U.S. Representative Scott Desjarlais, The Tennessean
By PAUL C. BARTON, Gannett Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON -- House Republicans feel stymied but not hopeless as they prepare to return to Capitol Hill for possible last-minute action to avoid the "fiscal cliff," Republican Rep. Scott DesJarlais said Thursday.
DesJarlais, of Jasper, was one of 234 members of his caucus who listened in on a conference call Thursday with House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio.
Boehner said the House will return to work Sunday at 6:30 p.m. and remain in session in case lawmakers and President Barack Obama reach agreement on a deal to avoid more than $600 billion in tax increases and spending cuts that will otherwise take effect on Tuesday. Economists fear the combination could jar the nation's economy back into recession.
DesJarlais said in an interview Thursday it's up to the Senate to come forward with a plan now, an opinion also expressed by Boehner.
"But all we are hearing is crickets," DesJarlais said.
Asked if Republicans feel a lack of hope about a possible solution, he said, "It's more frustration."
The office of Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Nashville, said Democrats have been notified to return by Sunday night as well.
"It's outrageous that Congress can't stop bickering long enough to avoid the fiscal cliff," Cooper said in a statement.
DesJarlais and Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Brentwood, are among nearly three dozen Republicans who have said they would have voted against Boehner's plan, floated last week, to let tax rates rise on people making at least $1 million a year.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, a Democrat, was quick to remind reporters Thursday that the Senate is in session while House members remain scattered around the country.
"I can't imagine their consciences," he said. "They're out wherever they are around the country, and we're here... they couldn't even get the leadership together yesterday. They had to do it with a teleconference," Reid said.
DesJarlais, a tea party freshman, said he remains opposed to raising tax rates on any segment of Americans but wants to "clean up the tax code" by closing loopholes and limiting deductions.
Making millionaires pay more taxes, he said, would mean punishing "the achievers in order to distribute (benefits) to other groups."
"That's not something you want to do in a struggling economy," he said.
Senate Democrats, however, want to renew the Bush-era tax cuts only for people making less than $250,000 a year.
DesJarlais said spending cuts should be the focus of any deal to resolve the fiscal cliff, adding that government spending needs to be cut far more than discussed so far. Across-the-board cuts of about 3 percent a year for 10 years are needed to resolve the debt-and-deficit crisis, the Tennessee lawmaker said.
Even the military, he said, should do its share.
"I don't think any area of government is immune from waste, fraud and abuse," DesJarlais said.
Contact Paul C. Barton at firstname.lastname@example.org