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Capitol View Commentary: Friday, January 4, 2013

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, January 4, 2013

CREATED Jan 4, 2013

CAPITOL VIEW

By Pat Nolan, Senior Vice President, DVL Public Relations & Advertising

January 4, 2013

FROM THE CLIFF TO THE BRINK; THE 4TH DISTRICT RACE IS ON; SPEAKER HARWELL ON INSIDE POLITICS; NASHVILLE IS HAUTE

FROM THE CLIFF TO THE BRINK

This wasn't just a lame duck Congress that ended its term this week (Wednesday).

It's a lame brain Congress, clearly capable of screwing up a one car parade (with some aiding and abetting from the administration of President Barack Obama).

It may well be the worst Congress ever or at least in my lifetime!

What else can you say about a group that after months of wrangling in efforts to solve our nation's fiscal problems (an ever growing national debt), instead passes a bill that actually increases the deficit by over $4 trillion dollars?

How do you take seriously a group who sets up automatic tax increases (and through 17-months of inaction allows them to go into effect) then tries to ride to the rescue and "cut" those taxes for everyone (unless you make more than $400,000 a year)? What makes matters even more laughable (if you find these things humorous), almost everyone really gets a tax hike because the Social Security payroll tax cut, in effect the past couple of years, has been allowed to expire.

So who does Congress think they are fooling? Maybe themselves, but probably not anybody else, even if the stock market has gone up

To make matters even more ominous, Congress agreed (with President Barack Obama's approval) to defer the automatic budget cuts also set to take effect January 1. Now nobody thought those cuts were wise or well planned. But why if you can't resolve the matter after seventeen months of trying, do you think you can work it out within the next two months?

That's right. The outgoing Congress "in its wisdom" has set up a new fiscal cliff, mandating that unless a fiscal reduction plan is agreed to within two months by the new Congress, the ill-conceived budget cuts become automatic again. Now, given Congress' propensity to "kick the can down the road" on any, if not all tough decisions, it's rather hard to really take this new deadline completely seriously. But why in the name of insanity do our national leaders think that continuing the same idiotic behavior (setting up false deadlines and taking no real decisive actions to find a compromise) will result in any real change or a final resolution?    

And to top it all off, the new two month deadline also happens to coincide with the nation reaching its debt limit again, threatening to have the U.S. fail to pay its pending and ongoing debts without further authorization from Congress. In the wake of what has just happened with taxes, some Republicans say without major cuts in entitlements (Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid in particular) they will shut the government down come March. In fact, one GOP source told me, unless the government is shut down (or massive cuts are made to allow for a higher debt ceiling), there won't be a Republican Party anymore. Frankly, given some recent votes in the House of Representatives (the votes on Plan B and the final tax bill), you could almost make that argument now).

But this new fiscal cliff (automatic budget cuts) is perhaps even more ominous. It takes the nation this time to the fiscal brink, exposing the country to not only shutting down the government, but having our credit rating downgraded (again), and taking our still fragile economy (and the world's) down into another, even deeper recession. 

Clearly this tax vote was a big victory for President Obama. He has had the Republicans on the run on this issue since the November election. But with that now settled, what does he have for equal leverage to use against the GOP in these budget and deficit fights that lie again just ahead?

If you've seen the movie LINCOLN, you know that politics even 150 years ago was not bean bag, and even trying to pass the most noble of legislation (outlawing slavery) resulted in what appeared to be the worst kind of sausage-making you can imagine. Let's just hope 150 years from now that somehow "the better angels" Mr. Lincoln invoked in his famous second Inaugural  Address somehow intervene to help us finally resolve our fiscal issues that today still look beyond our leaders and political parties to resolve.

On a more immediate political level, you do have to wonder if John Boehner can somehow put his fractured (and somewhat smaller) House Caucus back together again and continue to lead the full House as Speaker now that he has somehow been re-elected despite his tax debacle and the deep anger that ensued on both sides of the aisle (especially among Northeastern politicians) when he refused to allow consideration of Hurricane Sandy relief before the old Congress expired?

Boehner got re-elected handily although CNN reported he had the most abstentions and votes recorded for others than in any recent speaker election.  NASHVILLEPOST.COM says even Nashville Representative Jim Cooper got votes for Speaker, although the Congressman himself again declined to vote for his party's leader Nancy Pelosi, and voted instead for former Secretary of State and Joint Chiefs commander General Colin Powell. (It's never happened but House rules do not require the Speaker be a member of the House).

So, overall, what is the impact of all this recent Washington wrangling on our Tennessee delegation?

While all nine of our House members, except for Steve Cohen, voted against the tax bill, the Senators voted for it. Both Senators Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander say they felt they had to vote for the tax bill in order to ensure 99% of Americans didn't have a tax hike. Both also say they are pushing strongly for cuts in the deficit and the budget, especially in entitlements.   Corker added voting for the tax bill for him was like having to eat a "you know what sandwich," a colorful remark that almost rivaled the f-bombs   Speaker Boehner publicly hurled at Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid during one of the many tense (and low) moments of the tax and budget impasse.

