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Corker welcomes, but doesn't back, bold plan

Sen. Bob Corker holds a town hall meeting on debt reduction Thursday at Belmont University.
Sen. Bob Corker holds a town hall meeting on debt reduction Thursday at Belmont University.
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Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., expressed gratitude Thursday night that leaders of a draft report on national debt reduction have offered a courageous proposal, but Corker was quick to add that he is not ready to support the plan.

Corker is working on his own proposal for debt reduction and was at Belmont University in Nashville Thursday night to make the slideshow presentation he has made many times on the issue in the last few weeks. His presentation was part of a town hall meeting broadcast on WTN-FM radio in Nashville.

Erskine Bowles, who was White House chief of staff for President Bill Clinton, and former Sen. Alan Simpson, a Republican from Wyoming, this week released a preliminary draft -- it doesn't reflect the opinions of the entire commission -- of a way to reduce the nation's $13.7 trillion debt. It includes various approaches in revenue and expenditures that were sure to be criticized from all directions.

Corker, speaking to reporters after the town hall event, was cautious in his reaction but clearly glad to see the issues put on the table.

"I've just seen sort of a glossy slide kind of thing that's not much detail," Corker said of the draft. "Look, I think we have a spending problem, not a revenue problem, so there are pieces of it I certainly wouldn't agree with.

"What I like about what they've done is I think they've actually taken some bold steps, whether you agree with everything they have laid out or not. I think what they've done is point out to the American people this problem is really large that's going to affect every American."

He found value in the draft's diverse nature of addressing the debt.

"I think that's a beginning point for debate in this country, and it looks like every group in America is upset about it, so it can't be all bad," Corker said.

The draft proposal calls for changes in Social Security, for example, that would both make cuts in some benefits and eventually change the retirement age to 69. It would simplify the federal tax code, make cuts in the military and suggests addressing health care costs with reductions in payments to providers and enacting malpractice reform.

It would take approval by 14 of the commission's 18 members to prompt a vote in Congress. A final report would be due Dec. 1. The proposal, in almost any form, would seriously test the political will of members of Congress who would have to vote on it. Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has already called it unacceptable.

Corker expressed optimism that the recent election made it possible for an issue like debt reduction to get the attention he believes it deserves.

"A lot of the energy we've seen electorally around this country has produced, I think, some momentum around this very thing I've been working on for many months," he said. "So I am more optimistic than I was six months ago."

Corker picked up on the description Simpson put on the proposal this week.

"As Senator Simpson said, they've 'harpooned every whale,' meaning they've gored every ox in making this presentation," Corker said. "I think that's a healthy start."

Corker drew a crowd of hundreds of people to the Massey Performing Arts Center, which appeared to be evidence that the energy among the people in last week's elections isn't waning. Some of the questions he received in the town hall format were testy. One man said he didn't believe Corker had read the Constitution and tried to hand him one, which Corker calmly refused as offensive.

When Corker said during his presentation that both Democrats and Republicans were to blame for the nation's debt problem there was large applause from the audience.

One woman, who expressed concern that lawmakers maybe didn't understand the message voters sent last Tuesday, declared, "Stop spending our money now."

Corker said he was pleased with the interest in the audience.

"The fact people would come out here at 7 o'clock on a Thursday night and go to the trouble to find a parking space, I think what you see here is a tremendous amount of frustration and concern about our country," he said. "I don't think you could be anything but uplifted knowing that.

"We've got a lot of serious issues to deal with in this country."

The cornerstone of Corker's debt reduction proposal is to establish a cap on the percentage of gross domestic product the government should be spending. His proposed limit would be 18 percent of GDP. He has made the point in his own presentations that Bowles has proposed a spending threshold of 21 percent, and the 21 percent was the goal stated in the commission chairmen's draft this week.

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