Health Care Reform Should Stand the Test of Time
Sen. Corker speaks to over 1,000 Tennesseans gathered for the town hall meeting at Loudon High School in Loudon County. The Loudon town hall marked Corker's thirty-first county visit and twenty-third town hall during the August recess.
Like most Americans, I believe our country needs responsible health care reform. And as I've said in 32 counties and 24 town halls across Tennessee over the past two months, I believe Congress' first objective should be to do no harm.
I oppose a public option, and I believe tort reform is long overdue. But, there are a number of incremental steps that both parties can agree upon that would go a long way toward meaningful health care reform: making sure Americans with pre-existing conditions have access to coverage, tax code changes to limit tax benefits for the "Cadillac" plans which would fund advanceable, refundable tax credits for millions of individuals to purchase private insurance, cross-state competition, and exchanges like we have here in the Senate.
Unfortunately, I have a number of major concerns with the health care reform plan being debated in the Senate Finance Committee, and my concerns lie not just with the policy but also with some of the mechanisms used to pay for it.
It looks at this point like the Senate Finance Committee mark-up of health reform legislation will be partisan, but I am still hopeful that before any final legislation is brought forth we will have an opportunity to amend and produce a plan that focuses on our common ground and can stand the test of time.
A Responsible Exit Strategy from TARP
This past year we have seen unprecedented government intervention into the private market. In particular, the TARP legislation has taken American taxpayers into uncharted territory as common equity owners of private companies. We need a responsible exit strategy from government ownership, which is why Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) and I have introduced the TARP Recipient Ownership Trust Act of 2009 to expedite that process, shield taxpayer investment, and remove the potential politicization of the important core governance decisions at TARP-recipient companies.
Our bill would move any government ownership stakes in private companies greater than 20 percent (currently AIG, Citigroup, and General Motors) into a newly created trust to be managed by three independent, non-political trustees who would be appointed by the administration with a fiduciary responsibility to taxpayers. The trustees would be directed to liquidate the government's interests in these TARP-recipient companies by December 24, 2011, unless the trustees feel liquidation is not in the best interest of taxpayers. In that case they can come back to Congress with an alternative recommendation.
The Congressional Oversight Panel established to oversee the TARP program released a report this month recommending that the U.S. Treasury Department "consider placing its GM and Chrysler shares in an independent trust that would be insulated from political pressure and government interference." It's my hope that with the oversight panel's endorsement of our proposal, Congress will move ahead and pass our bill so we end the cycle of excessive government intrusion in the private market.
Press Release: Corker, Warner Say COP Report Underscores Need for TARP Recipient Ownership Trust
Ending the "Too Big to Fail" Mentality
At a Senate Banking Committee hearing in July, I asked FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair if having a resolution mechanism in place to deal with the problems of some of our "too big to fail" financial institutions would have reduced the risk to our financial system. She said absolutely -- it would have created better market discipline across the system and reduced market uncertainty about who would be next, who would win, and who would lose.
The FDIC has the authority to wind down a failing bank, but not a failing bank holding company, which has exacerbated the moral hazards we've seen over the past 18 months. It's important that we take our time with regulatory reform, but in the interim, Senator Warner and I believe we need the ability to resolve bank holding companies in an orderly way.
We introduced the Resolution Reform Act of 2009, S. 1540, to give the FDIC authority to resolve bank holding companies. This expanded authority would put a bank holding company into the hands of the FDIC if the bank (insured depository institution) within the holding company structure needs to be resolved. The bank holding company would be moved into receivership, the pieces would be sold off, and the company would no longer exist.
I think it's important to create this mechanism to fill a glaring regulatory gap and to provide clarity so that as we approach broader regulatory reform we don't have the moral hazard of a "too big to fail" mentality.
Press Release: Corker, Warner Introduce Bill Giving FDIC Authority to Wind Down Bank Holding Companies
Watch Video: CNBC Interview on FDIC Resolution Authority Bill
In the News: Senate Banking's Bob Corker Quick to Earn Position of Clout
Benchmarks and Accountability for U.S. Policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan
Senator Corker meets with Tennessee service members during a visit to Camp Stone in Herat, Afghanistan
In August I took a five-day trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and had the opportunity to observe the Afghan presidential election. While I know large numbers of irregularities occurred, the 45 polling stations I saw in the city of Herat were secure and orderly. I must say, it was remarkable to see men and women waiting in line at 4:30 a.m. to vote, especially in a country that hasn't had elections as a habit.
The timing of my trip was significant because in June and July Congress passed two bipartisan pieces of legislation that I co-authored which are very relevant to the region.
The first measure, cosponsored by Senators Joe Lieberman (ID-CT) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), requires the President to provide Congress with a clear set of objectives for Afghanistan and Pakistan and benchmarks to quantify progress toward achieving those objectives. This does not tie anyone's hands, and there are no timetables dictating when certain things must occur, but we need a clearly articulated policy equal to the tremendous sacrifice that our men and women in uniform are putting forth daily on our behalf.
The other piece of legislation, cosponsored by Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), helps ensure that U.S. military assistance to Pakistan is actually being used for its purpose: to fight the Taliban and al Qaeda. Our language mandates a certification by the secretaries of State and Defense before Pakistan is reimbursed with Coalition Support Funds and requires that the payment is in the national security interests of the U.S. and also that it will not affect the balance of power in the region. We appreciate the important role Pakistan has played in our fight to eliminate the terrorist safe havens within their borders, but we owe it to our service members and the American taxpayer to ensure that the funds provided to Pakistan out of the Coalition Support Funds are in fact being directed toward those efforts and not misdirected.
Senator Corker meets with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad
In July I took a weekend trip to Israel and met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to discuss the resumption of Middle East peace negotiations and see firsthand the disputed settlements on the West Bank. In my meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu, I expressed my strong support for the long term relationship and many mutual interests shared between the U.S. and Israel and my hope that peace discussions between him, U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell and Palestinian leaders are productive. The issues are complex, particularly the domestic political currents Prime Minister Netanyahu must navigate in reaching a conclusion that Israelis and the international community can accept while simultaneously dealing appropriately with Israel's security needs. Prime Minister Netanyahu has spoken often about the need for security and economic growth for the West Bank. Prime Minister Fayyad has demonstrated a commitment to enhancing security and an ability to create conditions for economic growth. He has directly taken on Hamas through his crackdown in the city of Nablus and other areas in the West Bank and appears to be more pragmatic than previous Palestinian leaders.