Senator Corker has just gotten re-elected, so it's unlikely any of this will cause any long term problems for him six years from now (if he runs again). Senator Lamar Alexander runs next year. Despite seeming to have the entire state GOP leadership behind him, could his tax bill vote create a primary challenger for him in 2014? I keep hearing the name of former congressional candidate Monte Lankford. He or anyone would be a very long shot to be a legitimate challenger against the Senior Senator, but this vote could provide a potential rallying point among conservatives and Tea Party supporters to raise support and maybe some money for a push against Alexander.

THE 4TH DISTRICT RACE IS ON

Given what's just happened in Washington, you have to really wonder why anyone would want to run for Congress, especially having to campaign for nearly 2 years.

But with newly re-elected 4th District Congressman Dr. Scott DesJarlais continuing to appear vulnerable due to recently confirmed allegations about his past personal life (encouraging abortions along with dating and having sex with his medical patients), State Senator Jim Tracy is already jumping into the 2014 primary race against the incumbent.

Tracy represents Rutherford County which has, by far, the greatest percentage of vote in the district. State Representative Joe Carr from Murfreesboro (and Rutherford County as well ) is also eyeing the race and has already set up an exploratory committee to get ready for a possible run. This could set up a potential tussle for the Rutherford vote, and unless, one candidate dominants (wins by double digits) could also open the chance for DesJarlais to get at least re-nominated because you don't need a majority to win the primary. 

While still other candidates, such as businessman and former congressional candidate Forrest Shoaf are considering a run, for now, Tracy appears to be the front runner. His senate district is larger than Carr's House seat, and Tracy recently had more than 800 people attend a breakfast for him in Murfreesboro with reportedly all factions of the local GOP in attendance.  He also has strong support already from Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey and the rest of the GOP leadership team in the State Senate.

SPEAKER HARWELL ON INSIDE POLITICS

The 108th Tennessee General Assembly convenes for the first time on Tuesday, January 8 at high noon here in Nashville.  In anticipation of the beginning of session, and in particular the major rules changes being proposed as the new State House organizes itself, Speaker Beth Harwell is my guest on INSIDE POLITICS this weekend.

Harwell, a Nashville representative, is expected to be easily re-elected to a second two-year term (even the Democrats again say they won't oppose her). Her suggested rule changes include one to limit the number of bills each member can file every year (10). It's a way to streamline state government and save money as Tennessee lawmakers clearly file way more bills every year than the state can or should consider.  That along with all the significant legislation lawmakers will consider this year from guns to health care and from vouchers to charter schools and lowering the food tax again, (and on and on), will give us plenty to discuss on the program.

One thing to consider about the bill limit being proposed, Speaker Harwell admits it would place a de facto limit on Senate bills too (at least if they want a companion bill in the House). So if my math is correct and all 99 House members file their full quota of legislation, it would result in 990 bills. But that could only correspond to 330 Senate bills maximum, leaving up to 660 bills without a House companion. How will that work without ruffling a lot of feathers? Speaker Harwell says House members will just have to decide their priorities in deciding what bills to sponsor. She also says there is nothing magic about 10 bills as the limit (she told me originally she wanted it to be only 8 bills), but I not sure there can be enough flexibility to square the potential difference in bill totals in the two houses if a limit is approved, making things perhaps even more interesting next week when the House decides its rules.  

  INSIDE POLITICS can be seen several times each weekend on the NEWSCHANNEL5 NETWORK. Our air times include 5:00 a.m. Sunday on the main channel, WTVF-TV NEWSCHANNEL5.  We are also on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS at 7:00 p.m. Friday, 5:00 a.m. & 5:30 p.m., Saturday, and 5:00 a.m. & 12:30 p.m., Sunday. THE PLUS is on Comcast Cable channel 250, Charter Cable channel 150 and NEWSCHANNEL5's over-the-air digital channel.

NASHVILLE IS HAUTE

As a national and even international brand, the city of Nashville has never been hotter. Or maybe I should say "haute," which Webster's defines as "fashionable, high class." In addition to the ongoing weekly NASHVILLE prime time soap opera TV show on ABC each week, now the city has been cited by the well-known CONDE NAST TRAVELER publication as one of only 5 cities in the entire world that people ought to visit in 2013.

Music City is in high-level company with Amsterdam, Seoul, New Orleans and Toronto.

Of course, we are praised for our truly unique or what the publication calls "famous, funky music scene," adding: "At night, you can't walk two blocks without coming across some incredible live music, from bluegrass to brass bands, zydeco to country."

The CONDE NAST article also raves about Nashville's newest brand strength: "a hot, trendy food scene." The comments continue: "The "haute southern cuisine is flourishing in Nashville at restaurants like The Patterson House and The Catbird Seat. Not to mention some of the tastiest and most creative cocktail we've ever tried."

Those last comments about alcoholic beverages remind me of my wonderful DVL colleague, the late Eddie Jones. In 1968, he was the political brains behind the successful effort to get voters to approve having liquor by the drink in Nashville. One reason city leaders wanted to do that was so the area could get some good restaurants to develop here (meaning places where you could not only get a great meal, but get a good drink too).

Now I am sure nearly 50 years later, Eddie, like most long time Nashvillians, would be quite surprised at how we are developing not only a national, but world-wide renown as a city of great restaurants. But he loved Nashville so, I also know how very proud and happy he would be. A toast to you, Eddie, along with other now departed civic leaders such as Nelson Andrews, for laying the ground work, so long ago, to make help it happen.