There are two types of people to avoid if you are a wide-eyed freshman member of Congress: lobbyists and activists. Consorting with the former will entangle you with all sorts of unsavory propositions in return for campaign cash, linking you with liability when things inevitably go awry. When confronted with the latter, you will likely be presented with patriotic-sounding pledges to sign that would seemingly align you with a righteous cause whose lofty goals will sound very appealing, but will, down the line, disable you from doing what is right for those you represent.
Yet this is exactly the trap U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann has walked into, hoping, we suggest, to raise his profile among the many freshmen of the right who see themselves as crusaders in signing Grover Norquist’s Taxpayer Protection Pledge. Norquist, for the many who have never heard of him, is not an elected member of Congress or any government entity, but a Reagan-era anti-tax activist who formed Americans for Tax Reform in 1985 to corral conservative state and national lawmakers into a rejection of any and all taxes on individuals and business and any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.
Sounds great, doesn’t it? Who wants more taxes? Problem is, taxes are the necessary evil of any democracy—and with representation, when properly levied are intended to be a fair system of maintaining our society. Rejecting them wholesale is not patriotic, but rather damaging and wrong-sighted.
It is into these waters that Fleischmann has waded in dealing with the aging Chickamauga Lock, which allows barges to move through TVA’s dam system and traverse hundreds of miles of the Tennessee River.
The lock is in dire need of repair and replacement, and, without any other funding available, the barge industry appears willing to accept a barge tax increase from 20 cents to 29 cents per gallon of diesel fuel in order to repair, maintain and replace the 72-year-old lock—they are on board, so to speak.
Enter Norquist and The Pledge, to which Fleischmann has sworn allegiance. By signing this pledge, Fleischmann is in the uncomfortable position of having to reject a tax increase businesses are in favor of to appease Norquist and the radical right-wing of the Republican Party, lest he fall out of favor, regardless of the consequences of the needs of the district he serves.
Bound by this Machiavellian scheme, Fleischmann is forced to cower behind a vague proposal offered by U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander that would delay the lock’s repair for another year, if then—essentially doing nothing. As he stood staring into the dewatered lock during a recent tour, Fleischmann thought not of the benefits a tax increase levied on a willing industry, but of his standing as a member of the automatons who’ve found themselves caught in Norquist’s web.
Meanwhile, Fleischmann’s Democratic opponent in the upcoming election, Dr. Mary Headrick, rightly and perhaps predictably supports the tax increase.
“Until replaced, it should be repaired and remain in operation. I favor increasing the marine diesel fuel per gallon tax, as favored by barge operators,” she told the Times Free Press last week.
Fleischmann’s “intransigence,” as the TFP’s left-leaning Times-side editorial page rightly labeled the congressman’s record, is indicative of his conduct during his first term in office.
That voters of the 3rd District would willingly accept this behavior is disturbing at best and mind-bogglingly foolish at worst. Tax reform, in and of itself, is a noble cause and should be a constant theme in any representative’s efforts. But as an advocacy movement designed to cripple reasonable, rational thinking and actions on behalf of the people, it is a dangerous flag to wrap oneself in.
If you’ve ever wondered why we call this DizzyTown, wonder no more.