville. Cooper was the only Democrat in the nation to vote not. Stephen Hale asked him about it. Pith: Why did you vote against the bill?
Cooper: The bill wasn’t paid for. In fact, it wasn’t even partially paid for. Congress really made no effort to pay for even a fracture of it, so it added $50 billion to the deficit. I did support last week $9 billion, free and clear, I did support in this legislation $20-plus billion free and clear, but the extra $30 billion really should have been at least partly paid for. This is consistent with my past votes on deficits and on disaster relief. You should read the Washington Post editorial today. It’s excellent, pointing out how Congress regularly fails to handle our emergency responsibilities.
Another thing is, this isn’t any regular period in American history here. This is a period of budget crisis, literally. Because America’s been officially out of money since the first of the year. So we added to the deficit without even lifting a finger to offset the spending is pretty irresponsible at a time like this. You know, I love New England. My friends up there, if they need help, I voted for tens of billions of help, but to have the full package not even partially offset, it’s a new level of congressional spending.
— Note: Cooper sent out a press release statement on his vote. It’s below.
Democrat Steve Cohen of Memphis was the only member of the Tennessee delegation to the U.S. House who voted in favor of the “fiscal cliff” legislation that was approved by a 257-167 bipartisan vote on New Year’s day.
Here’s how the Tennessee delegation voted:
Voting no in the House were Republicans Phil Roe, John Duncan, Chuck Fleischmann, Scott DesJarlais. Diane Black, Marsha Blackburn, and Stephen Fincher. Democrat Jim Cooper also voted against the measure.
Democrat Steve Cohen was the only yes vote among the Tennessee delegation in the House.
In the early morning vote in the Senate, Sens Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, both Republicans, voted in favor of the bill.
==Here are news releases from Tennessee congressmen on their vote: (Alexander and Corker statements are on an earlier post, HERE.)
From Rep. Jim Cooper:
WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper (TN-05) issued the following statement today after voting against H.R. 8, the American Taxpayer Relief Act, which adds nearly $4 trillion to the debt over the next 10 years:
“No real spending cuts. No real deficit reduction. No acknowledgement of America’s out-of-control national debt. This is a popular vote today, but it will harm America in the long run. It is good to see a return to bipartisanship, but not when it makes our fiscal problems worse.
“Congress is missing the chance of the decade to adopt a large, balanced deficit reduction plan such as Simpson-Bowles that combines tax relief with controlling federal spending.
“In just a few weeks, America will face another debt-ceiling crisis as well as sequestration. Today’s fiscal Band-Aid may feel good now, but its relief will not even last until spring.”
Cooper has long favored a balanced, bipartisan approach to tackling the national debt and fiscal cliff. He and U.S. Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-OH) introduced the only bipartisan budget last spring, based on recommendations from the Simpson-Bowles fiscal commission.
The Cooper-LaTourette budget was the only budget plan to receive bipartisan support in the House last year, and was widely praised by editorial boards across the country. Cooper and LaTourette were honored by the Concord Coalition in September 2012 for their political leadership and work to reduce the debt.
Former Gov. Winfield Dunn recalls his first Republican convention and introducing himself to a famous fellow that everybody else was ignoring at the time, namely 1968, in a Tennessean setup story on the GOP convention. “It was Thomas Dewey,” said Dunn, now 85. “So I had an opportunity to meet and visit with him. That was very exciting for me.”
Brushes with history make up some of the appeal for more than 200 Tennesseans who will attend either this week’s GOP conclave in Tampa, Fla., or next week’s Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.
Add to those the opportunities to lobby, socialize and party with some of the nation’s top political leaders, and the conventions become more than just quadrennial pep rallies before the November presidential election.
“High energy,” said state Rep. Ryan Haynes. “If you’re not in politics, a lot of people say, ‘Political convention? Turn on CSPAN and put me to sleep.’ But it really is high energy.” Tennessee Delegation Plans
From the News Sentinel: The Tennessee delegation will hold a breakfast each morning. U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, a Chattanooga Republican who is running for a second six-year term, will hold a pre-convention fundraiser Sunday night at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club. The cost to attend the Corker event is $1,000 for political-action committees or $500 for individuals.
Other extracurricular activities — many of which are invitation-only — are open to delegates and include a gun show in nearby Plant City, with concealed weapons training courses; a tribute to the South, featuring a performance by the rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd; several documentary screenings; panel discussions on everything from energy policy to financial “literacy”; and enough briefings, brunches, receptions and parties to wear out even the most energetic convention-goer.
