While there is plenty of controversy and an upcoming election year in Washington, D.C., the representative for Monroe County said he believes he can still get things done this year.
U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-Tennessee) said with the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump ongoing and a presidential election year heating up, there are obstacles to getting legislation passed in the nation’s capitol.
“Our state brethren have an opportunity to accomplish an awful lot because they don’t face the impediments we do,” Fleischmann said. “In Washington, D.C., I like to say while others are involved in the i-word, I’m going to work hard on the people’s business in appropriations.”
The congressman, who is on the House appropriations committee, said despite the drama in D.C., he’s optimistic about legislation getting through the houses of Congress.
“I think we can accomplish an awful lot,” he said. “A strong appropriations package will be huge. The structure will lend itself to bipartisan cooperation.”
Fleischmann said an infrastructure deal could also be in the works this year.
“The lame duck session is where I hope we can get some things done that have lingered,” he said.
As both a Republican and member of the appropriations committee, Fleischmann said there’s only so much right now that members of Congress can do to rein in the debt and the deficit.
“We in government, the media and educators have failed the American people in terms of laying out specifically where the problem is,” he said of the ever-rising debt and deficit.
Fleischmann noted that in 1980, 25% of the federal budget was mandatory spending – which includes entitlement programs – and the vast majority was discretionary, or optional, spending.
Now, he said, that ratio has almost exactly reversed and is now 70% mandatory spending and 30% discretionary.
“Those are things we do not appropriate for, but automatically occur as part of the federal budget,” he said of the mandatory spending, citing things like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, interest on the national debt and “80% of the Affordable Care Act.” “That’s what’s driving our debt.”
As a result of the growth of entitlement spending, Fleischmann said that there’s a limit on how much fiscal responsibility in Washington, D.C. can do without major reforms.
“We could get rid of all discretionary spending and still be running a deficit on mandatory spending,” he said.
Fleischmann also acknowledged that the national debt – which currently stands at more than $23.2 trillion – is “growing at an alarming rate.”
“Do we need to be more fiscally sound, do we need to be more careful on the discretionary side? Absolutely,” he said. “Where are the solutions – that’s where it gets very difficult.”
Fleischmann said there is currently “no political appetite on the part of Republicans, Democrats, the legislature or the executive to address that.”
To highlight his point, Fleischmann recalled a moment during former President Barack Obama’s tenure.
Fleischmann remembered that Obama once walked into a meeting with Republican lawmakers and then-Speaker of the House John Boehner “looked at him and said ‘let’s go big on mandatory.’”
Fleischmann said the belief was that it might be easier to get entitlement reform passed during a Democrat’s presidency.
“Democrats do better when looking at entitlement reform – they’re not going to get attacked for it like Republicans,” Fleischmann said. “He looked at us and said ‘I’m not concerned about the debt.’”
Fleischmann said he viewed that as a “missed opportunity.”
“It was just Obama and a room full of Republicans,” Fleischmann said. “That could’ve been a great part of his legacy because we could have gotten it done.”
That lack of desire to deal with mandatory spending could be a serious problem for generations to come, he said.
“I feel for the young people of this country – they’re going to be laden with the debt and, ultimately, the problems that come from that,” Fleischmann noted.
He also pointed out that much of that debt that comes from entitlement spending is bought up by other countries, adding that he estimates “50% or maybe more” of the country’s debt is owned by foreign countries.
“That’s dangerous,” he said.