Corker: No plans to sit out debt debate

Sep 5, 2011

From The Knoxville News-Sentinel:

WASHINGTON - U.S. Sen. Bob Corker says he doesn’t intend to sit quietly on the sidelines as the 12 members of a super congressional committee explore ways to cut federal spending.

“I think when you’re serving in the Senate and you come from a life of business, you want to always be involved in the type of issues our country is dealing with,” says the Chattanooga Republican, who had hoped he would be picked to serve on the panel. “I still plan to be very involved, even though I’m not on the committee itself. Certainly, I’ve already sent off emails with my thoughts.”

His advice?

Think big. Aim for as much as $3 trillion in spending cuts instead of the minimum $1.5 trillion the panel is charged with finding. And make sure no program is off limits. Not Medicare, not 

Medicaid, not Social Security.

“Everything should be on the table,” says Corker, who sits on the Senate Banking Committee.

The bipartisan panel, composed of six House members and six senators, is a byproduct of the late-hour agreement President Barack Obama and congressional leaders struck in August to raise the nation’s debt ceiling and prevent the government from defaulting on its debts.

The panel is to make its recommendations to Congress by Nov. 23, and lawmakers must approve them by Dec. 23. If the committee is unable to reach an agreement, automatic spending cuts will kick in across the federal budget.

Given the enormity of the task and the partisan warfare in Washington, there’s good reason to wonder if the committee will be able to come up with a package that Congress will pass.

“It’s hard for me to say,” says Corker, when asked to handicap the panel’s probability of success. “But I’m relatively optimistic they’ll come to a conclusion and plan to do everything I can to facilitate making that happen.”

Political differences aside, lawmakers understand the importance of cutting spending, Corker says. The committee will likely come under pressure to reach beyond the minimum threshold of $1.5 trillion in cuts.

“I’m going to be pushing the ones I’m talking with to try to get $3 trillion,” the senator says. “For our country to get on track, it’s going to take a series of cuts over a period of time to get us to where we need to go. Obviously, we had the first a few weeks ago (with the debt-ceiling package). This committee will be the second step, and obviously, I’d like to see them take as big of a second step as possible.”

That’s why so-called “entitlement programs” — i.e., Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security — must be on the table, along with tax reform, he argues.

“Medicare reform has to occur for the program to be available for people down the road,” Corker says, citing statistics showing the average American family uses three times more of Medicare’s resources than it actually pays into the system. “On its present course, it’s just absolutely not sustainable.”

The committee should look at lowering tax rates, but also closing tax loopholes and eliminating some tax breaks, such as $6 billion in annual subsidies to the ethanol industry, he contends.

The committee’s task of identifying possible cuts “is a great next step,” he says. “But there are going to be many other steps required down the road.”

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