MT. JULIET -– Tennessee Republican U.S. Sen. Bob Corker told the Mt. Juliet Breakfast Rotary Club Tuesday morning he believed Americans are in a “somber and sober” mindset and fearful about the nation’s deficit and federal spending and indicated he believed positive changes were on the horizon in Washington, D.C.
Corker said since his election in 2006, he has worked with members of both parties to find a solution to the nation’s $15 trillion debt, but admitted the needed votes in the Senate for things such as a balanced budget amendment and spending reductions are hard to obtain.
“I almost miss being the mayor of a city where you can make things happen almost on a daily basis,” Corker laughed. Corker served as the mayor of Chattanooga from 2001 to 2005 prior to his Senate campaign.
He was one of the original co-sponsors of a balanced budget amendment and proposed a “Cap Act” that would cut $5 trillion in spending over the next 10 years. However, his legislation was not approved and he pointed out the balanced budget amendment is just a little out of reach.
“I tried to develop something that would solve the problem,” Corker said of his legislation to cut spending by $5 trillion.
The bitter and partisan tone of the recent debt ceiling debate in Washington, according to Corker, has subsided and given way to a more cooperative attitude where elected officials understand that the country faces many challenges that must be resolved.
Congress discussed spending cuts of $4 trillion several times before Corker said they all agreed that $2.5 trillion was a solid middle ground. On Aug. 2, Congress cut trillion on discretionary spending, which included education and defense spending.
Corker said he voted in favor of the $1 trillion cut and was asked by many of his constituents why he had supported the measure, knowing that more spending cuts were needed at the federal level.
“After 4-1/2 years I’ve learned you should never say no to spending cuts in Washington,” he said.
The cuts made on Aug. 2 Corker described as “low-hanging fruit” and said they were the easiest places to make cuts, but noted to really make a difference, Congress needs to remain disciplined and cut elsewhere besides discretionary spending.
He pointed out that discretionary spending is not the major part of government spending. Programs that are on “auto-pilot,” as Corker said, make up most of the federal government’s spending, including Social Security and Medicare.
“Our deficits are greater than all discretionary spending,” he said.
Corker noted the average American family makes $43,000 a year and pays into Medicare on average $109,000 over a lifetime. However, he also pointed out that the average family takes $343,000 out of Medicare in a lifetime.
“The math just doesn’t work,” he said. “Social Security can easily be fixed, Medicare however, is much more difficult.”
Corker told the club he lobbied heavily to be one of the Republican members on the “debt super committee,” saying the committee was right up his ally, but he was not chosen by the Republican leadership.
That committee has to bring a proposal to Congress for an additional $1.2 - $1.4 trillion in cuts by November, and the vote has to be made by both the Senate and House of Representatives by the end of the year.
While normal measures in the Senate require 60 votes to pass, Corker said the super committee’s proposal will only need 51 votes, a simple majority, to pass the Senate. He said those 51 votes will be much easier to obtain than the 60. Corker said he wishes normal order would be in place for the vote, but had positive things to say about the super committee.
“I think Washington is getting ready to do things that are good for the American people,” he said.
Corker felt the debt super-committee was a step in the right direction and said Congress has started down a path to resolving the spending and deficit issues. He also thought this issue would be the major political issue for the next decade.
The challenge of balancing the budget would be slower than most Americans realize, but Corker said it could be achieved within 10 years, if Congress matched any increases in the debt ceiling with equal amounts of spending reductions.
“We’ve actually started a process that if we stick to it, we can balance the budget by 2021,” Corker said.
He also advocated changing the tax code, cutting out most of the id=mce_marker.2 tax expenditures, more commonly referred to as “loopholes” that Corker said would create a more balanced and fair tax system.
If most of the tax expenditures are removed, Corker said that almost everyone’s rates, including tax rates for businesses would decrease and he believed that would help spur economic growth.
Currently, Corker said he’s been calling other Senators to form a coalition to encourage the debt super-committee to consider making $3 trillion in cuts instead of the proposed $1.2 - $1.4 trillion.
“Our country has tremendous difficulties to deal with,” he said, adding that he believed everyone in Washington has stepped back from the partisan rhetoric and is starting to work together to achieve a common goal.