U.S. Sen. Bob Corker said he will introduce legislation after the November elections he hopes will "change the way Washington does business" by capping federal spending as a share of the U.S. economy.
Corker, R-Tenn., said Thursday such a cap will likely require major cuts in overall federal spending, including changes in Social Security and other entitlement programs.
He declined to specify where government spending should be cut, but during a meeting with reporters and editors at the Times Free Press, he said "it is embarrassing the way money is now spent in Washington."
Without limiting spending and debt, government borrowing as a share of the economy will more than double by 2030 to a level surpassing the debt burden of the financially troubled Greece, he said.
"Today for every dollar we spend in Washington, we borrow 40 cents and that's just not sustainable," said the 58-year-old former Chattanooga mayor.
While he wants to draft new legislation to curb spending and the debt, Corker declined to sign pledges to limit activities and donations by lobbyists who often push for special federal projects.
A group of liberal Chattanooga activists took to Chattanooga's streets Thursday to protest Corker's refusal to sign a pledge "to fight Washington corruption" by limiting campaign contributions from corporations and their lobbyists.
Anne Curtis, the Chattanooga chapter coordinator for the liberal political action group MoveOn.org, said Congress isn't hearing the voices of the majority of Americans, who don't have lobbyists and don't bankroll candidate campaigns.
"We're not against corporations, but we are against the way corporations are trying to buy government," Curtis said.
In a 5-4 decision in January, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down limits on corporate and labor union spending in campaigns for president and Congress. MoveOn.org is pushing a constitutional amendment to restrict what any individual, business or union may contribute to a campaign.
"We feel like Washington pays attention to the 2 percent who have lobbyists and the rest of the 98 percent of us don't really matter," said Harriet Cotter, recruitment coordinator for the local volunteer group.
Corker said he is willing to look at ways to limit undue influence and money from lobbyists, corporations and labor unions. But he said he doesn't like to sign pledges, especially from partisan groups like MoveOn.org that frequently work against Republicans.
Corker said he believes he has done as much as any senator to work in a bipartisan fashion, "and I've taken hits from both sides of the aisle" a result.
The Tennessee Republican, who has tried to broker bipartisan agreements on everything from financial regulations to rescuing the U.S. auto industry since he became a senator in 2007, said Democrats and Republicans should compromise on the appropriate level of what the government should spend before engaging in partisan battles over tax increases and spending cuts.
"There's plenty of blame to go around and I found out a long time ago that trying to cast blame just doesn't do a lot of good," he said.
For the past 50 years, federal government spending has averaged 20.3 percent of the total value of America's output. Erskine Bowles, Democratic co-chairman of the presidential commission studying the debt, has said spending should be 21 percent of the gross domestic product.
Corker said he would prefer capping federal spending at 18 percent of GDP, although federal spending jumped to 26 percent of the nation's economy this year.
"We are going to have differences on what that level should be, but if we agree on what is appropriate, then we can begin to talk about the taxes and spending we need," he said.