WASHINGTON -- Conservative Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) sounded Wednesday like he prefers the looks of the Democratic budget-cutting plan better than House Speaker John Boehner's –- and sounded awfully close to embracing the Obama administration’s desire for grand bargain to hike the debt ceiling.
Taking to the Senate floor, Corker argued that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) $2.2 trillion cut plan was a good effort, except that it needs to be more like $4 trillion -- as that’s the magnitude Corker thinks it will take to convince ratings agencies not to downgrade the United States' prized AAA score.
“I may catch some grief back home for saying this, but I think Sen. Reid has actually tried to put something forth to help solve this problem,” Corker said, while noting that House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) short-term plan to cut $850 billion had "issues.”
In particular, Corker warned that extending the debt ceiling for only six months, as Boehner has proposed, would still risk the nation’s credit rating, and leave lawmakers facing another ugly half a year.
“I know the president has been concerned, candidly, about a short-term extension,” Corker said. “In fairness, I think the business community around our country would be concerned about a long short-term extension.”
Other Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), have accused Obama of seeking a longer deal because it was convenient for his reelection campaign.
While Reid’s proposal is short of the $4 trillion Corker wants, at least it lasts until 2013.
“To even set up a process that's short of that doesn't make any sense to me,” Corker said, referring to the size and duration of a deal. “It's kind of like you've got to be kidding me. We've got to go through the aggravation of the next six months working towards an aspirational goal that we all know doesn't solve the credit rating issue.”
Boehner’s longer-term proposal -- which includes a second vote after six months -- is similar in overall size to Reid’s, although it also adds a balanced budget amendment.
Corker was not alone in suggesting his party wasn't pursuing the best course. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) blasted some on his side for trying to insist on the constitutional amendment, which he called "bizarro." He also slammed right-wing conservatives for "deceiving many of our constituents."
Corker’s reasoning sounds remarkably like the position of Obama, who has been seeking a deal that cuts $4 trillion or more, and lasts into 2013.
Where they would part ways is over the issue of taxes, because Obama has insisted that some revenue needs to be brought in to hit the target. But in the broad outlines, the Tennessean may actually be closer to the White House than to his colleagues in Congress.
Corker made clear later that his $4 trillion worth of deficit cutting was not necessarily the same as Obama's, and that he picked the number because that's what bankers have been telling him it will take to preserve the U.S. credit rating.
"It's just become part of the mantra. It's not the president," he said. "We never knew what the details of that were. All we have are sort of talking points on each side. Who knows? I don't know what that was."
Corker spokesman Chuck Harper said that Corker's words were not a pan of Boehner's plan, and noted that Corker praised the speaker for moving the debate in the right direction, which Corker felt was an optimistic sign.
This piece has been updated to include later comments from Sen. Corker.