Cap on spending critical, Corker says

By Josh Flory Knoxville News Sentinel

LENOIR CITY - Sen. Bob Corker said there's plenty of blame to go around when it comes to the country's current fiscal woes, but his prescription is less even-handed: Cut spending.

The Republican from Chattanooga was in Loudon County on Tuesday to tout his plan for a federal spending cap. In support of the idea, Corker has been barnstorming the state in recent weeks, using a PowerPoint presentation that outlines the nation's looming "debt crisis," which he said is the most important issue facing the country.

Speaking at the Loudon County Visitors Bureau, Corker said the federal debt is 62 percent of gross domestic product and is on track to grow to 146 percent of GDP over the next 20 years. The senator said that in 1970, only 31 percent of federal spending went to mandatory items like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, but that figure has grown to 56 percent of federal spending.

He highlighted a shift in the sources of revenue that make those programs possible, saying that in 1960 foreign holders accounted for only 5 percent of publicly held debt. Fast-forward to 2010, he said, and that figure is 47 percent, with nearly 10 percent of the debt held by China.

The upshot? Corker plans to introduce legislation that would cap federal spending, although he acknowledged that the move would be difficult. He said his preferred number would be around 18 percent of GDP - in line with average revenue collections over the last 50 years - but acknowledged that the government would have to cut $6.7 trillion in spending over the next decade to make that happen - approximately the amount that is spent on Medicare.

Corker said he plans to introduce the spending cap shortly after the November elections, adding that his generation is "on the verge of becoming the first generation of Americans to leave the country worse off than we found it."

The call for significant spending cuts is sure to ruffle feathers in Washington, though, as many lawmakers would prefer to boost government revenue by raising taxes. In testimony before a national commission on fiscal responsibility this year, Michael Ettlinger of the Center for American Progress argued that revenue increases "will have to be part of any serious commission proposal. Doing it all through spending cuts is simply not practical or advisable."

The Obama administration wants to let Bush-era tax cuts expire for individuals who make more than $200,000 a year and households that earn more than $250,000 a year, and Ettlinger argued that the economy flourished after the Clinton administration raised taxes in 1993.

But Corker isn't buying that argument. In an interview, he said revenues over the next decade will be higher than the average over the past 50 years, adding that "you couldn't put in place a tax policy to keep up with the amount of spending that's taking place in Washington."

During his speech, he also acknowledged that he will be pressured to outline exactly what programs he would cut.

"I'll tell you what I would cut," he said, "but let's first agree on what the (spending limit) is."