U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., speaks during a Times Free Press editorial board meeting Tuesday. Sen. Corker addressed several issues, including raising the debt ceiling, the Passage at Ross's Landing and the situation in Libya. Staff Photo by Patrick Smith/Chattanooga Times Free Press
Ask U.S. Sen. Bob Corker what specific programs he’d cut to reduce federal spending, and his answer sounds so simple: “Everything.”
But the former Chattanooga mayor and Tennessee Republican makes a fist and hits a wooden table as he repeats the word, digressing as he describes Washington, D.C., as a town heavy on one thing — rhetoric.
“In the Senate, you know, you pontificate,” Corker said to reporters and editors Tuesday at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. “It’s just a frustrating environment. ... You just don’t have the impact, the ability to make something happen quickly.”
Corker’s CAP Act — short for the Commitment to American Prosperity Act — would slowly reduce federal spending from 24.7 percent of the gross domestic product to 20.6 percent of GDP, which represents the average of federal spending between 1970-2008.
Everything should be on the table, Corker said, from raising the eligibility age for Social Security to slowing the growth of Medicare and Medicaid.
Tennessee Democratic Party spokesman Brandon Puttbrese said he believes Corker to be “a smart guy,” making it worse that the senator’s cuts affect low-income citizens.
“There’s no shared sacrifice, and the only sacrifice goes to those who can least afford it,” Puttbrese said.
A Republican who’s advocated fiscal conservatism throughout his first term, Corker said avoiding a recent government shutdown was “pattycake, powderpuff football” compared to the national deficit.
Elaborating, the senator said “our country is toast” if lawmakers fail to slash entitlement programs before July, when the federal government is expected to hit its debt cap.
“What about the Pentagon?” he said. “Yes! You can’t have something expand like it’s expanded and not have issues and items that need to be cut.”
On average, defense spending jumped 9 percent annually from fiscal year 2000 to 2009, federal records show.
A “forced mechanism” separates the CAP Act from other budget cutters, Corker said. The executive branch, represented in this case by the Office of Management and Budget, would be forced to cut popular programs down to 20.6 percent of GDP if Congress cannot agree on a way to get there.
“The CAP Act has real pain if we don’t act,” Corker said. “Nobody wants to see that.”
Corker’s statements came a day after Standard & Poor’s issued a warning about lowering its long-term fiscal outlook for the federal government from “stable” to “negative,” sending stocks plummeting.
Separately, Corker criticized President Barack Obama’s efforts to raise taxes on Americans making more than $250,000, saying the savings would cover only $70 billion “when there’s a $1.5 trillion problem.”
“We need to move beyond things that are not solutions,” Corker said.
Puttbrese, the state Democratic Party spokesman, said he doesn’t think Corker’s motives are about impractical solutions.
“Bob Corker is trying to protect his own interests as one of the wealthiest members of Congress,” he said. “Most Americans are ready for the wealthiest to share some of the responsibility — anything.”