Knoxville News Sentinel: Serious times call for serious solutions By Greg Johnson

Apr 8, 2011

Serious times with serious problems require serious people to present serious solutions. So with America's national debt on the verge of careening out of control, with the federal government spending almost twice as much as it collects, with what does Washington worry? How to keep government open the next week, month, year, whatever other obscenely short period of time will allow us to delay the inevitable day of reckoning for our profligate ways. Maddening.

Not just for me. U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., was obviously frustrated when we spoke earlier this week by the short-sightedness of the most recent continuing resolution kabuki. "The whole country is focused on us fighting over spending for the rest of the year," Corker said. "As a former businessman, it is amazing to me that we never have a plan. Congress never knows where it's going."

When U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., rolled out his Path to Prosperity - Ryan's 2012 budget resolution that had politicos abuzz Tuesday - I called Corker for comment. Tennessee's junior senator has been promoting a serious solution to wacky Washington spending for most of the past year. Corker's Commitment to American Prosperity Act (CAP Act) would peg the amount Congress can spend to gross domestic product, a measure of the overall output of our economy.

"The CAP Act would be the first time - the first time! - Congress has had a road map," Corker said. Corker was scheduled to speak yesterday at the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute in D.C. about the CAP Act. Cato's Daniel J. Mitchell, in a preview of Corker's talk, wrote, "There are two things to admire about Sen. Corker's CAP plan. First, he correctly understands that the problem is the size of government. Second, Corker's legislation has a real enforcement mechanism."

Let me wander near the wonky weeds to explain. Corker's aim is to cap federal spending at the historical 40-year average of 20.6 percent of GDP. To give an overly simplified example, if the CAP Act was fully in place and GDP had averaged $15 trillion over the past three years, Congress would be authorized in fiscal 2012 to spend about $3.1 trillion. That would be $600 billion less than President Barack Obama has proposed and $400 billion less than Ryan's budget proposal.

As Mitchell noted, the CAP Act has enforcement teeth. If spending exceeds the statutory guideline in any of the three major budget areas - discretionary, defense, entitlements - then the Office of Management and Budget is required to make cuts across the board in the overspent budget area. 

Ryan's plan goes deeper into details and tries to corral some sacred cows like Medicare and Medicaid. "(Ryan's) going to be criticized, but we applaud him," Corker said. "We need to pursue a three-prong attack on out-of-control spending. We need to make sure we negotiate the deepest cuts we possibly can in the continuing resolution. We need to have a statutory solution, like the CAP Act, to put a fiscal straitjacket on Congress. And we need to pass a constitutional amendment to ensure a future Congress doesn't undo or exceed the cap."

Criticism of the serious plans of Corker and Ryan has, predictably, already started. It will get worse. The unserious left will wail that budgetary discipline will benefit millionaires and corporations and end Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, job security and life as we know it. That's shallow and silly. Putting America on a prudent fiscal pathway is simply serious common sense.

"We need to think far longer term," Corker said. Why? Because that's how serious people solve serious problems in serious times.

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