Senator Corker warns debt-ceiling deal could be too modest for Republicans

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) warned Wednesday that a debt ceiling deal being negotiated in closed-door talks may be too modest and draw little support in the Senate. 

Corker, a voice with clout on financial issues, expressed worry about the progress of talks led by Vice President Biden and also demanded that participants explain by the end of next week where the agreement might be going.

"I'm concerned that the type of deal that they may be trying to seek is not something that many of us in this body would even agree to if they reached it, meaning that it's far more modest than I think most of us have been looking at," Corker said on the Senate floor.

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Corker said he has heard several possible elements of a deal that he thinks could be opposed by Republicans. For example, he said he heard the deal might allow for a $2.4 trillion increase in the debt ceiling over an 18-month period, which would be matched by $2.4 trillion in cuts over a 10-year period.

"And so you can see there's a vast discrepancy in what's taking place," said Corker, who implied it could be difficult for GOP senators to back that large a debt ceiling hike for much smaller cuts to annual deficits.

He also said he understands that discussions are under way to agree to a short-term debt-ceiling extension, as the early-August deadline might not be met. But he said he can't imagine telling his constituents that no real progress on the debt ceiling has been made by then.

"I cannot imagine going home to recess on August the 6th, to the people in Tennessee, and telling them … 'I'm here to tell you that we haven't done a thing, not one thing, as it relates to reaching a deal on how many cuts are going to take place in spending relative to our debt-ceiling extenuation,' " Corker said.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Tuesday both threw cold water on the idea of a short-term debt hike that could buy negotiators more time. Cantor is a participant in the Biden talks. 

Few details have emerged from those discussions, which face an Aug. 2 deadline set by the Treasury Department to reach a result. In reality, the Biden group must show results to Congress weeks before that deadline so that their deal can be turned into legislative language, sold to members of both parties and moved through both the House and Senate. 

Participants in the talks hoped to have a framework deal by the end of next week.

Corker's comments reflect the worries of rank and file members who know little about the details being discussed in the closed-door talks. Anxieties will only grow as the nation moves closer to Aug. 2 and a possible default that could put the economy in a tailspin.

Indicative of the gaps between positions on the issue, 10 Republican senators and 11 GOP House members have signed onto a pledge to oppose the debt limit increase unless three conditions are met: substantial cuts in spending that will reduce the deficit; the implementation of enforceable spending caps; and passage of a balanced budget amendment.

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Corker called on Biden and Republican and Democratic leaders involved in the talks to "publicly tell us by the end of next week what deal it is they're trying to accomplish, and in what timeframe."

"If our goal is something that we know in the front end is not even acceptable to this body, it seems to me that it's not rational for us to be sitting here waiting on this group at the Blair House to make a deal that we all know is not good enough," he said.

The Biden-led group is expected to meet Thursday for its third meeting of the week. 

Corker added that members of the Senate are "frustrated," especially since the Senate has done "absolutely nothing" this year. He later hedged on that to say the Senate has done "almost nothing."

Republicans have heaped criticism on Senate Democrats for not approving a budget.

Corker added that Senate consideration of various bills, including the Economic Development Revitalization Act (EDA) this week, has just been "filler," and said in the case of the EDA bill, everyone knew that it was a filler bill that was not expected to pass.

"We all knew it wasn't going to pass," he said. "Everybody knew that that bill was offered on the floor to kill time, to make it look like the United States Senate was doing something.

"That's all it was for. Everybody knew that. Everybody working up front knew that. The pages knew that."