The first-term senator from Chattanooga visited members of the Bradley County Business Roundtable at a Monday morning coffee in the boardroom of First Tennessee Bank, where he spoke and answered questions.
He could have voted against raising the debt limit, but is the federal government not going to pay a small cleaning company that might have worked all month to clean the local post office?
Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland said, “Speaking of the post office, we would certainly like to see it stay here as we continue to grow and the need continues. Also, our airport funding as well.”
Corker said the post office is a case “you guys need to make. The [U.S. Postal Service] is insolvent. If you’re going to ask me to make tough decisions — and I know you want this country to be solvent — I cannot be, every time a tough decision is made, calling and asking for that to be reversed. I can’t do that. I cannot do that. That’s the wrong thing for me to do.”
He said the backing of the local post office is a case Rowland, Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis and state Reps. Kevin Brooks and Eric Watson have got to make.
“You’ve got to look at me and ask me to make those tough macro decisions that need to be made to keep this country strong,” he said. “What y’all need to do is make the case — the best case you can for that post office. You don’t want me involved in that and I know you weren’t asking me. You were just letting me know you’re going to be lobbying hard.”
The senator said it is easy to hide behind big votes as long as there are enough votes to pass the bill or law. But, on big defining votes, he views himself as the 60th vote.
“I try not to hide from a controversial vote. You never go wrong voting no. If you have a 100 percent ‘No’ record, it would be hard to beat you,” he said. “If you always vote ‘No,’ you would be hard to beat because you would have never voted for a piece of bad legislation or a piece of bad legislation that had consequences.”
Raising the debt limit was the right vote, he stated.
Corker said if all discretionary funding, including defense, was eliminated, the budget could still not be balanced. Discretionary spending is the portion of the budget for which Congress sets the level of spending each year through appropriations. Discretionary funding equals about one-third of the annual budget. Of that amount, about 20 percent is military spending and 15 percent is non-military discretionary spending.
Non-discretionary equals about 60 percent of the federal budget. Non-discretionary spending is set by law. Examples are Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
“When you start looking at only discretionary spending to solve the problem, you say wait a minute, the math doesn’t work and that’s why you have to get into these other areas,” he said. “When you get into these other areas, that’s when it gets incredibly tough. But it has to be done.”
He said Social Security does not significantly contribute to the national deficit over the next 10 years. Medicaid and Medicare are big contributors to the deficit.
“One of the things we should do as part of these exercises we’re going through is to absolutely ensure that on an actuarial and cash-flow basis, we do those things necessary to make the entitlement programs sound,” he said.
Corker advocates gradually raising retirement age and raising premiums for Medicaid for people who can afford it as ways, among others, of ensuring entitlement programs are sound.
“It won’t solve the problem. If it would, it would be an easy solution and there really wouldn’t be that much pain,” he said.
He said people like himself, who can afford to pay more pay more for Medicare, should pay more.
The former Chattanooga mayor said he would have much rather seen larger spending cuts now, and a long-term plan like his CAP Act to put a fiscal straitjacket on Congress, followed by a constitutional amendment to balance the budget.
Corker was asked if American military forces could be removed from foreign conflicts.
He said the military should only be engaged in foreign countries to protect American interests. Libya is not much of an expenditure and the Obama administration felt it could intervene without much trouble and do some good.
“That’s kind of the way these conflicts all start. You think they’re pretty easy on the front end,” he said.
He subscribes to former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s Pottery Barn Theory: If you break it, you own it. The United States is the biggest contributor to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and is the protectorate of the 28 member countries. If NATO cannot handle Libya without U.S. presence, then there is a big problem.
“I don’t know why we are in Libya,” he said. “I’ve been really concerned about NATO for a long time.”
As far as Afghanistan, he said the United States continually changes the reasons for being there. The late Richard Holbrooke, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said Afghanistan must be stabilized for a stable Pakistan.
“Now we realize that Pakistan doesn’t really want a stabilized Afghanistan,” he said. “They are worried that if it is stabilized and India has influence there, they not only have India on one border but they’ve got an India-friendly country on another border. They’ve been helping destabilize Afghanistan while we’ve been working to stabilize it for their benefit.”