U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, above, addresses a crowd at the Rhea County Welcome Center Wednesday. Corker is crisscrossing the state during the August Congressional recess to talk about the nation's growing debt.
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., kicked off a statewide tour of speaking engagements in Rhea County on Wednesday by championing a balanced budget and announcing his plans to introduce new legislation in Congress that would reign in government spending.
With a national budget deficit of $1.4 trillion in 2009, nearly 10 percent of the estimated $14.7 trillion gross domestic product for the same year, it appears America's financial woes are far from over. Corker said the country has nearly $4.5 trillion in public debt.
"I'm drafting a piece of legislation that would cause us as a country to really focus on what percentage of GDP that we agree to spend," Corker said to the media after the town hall meeting. "There'll be some differences of opinions, but let's figure out what the agreement is, so that when we put together our annual appropriations, we do it in a way that gets to that place. And it's going to take a number of years to get there."
Currently, 62 percent of the GDP is indebtedness, and by Corker's estimates, that figure could reach 146 percent by 2020 if the budget is not sufficiently altered.
"There's plenty of blame to go around," Corker said. "We're moving toward a crisis, in my opinion."
The Senate is currently in recess, set to reconvene on Sept. 13, and Corker said he hopes to introduce the new legislation by January.
Last year, the nation spent $3.5 trillion, which is 24 percent of the GDP. Corker hopes that, through the legislation, spending can be cut to only 18 percent of the GDP in a few years.
"If we can agree as a country on what percentage of GDP is the appropriate level for us to be spending, then we as a country can put in place a construct to get there," he said.
Corker was quick to praise the Tennessee General Assembly and Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen for maintaining control over the state's budget at a time when states such as New York and Illinois are hurting for federal aid.
Congress recently passed a state aid bill that would allocate $26.1 billion dollars to states to spend on Medicaid and education. Corker did not support the bill, and President Barack Obama signed it into law on Tuesday.
"It's not a jobs bill. It's a state bailout bill." Corker said of the measure. "The bill passed [Tuesday] because states haven't been responsible like Tennessee."
Members of the MoveOn.org
Chattanooga Council were also on hand Tuesday to pose questions to the senator after his speech.MoveOn.org
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representative Byron Mulligan of Chattanooga questioned Corker regarding the recent Supreme Court decision that bans the government from restricting corporate political spending.
"How can you possibly be objective with your constituents with this type of influence happening?" Mulligan said. "We currently have about 13,000 lobbyists in Washington, D.C., financed by corporate interests. They received over $3.47 billion dollars last year alone."
Both Mulligan and Corker agreed that corporate lobbyists and labor lobbyists, arguably two foes on America's political landscape, should either be afforded the same rights or have the same restrictions imposed on them.
Along with nearly 100 area residents, State Rep. Jim Cobb, County Executive-elect George Thacker, County Commissioner Bill Hollin, Graysville Mayor Ted Doss and Dayton Mayor Bob Vincent were in attendance at the Dayton Chamber of Commerce for the hour-long meeting.
"[Corker was] one of the few who had the courage to stand up and speak out against TARP [money being used with GM and Chrysler] and against the banking bailout," Cobb said.
Raymond Walker of the Rhea Economic and Tourism Council, which sponsored the town hall, was pleased with the success of the event.
"I think it went very well." Walker said. "[Corker] was honest and above board about the facts. You just can't keep on spending more than you make."
Walker was pleased with the response of the people and the overall good nature of the crowd in attendance.
"We were very happy that the senator decided to make Rhea County his first stop," he said.
Corker will visit 26 counties in the state before the Senate reconvenes in September.
Reed Johnson can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org