CLEVELAND, Tenn. - U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said Tuesday that the nation's economic recovery and ongoing success depend on aggressively addressing its fiscal problems and creating better policies to deal with China and intervention in the Syrian crisis.
"The biggest issue our nation faces, in my opinion, still is our fiscal issue," Corker told members of the Rotary Club of Cleveland. "As I go around the state ... we've been talking about it for so long, I almost feel like there's a fiscal fatigue."
Despite a rise in revenues and an economic upturn, Corker said the country's management of its debt ceiling is crucial. He expressed concern that improved revenues might reduce the pressure on lawmakers to take a "more rational approach" to handling deficits and spending cuts.
The national sequester -- automatic budget cuts that began in March -- is "a ham-handed way of dealing with reduced spending," Corker said.
The proposed $1 trillion in cuts are described as harmful and arbitrary by the White House website. Those cuts "threaten hundreds of thousands of jobs, and cut vital services for children, seniors, people with mental illness and our men and women in uniform."
The nation's fiscal problems not only are causing us problems at home, but they are affecting our relations with China, said Corker, the ranking Republican member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.
"The Chinese see us as a nation in decline, though, because we won't deal with our fiscal issues," he said. "They see us as disadvantaged, and they know that our greatness is dissipating if we don't deal with that."
The Chinese also are flexing their military muscle with their neighbors and blatantly "ripping us off" when it comes to stealing technology from the U.S., Corker said. He said he hoped that an international treaty intended to establish economic development standards would encourage fairer relations with China.
In regard to "war-weary" Syria, a more consistent policy needs to be implemented, Corker said. He categorized our nation's approach to the problem as "ad hoc" until now.
It is paramount that the U.S. enable moderate groups -- and not extremists and terrorists -- to take control of the Syrian government and its chemical weapons should its current regime fall, Corker said.
Humanitarian aid and arms, not U.S. soldiers on the ground, are the ways Corker said he would prefer to do that.
Closer to home, he addressed the Marketplace Fairness Act, which proposes to create mechanisms for Internet retailers to collect state sales tax.
The legislation has been incorrectly referred to as an "Internet tax bill," when it allows only for the collection of taxes that haven't been paid and does not create a new tax, Corker said.
He said such revenues greatly affect education funding.
Local retailers have voiced approval for the legislation, which has passed in the Senate, said Gary Farlow, CEO and president of the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce, although his organization has not yet made an official statement on the matter.
Store owners complain that customers increasingly buy goods from Internet competitors who don't have to collect sales tax as they do, Farlow said. One tire dealer, he said, told him about a customer who bought tires online but brought them to his store to install.
Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at email@example.com.