Reps. Chuck Fleischmann and Scott DesJarlais can no longer be referred to as “freshmen.”
Taking the oath of office Thursday, the lawmakers were sworn into their second terms as members of the 113th Congress. In interviews with Nooga.com, both Fleischmann and DesJarlais said they viewed the beginning of their second terms not so much as a fresh start, but more as the continuation of unfinished business.
“We have yet to pass a budget, we’ve still got Obamacare bearing down on us, along with a huge deficit and spending problem,” DesJarlais said. “The fiscal cliff vote has passed, and the president has fulfilled his campaign promise of raising taxes. Now, he needs to hold up his end and make some meaningful cuts.”
DesJarlais, who won a second term after weathering a scandal-ridden bid for re-election, voted against this week’s bill to avoid the mix of automatic spending cuts and tax increases, which also allowed for an increase in tax rates for American families earning more than $450,000 a year. Also voting against the measure was Fleischmann, who said his “main focus” going into his second term would be “fiscal responsibility.”
“We’ve got to get our fiscal house in order,” Fleischmann said, repeating an often-used line during his first term. “We’ve got the debt ceiling; we’ve got our national debt spiraling out of control. I’m going to focus on the issues.”
Fleischmann and DesJarlais will have no shortage of opportunities to focus on issues pertaining to the nation’s finances.
Before April, Congress must address the federal borrowing limit, tackle $110 billion in spending cuts set to go into effect after being delayed under the cliff compromise, and approve funding for government programs for the remainder of the current fiscal year.
The congressmen will also return to the Capitol following a term that saw Congress achieving record-low approval ratings and producing only 220 laws-the lowest output of legislation of any Congress on record.
Blaming the low amount of bills passed on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid-who declined to bring several items of House-passed legislation to the Senate floor-DesJarlais said he shared the public’s frustration.
However, the congressman did not ascribe any of the blame to either himself or his Republican colleagues.
“If people want to peel back the layers, they’d see that Harry Reid would not pick up the bills,” he said. “The 112th did well, but we could not get cooperation from the Senate or the White House . We have a lot of work to do here to re-earn trust and show that we can be good stewards of tax dollars. It’s a new year; it’s a new Congress. Let’s hope the outlook is better.”
Fleischmann said he thought the legacy of the 112th Congress would be that it had begun “the long trek back to fiscal responsibility.” The congressman named key pieces of legislation-many of which were passed in the 111th Congress prior to his taking office-as items he and his colleagues would focus on defeating.
“The previous Congress gave us Obamacare and Dodd Frank, and we have worked tirelessly to repeal or defund those measures,” Fleischmann said. “I think the House is the best indictor of the will of the people.”
Unlike the wash of Republicans who entered Congress in 2010, only 35 new members of the GOP were sworn into office Thursday, compared to 45 Democrats. Fleischmann said he was only able to influence how constituents in Tennessee’s 3rd District voted, rather than in other congressional districts across the country.
“I want to control the things that I can control: my conduct, my voting record and constituent service,” he said. “I’ve worked tirelessly, I had a perfect voting record my first year and my constituents rewarded that with re-election.”
Following their swearing in, the congressman participated in the roll call to elect a House speaker, both casting votes for current House Speaker John Boehner.