In this file photo, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., speaks during a news conference on the debt ceiling on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP)
CARTHAGE, Tenn. -- U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., says he sees no chance of Congress increasing taxes to solve the nation's deficit woes.
But the former Chattanooga mayor believes a tax reform package that chokes off many current loopholes could garner enough bipartisan support to pass.
"I think it has a chance of passing, and I think it may well be part of what this committee does," Corker said, referring to Congress' recently created deficit-slashing "super committee."
The committee was part of a deal that linked raising the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling with $2.5 trillion in federal debt reduction over the next 10 years.
With six senators and six representatives from both parties, the panel was given enormous power to make cuts. The Budget Control Act makes $900 billion in immediate cuts and requires the super committee to cut $1.5 trillion more before December.
Corker had said he would like to be on the super committee, but he was not appointed. His comments came after a speech last week to the Smith County Chamber of Commerce.
Corker said shutting down tax loopholes, which he dubs "tax expenditures," is "a much better way of looking at it" than raising tax rates for upper-income taxpayers.
"I don't think there's a chance in the world that that [tax increase for high earners] passes Congress because many of those upper rates, they're really small business owners."
The Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call reported last week that Corker is the 14th-wealthiest member of Congress, worth $21.18 million.
Over the past year, Corker has pushed his own proposed legislation to cap and reduce federal spending by $5 trillion.
In his speech to Chamber members, Corker reviewed the Budget Control Act of 2011.
"I hope what's happened is we set the precedent for the future so that whenever we have this type of debt-ceiling increase, we lower spending that exact amount," Corker said.
He warned Smith Countians that the first cuts typically "will be the easiest. They're low-hanging fruit."
Future cuts will be harder, he said.
"This is what our federal government will have to contend with for a long, long time."
But he said closing loopholes could make reductions easier. The U.S. tax code provides about $1.2 trillion in such benefits for a variety of businesses and industries, Corker said.
"Y'all have heard about things like ethanol subsidies. That would be what's called a tax expenditure. Our tax code is chock full of these kinds of things," Corker said, citing other areas such as wind and solar tax credits.
Ending loopholes could lower corporate tax rates from 35 percent to 26 percent and "unleash tremendous amounts of economic growth," Corker said.
But he said the popular home mortgage-interest deduction, which is worth some $130 billion, isn't on the table.
"I realize that the home mortgage deduction is not going to go away. That's not something that's being looked at," Corker said. "But there's a whole pile of other issues like that."
In a recent column in The Politico, a Washington-based publication and website focusing on politics and government, U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., agreed tax reform is necessary.
"And by tax reform, I mean closing loopholes, special interest tax breaks and corporate subsidies," wrote Nelson, who cited his own list of pet peeves. "It's just plain wrong to be protecting tax breaks for oil companies and to be rewarding businesses that ship jobs overseas."
But Nelson also argued tax increases need to be included in the mix to long-term solutions.
He cited Warren Buffett, who said in his own opinion piece last week in The New York Times that the mega-wealthy "have been coddled long enough by a billionaire-friendly Congress" and that "it's time for our government to get serious about shared sacrifice."
Buffett called for income and investment tax rate hikes only on persons making more than $1 million a year in taxable income. President Obama has said those earning more than $250,000 a year could afford to pay more.
Corker was dismissive of Buffett's proposal, saying he thinks Congress will work along the lines of the bipartisan commission headed by former Bill Clinton chief of staff Erskine Bowles and former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming
Corker said their proposal "levels the playing field, does away with a lot of the special tax loopholes." and "actually creates economic growth."
"If Warren Buffet wants to run for the Senate and propose it, that'd be great," he said.
"But if you want to know what I think will happen ... I think people will be looking at" the Bowles-Simpson panel's proposals.
Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...