VOL. 130 | NO. 97 | Tuesday, May 19, 2015
Corker Talks Crossing the Aisle and ‘Generational Theft’
By Bill Dries
The problem with Congress isn’t a lack of civility, says U.S. Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee.
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker was in Memphis last week, and was the featured speaker at a Greater Memphis Chamber luncheon at the Hilton Memphis.
(Daily News File)
“There’s always been civility,” the second-term Republican senator from Chattanooga told a Greater Memphis Chamber luncheon last week. “It’s never been a situation of friction. It’s just been an atmosphere of people not having the willingness, the courage or whatever to step across the aisle and actually shake hands and do something that’s not exactly in their interest.”
Corker, who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, talked about the role of foreign policy as well as his prediction that Congress would approve something short of a six-year infrastructure funding reauthorization for road and other transportation projects that is due by the end of May.
“We’ll fund the program on our end,” Corker said later. “We’ll just fund it the wrong way. You understand – we’ll engage in generational theft.”
The comment is central to Corker’s explanation of how Congress works. Approving funding is easy, he sids. What is more difficult is the policy that determines how the funding will be parceled out and spent.
“I know that on issues like this, my colleagues embrace a brand of conservativism that is just foreign to me,” he told the audience of 200 at the Hilton Memphis on the issue of transportation funding. “That is you spend the same amount of money as the other guy. You just don’t pay for it.”
That doesn’t mean Democrats are blameless in Corker’s bleak assessment.
“I’ve been there eight and a half years. We have not solved a fiscal problem yet,” he said as he talked of the Republican majorities in both chambers that took control this past January. “When it’s your own folks and you are in charge, you expect to deliver.”
Corker sees some changes in the way Washington operates with the newer members who took office in January. He says the Senate has “more talent” now than it did before the most recent elections.
“We’re nibbling at it,” he said of the Congressional approach to funding. “It seems like every election people say, ‘We’ve got to wait until the next election.’ Now what’s being said is, ‘We’ve got to have a president that’s willing to engage.’ But then if we have a Republican president and a Republican Congress, my fear is then they’ll say, ‘We can’t do it by ourselves.’ It’s disheartening.”
Corker spoke at the end of a week in which U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx stopped in Memphis as part of a tour to drum up public support for the Obama administration’s $478 billion six-year transportation infrastructure bill.
With gas and fuel tax revenue becoming a problem for state governments as well as the federal government because of cars with better gas mileage, Corker said Tennessee legislators may have to act soon on their end.
But he was adamant the state should not abandon its 30-year policy of not paying for infrastructure projects with debt.
“I think Tennessee should absolutely continue to build on the pay-as-you-go model,” Corker said. “That means that you and I who are living today are paying for the needs that we have today and future generations will be doing the same – not us piling it up on them.”