"For the last decade, Americans have been getting $5 worth of government and only charged $3,"The Tupelo Republican told The Commercial Appeal. "Well, we're not getting it at a discount. We're just passing on that discount to successive generations. My goal is to cut spending — to honestly deal with the debt, so that I can pass on freedom and opportunity to my grandchildren."
Nunnelee, who represents north Mississippi's 1st Congressional District, says he'd like to see changes to entitlement programs, but isn't sure they can be worked out before the Jan. 1 deadline set by the package of spending cuts and tax increases known as the "fiscal cliff." He recalled a similar deadline in 2009, when he was in the Mississippi state senate, and a budget bill was approved at 11:58 p.m. on June 30 — two minutes before the budget year ended.
He says he wishes more time was being spent debating spending cuts rather than increases in revenue.
Asked to review the highlights of his first two years in Congress, Nunnelee pointed not to pomp and ceremony but to memorable moments questioning witnesses in legislative hearings.
"One of the highlights is in my work on the Appropriations Committee when I asked Secretary of Energy (and Nobel Prize winning physicist) Steven Chu if the administration's policy was to drive higher gas prices," he recalled.
"And Secretary Chu acknowledged 'yes, our goal is to get gas prices up to European levels.' That allowed me to articulate on behalf of the people of Mississippi how that policy significantly and adversely affects the people of Mississippi," he said.
Actually, according to press reports, Nunnelee in February was asking Chu to repeat his 2008 statement about European prices, and Chu did not take the bait. During the hearing, Nunnelee went on to say "$8-a-gallon gasoline" makes people in North Mississippi "afraid" and said it would be "a cloud hanging over economic development and job creation."
Another highlight? "I was astounded when Secretary (of Agriculture Tom) Vilsack appeared before the agriculture appropriations subcommittee and I asked him a question about Food Stamps," Nunnelee said. "And he testified that almost half the people on Food Stamps have been on an average of seven years. That one statistic highlights the need for entitlement reform.
"I just happened to be in the right place to ask the right question of the right person," he concluded.
Nunnelee said he is confident of House Speaker John Boehner's leadership, saying he has a tough job in negotiations with President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid where "he goes into the meeting outnumbered two to one." He also praised the discipline Boehner has instilled in the Republican caucus and the predictability of the House calendar that allows members to return regularly to their districts.