In criticism of budget vote, Clay links Carnahan with Tea Party
U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan was a prime target of the Tea Party when he ran for re-election two years ago. But now U.S. Rep. Lacy Clay is alleging that the St. Louis Democrat sided with the conservative movement on a budget vote back in 2011.
It's yet another sign of the increasingly antagonistic contest for Missouri's 1st congressional district between the two sitting Democratic lawmakers.
Stationed near a sign with the words “Russ Stands with the Tea Party” plastered over an image of a man holding a Gadsden Flag, Clay, D-St. Louis, criticized Carnahan, D-St. Louis, at a Friday press conference for voting against a 2011 budget amendment put forward by the House Progressive Caucus.
The amendment – which was put forward by U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz. – ended up failing by a significant margin. Carnahan voted against that measure, although he cast "yes" votes for several other unsuccessful amendments put forward by Democrats. The budget that was being debated – sponsored by House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis. – end up passing the House but going nowhere in the U.S. Senate.
“My opponent had a choice,” said Clay at the press conference at the Sheet Metal Workers Local 36 building in St. Louis. “He could have stood with me and the vast majority of Democrats who voted to defend Medicare by voting yes for the Democratic Progressive Budget Amendment. But Russ Carnahan made a different choice. He stood with the Tea Party Republican extremists in the House and voted against it.”
“And I’m amazed that any Democrat would vote against the Progressive Democratic budget, which protected Medicare,” he added.
But Carnahan spokesman Maurice Henderson noted that numerous Democrats -- including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and U.S. Rep. Steve Israel, D-NY -- voted against the amendment. By Clay's logic, he said, those stalwart Democrats would be aligned with the Tea Party as well.
"I'm pretty sure that Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and Henry Waxman from California don't count as Tea Party folks," Henderson said. "Go down the list, these are not your Blue Dog Democrats we're talking about here."
Tea party groups targeted Carnahan in 2010
Clay’s attempt to link Carnahan with the Tea Party is notable since Carnahan ran in 2010 against Republican Ed Martin, a St. Louis attorney who garnered considerable support among members of the movement.
Henderson alluded to those instances in an e-mailed response to reporters.
“During the health-care debate, Carnahan faced numerous challenges,” said Henderson in a statement, pointing to episodes where a coffin was placed near his home and how a fight broke out a health care town hall meeting. “In the face of these serious challenges, Carnahan stood up for what was right and supported the Affordable Care Act.”
In some ways, Clay's criticism is also part of a recent trend during this primary season of linking a rival with a diametrically opposite political figure or political movement.
There have been numerous instances in the midst of the U.S. Senate GOP primary in which the top three candidates or supportive groups argued a GOP adversary's past actions were reminiscent of U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.
And in the increasingly nasty Republican primary for lieutenant governor, Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder and state Sen. Brad Lager have tried to link each other to President Barack Obama or McCaskill. Kinder questioned Lager’s sincerity in opposing the Affordable Care Act due to the Savannah state lawmaker’s employment with Cerner, a health information company that’s benefited from Obama’s policies. Lager has continuously defended his role at the company and argued the criticism amounts to an attack on a prominent Missouri business.
Lager alleged in a recent ad that Kinder opposed efforts to repeal the federal health-care law just like McCaskill mainly because the incumbent statewide officeholder rejected Lager’s call for a special session to opt out of a potential Medicaid expansion.
Kinder and other Republican lawmakers argued such a move wouldn't be productive.
Estate tax break
One issue where Clay’s broken with his party is on repealing the estate tax. Earlier this month, Carnahan’s campaign pointed to several votes in the past in which Clay voted for permanently ratcheting down the tax on inheritances.
Henderson argued at the time that such votes stood “in direct contrast with the interests of hard-working people in the St. Louis region, as well as the (Congressional Black Caucus) leadership, by instead supporting components of the Bush tax plan that benefits the top 1 percent.”
Clay said on Friday that he has a “philosophical difference from my party on the estate tax.”
“I feel as though the estate tax is a double and triple tax,” Clay said. “And you know what’s going to happen. Now there’s a threshold of $5 million for an estate, which protects family farms and things like that. If we do nothing and don’t change that part of the tax law, it will drop to $1 million. … That will really affect small business. In other words, it’ll be more difficult to pass those businesses onto their survivors.”
Henderson pointed to votes in the past where Clay voted to repeal the estate tax permanently. Asked if he would support complete elimination of tax, Clay said he was for keeping the ceiling at $5 million.
Henderson said there's ongoing talks about a compromise plan to lower the threshold to $3.5 million. While he said Carnahan would be inclined to support such a compromise, he added that figure isn't final and there's nothing to vote for at this time.