Rep. Chuck Fleischmann quietly voted to extend the federal payroll tax cut Friday and was one of only two Republican lawmakers in Tennessee to support the $143 billion package, allowing the tax holiday to continue through 2012 for 160 million American workers.
Although a handful of Fleischmann's fellow GOP state legislators described the bill as "not serious," a "short-sighted step" and a "complete failure of leadership," the congressman said through a spokesperson that by voting in favor of it he was looking out for middle-class Americans.
"At the end of the day, Chuck will always choose middle-class Americans over Washington bureaucracy," Jordan Powell, press secretary for Fleischmann, said. "Today, he did that. He also thinks this process again highlights the need for long-term spending reform to get our fiscal house in order. That is something he has fought for and will continue to fight for."
Eighth District Rep. Stephen Fincher was the only other member of the Tennessee delegation to support the measure in the House, where it passed in a 293-132 vote.
Although Fleischmann's and Fincher's votes bucked the line of Republicans within the state, the majority of House GOP members supported the measure, outvoting their intraparty opposers 146-91. Their votes drew a compliment from Tennessee Democratic Party communications director Brandon Puttbrese, who said the lawmakers "did the right thing."
"Tennesseans primarily want Republicans in Congress to work with the president to get some results," Puttbrese said. "This Republican Congress has been very reluctant in working with Democrats or the president, so this is a tiny bright spot."
In the Senate, both Sen. Lamar Alexander and Sen. Bob Corker voted against a version of the bill, which passed 60-39.
The legislation now goes to the desk of President Barack Obama, where he has promised to sign it into law "right away."
The votes came two months after lawmakers in both chambers wrangled over proposals, seeking to find a way to extend the cuts before a Dec. 31 deadline. A temporary, two-month fix emerged and was reluctantly agreed to by Fleischmann and his fellow Republicans.
But despite voting in favor of the brief extension last year, Fleischmann's neighboring congressman, Rep. Scott DesJarlais, said he could not support the current proposal because it would ultimately increase the federal deficit.
"Today's legislation will add nearly $100 billion to the debt burden laid on the backs of every man, woman and child in America," DesJarlais said in a news release. "Clearly, Washington is both broke and broken. I could not in good faith support a package that continues this trend and once again confirms that our government is still not serious about getting its spending under control."
According to the Congressional Budget Office, the package would change revenues and direct spending to produce increases in the deficit of more than $100 billion in 2012 and $89.3 billion over a period spanning from 2012 to 2022.
Sen. Bob Corker called the legislation's passage a "complete failure of leadership."
"Paying for 10 months of expenditures over 10 years while adding $90 billion to the deficit is a complete failure of leadership and puts us in denial over our nation's unsustainable and growing debt," Corker said in a news release. "Even if the cost is fully offset with current revenue, the payroll tax holiday is poor public policy because it undermines funding for Social Security to give out a temporary stimulus that will do little to help the economy and make it harder to get spending under control."
Sen. Lamar Alexander echoed Corker's sentiments and called the agreement a "$93 billion raid" on Social Security, which payroll taxes fund.
"It extends what was supposed to be a one-time tax holiday without providing a plan to restore the funds, a short-sighted step that threatens the program's solvency at a time when we should be working together to strengthen Social Security for seniors and future generations," he said.
The tax cut will save the average American worker approximately $1,000 a year.