Opinion: Fleischmann in minority among members of state Republican delegation in debt limit vote

Staff File Photo By Matt Hamilton / U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tennessee, speaks during the Veterans Day Ceremony at the Collegedale Commons on Nov. 11, 2022.

Tennessee Republican members of the United States House of Representatives apparently have different ideas about how the country's fiscal house is to be put in order.

The House voted 314-77 to pass the Fiscal Responsibility Act Wednesday, which would raise the country's debt ceiling and stave off a potential government shutdown.

In explaining their votes on the bill — for or against — Volunteer State GOP members cited identical language.

"I came to Congress to work to get our fiscal house back in order," U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Ooltewah, said in a news release. "That is why I voted to pass the [bill] — the largest spending cut in our nation's history." He said he also wanted to put the country "back on the road to economic prosperity ... for our children and grandchildren."

"I came [to Washington, D.C.] to put our fiscal house in order," U.S. Rep. Andy Ogles, R-Columbia, said after voting against the measure, "and protect the future generations of Tennesseans."

Similarly, U.S. Rep. Diana Harshbarger, R-Kingsport, who voted "nay," said "it's time to get our fiscal house in order" and not keep "passing down ... debt to our children and grandchildren." U.S. Rep. Tim Burchett, R-Knoxville, who also voted "no," said the country's debt is a bill "neither we, nor our kids or grandkids can pay."

Fleischmann was joined by U.S. Reps. Mark Green, R-Ashland City, David Kustoff, R-Memphis, and Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, in voting for the debt ceiling act, and it was opposed by U.S. Reps. Ogles, Burchett, Harshbarger, Scott DesJarlais, R-Sherwood, and John Rose, R-Cookeville.

The bill was supported by Republicans 149-71 and by Democrats 165-46. It now goes to the Senate for likely confirmation.

Apparently at issue for most of the state Republicans who opposed the bill were the amounts of spending cuts that could be extracted during House negotiations with the Biden White House.

Ogles, for instance, said Republicans, who have a slim, nine-seat margin in the House, had "all the leverage." But he said the cap they negotiated for discretionary spending, the work requirements negotiated for those who receive federal benefits and the cuts in new Internal Revenue Service hires all were insufficient. Of the last, he said the bill deletes only 1,740 of the 87,000 agents Democrats added in the misnamed Inflation Reduction Act they passed in 2022.

Several Tennessee bill opponents also referenced the size of the country's debt, which is nearing $32 trillion, and the profligate spending of the Biden administration, which initially said it would not negotiate over raising the debt limit to pay the country's bills.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-California, like all speakers before him, likely had an idea of how the vote would go before it was taken. So we suspect that had he needed the votes for the bill to pass, he might have had a couple more of the Volunteer State members on his side.

Green likely summed it up for all members of the House.

"This bill is not ideal," he said in a statement. "But considering the make-up of our government, the Republicans punched above their weight class and passed a debt ceiling increase that contained key conservative victories."

Fleischmann, meanwhile, praised the bill to the hilt.

He said it would enact "the most significant work requirements for welfare in a generation, stop $5 trillion in new taxes and federal mandates, slash red tape holding up critical energy infrastructure projects, claw back billions in unspent COVID slush funds, and defund the IRS' army of new agents."

"We accomplished all of these historical reforms while increasing defense spending by $28 billion and fully protecting Social Security, Medicare, and veterans' health care and benefits," Fleischmann said.

"The Fiscal Responsibility Act is a historic win for America, our economy, and fiscal sanity," he said.

We looked for support for Fleischmann's statement about the spending cut being the largest in the nation's history but found only backing from a Georgia Republican congressman who'd also backed the bill. But in these inflationary times, a relatively modest amount of spending cuts can mean a lot.

Tennessee's 3rd District congressman has been all over the place on debt limit votes during his seven terms, though mostly in line with the party of the president in office. He voted against raising the debt limit while Democrat Barack Obama was president (with the exception of voting for a temporary increase in 2013), voted to raise it under Donald Trump and has voted against doing so under Democrat Joe Biden — until Wednesday.

Fleischmann and DesJarlais are now the state's most senior GOP House members, and Fleischmann is the only member of the state delegation on the important House Committee on Appropriations, so he may feel being on McCarthy's side when the budget is negotiated could stand him on solid ground when taxpayer funds are doled out.