Feb 06 2011
Sen. Bob Corker's strategy to reduce debt treads risky political territory.
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee last week began aggressively promoting a cap on spending by the federal government packed with reason and logic and teetering on shaky political terrain.
As a deficit reduction measure, the legislation makes sense. But it doesn't preclude cuts in federal entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., who is co-sponsoring the bill, spelled out the risk in a press conference last week.
"I guarantee you, in Missouri, in the not-too-distant future, there will be a 30-second commercial that says I'm trying to take Social Security away from seniors," she said.
Of course, the creators of those spots, the prospects for which make the bill a hard sell in Congress, don't have to mention that one of the purposes of the legislation is to save Social Security from collapsing under the weight of unfunded liabilities.
As of late last week, the legislation had no House sponsor. It is adamantly opposed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, and, in fact, no Democratic senators besides McCaskill immediately jumped on board.
"Let's be honest," McCaskill said. "There's a lot of folks around here that wake up every day and they think the most important thing they got to do today is figure out how they get to stay here."
What's creating all the risk is legislation that Corker has been promoting for months in dozens of presentations to editorial boards and other groups across Tennessee and beyond.
The bill would create a cap on federal spending as a percentage of the gross domestic product, now at 24.7 percent, reducing it gradually over a 10-year period until it reached 20.6 percent, the average over the past 40 years.
Reaching that goal would require some $8 trillion in spending reductions, according to the sponsors.
The simplicity and directness of Corker's proposal, as well as its practicality, add to its appeal.
No specific cuts are included in the legislation, but neither does it exclude anything from the chopping block.
It would simply attempt to enforce a degree of discipline on Congress -- a "straitjacket," Corker said -- by making it necessary to say "no."
It would require the approval of two-thirds of the House and the Senate to exceed the cap in an emergency. If Congress failed to make the necessary decisions, the Office of Management and Budget would be empowered to make across-the-board cuts.
With additional political muscle behind it, the approach could be groundbreaking.
It also illustrates the talent Tennessee's junior senator has for seeking bipartisan solutions to pressing national issues in a Congress that seems almost hopelessly divided.
By itself, it doesn't dig the country out of its record $1.5 trillion deficit this year. Passage of the bill would create towering political waves.
But it would start a necessary conversation about uncomfortable subjects that has been put off for far too long.
2011 The E.W. Scripps Co.