Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, a longtime critic of government spending, will now have more of an influence determining where the money goes.
When he returns to Capitol Hill for his second term next year, Fleischmann will be expanding his role on the House Committee on Appropriations as a newly appointed member. The committee, which oversees federal spending, is commonly observed to be one of the most powerful in the House of Representatives.
The congressman's appointment, along with five other Republicans, was announced late Thursday.
As a result of his placement, he will have to give up his spots on both the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and the House Committee for Science, Space and Technology.
Fleischmann will be the only congressman from the Tennessee delegation serving with the group. And despite a current ban on earmark spending, the position will likely bring with it a newfound degree of clout for the freshman lawmaker from Ooltewah.
On Friday, the congressman said he interpreted his being given an open seat on the committee as a reward for performance during his first term.
"I was candidly and pleasantly surprised that this happened," Fleischmann said in a phone interview. "This was clearly a reward for hard work."
During his first two years in office, Fleischmann rarely missed votes and aligned himself with his party's leadership for the majority of ballots he cast. During his recent bid for re-election, the congressman branded himself a "proven Conservative," touting a proposal that would have frozen discretionary government spending for the next decade—despite its not having gained traction since being introduced.
Fleischmann's position on the committee will also lend him the opportunity to work toward securing funding for projects specific to Tennessee's 3rd Congressional District. The Chickamauga Lock, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Y-12 National Security Complex all lie within district boundaries.
The congressman said that because of the district's specific needs, he would prefer to serve on a subcommittee, such as Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development. But assignments to open slots on subcommittees will be out of Fleischmann's control.
"There are two slots on Energy and Water, which with what we've got going on at Chickamauga and Oak Ridge, would be a very good fit," he said. "That would be my first choice, but I have no say in the process. Wherever they put me, I'm going to work hard."
Fleischmann made no mention of the advantages that being on the committee could lend him in future bids for re-election, only committing to the same focus on fiscal responsibility he championed in his first term. Fleischmann's predecessor, former 3rd District Rep. Zach Wamp, was also a member of the Appropriations Committee and the Energy and Water Subcommittee and became known for using his slot as a selling point for retaining his seat.
Robin Smith, a former chairwoman of the Tennessee Republican Party as well as a former 3rd District candidate, said the position would likely bolster Fleischmann from potential challengers in his party.
"Without question, we saw Zach Wamp use his position on the committee to change the face of Oak Ridge and Y-12, and without question, Chuck saw that as a path to strengthening his position as an incumbent," Smith said. "There are a lot of folks who are not interested at all in politics or principals who are looking for opportunities for funding or grants. Those are the kinds of things that can protect a member of the Appropriations Committee. You're literally bringing home the bacon."
Smith added that Fleischmann's appointment could bring a degree of pressure for the congressman because of raised expectations.
"Because he is in that position, he really is going to have to produce," she said.
But regardless of what Fleischmann's performance on the committee may look like, the status it brings may be enough for him to raise his profile in a significant way across both the district and the state.
Bruce Oppenheimer, professor of public policy and education for Vanderbilt University, said that having a position on a committee such as this one often brought with it more pluses than risks.
"The important thing is being there," Oppenheimer said. "Everything cuts two ways, and it's very hard to evaluate how good of a job someone is doing on the Appropriations Committee. The important part is being there; the second part is how effective you are once you're there. The second part is much harder to measure."
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