OAK RIDGE, Tenn. — The fiscal health of the United States of America is directly intertwined with good paying jobs and economic growth, according to U.S. Sen. Bob Corker.
Corker, a Republican who was elected in 2006 to represent Tennessee in the U.S. Senate, spoke Thursday to local Rotarians and guests in a crowded banquet room at Oak Ridge's DoubleTree Hotel.
"We all know the big things we need to do. I'm optimistic that, in the next few years, we're going to come to grips with the big issues in our country," Corker said.
And, how can that happen?
By, reforming the tax code.
"There are $1.2 trillion in loopholes in the tax code," the senator said.
If those loopholes can be closed, citizens could have lower tax rates which could effectively improve the country's financial health, Corker explained.
Another possible solution: "We have to deal with the entitlement programs," he said.
"The bulk of this country's expenditures are mandatory, what citizens call entitlements," Corker said.
There has to be a way to sustain those programs, he said.
As an example, Corker said the average American wage earner earns $43,500 a year. If a household has two wage earners with roughly the same average salary, over their lifetime they will pay $119,000 into the Medicare system.
Then, at retirement, Corker said, those same wage earners will take out $357,000 in benefits.
"I don't know of a Democrat, a Republican or an Independent that wants to see anything bad happen to Medicare," Corker said.
It's a program that roughly 80 percent of the nation's senior citizens rely on solely, he said.
"Changes need to be made in a very pragmatic way," the senator said.
As for the country's growing debt, Corker said the issues must be solved by everyone working together to find a solution.
"I think we are going to deal with it in advance of a crisis," he said.
Responding to a question about interactions with his fellow senators and representatives in Washington, D.C., Corker said, "I spend my time on those folks that actually want to make a difference.
"I wish Washington ran itself on the ’Four-Way Test,'" said Corker, drawing laughter from the crowd after they had recited the Rotary Club's basic principles "of the things we think, say or do -- 1. Is it the truth? 2. Is it fair to all concerned? 3. Will it build goodwill and better friendships? 4. Will it be beneficial to all concerned?"