Fleischmann calls debt ceiling deal a ‘step in the right direction’

Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Ooltewah, speaks during the Memorial Day program at the Chattanooga National Cemetery on Monday.

U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, a subcommittee chairman on the Appropriations Committee and the only Tennessee congressional member on the panel, is praising the debt ceiling agreement as "a step in the right direction to get our fiscal house in order."

In a statement issued by his office, the Ooltewah Republican said he plans to vote for the agreement when it comes to a House vote Wednesday.

"This deal cuts government spending year-over-year, enacts the most consequential work requirements for welfare in a generation, blocks Biden's and Democrat's proposed $5 trillion in tax hikes, reforms the permitting process for energy projects, slashes funding for new IRS agents to harass taxpayers, and more," Fleischmann said in the statement.

Fleischmann isn't alone.

Some harder-right Republicans like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Rome, appear ready to back the measure. In a tweet over the weekend, Greene praised the agreement to clawback $400 million from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention funding, which Greene said "sends money overseas to countries like China."

"Also on the chopping block is nearly $1.5 billion from the CDC's 'Vaccine Distribution and Monitoring Program,'" said Greene, a critic of ongoing COVID-19 spending programs and restrictions.

But while Fleischmann and Greene are speaking favorably about McCarthy's agreement with President Joe Biden, U.S. Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Ga., a Fleischmann colleague on the House Appropriations Committee, is panning it.

Clyde labeled the agreement the "Fiscal Irresponsibility Act" in a Twitter blast, saying it's a "fib" that it eliminates funding for "Joe Biden's army of IRS agents."

"We promised to nix the $80 billion Democrats appropriated to the weaponized IRS. So much for protecting American taxpayers. #NoDeal," the Athens, Georgia, Republican wrote.

Biden and Democrats provided $80 billion for a decade in new funding to help the IRS enforce tax codes for wealthy Americans in the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act, which the administration said would provide tens of thousands of additional additional agents who would bring in an additional $200 billion in revenue over the next 10 years. The debt deal struck by Biden and McCarthy cuts $21 billion of the funding.

A statement from the office of U.S. Rep. Tim Burchett, a Knoxville Republican, said the congressman is "leaning no," but is still reading the full bill.

"He is glad Speaker McCarthy is keeping his promise to allow members adequate time to read the text of the bill before voting on it so they can make informed decisions, unlike the previous Congress," his office said.

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Bill Hagerty, R-Tenn., weighed in Tuesday on the debt ceiling compromise, indicating he was troubled by it during a appearance on Fox Business' "Mornings with Maria."

"We've got a tremendous amount of difficulty in our system right now because of the massive spending that the Democrats have undertaken," he said. "That spending has put our economy into a very challenging situation, and we've got national security crises mounting all over the world. This needs to be a serious set of cuts, and what I know (is that) it's better than the blank check that the Biden administration was asking for, but there's a lot more to be dug into."

Although the deal may set a goal for limiting future growth in government spending, former U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said neither side wants to deal with government entitlements that now comprise nearly two thirds of all federal spending.

"To have the current president and the former president say we can solve our fiscal issues without dealing with entitlements, it's ridiculous," Corker told the Chattanooga Rotary Club last Thursday, citing costs of programs including Social Security and Medicare. "We don't want to talk about those things. So it's likely we don't want to deal with the tough, tough issues ... 65% of what we spend is on autopilot."

An aging population and automatic cost-of-living increases necessitate some changes in Social Security, including raising the base amount that is taxed on income, he said.

"You've got to figure out a way to deal with Social Security. You got to figure out a way to deal with Medicare. You got to figure out how to deal with all the other social programs that exist, which by the way, are large, many more than just those two," Corker told Rotarians. "You remember when Social Security was put in place, (when) it began to kick in at 65, that was people's life expectancy."

The White House insisted for weeks that it would not negotiate over raising the debt limit, but with the federal government expected to hit the debt cap and become unable to pay its bills by Monday, Biden's negotiators agreed to a plan to limit future increases in government spending, to ease regulatory approval of new energy and infrastructure projects and set up work requirements for more welfare recipients.

Biden told reporters Monday he feels good about the pending vote, but he said he never tries to predict what Congress will end up doing.

The Center for a Responsible Federal Budget, a nonprofit group working to trim the federal deficit, also praised the agreement as one of the biggest deficit-cutting measures in the past decade.

"In the 11th hour, our leaders are showing us what they can do when they come together for the good of the American people," the Center said in a statement. "If it passes, this plan would be the first major deficit-reducing budget agreement in almost a dozen years and would signal Washington is serious about making progress in addressing our mounting national debt."

The Biden-McCarthy deal would suspend the debt limit until January 2025, but the agreement does require some changes.

The debt ceiling deal would reinstate student loan payments and the accrual of interest by late August.

"The pause is gone within 60 days of this being signed," McCarthy said on Fox News Sunday. "So that is another victory because that brings in $5 billion each month to the American public."

It requires stricter work requirements for public assistance programs, including food stamps, though Medicaid won't be affected. (The requirements drew opposition from both sides of the aisle.)

A streamlined approval process for energy projects — known as permitting — through the creation of a single agency to oversee the matter also was included. The deal also includes approval for a multibillion-dollar natural gas pipeline through West Virginia, a win for Sen. Joe Manchin, the state's Democratic senator.

Not included in the bill are any major commitments to reduce the $31.4 trillion national debt. But The New York Times calculates that nondiscretionary spending cuts could save $860 billion over the next decade.

Some argue work requirements don't necessarily help lift people out of poverty.

"Work requirements make it harder to join and to maintain coverage from assistance programs, while discouraging countless others from even trying to obtain assistance," the Robert Wood Foundation said in a new analysis of welfare. "The result is an exacerbation of physical, mental and behavioral health problems that make it more difficult, not easier, to obtain or retain employment that is a condition of maintaining assistance."

On Tuesday afternoon, Fleischmann put in a plug for his views of deal in a Twitter post:

"The Fiscal Responsibility Act is a good deal for the American People.

"-Stops all of Biden's proposed $5 trillion tax increases.

"-Cuts over $2 trillion in gov spending.

"-Enacts work requirements for welfare.

"-Slashes red tape holding up infrastructure projects."

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6340.

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-285-9480.