“I was looking at the schedule, and I was, ‘Oh, my goodness! I’m going to be very tired at the end of the week,'” said Susan Mills, a delegate from Maryville. “I’m going to need a vacation after that.” A Florida Perspective on TN Delegation
From the Tampa Bay Times: During the convention in Tampa next week, nearly 250 delegates from Tennessee will be staying at the historic Safety Harbor Resort & Spa.
So the city will temporarily give Main Street a new name: Tennessee Street.
A proclamation in honor of the Volunteer State will be read. Welcome banners will be hoisted. And there will be live music at the downtown gazebo from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
But part of their focus is on what happens once the delegation leaves the Tampa Bay area.
“There are going to be some 250 Tennessee delegates who may have never stepped foot in Safety Harbor,” City Manager Matthew Spoor said. “When they get back to Tennessee, we want them to tell all their friends and family about our city. We want repeat customers. We want the city to shine. We are the jewel of Tampa Bay and we want to show that off.”
The mayor plans to hand the delegation a symbolic key to the city. In welcome bags waiting in delegates’ hotel rooms, the Safety Harbor Chamber of Commerce will include a pin in the shape of a key. Delegates sporting the pin will receive specials from about 25 participating Main Street merchants, said chamber board chair Marie Padavich.
When it came to matching up state delegations to hotel locations, Padavich said, Safety Harbor came out a winner.
“We are thrilled to have Tennessee,” Padavich said, in part because they hail from the eastern half of the United States, so “it would be a natural for them to come back and visit us once the convention is over.”
Some businesses are looking for ways to capitalize on the delegates’ presence. For example, during the convention week, wine bar and beer garden Tapping the Vine will open Sunday and Monday — days when the business is usually closed, said owner Howard Latham.
The Sen. at the Conven
In his first blog post from the Republican National Convention, Sen. Stacey Campfield reports that hurricane Isaac wasn’t that bad and wonders if a Ron Paul rally could inspire an overreaction from party powers.
Small-dollar donations make up a relatively minuscule part of the money that fuels congressional incumbents, including those in the Tennessee delegation, according to figures from the Center for Responsive Politics reported by The Tennessean. Take, for example, Sen. Bob Corker, who is seeking the Republican nomination for a second term in Thursday’s primary. Corker has raised $14.1 million when contributions to both his campaign and his personal political action committee are considered.
Of that, about 2 percent, or $271,090, is from donors who gave $200 or less, the center’s breakdown of Federal Election Commission reports shows.
Small-dollar percentages for other incumbents include:
• Rep. Diane Black, R-Gallatin: $42,144 — 2 percent of $1.77 million.
• Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Brentwood: $53,317 — 4 percent of $1.43 million.
• Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Jasper: $22,192 — 3 percent of $934,349.
• Rep. Stephen Fincher, R-Frog Jump: $43,921 — 2 percent of $2.02 million.
• Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Nashville: $70,287 — 8 percent of $924,523. Cooper’s figure is for his campaign committee only. He does not have his own PAC.
Congressmen speak at nearly a full grade level lower than they did seven years ago and seven of the 11 members of the Tennessee delegation to Washington are below the national average, according to a new Sunlight Foundation analysis.
“Today’s Congress speaks at about a 10.6 grade level, down from a high of 11.5 in 2005,” said the non-partisan foundation in a news release Monday. “Of course, what some might interpret as a dumbing down of Congress, others will see as more effective communications.
“And lawmakers of both parties still speak above the heads of the average American, who reads at between an 8th and 9th grade level,” the release says.
In the Tennessee delegation, the lowest grade level went to two of the most highly educated members, Resp. Phil Roe, R-Johnson City, at 8.64 and Scott DesJarlais, R-Jasper, at 9.87. Both men are physicians who graduated from medical schools.
The top Tennessee rating went to Republican Rep. Stephen Fincher, a farmer who gives the Crocket County community of Frog Jump as his hometown. He is listed as speaking at a 12.7 grade level in his congressional comments.
Tennessee’s U.S. congressmen were split in voting on the debt ceiling deal Monday.
Voting yes were Democratic Rep. Jim Cooper of Nashville and five Republicans — Reps. Marsha Blackburn of Brentwood, Diane Black of Gallatin, Jimmy Duncan of Knoxville, Stephen Fincher of Frog Jump and Philip Roe of Johnson City.
Voting no were Democratic Rep. Steve Cohen of Memphis and two Republicans — Reps. Scott DesJarlais of Jasper and Chuck Fleischmann of Chattanooga.
For more on the Tennessee delegation and the deal, see Michael Collins in the News Sentine and Elizabeth Bewley in the Tennessean.