Senator Corker: Put a 'Straightjacket' on Federal Spending (PJM Exclusive)
"We have a tremendous opportunity to get something real done," Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn) told me on the phone Thursday afternoon. He was speaking of the Commitment to American Prosperity Act, introduced earlier this week with support from Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill and fellow Tennessee Republican Lamar Alexander.
"Ours," Corker said, "is the first comprehensive cap, global cap, on spending." The CAP Act, which I poked some fun at yesterday for its long-term goal to reduce and constrain the scope of the federal government, would limit all federal outlays to 20.6% of GDP after ten years. An "immediate" limit of 22.25% would go into effect in 2013.
Corker would like to "get to 18%," which he said is about as big a share of the nation's economy as Washington is ever effectively able to collect in taxes. But he calls the bill's current limit "the most aggressive, realistic number" if we actually want to pass something.
And that's the trick, isn't it? Getting something passed. Especially given that the Party of Government still controls the Senate and the White House -- but that makes McCaskill's co-sponsorship so important. The Senate Democrats held the line on the ObamaCare repeal, but McCaskill represents at least one crack in party unity on the sp-sp-sp-spending side.
To get there, Corker has a three-part plan:
1. "This spring," he told me, "we have to vote real cuts and pass them."
2. Pass the Commitment to Prosperity Act later in the session.
3. "The third thing that needs to happen is a constitutional amendment."
He admits "that takes a while to occur, two-three years, so we've got to move quickly."
The bill itself steps back spending-per-GDP each year, until capped at that magic 20.6%. Along the way, the Office of Management and Budget "would sequester all accounts, including Social Security and Medicare, if Congress doesn't have courage to make those cuts." Automatic, across-the-board cuts, if Congress can't decide for itself, and a two-third supermajority to override OMB or the Act itself.
"We call it a straightjacket," Corker said, and you could practically hear him beam over the phone as he did.
Furthermore, if an amendment were to constrict spending to an even smaller percentage, the bill "automatically rejiggers to focus on the new target."
We also spoke about some of his new colleagues and the changes on Capitol Hill. I asked, "I know yesterday's ObamaCare repeal failed on party lines -- but what do you expect those party lines to look like in January or February of 2013?"
"You know, I was the only new GOP member in 2006, and you gotta believe! I think we have a tremendous opportunity [in 2012]. I'd be surprised if we're not in the majority."
Corker also said the GOP Senate caucus is "working with the House incredibly well right now," which is a refreshing change. Senators typically treat senators of the other party as the opposition, and House members, of any party, as the enemy.
On the new Republican faces, he said he's "very pleased with the crop of new senators ... all of them outspoken since day one." Corker joked that "to give you an idea of what kind of life I have, I was watching C-SPAN [the other night] and Mike Lee was incredibly impressive."
Up slightly north in Kentucky, he finds that "Rand [Paul] is very focused on spending," and he has had "multiple conversations with him." "Rob Portman knows so much." And that, overall, the new Senate is "very soberly concerned about fiscal issues" -- me, they just make me drink -- and that "the caucus is untied to do the things necessary to get us on course."
But most importantly, Corker said, speaking about his bill, "It's a paradigm shift" to look at government as a percentage of GDP. "It causes people to focus on economic growth." That is, with a solid cap in place, if you want to grow the size of government, you first must grow the size of the economy. That stands in stark contrast to the last two years, where the Democratic imperative has been to increase the size of Washington -- and damn the torpedoes. The result has been a 25% increase in federal spending, while employment has stagnated -- and with no end in sight for either problem.
"I don't think we have time to play with this," Corker concluded.