The most important issue facing America today isn’t terrorism or access to healthcare but the growing deficits and the government’s inability to control spending, U.S. Sen. Bob Corker told a gathering at Maryville College.
Sen. Corker is touring the state speaking with bankers and financial professionals about financial regulatory reform. Maryville College hosted the meeting. Representatives from local banks, the Blount County Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Board and students filled the Lawson Auditorium on Tuesday.
The senator spoke on a variety of issues and described the tone in Washington as lawmakers and President Obama grapple over differences in how those issues should be handled.
“Regardless of what side of the aisle any of us is on and regardless of what our station in life is today, I think the issue that will degrade our standard of living in this country more than anything and jeopardize our country more than anything before us is the way we in Washington handle our fiscal affairs,” he said.
Corker pointed out Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh’s announcement recently that he would not seek re-election even though he had $12 million the bank and a large lead over competitors. “He basically said he was stepping down because of partisanship. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when we in the Senate couldn’t pass a deficit-reduction commission,” Corker said.
The senator said he and fellow U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander voted for the measure that ultimately was defeated. “It’s about figuring out a mechanism for us in Congress to deal prudently with your dollars. The deficits we’re running are absolutely not sustainable and, by the way, both parties have been to blame,” he said. “Forty cents of every dollar are borrowed from another country, and I’m just telling you, I’ve never been in a place more irresponsible as it relates to spending money.”
Corker said the deficit reduction committee would have been a mechanism for dealing with the problem. “We know we have to make changes. Should we shy away from having people sitting in a room trying to get our fiscal house in order?” he said. “There are tough issues with terrorism, tough issues relating to healthcare and the environment and energy, but I think one issue more important on both sides of the aisle to care about is our ability to deal as adults with our fiscal issues.”
The senator said he met with Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson when the financial crisis forced the government to bail out the Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae lenders.” I was perplexed the secretary chose to protect foreign lenders when local community banks got stuffed and hurt owning shares of Freddie and Fannie. I asked, ‘Why are we doing what we’re doing?’ and he said, ‘I’m concerned what foreign investors might do if we don’t honor our investments.’”
Corker said Paulson tells in his book that at the time, Russia knew the U.S. financial system was in trouble. “They were calling China and encouraging them to not buy our securities, to dump our securities and create havoc for our country,” Corker said. “Out-of- control indebtedness is hugely damaging to people and to companies. To me, it is the issue of the day. I hope we keep a sustained focus on.”
The senator said that obviously healthcare this year has been really polarizing. “The debate as it began included lots of issues Republicans and Democrats agreed on. On the important issues, there was 80 percent agreement on things that matter most on health care,” he said. “As it evolved, it became a very partisan debate.”
Corker said it was good that the president’s healthcare policy faltered because it was collapsing under its own weight. “I hope we can take some positive steps, but it feels like it may not happen. I do hope we figure out ways as a country to deal with rising costs and issues of access,” he said.
Regarding financial regulation, the senator was recently approached by Senate Banking Committee Chair Sen. Chris Dodd to help fashion bi-partisan legislation.
“I argued strongly for him to set up a process to do this in a bi-partisan way. After what we’ve gone through, if we can’t solve financial regulation in bi-partisan way, I don’t know what we can solve in a bi-partisan committee. We’ve made progress in some areas though. I hope somehow or another we can continue working in a bi-partisan way. I think it simple and is something I hope we’ll be able to solve.”
Corker said the country has problems to deal with and that while the president is reaching out to Republicans, talk is not enough.
“The way he can create bi-partisanship is to offer policies that are centrist. If the president will come to middle or close to the middle, I think things will get better,” he said. “It’s going to take centrist policy, not centrist talk.”