Source: Chattanooga Times/Free Press

Congressman Chuck Fleischmann recently began his third term representing Tennessee’s 3rd District in the United States House of Representatives. He is the only member of the Volunteer State’s congressional delegation on the important House Committee on Appropriations, and he also sits on its Energy and Water, Homeland Security, and Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies subcommittees. He recently offered his opinions on a wide range of topics to a group of editors and reporters at the Times Free Press. We believe they also represent the opinions of the majority of the residents of the 3rd District.

* CONGRESS TO-DO LIST: Fleischmann named a free-trade agreement in the Asia-Pacific region, tax reform and infrastructure funding as three top-of-the-line items he believes can pass this year.

Corporate tax reform is the most likely target, he said, as the United States is at a “corporate disadvantage with the rest of the world” on the issue.

Business, labor, Republicans and Democrats understand the “monumental” need to repair the nation’s transportation, energy, communications, water and education infrastructure, Fleischmann said, and a five-year bill to do so — rather than the Band-Aid the last fix was — would offer an “uplift for the economy.”

* GASOLINE TAX: An increase to fund the nation’s roads is not likely to pass the House in this session, Fleischmann said, but he hopes members are able to come together on a five-year bill that would be much preferable to the six- or eight-month, kick-the-can-down-the-road fixes used in recent years.

“Constituents don’t want” a gas tax increase, he said. But “you can’t have a robust bill without something to fund it.”

Several suggestions are on the table, Fleischmann said, including repatriating offshore profits and increased “revenue from oil and gas” exploration fees.

* CHICKAMAUGA LOCK: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers needs just $6.9 million to re-start work on the unfinished new lock, but once work starts it will be some six years before it is complete, Fleischmann said. The price tag to complete the project, where work has stopped since 2011 when money was last appropriated, has climbed to $500 million.

Because of the work he and others did to change the funding formula for the Inland Waterways Trust Fund and the industry-supported barge fuel tax rise, the Chickamauga lock has moved up on the list for funding behind the Lower Monongahela River project and the Kentucky Dam project. The Olmsted, Ill., lock and dam project, formerly at the top of the list, now will be funded largely by federal general funds rather than the Trust Fund.

* AFFORDABLE CARE ACT: It’s not financially “sustainable in the long run,” Fleischmann said, so Congress needs to go “back to square one” to fix it. Health care needed reforming, but the resulting “horrific, crammed-down attempt by one party” was not what was needed.

In such a fix, some of the plan’s attributes such as coverage for pre-existing illnesses and children remaining on a parent’s plan until they are 26 would be kept, he said. But the congressman said he and his staff are enrolled in Obamacare, and they have personally seen their insurance premiums and deductibles rise.

Unfortunately, the change many Democrats want is a single-payer, government-run system, Fleischmann said.

“It will have to be addressed,” he said. “We’re stuck in no-man’s land.”