U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, visited the campus of Cleveland State Community College on Monday to meet with local business leaders and share what he expects to happen in Washington soon and what should be done to address some pressing concerns both in the country and outside it.
Currently on a recess for the July 4 holiday, the Senate is set to return to session later this month. However, Corker expressed little optimism that things not addressed soon will be brought up again before November’s senatorial elections.
Calling the next session “the last real session in that anything has the real possibility of happening,” Corker said many politicians will soon be too focused on their elections to back anything controversial.
However, he maintained that issues like how the U.S. funds its roads and how it relates to other countries are matters that need to be addressed soon.
In June, Corker and Democrat Sen. Chris Murphy introduced a bill that would raise gasoline taxes in order to add more funding to the federal Highway Trust Fund, which provides money to states for road-related projects.
The trust fund for roads, which has to be renewed every six years, has been extended five times since 2008, despite there being a lack of adequate funding for it, Corker said.
He said it is currently only funded at 60 percent of what is needed, and he takes issue with the program continuing to be expanded.
“The road program is so popular that there is no way elected officials in Washington are not going to keep it in place,” Corker said. “Unfortunately, elected officials have not dealt with the fact that the trust is being funded at about 60 percent ... It’s not paid for; we just keep adding debt onto future generations.”
While he acknowledged it is “not popular,” the bill he co-sponsored could raise federal gas taxes by six cents per gallon for a period of two years.
He pointed out that the state of Tennessee received only 50 percent of its road funding from the federal government, but the state has not fallen into debt the same way the country as a whole has become indebted.
“We have no road debt in the state of Tennessee,” Corker said. “if the federal government could operate like the state of Tennessee, we’d be in a much better place.”
He expressed hope that his colleagues in the Senate would back the bill and that it would prompt discussion of what the country should do to keep from getting further into debt.
Another problem Corker said the country is facing is illegal immigration.
The recent circumstances of many children and young people crossing the Mexican border alone represent a “tremendous crisis,” he said.
Many young people have illegally crossed the border, which Corker said was due in part to crime and a bad economy in their home countries and the United States dealing with such immigration in ways that “have sent the wrong message.”
“They’ve gotten the message that if they can just get to the border, it will be OK,” Corker said.
While he did not offer any specific solution to the problem of illegal immigration, he stressed the United States needs to make addressing the issue more of a priority.
He also told his audience about some of the recent developments with international affairs, pointing out that what is done overseas can have a big impact on this country.
The countries of Iraq and Syria have been embroiled in a war spurred on by two different religious factions — those who practice Sunni Islam and those who practice Shiite Islam.
The result is a battle to decide which religious group runs which part of the world, and Corker maintained that United States’ security could be impacted.
Other countries within the Middle East have also begun to choose sides.
“You’ve got Saudi Arabia, which is Sunni, and Iran, which is Shia, taking part right now,” Corker said.
In addition to the threat of there being more bloodshed as the conflicts rage on, he said potential events could impact access to Middle Eastern oil supplies.
Corker said the United States is known for its energy policies which has attracted the attention of many international companies looking to set up manufacturing facilities in the United States.
Because of that, international unrest impacts U.S. more than it might some other countries.
Despite innovations in what the U.S. uses to power its industries, oil remains an important fuel source which Corker said could impact some companies’ bottom lines.
“It — believe it or not — has a big effect on people in Bradley County,” Corker said.
Other conflicts like Russia and Ukraine battling for control of the latter nation, and China beginning to set up oil rigs in Vietnamese territorial waters, could both impact the United States, Corker said.
He stressed the country needs to maintain a strong focus on international affairs.
“We don’t want the United States to be the world’s policeman,” Corker said to the local business leaders. “The fact is that us being involved in diplomacy ... really affects the companies that you’re a part of.”