Melissa Block speaks to Republican Senator Bob Corker about his plan for dodging the "fiscal cliff."
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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
Well, now to one member of Congress and that's Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee. He's circulated his own bill, which he says would cut the deficit by $4.5 trillion over 10 years. On the entitlement side, Senator Corker would gradually increase the age for Medicare and Social Security eligibility and he would lower cost of living increases for Social Security.
As for taxes, Senator Corker would not raise rates, but he would cap itemized deductions at $50,000. I asked him, why not just raise marginal rates on the top two percent of earners?
SENATOR BOB CORKER: I think that, you know, Republicans, generally speaking, have talked about keeping rates low and trying to put in place pro-growth reforms for a long time. And so as we look at our tax code today, it's full of - I think people are aware that there's $1.2 trillion in loopholes, deductions, and I think most of us view this as a way to continue to simplify the code. So this was a big step in that direction.
BLOCK: Let me ask you about something that your fellow Republican, Congressman Tom Cole of Oklahoma, has said. He now says the right thing to do is to extend tax breaks for those making less than $250,000. He calls that giving them an early Christmas present. He says I don't believe in holding the American people hostage to this debate. Do this now, he says, and then go back and try to get the rest for those upper income earners.
Are you effectively holding the tax cut for 98 percent of taxpayers hostage to preserve a cut for the wealthiest Americans?
CORKER: No. I think, you know, what's happened here is the 112th Congress that we all are a part of drew a line in the sand at the end of this year, and it was a line in the sand to force all of us to take action to address our fiscal issues. There's more than tax issues that are here. There's sequestration. There are all kinds of things that need to be dealt with.
And so, I don't know why we would do just a portion of that. So the last thing I want to do is hold the American people hostage. What I want us to do is to do our jobs and solve this problem, the problem that we created. The line in the sand that we created was put there so that we would address true fiscal reform. That's what we need to do over the next three and a half weeks. And fiscal reform includes not just revenues but true entitlement reform to go with that.
Without it, we really haven't done what we need to do to address our country's problems.
BLOCK: Senator Corker, would you agree that the message from this month's election was that there is a strong appetite for raising tax rates on the wealthiest earners? Exit polls did show strong support for that. Sixty percent say rates should increase for the wealthiest or even for all taxpayers.
CORKER: Well, you know, the proposal that I've put forth where you cap exclusions at $50,000 does address wealthy individuals. So I've put forth a way of doing that in a pro-growth fashion that keeps rates where they are but generates revenues from wealthy citizens by closing loopholes. I would also - I haven't polled this, but you may have. I would say that most Americans would like to see the tax code get rid of all the loopholes that exist there.
This is a step in that direction. So the very best thing that we can do for our nation is to go ahead and solve this fiscal problem now. Not do it in a piecemeal way, where we got to come back in March, we've got to come back in June, we've got to come back next October, but to put this entire fiscal issue in the rearview mirror.
And I think anything we do that's piecemeal shows a total lack of courage. I don't think that's what the American people want to see.
BLOCK: I want to ask you about a different topic now, Senator Corker. You met today with the U.N. ambassador, Susan Rice. She's been on the Hill answering questions about the attack on the consulate in Benghazi, Libya. She is, of course, a potential secretary of state nominee. Coming out of that meeting today, are you inclined to support her eventual nomination, if she is the nominee?
CORKER: What I tried to do today in walking out of the meeting, I had a very extensive conversation with her and - both with note takers and then we met privately for about 30 minutes. I think the Benghazi issue is something we do need to get to the bottom of, and I want to push it off to the side and say that, look, I have been to Libya. I met with our JASOC folks who were so courageous in rescuing people from the roof in the height of an ambush.
And I've been there with our embassy folks who were almost in a state of shock after what had happened, and those are the heroes around Benghazi. I have found no heroes here in Washington. Everything about it, to me, is tawdry, and I'm just very disappointed in our bureaucracy here and the way it's been handled. And we'll get to the bottom of that.
As it relates to the nominee, I hope the president will step back and take a deep breath and not cause or allow this circus that's been around all of this to affect his ultimate judgment. Not to think about, you know, who's been the best soldier to him or the most loyal person to him, but who's the person that really can serve our country best in these troubled times.
BLOCK: You mentioned a circus atmosphere that arose after that attack here in Washington. Would you hold Republicans, at least in part, responsible for that circus that you're talking about?
CORKER: I don't - as I've mentioned, I have found no heroes.
BLOCK: You did say earlier, Senator Corker, that you thought Susan Rice was better suited to head the Democratic National Committee than to be the secretary of State. This is a woman who has devoted her professional life to foreign policy at the State Department and the National Security Council and now at the United Nations. Are you saying essentially that she is a political tool, that she is not the diplomat that she is cracked up to be?
CORKER: I really don't plan on making any more comments. I think people know how I have felt. I think now it's time for the president to - to, as I mentioned, take a deep breath and really look deep inside and from his own perspective discern who he thinks is the very best person to put forth. And when he does that, certainly I plan on giving that person a full hearing, but also delving into the body of their work.
BLOCK: Senator Corker, thank you very much.
CORKER: Thank you.
BLOCK: That's Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.