By Ledyard King, Gannett Washington Bureau
Sen. Bob Corker said he won't vote for legislation to extend the nation's debt ceiling unless it's packaged with fiscal reforms such as continued spending cuts or changes to entitlement programs.
The sequestration spending cuts that took effect last year under the Budget Control Act should be maintained, the Tennessee Republican told reporters Tuesday. The law calls for chopping $109 billion a year, evenly divided between defense and non-defense programs, through 2021.
And as part of any deal extending the debt ceiling, Corker wants to see steps to reduce the growth of spending on entitlement programs (Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security) by nearly $1 trillion in the next decade to improve the programs' solvency.
That incorporates elements of legislation he and fellow Tennessee GOP Sen. Lamar Alexander introduced earlier this year that echos recommendations made by the Simpson-Bowles debt reduction panel created by President Barack Obama.
"It would be very difficult to imagine a situation where I could support a clean debt ceiling (bill) without some type of reforms that move our country ahead and make us stronger," Corker said.
Many Republicans are backing similar steps and hope to use the threat of a looming debt ceiling default -- and the current government shutdown -- as leverage to push reforms that have stalled. Many of those reforms were proposed by tea party conservatives who say they were elected to fundamentally revamp the federal government.
Corkers has worked with the president and top White House aides over several months to try to forge a consensus on fiscal reform. He dislikes many parts of the 2010 Affordable Care Act but disagrees with the GOP strategy of making legislation to reopen the federal government contingent on defunding the health care law.
The Senate has rejected all moves to defund or delay the law.
Democrats, who control the Senate, say they are willing to talk about changes to programs, but not before Congress approves "clean" bills to reopen the government and raise the nation's debt ceiling. Most economists say missing the deadline for extending the debt limit, set to come by the end of the month, could plunge the nation into another recession and trigger a global economic meltdown.
Obama Tuesday repeated his earlier position that he's open to negotiating on spending and health care, but only after Congress has ended the shutdown and extended the debt ceiling.