Nunnelee, a Tupelo resident who represents Mississippi's 1st District, told the Daily Journal's editorial board he favors a methodical, steady approach to reducing America's debt burden and that it, unfortunately, involved raising its credit limit.
"I know there were those who would have preferred we shut down the government" instead of raising the debt ceiling, Nunnelee said, "but I don't think that cutting off Social Security checks or cutting off pay to men and women who are in combat or shutting down Medicare is the right thing to do."
Nunnelee had voted along with a majority of the House and Senate last month to pass the Budget Control Act. It immediately raised the debt limit by $400 billion with the option of an additional $500 billion increase at the president's request. But it also requires nearly $1 trillion in spending cuts over the next decade, including $21 billion in the upcoming fiscal year, and a special joint committee is to come up with an additional $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction.
It was seen as a compromise to avoid a looming government shutdown, and Nunnelee said while he would like to have seen deeper cuts, the agreement's most important element was setting a spending limit for the budget to which everyone must adhere.
But it had numerous opponents, including the second-place finisher to Nunnelee in the 2010 GOP congressional primary, Henry Ross of Eupora.
"There are 66 members in Congress willing to do what the people sent them there to do," Ross said last week at a Kiwanis Club of Tupelo meeting, where he also revealed he'd likely run against Nunnelee again in 2012. "If we had others like that, we could change this country."
Sixty-six Republicans voted against the act, as did 95 Democrats.
Nunnelee's one-hour editorial board meeting came at the end of a month-long stint in the 1st District where the congressmen worked with his local staff and met with constituents. He returns to Washington today as Congress starts putting together a spending plan for the 2012 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.
But he doubted Congress would pass a plan by then and said to expect at least one continuing resolution to keep funds rolling while a deal is made.
Among his top concerns are whether lawmakers can reform entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare to avoid insolvency.
"The White House chief of staff said Medicare is going bankrupt in five years," Nunnelee said. "The actuary for Medicare said it was nine years. Those four years don't give me a lot of comfort."
He acknowledged that the Budget Control Act didn't address the problem, but said that a solution will come. "We didn't get into this mess overnight, and we won't get out of it overnight," he said.
While the government must keep faith with those who have paid into the system or who are too near retirement to make other plans, Nunnelee said for future recipients "we may have to change the eligibility age."